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A couple of weeks ago I met with an old friend and long-time associate for a coffee and a catch up. We got talking about how it can be difficult to win the right sort of business when times are tough.

Let’s say he’s an architect. He’s not, but I know he might read this and he’ll know straight away that I’m talking about him if I use his real profession. He was in a place that I see a lot with our clients. He’s got a well-established and pretty successful business doing what he enjoys. He makes a decent living, and has a good reputation within his industry. But he was finding it increasingly difficult to win good, profitable work during these tough economic times, as clients tighten their belts and become more cautious and price-sensitive.

He’s a very good architect, and has specialist skills that are in high demand. He knows he can charge more for certain types of projects. But he either wasn’t getting as many enquiries for these types of projects, or wasn’t winning them because clients weren’t prepared to pay him a profitable rate. His list of competitors seemed to be growing, and others were offering something they were calling the same thing that wasn’t anywhere near as good as his.

What to do?

As we got talking, he recognised the problem is that he hasn’t nailed his positioning.

What’s positioning?

Your positioning is where you sit in the mind of your customer, and what they understand they’ll get from you that they can’t get anywhere else. If your positioning’s weak, you’re going to struggle to be seen as different. You’re going to be fighting to stand out from the crowd. You either spend a lot of time trying but failing to win customers, or have to compete on price – and no-on wants that.

But with strong positioning, you immediately have fewer competitors, will be seen as a specialist in your field, and can charge profitable prices for your services.

Why it’s important

When you make a decision about your positioning, you start to become a real expert in that area. You get even better at your job, and start to get insights into your specialism that offer real value to your customers – which is something they can’t find very easily elsewhere.

You eliminate competitors, and drive up the demand for your services. This means you can charge a premium, which in turn means you can afford to spend time learning and becoming even better at your job.

The scary bit

The idea of deciding to focus on one particular sector or type of work can sound very daunting. Believe me, I know.

The thought of turning perfectly good work away, or choosing to do the same type of work forever can seem ridiculous.

But the beautiful thing about strong positioning is, other types of work will still come along. Having a clear difference to your competitors doesn’t mean you won’t get enquiries for other work outside your chosen target. What it does do is make you stick in someone’s mind so they’re more likely to think of you when they’re ready to buy, or recommend you when they’re talking to other people.

The benefits far outweigh the negatives. And the best bit? You’re the one who’s in control.

I’ve written a blog post about this, which goes into a bit more detail about horizontal vs. vertical positioning, and how to choose which direction to go in.

How we nailed our friend’s positioning

There are two starting points when deciding on your positioning;

Vertical positioning is where you focus on a particular type of business. Horizontal positioning works across lots of business types, but you’re an expert in a particular demographic, or discipline.

Here’s how it worked for our architect friend;

We looked at all the different projects he’d worked on in the last couple of years that he was happy with.

Vertically, he’d worked across these sectors:
• Affordable housing
• Commercial buildings
• Schools
• Further education
• Hotels
• Private housing
• Public spaces

Horizontally, he’d provided these services:
• Feasibility studies
• Master planning
• Design and delivery
• Interior design
• Retrofit
• New build

We looked at which of these areas 1) he enjoyed, 2) was particularly good at, and 3) was profitable.

We decided he was going to focus on Schools and Further Education, and he was going to give further thought as to whether he wanted to specialise even further, in Interior Design and Retrofit. These were the areas he was particularly strong in, and he knew there was a need for those services in those marketplaces.

Having made his decision, he can put his effort into targeting the education sector without worrying about diluting his message to try and please everyone else.

He’s going to try it out in one or two easy ways first, to fine-tune the message and get comfortable in how’s his pitching himself, then really go for it after that.

I could almost see a weight lifted from his shoulders as he reached his decision, and he’s now very excited about what the next one, two, five and 10 years might bring.

When times are tough, you need to be brave and have a clear message about what you do so you stick in someone’s mind.

After all, if it looks like you do everything, how can you be very good at anything?

Go well,


Tomango is a brand, web design and digital marketing agency based just outside Ringmer.

If you’re struggling to stand out from the crowd, give Managing Director Mark Vaesen a call on 01273 814019 or get in touch via our website for a chat and to find out how we can help.