Best practices are the floor

It’s frustrating when potential clients balk at your prices, even though you’re great at what you do. Even though you know and follow all the industry best practices.

It’s frustrating when potential clients balk at your prices, even though you’re great at what you do.

Even though you know and follow all the industry best practices.

Even though you read every blog, listen to every podcast, study every book, and keep up with all the news in your field.

And, of course, we should be doing all that.

But the bad news is that doing all that is not enough to be truly valuable.

Because best practices are the floor.

The fact is, we expect any professional we hire to meet the best practices of their industry. To be up to code, up to standards, and up on the news and latest thinking in their field.

That sets the floor for an industry, not its ceiling. But to charge profitable, premium prices, you have to be markedly, meaningfully better than someone who’s following the best practices and is up on all the latest trends.

You need to be unique.

It’s true that, as consultants, we must understand the best practices of our industry to make sure we’re not missing something obvious or fundamental—but we can’t rely on accepted standards to provide excellent service to our clients.

Because anybody can do that.

The question is, what can only you do?

Merely following best practices is not a strategy, or at least not a strategy for success. It’s a plan to enter into constant apples-to-apples comparisons with your competition, to be judged on your prices, not your value.

Instead, to set ourselves apart, we must actually be different. We need to be great, but we also need to be special on top of that.

That could be the way we perform our services, based on our unique set of interests and abilities.

That could be our individual perspective that’s informed by our unique history, experiences, or education.

Or that could be a specialization that’s more focused than anyone else’s, because we have a meaningful affinity for a particular part of our target industry.

Because without something that sets us apart we’ll always be judged on our price.

But if you can offer something that only you are the best at, because only you can do it, you’ll find clients that are happy to pay profitable prices for your services.

Because they couldn’t imagine working with anyone else.

Yes, some people won’t like your approach. They won’t like your unique take on things. They won’t like your prices, and they’ll always prefer the cheaper option.

But as advertising legend Bill Bernbach said, “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you.”

So what do you stand for? What makes you meaningfully different from everyone else?

Without knowing that, you’ll likely be stuck charging the same prices as everyone else, or relying on RFPs, cold calls, and constant networking to drum up business.

Because the path to profit is paved with uniqueness, not just best practices.

And it’s not only good for you that you’re able to charge profitable prices—it’s good for your clients, too. People who aren’t making money on their work will have to rush. They’ll have to cut corners. And they’ll have to work on multiple projects at the same time, just to get by.

But when you’re getting paid what you’re worth, you can take your time. You can do it right the first time, adjust as needed, and focus on one client at a time.

And you can do your very best, in your unique way, and provide greater value to your clients than they could get from anyone else.

So of course you need to up on the best practices.

But you can’t stop there.

You need to create your own standards that no one else can match.

Because no one else is uniquely you.