“Quick, good or cheap. Pick two!” So goes the comfy old truism about buying services. But with technology commoditising everything from design to retailing, customers now have the luxury of choosing all three. It’s an uncomfortable spot for anyone stuck in the middle of the road.
The frustrated cry of “Everyone is a designer!”, followed by a frustrated sigh, can be heard across the creative industry as clients with no training give feedback on visual designs.
And it’s by no means just design. Clare Barry took up the theme in her popular piece Everyone’s a copywriter. Right? and I’m sure there’s one called ‘My hairdresser’s nephew is a web designer’.
The same can be said of photography, web development, accounting and almost any service where previously specialist technical skills can be made more accessible or marketable using technology (i.e. everything!).
While there are multiple players in all sectors, here are just a few examples:
- Canva offers glossy templates and easy peasy design tools for everyone (v. designers)
- Upwork puts a global marketplace of cheap suppliers at your fingertips (v. freelancers)
- Uber lets anyone start a transport or delivery business (v. taxi drivers)
- Pexels offers striking stock photos and videos for marketing (v. photographers)
- Xero makes it simpler for business owners to do their own books (v. bookkeepers)
- Squarespace let’s anyone build their own website using a template (v. web developers)
- eBay makes setting up a storefront and selling online easy (v. retailers)
- Google Ads makes it easy to create, run and target DIY campaigns (v. publishers/agencies)
It’s a long-term tussle
This is not a new issue. In the early days of Flying Solo we ran an ad for a global freelance platform which sold itself as cheaper than independent providers. Unsurprisingly, it ruffled a few feathers amongst our audience.
We wrote about the response to this in an article eight years ago:
“Passionate commenters pointed out how the influx of low cost solutions is devaluing entire industries and making life even tougher for small business.
“They’re right. But it’s much more far reaching than that. The rise of new players and models are redefining the value of every sector.
“Today, across many industries, you’ll find experienced professionals and high end solution providers being undercut by much cheaper offerings – increasingly from all parts of the globe.”
The result: small players must lift to be better than ‘good’
In the same way that a typewriter doesn’t create an author, none of these tools alone will get near to the same results as an experienced expert, or offer the personal touch. However, by taking care of the basics, they raise the bar for ‘acceptable’ DIY results while drastically cutting the costs.
The middle ‘good’ ground, which used to be the profitable bread and butter for service providers, is narrowing, along with the fees and margins in that space.
“The reality of the internet is that there will be ever faster and cheaper options. So unless you want to join the price war, differentiation on quality is now more important than ever.”
By being great at what you do and differentiating yourself with exceptional service, all while open-mindedly embracing the benefits of new technologies, it’s possible to deliver more value to your customers than ever before.
As we concluded back in 2011:
“You can embrace it or you can ignore it, but you can’t deny it. The digital horse has bolted long ago. You can shut the creaky gate and yearn for the good old days, or you can hop on for the ride.”
Good won’t cut it any more. Middle of the road is the riskiest strategy.