Brand & Marketing Strategy, USP

Stop! What are you actually selling?

what are you actually selling

As small business owners, we know what product or service we are selling and what value it provides to our customers. Being this close to our work, however, can sometimes lead us to assume that everyone else gets it too! What is clear as day in our minds can sometimes be clear as mud to others. So before you start asking why customers aren’t clicking on your call to action buttons, stop and ask yourself this: What are you actually selling? And how can you communicate that more clearly to your ideal customers?

It seems like such an obvious question, doesn’t it? But particularly when it comes to service-based businesses, the “job title” explanation doesn’t always cut it. For example – are you sure that the short and sweet “I’m a virtual assistant” summary gives your ideal customer the full picture of what you can help them with? Let alone reflect your USP and strengths?

I’ve written before about the difference between features and benefits and why it’s so important when it comes to promoting your small business. However, defining the benefits of what you’re offering is easier when you’re selling products rather than services.

If you’re a service-based business and find that your marketing isn’t quite hitting the mark when it comes to converting potential customers into paying ones, fear not. Here are some simple steps you can take to turn things around!

First Step: Break down your services

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As someone with years (sometimes decades) of experience, you know your industry well. For you, with all of your expertise and qualifications, your job title alone conjures up a whole host of skills.

It’s easy, then, to use “catch-all” terms to cover a lot of ground. We’re often told to keep things concise so people don’t get bored reading, right? Indeed, concise is good, but not when it’s at the expense of clarity!

To make it clear to your potential clients what they are actually buying from you, get started by making a list of all of the services you offer. To stick with our example of a “virtual assistant”, this could look as follows:

  1. Administrative Support – managing calendars/diaries, emails, proofreading, invoicing, filing, spreadsheets and database management.
  2. Social Media Support – creating a content calendar, creating social media graphics/images, researching hashtags, replying to comments or scheduling content.
  3. Event Planning – venue research, venue hire, organising catering, managing the guest list, sending invitations and liaising with any speakers or PR companies who are involved.
  4. Research – researching potential stockists for a product-based business, PR opportunities, funding opportunities, competitor research or marketing best practice.
  5. Personal Support – managing hotel and travel bookings for trips or running errands.

The aim here is to remind yourself of all that you have to offer and have offered in the past.

Second Step: How will these services benefit the customer?

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Made your list? Great. Now it’s time to get clear on how these services are going to improve your customers’ lives or businesses. 

It’s easy to tell someone “I can offer administrative support” or “I can schedule your social media posts”.  The real question is why should they pay you for this service? The idea of asking yourself “so what?” when you describe what you’re selling is prevalent in marketing research. Take the opportunity to do this with your own services, too.

Look through your list from step one and ask yourself how it can improve your customer’s life or business. What do each of those listed have in common? In the case of a virtual assistant, there is one very clear connection. 

You’re not selling customers “administrative assistance”. You’re selling them the freedom to focus on the parts of their business they love. By working with you, they gain the luxury of extra time.

They might be working with you because you’re infinitely more organised, better with spreadsheets or a social media whiz. But they are definitely working with you because the skills you have help take some of the daily pressure off them.

With that pressure relieved, they can put more time into the parts of the business that made them start in the first place. Your skills can help them get back to whatever it was they dreamed of doing when the idea first hit them.

So, what you’re actually selling, is (more) time to focus on what’s important to them. And this ‘system’ can be applied to any services you provide.

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Here are a couple of examples:

  • If you’re an accountant, you’re not selling “annual reports” or “accounts”. You’re selling the ability to reach business goals and make confident business decisions by helping clients understand their finances.
  • If you’re a bespoke stationery designer, you’re not selling cards or paper. You’re selling the ability to reach out and connect with friends and family in a highly personal way.
  • If you’re a business coach, you’re not selling website audits or marketing advice. You’re selling an entire support system, to help your customer gain confidence and grow their business.

Another thing to note here is that hitting your customers with complicated industry jargon to portray yourself as an expert, doesn’t always work. If you’re a website developer, being hired by a tech novice, discussing complex coding is more likely to scare them off.

However, highlighting that with your help, they can gain a professional online presence to kick start their business and impress their customers without having to worry about the tech side of things, sounds pretty great! You will create connections by discussing these benefits, rather than alienating potential customers.

Be clear and focused when it comes to setting out your benefits. The risk is that it can become a little bit airy fairy, and it’s important not to confuse potential clients. Make sure potential clients know exactly what you offer and how it will help them, without spiralling off into promises of making all of their dreams come true!

When it comes to paying for services, people want to know exactly what they’re getting. Keeping it vague isn’t an option. And don’t forget to run these by a few clients of yours to double-check you’ve got it right!

Third Step: Shout it from the rooftops

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Now that you’ve figured out what you’re selling and why customers should buy it, it’s time to work this into all aspects of your marketing. From your website copy to your social media feeds, make it known!

Your list from step one can be particularly helpful in planning out content. If you’ve never used a content calendar before, now is the time to start!

If you have three or four key services, ensure that you are highlighting each of these through your social media, advertising or blog content. Making time for each of these elements of your business gives you a better chance of attracting your full range of ideal clients.

Going back to the VA example, someone might not be looking for admin or social media assistance. But if you focus a post on events support, it could be just what they need.

Once you’ve planned out your content topics, step two can help you with the website copy or the captions. Ensure that when you write this copy you keep in mind what you learnt from analysing what you’re actually selling.

Turn “I can assist with your filing, spreadsheets and invoicing” into “Hire me to take care of day to day admin, so you can dedicate more time to growing your business”. 

Next Steps:

Once you have edited your copy and made a solid social media plan, it’s time to get your work out there. Engage with customers in comments, ask for feedback and use customer testimonials to get a feel for the language that resonates with them.

Look out for any common words or phrases in positive reviews, and be sure to use them in future! Refining your copy is an ongoing process, and the more work you do on figuring out what you’re actually selling, the better it will become!

And if you find that your competition is already using those same benefits in their marketing, make sure to clearly define your ideal client and USP to set yourself apart.


If you are interested in reading more about this topic, have a look at these:

Benefits & Features – How Can They Help Your Small Business Marketing
Customer Focused Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses
How to Create a Social Media Content Plan for Your Business
10 Quick and Easy Tricks to Attract More Customers Online

Denise Strohsahl brand and marketing consultant for small businesses

Hello, I’m Denise from sandstonecastles, a brand & marketing consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I help small business owners like yourself to find the right marketing that’s in line with your brand and values.