Productize
Productize & Scale

Productize Put Into Action

by Brian Casel
October 19, 2015
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As of this writing, it’s been a year since I launched the Productize course. A lot has happened during that time!

It’s exciting to see things I learned (the hard way) over many years bring about these results. But the learning doesn’t stop. So today I want to share a few new takeaways I learned during this past year (so far).

You see, my first business, Restaurant Engine, didn’t start out as a productized service. My original intention was for it to be purely a SaaS where customers serve themselves. Over time, I learned that by adding a done-for-you service component, it made the product easier to sell and easier for customers to buy (and stay). It was that revelation that led me to focus so heavily on the “Productize” concept, eventually leading me to create the course.

Today, my new business, Audience Ops, is a little different in that I intended to use the productized service model right from day one. That meant I was able to put the lessons that I refined through teaching the course into action and see them take on new life in a new setting.

With the productized service model as my guide, I set out to accomplish these goals for this business:

At six months in (as of this writing), I made a ton of progress, much faster than I expected.

Here are a few things that I learned this year, while putting Productize into action:

Feature Requests

A big benefit of launching a productized service is how fast you can get to launch and revenue. In the course, I laid out a process for identifying a problem that you’re uniquely positioned to solve for a particular type of client.

So in May 2015, I launched Audience Ops using that same process. Within a month we had our first paying clients and validated both our value proposition and the way we deliver the service.

But as any consultant knows, some clients make special requests. So it became apparent fairly early on that I’d need a strategic framework for how we would deal with such requests, while not deviating from our highly focused “thing we do” for clients.

Here’s what I learned about feature requests in a productized service:

[tweetthis twitter_handles=”@casjam”]A feature request in a productized service should benefit all clients, not just one.[/tweetthis]

When a client makes a special request, I try and treat it just like I would if it were a feature request on a software product. We’ll add it to our roadmap only if it’s something that would benefit all clients, not just the one who requested it.

This is important for a few reasons.

First, if the request isn’t just a personal preference of the client, and something that would actually help drive more results for them, then it’s probably something that would benefit all of our clients as well. I ask myself whether adding this feature would help us solve the core problem that we solve better than we did before. If the answer is yes, then I’ll find a way to work it into our process.

One example was a request from a client for us to promote the content by writing answers to questions on Quora. It’s a good idea that drives new exposure for their content. We’ve since developed a process to do this for all of our clients. Our team finds relevant questions to answer and our writers form thoughtful responses, typically adding a link back to articles we’ve published for that client.

The other way we look at feature requests are through a lens of standardization. I try and avoid “special cases” as much as possible. The more standard and repeatable our process is, the easier it is for our team to effectively carry it out the same way for all clients. New feature requests have to be worked into a standard process that we can roll out to all clients.

The tradeoff is that rolling out a new feature takes a bit longer than it would if we’re doing it just for one client. We must take a few extra weeks to figure out the best way to form it into a process, then document and train the team on that process, before it gets rolled into production. But the business is better for it.

The Power of Team

Most consultants who are transitioning to a productized model take the route of “replacing” themselves in the business. That’s essentially what I did in my last business.

In the beginning, I did everything myself. From support to sales to marketing. Over time, I documented the things I was doing and delegated each task to a teammate, until I was fully replaced in the process.

In my new business, I taking this a step further. Rather than “replacing” myself, I’m forming a process and team that delivers better results than I (or anyone) else could on their own. In Audience Ops, a unique selling point is that we’re a better option than hiring a freelancer (or a full-time employee) to do your content marketing. The reason for that is our process and our team.

[tweetthis twitter_handles=”@casjam”]Rather than “replacing” yourself, build a better solution as a team with a process. #Productize[/tweetthis]

Every article and email we write for clients is touched by a teammate who specializes in one particular aspect of the production process. From a project manager/strategist, to the writer, a copy editor, a graphic designer, and a technical assistant. All of it comes together to deliver a higher quality product than a single freelancer or employee can do on their own.

In fact, one of my personal requirements when I started this business was that I would not be the one doing the work. It turns out, I wouldn’t be able to do the work myself anyway—at least not up to the quality standards my team can achieve.

Evolve in Year Two

For freelancers and consultants who’ve been making a living through selling their time, a productized service is exciting because it finally presents a path to grow from year to year. You’re no longer living project to project. Now you’re building something that’s bigger than you.

Since I’ve already been through the process of phasing out freelance work, building and selling a business, I’m finding it easier to think in big picture terms this time around.

A big focus of my recent talk at MicroConf Europe was leveraging the early byproducts of a productized service to evolve into something bigger, a little bit later. I showed case studies of businesses who grew revenue fast early on with a done-for-you service, then took the logical next step of building software to power their service, or stand alone as it’s own product.

So the takeaway here is this:

[tweetthis twitter_handles=”@casjam”]Year 1: Done-for-you service to grow revenue & process. Year 2: Launch related software. #Productize[/tweetthis]

Breaking it down from year one to year two makes it easier to think big picture. The actual timeline of events may not take that long, but the dates don’t matter as much as the strategy.

The strategy is simple:

  1. Launch the done-for-you service first, grow revenue quickly.
  2. Grow your audience, client-base, and learn more about the problem you solve.
  3. Leverage your byproducts to launch related products like software or training.

For example, in Audience Ops, the done-for-you service is just phase one. Through our work with clients, we’re developing byproducts, like our own custom-built WordPress plugins, and our templates and systems. Over time, I plan to evolve the company to a point where we offer several products ranging from our done-for-you service, to a suite of software tools, to educational resources—all serving to solve the same problem for the same customers (helping online entrepreneurs get a better ROI from content marketing).

Our first step beyond the done-for-you service is the release of our first software tool, a WordPress plugin we’ve been using for our clients called Content Upgrades. We have other related tools coming in the pipeline, along with a range of educational resources to help you put a lot of what we do for clients into action yourself.

And of course, I’ll be rolling more specifics into the next update to the Productize course, including new lessons taken from the Audience Ops business, new templates, and new case study interviews. As always, current students will get lifetime access to future updates.

Back to it!