I was having a conversation with one of my students in the Productize course, and something he said really stood out to me.
When I asked, what’s the most challenging thing about your work today? This person responded:
“Well, I feel pretty confident with where my technical skills are at. But I don’t see a clear path to double my business in the next year. I think that’s because I don’t have something to sell (other than my time). I don’t have an offer. I don’t know how to do ‘marketing’ because I don’t have a product to market.”
The comment brought back memories of same feelings I felt a few years back when I began my journey toward a productized business. And it reminded me why productized services have become such an attractive idea as of late.
Another question I’ve been asking my subscribers is, what’s one thing you’re spending a lot of time on, but wish you didn’t have to?
In the 12+ interviews I’ve done so far, almost every one had the same answer:
“I really hate writing proposals and giving estimates.”
And once again, it reminded me of my least enjoyable task during my years as a freelance web designer: The proposal and sales process.
Why do consultants dread this part of the job so much? Maybe it’s because we must reinvent what we sell and how we sell it, each and every time.
A freelancer’s or agency’s proposal process typically goes something like this:
When a new prospect requests a quote, you enter into a long, drawn out exercise in discovery, analysis, posturing, negotiating, and hoping. You start by qualifying the person to ensure you’re playing in the same ballpark. Then you get to know them and learn what they care most about. Then you scope out their specific requirements and start formulating hours estimates. Then you present your custom solution in a proposal, and hope they see the value in what you’ve presented.
All of this happens over a number of weeks and several meetings, with plenty of research, analysis, and prep work in between. And the next time someone comes to you and requests a quote, you run through this process all over again.
Every new prospect cares about different things. Every client’s project has unique requirements. Your solution is custom tailored each time.
If you find the task of writing proposals and estimates frustrating, the problem isn’t in the proposal process itself. It’s in the way you position your service in the first place.
By positioning your service as a product, you’re able to eliminate the proposal and estimate process altogether.
I’ve been writing about the perks that come with owning a productized business: Income that’s detached from from your time, a schedule that doesn’t revolve around deadlines, the ability to build systems and hire a team to carry them out, etc.
But what gives me the most satisfaction since I transitioned away from project-based client work is simply having something to sell.
My business offers a specific service with a clearly defined scope. It delivers a common result that my ideal customers get value from. It has a set price and it’s non-negotiable. You can choose to buy or not.
I no longer need to entertain negotiations or haggle over price. I don’t need to deal with people who don’t see the value in the service. I don’t need to adjust the scope of work to meet special requirements of individual clients. All of this gaming and back-and-forth is removed from the equation.
Having something to sell has allowed me to focus entirely on the product (ensuring it continues to provide value for our ideal customers) and the marketing (finding more of our ideal customers).
Now let’s get back to why you’d want to establish something to sell — a product. It’s not just to rid yourself of the dreaded proposal process. You want a vehicle you can build upon to take your business to the next level.
Let’s go back to the quote I mentioned earlier. I’ve heard it from a few different people now, so I’m paraphrasing:
I want to double my business in 12 months, but I don’t have a product to sell. I only have my tech/creative skills, which are only taking me so far.
At the core of this statement is a desire to level up. But it isn’t a hope that the business will just magically grow. There’s a desire to take actions that will make this growth happen.
As a freelancer or agency, there aren’t clear levers you can push and pull to sell more billable hours or projects. Sure, there are things you can do to encourage more business. But the most common tactics still rely quite a bit on hope.
Most consultancies rely heavily (or exclusively) on referrals. Referrals are great because they cost nothing to acquire and often bring highly qualified prospects right to your door. But there isn’t a lot you can do to double your referrals next quarter. You still must hope your clients happen to know others who fit your ideal client profile and happen to have a need.
You can do speaking events and networking, and these things help you gain exposure. But they won’t guarantee new projects booked in the next 30 days.
However, when you position your service as a product with a clear value proposition, all of a sudden a world of possibilities opens up when it comes to marketing. Now you’ve got something to build a growth plan around. Now you can map out specific actions you can take to make growth happen. Now you can be proactive in leveling up your business. (by the way, don’t miss Noah Kagan’s post about making things happen. It definitely fired me up.)
As a productized service owner, you can approach marketing the same way any other product business would.
A productized service is designed to solve one particular problem for one common customer. That’s what makes it the perfect vehicle to build a proactive marketing strategy around.
And believe me, I know how daunting the word “marketing” can sound to most us web workers. As one of my interviewees put it:
“Marketing is the fluffy stuff that I tend to push off until later. Right now, I’d much rather focus on code.”
I get it. I’ve been there. What I can tell you is this: Marketing becomes much easier (and rewarding!) when you don’t over-think it. In fact, all marketing strategies really boil down to the same three objectives:
Starting with simply having a product to sell, the marketing of that product gets easier.
Getting traffic becomes easier because you know exactly who you’re looking for. You can figure out where those people hang out and insert yourself in those places through speaking, guest blogging, and participating in communities. You can figure out the questions those people search for answers to, and capture that search traffic through content marketing, SEO, and PPC.
Converting traffic to leads becomes easier because you know exactly who you’re speaking to. You can empathize with their pain and offer free content and advice that resonates with them. (Speaking of empathy, Justin Jackson nailed it with his recent piece about empathizing with your audience).
Converting leads to customers becomes easier because you offer a unique value proposition designed specifically to solve one problem for one ideal customer.
Not every visitor you come across will see the value. But some will, and that will be plenty to build a profitable, growing business.
But it all starts with creating a product you can sell.