How to Develop What You’re Already Good At Into New Lines of Business
(This article has been contributed by Nick Disabato of Draft.nu, author of The A/B Testing Manual and co-host of Make Money Online, a podcast about running an independent consulting business. Want to read more from Nick? He writes a letter to his friends every week about running an independent business, A/B testing, and a lot more. You can sign up here).
You’re a typical freelancer: you do one-off projects for clients large and small. You find yourself doing similar work for each client: somebody asks you for a logo, and before you know it you’re making logos for dozens of great people. How do you take what your current business and make it consistent, repeatable, and durable?
The answer is by productizing your consulting offerings. By making it so your offerings are fixed-scope and repeatably purchasable, you reduce the effort it takes you to sell while simultaneously pre-qualifying leads before they get in the door. Before someone can have an initial phone call with you, they have to read through your offering, learn what problem you can help them solve, and understand your approach and methodology. That way, if they decide to have a call with you, they’ve already pre-qualified themselves to work with you.
When I put together something big like Draft Revise, I was thinking strategically about the ways I could (and wanted to) provide value in larger projects.
When I put together smaller offerings, I look at the big offerings I previously created, look at what fared well in them, and back something more small and restricted in scope out of them.
Today, I’m going to talk about how you can do this in your own business – no matter where you are in the process of creating fixed-scope, product-based consulting engagements.
What Are You Already Doing?
First, take a careful look at all of the projects you’ve done in the past 3 to 5 years. If that’s a particularly long time line for you, look at as many projects as possible to give you a significant sample.
Look at the outcomes those projects have helped your clients achieve. What are the upsides from your work? I don’t mean the deliverables: I mean what results did you bring?
For example, our notional logo designer didn’t just create a logo, but they created a specific image that their client wanted to promote – which resulted in more customers that paid the client more money.
When I worked with somebody in a typical interaction design engagement, the deliverable was annotated wireframes, and the outcome was a more useful, usable product that exceeded the client’s expected metrics.
Your homework: For each project on your list, identify two or three outcomes for them.
What Are the Smaller Tasks?
By this point, you should have a list of prior clients and an associated set of outcomes for each of them. Now, take a look at each of your outcomes and ask the following:
- What did I do to create these outcomes? Did any part of my process stand out? Was everything leading up to the final creation of value, or was it more piecemeal?
- Was this outcome frequently repeated from client to client? “A more useful product” is something Draft does all the time, forever – but we take different steps to get there every time.
- Did I do something different to create this outcome from client to client? If so, how did it differ? Were there any similar parts?
- Did I repeat this task frequently from client to client? If so, did any small parts of it differ, or did I just brainlessly stamp out the work? In what ways did the work differ? Was the scope different, or just the problem domain?
The last step is to look at these answers and break your work into a set of components. You may have a process together already, but this exercise helps you break your process into a discrete set of tasks. At this point, take a look at what components are repeatable (you could notionally work them into discrete offerings) or can be repeated (you’re already doing this again and again).
You should now have a list of tasks you find yourself doing a lot. Now, assess all the ways those tasks can vary. Do they change significantly in scope from client to client? Do they change in terms of their business outcomes? Are those outcomes easy to predict?
Productized services have a consistent scope (or a way to scale the scope in discrete increments, like with periodic billing) and clear pricing (delineated publicly, or if private, a way to predict the pricing based on what value you bring to the customer). So you need a way to restrict the variability of your work. For our logo designer, this means you’d offer one variant of your logo, with one revision after the work was presented, in a specific format, for a specific set of purposes. You could perhaps upsell a style guide or branding toolkit in addition to the logo itself.
Can You Charge For Them?
Obviously you can (and should) charge for a logo. But there may be smaller components which you’re happy to give away for free: an outline of your process, for example, or a tutorial on how to read a wireframe well. Educational stuff fares well as content for your mailing list or your overall marketing, especially when it’s one-off and in the service of a larger engagement.
For what you can charge for, go back to the beginning of this process, where you outlined the outcome for your clients. Focus not on market rates, but on the inevitable financial upside for the client. If you can predict a specific set of results, price based on those. For example, if a client makes $40,000/month in their business, and I can provide A/B testing that improves their conversion rate by 10%, then if I charge $2,000 a month for my services, they are making money just by hiring me. And they don’t need to work very hard at it.
When done right, value-based pricing is the equivalent of dropping a sack of money in your client’s lap and showing them where to sign – all while doubling (or tripling, or 10x’ing) your rate. (I learned how to do this by reading Double Your Freelancing Rate by your humble site owner Brennan Dunn, as well as Value-Based Fees by Alan Weiss.)
For everything you don’t charge for, find ways to keep delivering this value. Blog posts, mailing list installments, how-to guides, mini-courses, and cheap-ish books are all terrific ways to repackage the value you repeatably deliver to clients into products that are legible and valuable for your audience.
How Do You Ship Them?
By this point, you should have a clear sense of the scope of your offering and its corresponding financial upside for your client. Now it’s time to build the offering itself.
First, write a marketing page that lays out the scope, describes the upside, dismantles any prospective client objections, and closes with the sale and a call to action. Then, find a guinea pig to test this offering on, requesting feedback and a testimonial in return. Finally, refine and launch the offering to your audience.
Refining the offering and turning it into something shippable could easily be the subject of a whole separate book. Fortunately, [I wrote way more about this in an essay for 99u], which you should read if you want more detail.
How Can You Promote Them?
When it comes time to launch, you need to find a way to promote your work. Fortunately, if you’ve built these new offerings out of your past work, you already have a bunch of case studies in the wings. Focus on the results you delivered for your past projects and find a way to frame them around the work you’re offering now.
Doing smaller-scope projects also allows you to frame your new offerings as a comparative bargain against the old work. Oh sure, your prospective client could hire you for tens of thousands of dollars on some huge six-month undertaking. Or they could buy a report for $1,000 today, which is a roundoff error on their petty cash card. It takes you less time, gets them in the door, and allows you to ladder them up to higher-value offerings in the future.
What are the outcomes of this?
- More focused positioning. Work begets work. With these new offerings, you’re building on your past work. This allows you to cement your positioning as an authority in whatever you do.
- An ecosystem of coherent product offerings. It’s much easier to “do sales” when you can direct a lead towards a series of pages that passively qualify them. This allows you to focus more on providing results for those who do pay you.
- A product ladder, comprising a series of products at increasing price points. This allows you to get new clients in at the bottom of the ladder, and successively sell them on increasingly higher-value offerings.
Overall, I’ve found much less headache and much more fulfillment out of creating these offerings. Every time, I’ve started big and gone small, to figure out what’s worked and what I could do next. I hope this is helpful for you, and I’d love to hear how your new product-based offerings have fared!