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Disclaimer: Brian sounds great in this episode, and I, well, I don’t. I messed up and accidentally used my laptop’s microphone to record myself instead of the nice, external one sitting in front of my face. After this episode I’ve fixed most of the kinks in the process, so you guys will just have to bear with me on this one 🙂
I couldn’t wait to get Brian on the show because he has a great story and always has an interesting perspective to offer. He is the founder of AudienceOps, a done-for-you content marketing service, and is the creator of Productize, a course to help freelancers and agency owners break free of billable hours. He also recently sold his website design business, Restaurant Engine, and co-hosts the Bootstrapped Web Podcast. With such a varied background, you know any conversation with Brian is going to be full of unique insights.Podcast: What is 'productized consulting' and how it can help you scale your agency Click To Tweet
While we cover everything in this talk from the importance of positioning to how to build a team, where we really focus is on Brian’s specialty, productized consulting. Brian turned his web design skills into a product which allowed him to easily find and sell new clients. By the end of it, he was spending less than 3 hours a month managing the business and six months ago he closed the deal to sell it. With that success under his belt, he is trying to do it again for content marketing and today he’ll share his plan as well as how your own agency could benefit from productizing.
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Writing succinct show notes was tough. Before we hit the 30 minute mark I already identified 3 major takeaways:
- Establishing processes to remove yourself from your business [13:20 – 16:40]
- Growing a business beyond your personal network [16:40 – 23:45]
- How to build a team [23:45 – 29:00]
When I got to our main focus, I had written more 1,000 words on that subject alone and realized I had to make some edits. I write these show notes to make the episodes easier to digest, and a 2,500 word article isn’t a great way to do that. If you have the time to listen to the full episode, you won’t regret it. The hour is jam packed with value, but the main takeaway is Brian’s specialty, Productized Consulting.
What is productized consulting?
[29:00 – 38:25] and [46:05 – 59:30]
Productized consulting is taking a service that you offer your clients, packaging it up as a done for you solution, giving it a transparent price, and clearly defining both the scope and deliverables. Instead of offering “content marketing services” AudienceOps, offers an “Audience Growth” package that includes weekly blog articles, a newsletter, content upgrades, and social media promotion. WP Curve could have been just another WordPress development shop, but instead they packaged up their services into a simple offering; for one monthly fee you get unlimited small fixes to your WordPress site.
How is this different than traditional consulting?
This isn’t that different from traditional consulting. Brian still provides a custom solution for his clients after spending time to understand their business and their problems, but he is packaging what he offers in an easy-to-understand way. While a content marketers may say that they “write articles,” that isn’t as clear as describing the type of articles you write, how long they are, how much it will cost, the turnaround time, and all the extras that come along with it. Your client knows exactly what they are going to get, how much it will cost, and when they are going to get it.Your client knows exactly what they are going to get, how much it will cost, and when they are going to get it. Click To Tweet
A major benefit to productizing your services is that it forces you to create a repeatable process. For Brian, while what they write about is different for each client, every article has the same components (general length, custom graphics, email upgrade, newsletter, etc). This helps him develop processes for every step of content creation, while still creating unique and valuable results for the individual clients. This systematization makes AudienceOps much more efficient because they are able to specialize in a repeatable process that they refine over time. If they were delivering different types of work to different clients, they wouldn’t be able to gain the same efficiency.A major benefit to productizing your services is that it forces you to create a repeatable process. Click To Tweet
Breaking away from billable hours
With typical consulting, you are selling your time and as we all know, there is only so much time in a day. With productization, instead of selling your time, you are selling a solution. You are no longer delivering a commodity that is priced by the hour, you are delivering real value to your client and are able to price accordingly, regardless of how long it takes you to complete the task.
Easier to sell
Does this sound familiar to you? You get a referral from somebody, have a conversation with them to figure out what they need, and after jumping through those hoops you write a proposal for their specific situation. Then you repeat this again. With productized consulting, you already have defined the solution you are offering, so your job now is to simply find people who have the problem that your solution solves. You don’t need to create a custom proposal for every person you hope to work with.
Going further, as an agency owner we know all of the risks that we face when taking on a new project, but we often forget that the client has a lot of risks as well. The client is worried about whether or not you can actually deliver what they want, if there will be unexpected costs, and how closely you can stick to the deadline. By packaging up your services with clear deliverables and deadlines it is easier for your clients to buy because they know what they are going to get, when they are going to get it, and what they are going to pay. This distinction alone gives you a major advantage over the traditional consulting sales process.
A stepping stone to SaaS
So many agencies have the end goal of launching a SaaS product, because instead of selling your time, you are able to spend that time upfront to build a product and then sell it again, and again, and again. It isn’t quite passive income, but it the closest thing many of us can find to it.
The trouble is that even a minimum viable product can take months to develop, and those are months that your developers aren’t billing hours. That is a huge opportunity cost. Beyond that, once you launch the product you still need to find customers. That is something every business has to overcome, but for a SaaS business those customers are often paying you $50/mo or less. It isn’t easy to build a business $50 at a time.
With a productized service, you can launch in weeks and get paying customers within your first month. Since much of what you are doing is based on human labor, most of your upfront time is spent on the marketing side of the equation; figuring out your core offering, building a landing page, identifying your prospects, etc. This won’t be a fully functional business in two weeks, but you can have paying customers who are getting results in a short period of time, and then you can build the systems and software to become more efficient over time.
Not only do you get started much faster and with less investment, but because you are offering a done-for-you service (a SaaS product lets the client do it for themselves) you can charge a significant premium. AudienceOps offers packages priced at $950/mo and $1,950/mo, and because they are delivering clear value, they can easily justify those prices. And with prices like that, it isn’t hard to build real revenue.
In many cases, a productized service is a good way to get your feet wet before launching a SaaS product. At AudienceOps, Brian is getting ready to launch his first product. By productizing, his team got very good at what they do and along the way, they developed their own software tools to help make the process even more efficient. These tools are going to be the basis of an SaaS offering in the future.
The way Brian sees it, by offering these products along with their productized services, AudienceOps is able to appeal to a wider audience. Some of those new customers will upgrade to their more expensive services. This gives Brian the “passive” income every agency wants, while exposing his higher margin services to a wider audience.
How you can get started
For starters, realize that this isn’t an overnight process, and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The best way to start is by making small bets in the areas where you could be more focused. Who do you do the best work for (what size company, what industry, etc.), and what problems do you solve that have the biggest impact on their businesses?
From there, figure out how you can systematize the way you deliver the solution to them. While there are 20+ ways to build a website, what method do you have the most experience with? What method is your team most efficient with?
Focus on that one system and over time develop processes to make yourself more efficient at it.
You don’t need to throw out the rest of your agency once you start doing this, either. Consider it an experiment that, if works, you can expand in your business. However, that isn’t a requirement to making productized consulting work for your agency.
Not for you? No problem.
Even if you don’t think productizing is a good fit for your agency, there is a lot to learn from the way it forces you to identify a painful problem that you can reliably solve. People hate to feel like they are excluding the majority of their market, especially if they are struggling to get clients as it is. But Brian made a great point; if you don’t solve a specific problem for a specific type of business, how are you going to find more businesses to sell to? Even if you can find people who could use your service, how are you going to stand out from the 1000s of other designers, or developers, or whatever?
Maybe the answer for you isn’t to create a productized service, but if prospects aren’t banging down your door, then you can learn a lot about how Brian markets a solution to his clients instead of a tool or technology.
If you want to hear more from Brian, you can find him on Twitter at @CasJam, or check out his agency at AudienceOps. If you want to learn more about how you can productize your own services, check out the email crash course on his website CasJam.com or the full course, Productize.
Thanks for listening!
How does productization fit in with your vision for your agency? Could you see yourselves doing it? Why or why not? Narrowing down to a niche like this is a touchy subject, so I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.