When you're a freelancer, you usually deliver a service. You are what's hired. And a client pays you to use your expertise to solve a problem/need of them. They have a request and you send them a proposal as to how you would solve it. Doing so costs you time. And in the end, you simply bill the client for your time.
As a freelancer, time is your most valuable resource. Simply because it's capped. When things go well and you spend it on clients, you'll run out of it.
Not that that's a bad thing. The point of being a freelancer is to do the work. And if you have too much work, good on you. But what if it still gives you a nagging feeling of wanting more growth? Serving more clients? Making more of an impact? More satisfaction? Or simply earning more money?
One way of delivering a higher return per hour is productising your services.
In the basis, all forms of productising are moving from designing the project based on the client's question and charging a fee per hour to a setup product description you can offer to clients.
"When you want X to be solved, what I offer is exactly what you need. This is what I'll deliver, it will take this long. It'll cost Y. And to get started, this is what I need from you."
When you do so, you move away from being hired help delivering hours of your craft, to becoming the one offering a solution to the problem. How you do it is up to you. When you deliver hours, you are the handyman who needs to be directed in what to do. When you deliver the solution you become the advisor who just gets the job done.
Btw, I'm not necessarily talking about physical products. Nor about automated and digital courses, ebooks or other examples of the passive income junkies. These, for sure, can be great options. But here, I'll talk about productising a service in a way that it is still you who's doing the work, but doing so in more effective and efficient way.
The good news is productising your service can allow you to be more efficient, deliver more value in less time and thus get paid more.
The downside is, you can't do this on theoretical knowledge about the work. You might know your craft, but to know how to deliver, you need to have experience in the real world.
It's when you've done the work for a while, that you start seeing patterns. It's this experience that you can leverage to not only deliver better work than your competition, but also be more effective and reliable in delivering it.
There are three types of patterns in particular. It's around these three that you'll structure your productised service.
You know what the value is of your work. But your client has a totally different background. And what you think is valuable or cool about your craft can be something totally different from what the client wants. Let alone, what words he or she might use to describe it.
After doing it for a while you'll notice what it is clients need most. Plus, you'll notice how that differs for different types of clients.
When you get a certain question over and over, and you custom design a process and price proposal every time, it makes sense to offer this as a product on your website.
I can build a website for your upcoming book launch. I can write an awesome about page for your company. I can create a live painting of your wedding right there on the spot.
But naming it alone doesn't make it a product. It needs a package. Hence, ...
When some questions and needs keep coming back, you get a chance to learn what way you can best go about helping your client. You'll go from thinking what's possible, to knowing what's best.
You'll develop a process of exactly the needed steps. You'll develop the experience to gauge whether or not you can move on to the next phase. It will be more effective and skips all the unnecessary frivolities. So, less hours will be wasted. But also, it will lead to less frustration on both sides.
Besides understanding what phases you need to go through in order to deliver. What you'll also learn is what questions clients will have during the process. Or what resistance might play a role. And how you get information from them at the moment you need it to be able to deliver.
So that, every time a client comes with that question you can say: "Of course, I can build a website/design your logo/create a live painting for your wedding. I've helped clients with this exact thing before. These are steps we'll go through, this is what I'll need from you at each point, and this is what it's going to cost."
You could even list starting prices depending on certain differentiators (for example types of features needed in the website, or size of the company)
The third pattern is that you'll develop the empathy to understand your clients better. Once you have that, you start to understand better what the main emotional hurdle is that they need to overcome to say yes to your project.
Because make no mistake, it might be scary for you to pitch your solution, but it's also scary for them to pick you. They're scared to make the wrong choice. And they're not sure yet it will work out well. Or if it's their boss's money, they'll want to make her happy.
So, when the productisation of your service can include a way to completely circumvent that fear, even better!
Webdesign is scary to them. The client might not know anything about coding. And the little experience they have with it is that it always takes more time and money than initially foreseen. They fear that it'll be a long, dragged out and costly process.
That's why a "website in a week" promise is so powerful. The package completely negates the fear. So, in your product description, you list exactly how long it's going to take, what you'll do on what day and what you need from them at which moment to make it work. That won't sound too rigid. That sounds confident and will make the client believe that you know what you're doing.
Productising builds portfolio
And will the solution actually help them? This is where the second benefit of productising comes in: It allows you to build up a portfolio of similar clients.
It's scary to trust you with doing a live painting of their wedding. It holds great emotional value and can't be done again, because it's a once in a lifetime moment. But with a portfolio of 30 previous paintings and happy quotes, it will give them an idea of what to expect.
Or, say you offer a style sheet that allows everyone in the marketing department to be on the same page. When you show them a template that has been proven and improved upon by your work for 30 previous clients, that gives enormous trust. "If it worked for them, it will work for us."
From the patterns you start to see by doing it over and over, you can develop a productised service that solves
- the most recurring pain point,
- with a process that is super efficient for you.
- Packaged in such a way that it circumvents their biggest emotional hurdle in saying yes
NB: Productised vs. edgy work
When you live for work at the edge of your ability or the most innovative work in the scene. This might not be for you. These productised services center around the fact that you've done it before and through that experience, you can deliver it neatly and quickly again. Edgy work requires a budget that gives you the leeway for trial and error. So, if that's what you seek, maybe this isn't for you.
NB2: Productised 'vs.' unique work
As a freelancer, the best game to play is to be the best and only at what you do. Offering work that is uniquely you. That's the opposite of running a commodity business where you compete on price.
So! Beware of making your productised business about being quicker and cheaper. That's a race to the bottom. And it doesn't have to be. As we saw in the website in a week-example, you can set it up in a way that you take away the biggest fear/hurdle. This way, because you understand your clients so well, you could even be more expensive! A website in a week? Nobody is able to offer that, sounds great!
So, use your productising as a way to create more value! That way, it's not standardised or dumbed down work. And make sure it's still uniquely you.
Next up in this product series: How to scale up your products even more.
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