You’ve started a freelance business. You’ve won a few clients, completed a few projects, and you’re bringing in a decent amount of money.
Congratulations! You’ve made it. Everything’s sweet, right?
Well, perhaps not everything. Just like every other freelancer, you’ve likely experienced a few headaches along the way – lean periods with no work; clients paying late; managing your time and money effectively. In fact, those are all the things that freelancers say are their biggest challenges:
But it doesn’t have to be like that!
By productizing your service, you can solve a bunch of those problems all at once. In this article, I’m going to tell you exactly what that means, and how you can do it yourself.
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Table of Contents
What Is a Productized Service?
Let’s say you’re a marketing consultant. A client needs help from an SEO expert, so they drop you a line. You listen to their challenges and objectives, then propose a monthly retainer that’ll help you achieve their business goals.
That’s a classic service approach.
To productize that service, you’d strip away all the back-and-forth, and sell your SEO services as a package. Rather than building a unique, bespoke offering for every client, you come up with a single product (or a handful of products, each aimed at different types of customers) that includes a fixed number of deliverables, such as:
What Are the Benefits of Productizing Your Service?
That’s all well and good. But why would you want to productize your service? After all, you’re the expert; why should you leave it up to your prospective customers to decide what services they buy from you?
Because customizing your services to meet the needs of each client takes time. Think of all the steps involved in selling your service:
- Speaking to a potential client to understand their objectives
- Putting together a unique strategy
- Presenting it back to the client
- Negotiating on price and deliverables
And that’s all before you’ve even started working with them! Chances are, you’ve effectively done all that work for free.
As any freelancer will tell you, time is a precious resource. You’re a one-man (or woman) band, so you don’t have a team of minions taking care of “business as usual” while you sit back and price up your next big-budget project. If you spend half a day building a proposal for a potential client, that’s half a day when you haven’t earned any money – and there are no guarantees that client will actually sign a deal anyway.
By contrast, productized services require no upfront work whatsoever.
Once you’ve put together a packaged product, you can sell it to anyone. And because your pricing and deliverables are completely transparent, you don’t need to spend hours on all that pre-sale work. Clients either want your product, or they don’t. That makes it super efficient.
There are other benefits to productizing your service, too:
- Marketability: It’s simpler to market a one-size-fits-all product than a tailored service that can look completely different from one client to another.
- Scalability: Clients aren’t paying for “your services”; they’re paying for a deliverable. That makes it easier to outsource parts of your product, making it more scalable.
- Autonomy: Buyers have total control, which means there’s much less chance they’ll feel mis-sold or misled during the sales process. What’s more, buyers actively want to make self-service purchases – 15% would even spend more than $1 million on an end-to-end autonomous or remote purchase. Unless you chisel your blog posts into gold bars, that’s probably enough to cover your fees!
What Sort of Services Can Be Productized?
Some services require such a high degree of personalization, they simply can’t be productized. There are just too many variables.
But that’s not the case for most freelance services. Whether you offer email marketing, copywriting, web design, or something else entirely, chances are it can be packaged and sold as a product – particularly if you have a repeatable process.
For example, content marketing and outreach are typically seen as digital services, but companies like uSERP have turned link-building into a product, with different tiers for different levels of activity:
One word of caution at this point: if you’re assigning a high price to your productized service, it should be clear that you’re worth the money.
The risk of productizing is that it naturally leads buyers to compare on price. If you’re charging $500 to create an ebook, and someone else is charging $250, how can you justify that additional expense? Gathering reviews and testimonials from existing clients can help; consider using them to create detailed case studies that speak to the value you provide.
LawRank, an SEO company, does this by creating detailed blog post case studies of each client they have worked with.
These case studies help potential customers understand what the results could be, what improvement they can expect to see, why the service is better than the rest, how much traffic improvement they can expect, etc.
How to Productize Your Service: 3 Strategies to Get You There
If you’re still with me by this point, you’re presumably sold on the benefits of productizing your service. Good for you – it’s a super smart way to make money online! Now, here’s how to make it happen:
Strategy 1: Foot in the Door
What’s it About?
Did you take advantage of a free 30-day trial with Netflix or Spotify a few years ago, then find you loved it so much, you couldn’t bear to cancel? Me too!
Well, the foot-in-the-door (FITD) approach to productizing your service is kind of like that!
Rather than going through all the rigmarole of pre-sale, you offer a stripped-down version of your core product and sell it for a fixed price. For instance, rather than an end-to-end content strategy incorporating persona development and keyword research, you could offer a single 1,000-word blog post or five-page ebook. Or instead of building an entire website from scratch, you could offer to create a single landing page.
While you obviously still want to earn money from foot-in-the-door productization, it can be helpful to think of your product as a loss leader for your higher-value, longer-term services. This approach offers several benefits:
- Strengthening your reputation: If the client loves your initial work, that puts you in a really strong position to offer them additional services, because they know you’re fantastic at what you do.
- Generating hot leads: You know they have a need for your expertise, because they’ve already bought from you! In this way, FITD effectively acts as a lead generation technique – except that you get paid for the work you put in upfront, and you already have a working relationship with the lead in question.
- Training your clients: There’s a mental aspect to this, too – when a client has bought from you once, they’re subconsciously assigning value to your work, which makes them more likely to buy from you again.
Think of how you can create a small, bite-sized version of your service and package it into a product that someone will pay for. It could be a video course, how-to guide, ebook, cheat-sheet, audit, or something else.
What’s it Best For?
In an ideal world, your foot-in-the-door product will be highly repeatable and super scalable. Something for which you can create a template that can be easily customized to the needs of each client.
Of course, that’s not always possible. A web designer can create a handful of landing page templates and choose the one that best fits a new client. But a copywriter can’t simply create a template blog; every post has to be totally unique.
This FITD technique can even work for service industries like lawyers and doctors. For example, Rosenbaum & Rosenbaum, a law firm in New York, offer free consultations to get their customers’ foot in the door.
Whether or not you can template it, your FITD product should showcase your expertise and the quality of your work, without requiring a lengthy turnaround time.
Strategy 2: One-Off Purchase
What’s it About?
If you’ve just had your car serviced, you likely won’t do it again for at least another year.
That’s a classic example of a physical service being packaged as a one-off product. And the good news is, you can do exactly the same for your service, whether it’s physical or digital.
First, you need to identify something within your offering that makes sense as a standalone purchase. A classic example is an audit (of a website’s SEO, or ecommerce store, or Google Ads account).
Next, you need to work out how much to charge. This is quite different to the low-priced foot-in-the-door technique; if your product genuinely works as a one-off, there’s a good chance people will just come to you for that product, which makes it less likely you’ll see any immediate repeat business from them. It needs to be priced accordingly – by which I mean, it needs to be profitable in its own right.
To figure out your pricing, look back over all the times you’ve offered that product in the past. Ask yourself:
- What specific steps did it involve?
- What did the deliverable(s) look like?
- How long did it take to complete?
- How much did you charge for it?
It’s fine if there’s a big variance – that just means you’ll be better off presenting your standalone product in multiple tiers, depending on the level of work involved.
Start with your lowest-priced offering, allocate a price based on the number of hours you expect to put in, then add one or more higher product tiers for more complex projects or larger clients.
Leave yourself some wiggle room by creating a top-tier “bespoke” or “enterprise” package without a fixed price. These clients will be worth going through all that unpaid pre-sale work with, because the potential returns are so high.
What’s it Best For?
Unsurprisingly, the one-off purchase approach works best for any services that can be packaged on their own. That includes things like:
- Strategy documents
- 101-style training sessions
Strategy 3: Ongoing Subscription
What is It?
Effectively, this is the classic SaaS marketing model. When you sign up to a SaaS product – like a landing page tool, project management tool, or a file-sharing service – you likely don’t intend to just use it once. The real value comes from using it repeatedly over an extended period.
Because it involves charging your clients a fixed monthly (or quarterly, or yearly) sum, the ongoing subscription model is most similar to the retainer model already used by a lot of freelancers and consultants.
However, the difference stems from the greater transparency on offer. Clients know exactly what they’re getting for their money, because they signed up for a package with set deliverables.
As with one-off purchases, ongoing subscriptions make most sense when packaged into multiple tiers. After all, you likely serve more than one type of client. Month-old startups have very different needs to long-established small businesses and large, multinational enterprises.
Again, start with your minimum product tier, offering the fewest deliverables, then scale up from there. And don’t forget the fully customizable top tier.
While it’s inevitably a tougher sell than the foot-in-the-door product or a one-off purchase, the subscription model is great for business, because it offers you a consistent cash flow.
What’s it Best For?
Any type of service that delivers results over the long term, rather than in a week or a month.
SEO is a good example. While website optimization might start to yield results straight away (if the site was in a terrible state to begin with, or being penalized by Google for black hat tactics), it’s far more likely to be a slow burn. Most SEOs say it takes at least six months to see the fruits of their labor.
Or to put it another way, if your clients won’t see any value from buying this product as a one-off, offer them a subscription.
Wrapping it Up
There’s really nothing revolutionary to productizing your service.
It doesn’t mean ripping up the rulebook and starting afresh with a whole new offering.
Instead, it’s about changing your mindset. Rather than selling yourself as an expert, you’re selling your product and the results it delivers. That’s a much better basis for growing a business.
Sure, you’ll have to put in a bunch of work upfront to define exactly what your products should be, and whether you need to package them in multiple tiers. You may need to invest some marketing spend, too, to bring in new clients. But the rewards can be huge if you get it right.