What’s the difference between a home cooked meal and dinner at a restaurant? Besides the obvious addition of love, what truly sets them apart?
If you cook anything like me, then the answer is the meal cooked at home is custom made. Maybe you followed a general recipe, but in the end, the exact specifications weren’t set in stone. You may have added extra ingredients that you felt would complement it, and the sides just sort of came together based on what you had in the pantry.
By comparison, the meal made in a restaurant follows a very specific formula, time and time again in order to maximize flavor, experience, presentation, and the cost to the restaurant to produce.
Which of these is the better meal?
Neither of them is better than the other – they’re just two very different ways of preparing food to get you to the end results – a nice meal you can enjoy.
For years, the work I did was the home cooked meal. It was custom, bespoke, and tailored specifically to each and every client I worked with. Every project was different, even though the end results were almost identical when things were said and done.
I started each project with a blank slate, built it from the ground up, and customized it to suit the client’s needs and end goals. There was nothing inherently wrong with that, by no means was it a bad way to go.
But it took a lot of work.
Each project I completed somehow always overextended it’s scope, ran through it’s timelines, and ended up being much more work than I originally thought it would be. One day I sat down, and decided I needed to figure out what the issue was. There had to be a reason why these projects were running off the rails so often, even though by all standards, they were run of the mill websites or marketing projects, which should have been fairly straightforward.
What I found was the majority of the work I did was not, in fact, custom. It was the same thing over and over again, and by approaching it in this bespoke, custom manner, I was adding unnecessary work to every project I worked on.
With this discovery, I set out to more clearly outline my projects – the recipes I used – to create the end results my clients wanted. Creating set lists and items for deliverables, identifying key components which could be reused from project to project, and making the scope of each project more streamlined in the execution.
During this time, I came across a fellow who was talking about productizing services. Essentially, making your services as close to a product as possible so you can easily recreate them, (and the results they bring to your clients).
Brian Casel changed my life at the most opportune time, and I highly recommend you look him up for further resources on this topic.
Using his teachings on the topic, I was able to streamline my production and offer my services in a way that made sense for me doing the work and made sense for my clients purchasing them. Because when you think about it – everything about creating custom work is harder.
Custom is Harder to Create
As service providers, everything we do tends to be thought of as custom work. We see it through the lens of originality and creativity, and so the patterns between projects can be hard to see when we’re so engrossed in doing the work. But when we’re examining each client’s individual needs and responding with a solution made specifically to their situation, it takes far more work.
At first, we love the idea of custom work, we’re free to tailor our services to the client’s needs and we can offer something which fits like a well-made tailored suit. It empowers us to have more control over the process, and the results we see from doing this kind of work helps to reinforce the idea that this is the way to go.
There are so many other parts of our business we gladly rinse and repeat. We reuse the same contracts, the same invoices, and we certainly don’t create a brand-new style of working with each project we take on. Why then do we cling so hard to make everything we do a custom piece of work?
Perhaps it’s our pride. Perhaps it feels as though if we were to offer something to a client that wasn’t custom, it would somehow take away from our expertise or make us less talented. I think the main cause is that we feel that if we don’t create everything ourselves, piece by piece, lovingly handcrafted each and every time, we will somehow lose control.
But when we’re constantly having to reinvent the wheel for every project we work on, there’s very little by way of predictability. We often feel less in control, and by the end, ready to be done with it completely. When everything we create for our projects is custom, it increases the workload by at least double. Having to create everything from scratch every time, even if we’re incredibly good at what we do, is not only hard, but it’s inefficient. And when you’re a Secret Weapon, efficiency needs to be the name of the game. Not because we’re trying to churn out massive amounts of projects for the bottom line, but because to do so otherwise, leads us down the path to burnout and dissatisfaction with the work we’re doing.
When a service provider gets burned out, this leads to unhappy clients, hits to our reputation and let’s face it – it just sucks for everyone involved. By flipping the script on custom work, and acknowledging yes, there are some things we do that are custom for each project, but the majority of the work is repeatable from project to project, we put in place stop-gaps to prevent burnout from happening in the first place, and we reduce the amount of work.
Custom is Harder to Manage
Custom projects are harder to keep control of the reins. When I was examining why the majority of my projects went off the rails and overran their time, budget, or scope, it led me to believe I was the problem – was I unable to stick to a timeline? Did I create unnecessary work? Was I the one who was undercharging for my services?
And the truth is that yes, I was – on all of those accounts. But it wasn’t because I had any lack of skill, or I was bad at project managing, it was because I was approaching my projects from a stance of knowing what went into the project, but not taking into account having to create everything from the ground up. I was selling myself short, time and time again.
When we don’t have clear guidelines around the amount of time it takes us to do a specific type of project, and what resources we need to accomplish it, it leaves us suffering in the pricing department, and trying to make up for it in other departments – like quality or timelines.
When we make compromises in our deliverables, because we misunderstood the amount of work in a specific type of project, we ultimately suffer in our revenue. Very rarely do I see a service provider overcharging for a project, that ended up being less work than they thought it would be. Far too often, I see service providers working for what amounts to be half or a third of what they need to earn per hour, in order to survive.
But when we have clear guidelines around our projects, we’re better able to manage our timelines, and know exactly how long a project of this type takes us to complete. We’re better able to predict what the cost will be to us in terms of time and resources. This helps us bill more realistically and set project pricing that doesn’t make us wince when we get paid.
Custom is Harder to Sell
Custom work is so very hard to market and sell. How many inquiries have you gotten that end with the catch-all service provider answer: “It depends, I’ll need some more information.”
This answer wears us down over time doesn’t it? We feel helpless not being able to provide these very basic answers to prospective clients about price, timeline, and deliverability, without having to sit down for an hour-long conversation, before they’ve even decided if they want to go ahead with something like that.
It’s a waste of our time. Since we are solely dependent on our time as a means to put food on the table, and keep us in Apple products, that time can’t be wasted on doing a deep dive into a client’s needs, when we aren’t even sure if we can offer them something to meet their goals.
When every project we create is custom, it becomes so much harder to talk about with our prospects and our clients. Trying to describe a brand-new painting, when brush hasn’t been put to canvas, is almost impossible for an artist and so too in our work, does this plague us.
We can grab examples and samples from here and there and say, “it will be like this, but different,” and this hurts us in our sales process rather than helping. We need to be able to clearly express the exact features, the exact benefits, and the exact end product the client will be getting. We need to paint the picture beforehand, rather than relying on our client’s imagination filling in the blanks and deciding it’s worth it.
When we productize or package our services in such a way as to make them clear and concise for the client looking to work with us, we’re taking a lot of the hard work out of the process for them. It becomes easier to talk about the work we do, because we have clear boundaries about what’s included and what’s not. And above all else, it helps us get over that dreaded, “it depends,” scenario where we can’t give our clients any real answers unless we sit down with them for an hour to pick their brain.
Going the route of productizing our services allows us to clearly own the outcomes of our projects even further, because we know all the variables going into the project in the first place.
The Process of Productizing Your Services
The act of packaging up what we do into nice neat little piles can seem daunting at first. We don’t know where to start, what to focus on, and what makes the most sense from the viewpoint of our customers. We also tend to think it precludes us from offering anything else outside of these set packages. All of this can prevent us from starting.
Instead of thinking we’re no longer able to provide these other services, view it instead as top and eye-level shelves in a supermarket. When a person goes into a supermarket, it’s been designed to put the most common and highest selling items at eye level. The shelves are designed in such a way as to make it easy for someone to find what they need, and usually, this means they’re looking for something pretty standard. But the supermarket doesn’t lock away the rest of their products in a vault where you need a secret code word to get in, they just put them a bit further up, or a bit further down in the shelves, because they know statistically you’re not looking for those items with the same frequency as you are the ones on the eye-level shelves.
So too with our packages. We’re not hiding away the custom services, we’re not locking them in a vault. We’re just putting them above or below eye level. They’re still there, but we’re far more focused on the easier to sell, easier to explain services and packages we have.
When we look at it this way, it becomes a bit less constricting for us, and we can uncomplicate it so much more.
At the heart, productizing our services means creating set packages with specific details of what’s offered, what’s not offered, and how it rolls out in application to a client’s business. We’re able to confidently say package X does Y, and package Y does Z, because we know everything contained in both packages, and how they differ from one another.
Go through the services you offer the most frequently to clients. I’m sure you can see there are items which are more popular and get your clients better results than others. These will be your core packages. In my case, the most popular packages I have are my website package, and my marketing automation package. These are my bread and butter, and it’s what I focus the most on when I talk to clients.
From there, you can feel free to split them into smaller or more custom packages. In my case, I have a website redesign package, a website from scratch package, and an all in one website package, combined with my marketing automation package. Based on their goals, I can usually tell which one would be the best fit for them, and which variation of the package would suit them best.
Having a set of 4-6 packages does wonders for our business, because it takes the guesswork out of what we sell, and how best to sell it. It gives us structure around what we’re creating, and how we create it, giving us space to bring in things like automations, frameworks, templates, and more to further support the project, so we don’t feel as though we’re starting from scratch with every new client we sign on.
When we create packages like this and have them clearly outlined, we can draw clear boundaries around what is expected of us, what is expected of the client, the deliverables, and the timelines required.
Outlining Your Packages
When we have our packages created, and we’re sure they give the best value to our clients, we can then move on to providing structure to them internally.
The four major components of any productized service are:
- The deliverables
- The timelines
- The outcomes
- The follow-up
What exactly is your client going to get from this project? When we’re all finished, what will they be left with in terms of assets, features, and tangible items from our work? When we lay out the exact deliverables of a project, it becomes so much harder for the projects to enter into scope creep territory. If it doesn’t have a home on this list, then it is outside the scope of the project, period.
We can, of course, alter the deliverables here and there to ensure our package is meeting our clients needs, but when we take the time to clearly set out the project deliverables, there are no misunderstandings in the process.
When creating our list of deliverables for a project, we want to keep it confined to the cold, hard facts. It can be easy to pepper in marketing speak here to make these deliverables seem more attractive. Avoid the temptation to do so.
Don’t offer promises in this list of deliverables. This can mean the difference between having a landing page on your list of deliverables, vs. a landing page that converts at a certain guaranteed percentage. Keep the results of your deliverables out of your list, and you’ll save yourself tons of headaches down the road.
Next up in your project outline should be the timeline. Since you have a very defined list of the deliverables each project entails, you can clearly tell how long it’s going to take you to deliver those to your client. Be generous with yourself here, and make sure to build in a 5-10% margin to ensure you have room to spare for when things go awry, or if a client is slow to communicate with you.
Break down the project into distinct phases, and determine the approximate timelines for each phase. This helps us not only plan better for our own scheduling, but it will ensure we communicate to our client the distinct parts of the project, and when they’ll be completed.
No client has ever complained about a project being completed early, but there are horror stories in abundance of service providers not giving themselves enough time to deliver, and missing the deadlines they initially promised.
Don’t be one of those service providers, and make sure the timelines you create for each of your projects take into account the work being done, the client providing feedback, revisions, and that you’ll most likely be working on other projects as well during this time.
Here’s where we get to pull out some of our marketing speak, and talk up the project a bit more. In the outcomes section, we’re going to focus on the benefits of our package, not the features. What does having this completed project mean for them? Does it mean less time managing a certain part of their business? Does it mean having solid assets to reuse easily for their company? Does it mean that their customers will be better informed about the work they do? Or does it mean they won’t have to feel frantic in the morning when they check their email?
Highlight these benefits in your outcomes as the most common side effects of having this project completed by yourself. Feel free to talk yourself up here, and use real world data from past clients projects to support your claims.
The key part of this is to base our outcome claims on average past results only, not on best case scenarios. We’ve all heard the claims from service providers about how their one client made $45,000 in one month from their project, when in reality the rest of their clients see an average of $2,000-$3,000. Don’t be that person.
Yes, absolutely talk about the one client who got that amazing result, or the project you created that went on to do amazing things, but don’t mislead your prospects by insinuating every project you create will end up with these great big results. By avoiding this, you’ll allow your prospect to have a more realistic view of the project outcomes, and will take the pressure off of you to deliver these results time and time again. We all want to have amazingly successful projects we can highlight to everyone who can listen, but in my experience, it’s the service provider who can create 100 projects with consistent results who close more deals, than the one who creates five projects with big results and 95 with less than stellar outcomes.
Once the project is complete – what then? Having a portion of our project outline devoted to what comes after a project is a key part of making sure our clients feel cared for.
Do you offer maintenance or a support period? Do you have a guarantee that covers a certain amount of time after the project is completed? Explain these parts of your work, so you can be sure to talk about them when you’re in a sales call with a prospect. Clients want to feel supported throughout every stage of the process, and by letting them know that once a project is finished, you aren’t going to up and disappear, is going to make your packages much more attractive to anyone interested in working with you.
Systems and Frameworks for Completing Your Productized Services
Once we have the overall outline of our packages in place, they become easier to systemize and automate. We can examine what we can do to make them easier to complete. Whether those are templates or frameworks, SOP documentation, or even hiring someone else to do portions of the project.
When I did this in my own work, I ended up creating frameworks and templates for each type of project and saved about eight to ten hours for each one. I identified key assets so I could reuse them, created templates that could be transferred from client to client, and even set up a repeatable to-do list to guide me through the process each time, so I wouldn’t have to sit down and wonder “what’s next?”
Productivity is a huge word these days – we all want to be more productive. We chase time hacks and techniques to make us more productive in our work and in our businesses, but we often miss the mark, because when everything we do is custom work, there’s no way to truly streamline.
Taking the custom portion out of the equation doesn’t constrict us – it frees us to work within a defined set of boundaries where we can play. Creating templates to guide our process, frameworks to light the path forward, and operating procedures we can use to ensure we’re always on track, will give us more, not less.
Sit down and go through your packages. Where can you create something to help you finish this project faster or with fewer man hours? What do you find yourself creating again and again for each project?
It could be as simple as a predetermined file structure, or as complex as a website framework. My friend Amanda, a copywriter who works primarily with health and wellness coaches, created a template within her writing program that she can easily bring up for every new project she works on. In it she captures the client’s past messaging, information on their target market, links to their important pieces online, and testimonials her client has received in the past. Having those pieces already gathered and organized for her before she sits down to write the emails or the sales pages, ensures she has exactly what she needs at her fingertips, so she doesn’t waste time searching for something she needs in the moment.
Increasing Profitability With Productized Services
Creating these assets and processes will do wonders for your profit margins. If you’re able to get back five to ten hours of your time from each project, while still charging the same rate – where would that time be better spent? You could use it to acquire new clients, you could use it to promote your own business, and you could use it to give yourself the much needed margin to keep you rested, inspired, and ready to serve your clients to your highest capacity.
You’ll get an increased number of clients who say yes to your projects when you approach them in this manner. Not only can you see exactly which type of project would suit them best, you’ll be able to clearly explain what the project entails for them at each step of the way.
This leads to a much easier yes on the part of your prospects. They see clearly what the project entails, what they get out of it, and will feel far more comfortable saying yes to something when they know all the details. No one goes to buy a car without knowing exactly what they’ll get – and in our work, we shouldn’t be so concerned with ensuring everything we do is custom work. Because the truth of the matter is, you’re most likely undercharging for that custom work. When you create packages of your services, you’re much more likely to price them accordingly and allot for the real time spent, plus the knowledge and skill needed to complete them.
I encourage you to start this process within your own business. The less time it takes you to do the same work, the more time you’re able to devote to acquiring new or repeat clients. You’ll easily become the Secret Weapon for a group of clients who love what you do, because they know exactly what they’re getting each time they work with you.
You’ll start to see a decrease in the amount of time spent on each project you undertake, you’ll see an increase in your conversion rate when talking to prospects about what you can do, and you’ll see an overall upswing in the profitability of your business.
But overall – and this has been the most amazing by-product of adjusting the way I work in this manner – is that you’ll have peace of mind when it comes to the outcomes of your projects.
When I was quoting 100% custom work, it was so hard to invest myself in the outcome of a project. I knew I could do my part, but the feeling that the project was going to fail because of some great unknown I would discover later, plagued me throughout the process. It was like a dark hammer above my head and I never knew if or when it would drop.
Once I set out clear outlines of what my projects did, what they contained, and the benefits they could bring, I was far more certain these projects would in fact, achieve the final outcomes. This freed me just that much more to be confident in the outcomes I could achieve for clients. It allowed me to become far more invested in those outcomes, because they were so much better defined.
We don’t want to let our clients down, and when we’re able to know with certainty our projects can achieve what we say they will, it allows us to step fully into the role of Secret Weapon, and leave the hired gun, custom work mentality behind that can trip us up or plague our confidence.
- Service providers tend to treat everything we do as custom work, which makes every project harder to complete and harder to communicate.
- Productizing our services means to create set packages with clear boundaries around what is contained and not contained within them.
- A packed or productized service has these main features:
- Set deliverables
- Set timelines and phases
- Specific outcomes
- Defined follow up
- When you know these components of each project, you’re better able to create systems, frameworks, templates, and procedures to support you in delivering them faster and easier.
- Productized services are easier to sell to your prospects, because they know exactly what a project entails, this leads to greater profitability for your business because you’ll get more yeses.
- The surprising side effect of having productized services is more confidence in what you create, and the outcomes that can be achieved, which lets you become more invested in the outcome of a project because they’re clearly defined.