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Developing Products from Your Freelance Work: What You Need to Know

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The concept of developing a product that goes along with the services you offer makes sense for many freelancers: the right product can help you even out those mountains and valleys in your income, as well as bring in money from people who just aren’t a good fit as clients.

But offering products requires a big investment, especially in terms of time. It’s gotten a lot easier than even just a few years ago, but whether you’re thinking of writing an ebook or developing WordPress themes, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time building your product, as well as marketing it and providing customer service.

Can You Add Product Development to Your Schedule?

Before you even consider creating a product, you need to decide whether you can afford to do so. You need to sit down with your calendar and look at what you have scheduled in terms of client work, as well as what you can expect to come in soon from the marketing and promotion you do on that side of your business.

Consider whether it’s going to be more lucrative to create products with the time you can carve out or if it makes more sense to look for more clients.

Consider whether it’s going to be more lucrative to create products with the time you can carve out or if it makes more sense to look for more clients. Remember, with clients, you get at least a deposit on the front-end of your work and you can usually expect the rest of the payment when you’ve completed the work. You won’t see any money from your products until after you’ve done all the work.

It’s also rare to make a fortune from the first product you create. If you’re willing to invest the time and effort, and you’ve got a product that applies to your audience, you can usually cover the time it takes you to create and sell your product, but it takes practice to develop products that knock it out of the park.

If you’ve got a packed schedule, full of client work, it may not make sense to start development on a new product just yet. It's doable, but putting that sort of pressure on your work schedule can be tough. If you're committed to creating more diverse income streams, you need to be able to block out time to work on the project, as if you were one of your own clients.

How Will a Project Fit in With Your Services?

While freelancers can offer products that are not really in line with what they usually do for clients — freelance writers, in particular, can find opportunities to sell all sorts of books — you'll reap the greatest benefits if you can make your product a cohesive part of the services that you routinely sell to your clients.

After all, you invest quite a bit of time into marketing your freelance services. There's no reason not to try to make that marketing overlap with your products.

  • Products can bring you clients: Depending on the products you offer, your efforts may not only sell products but bring you additional clients. You can offer products that help prospective clients before they are ready to hire a freelancer, as well as establish your expertise in your particular niche.
  • Clients can buy your products: If you offer a product you find your clients needing on a regular basis, you can make your product an add-on or an upsell to go along with the services you usually sell.

Either of these options can be useful in building a business with more streams of income, that also may have more potential for long-term growth than a more run-of-the-mill freelancing business.

You do have the option of building any product you like, of course: it's your business. If you'd rather work on something that you find more intellectually stimulating than offerings that tie in more closely with the same sort of work you do day after day, that works.

It's just going to require some different steps in marketing your product. Especially in web and mobile development, we've seen many freelancers build games or other fun side projects. In a way, such approaches can help your career by providing you with a more advanced or unusual portfolio piece than you might have otherwise.

Is There a Demand for the Product You Want to Build?

The real difficulty in building new products is ensuring that there is a demand for anything you want to build. There’s no guarantee when you make this sort of investment — there’s always a chance that anything new you do could be a complete flop.

Provided that your product idea is something that you believe your clients would be interested in, you can ask for feedback on the concept before you even start prototyping it.

But as a freelancer, you do have certain advantages when narrowing down your potential products to ideas that actually stand a chance of appealing to paying customers. You already have an established client base that has proven willing to pay for things you’ve created. Provided that your product idea is something that you believe your clients would be interested in, you can ask for feedback on the concept before you even start prototyping it. That’s an invaluable asset for anyone who creates products.

No matter if you’re planning to stick to that existing audience, though, you should look at the appeal of your idea for moving forward. Check out the competition and consider how you can offer something different — and why those differences might be appealing to your buyers. Interview the sorts of people you consider ideal buyers for your new product and find out what problems the product might solve or if it just wouldn’t be a good fit.

Not all ideas are going to be winners. But the sooner you can dump concepts that won’t actually sell well, the faster you can move on to building those products that will be big winners.

How Are You Going to Build the Product in Question

As a freelancer, you undoubtedly have some impressive skills of your own. Ideally, those skills are exactly what you need to build the lion's share of the product you're creating. In fact, it may be a good idea to put aside any ideas that require too much work outside of those areas where you have an aptitude. That's because it's relatively easy to get all sorts of help with your product — but it's also relatively expensive.

Any work you can't do yourself will require you to bring in some help, probably in the form of another freelancer. That, in turn, means that you're probably going to have to pay for those services upfront. Consider what happens whenever anyone offers you a project that you'd get paid for after it starts to make money — it's not a good deal for any freelancer and you don't even want to consider offering it.

The other option is to find a freelancer to partner with. Partnering isn't impossible, but it does have the automatic downside of needing to split any money you earn. Provided you're earning enough, that's not a problem, but it's not always ideal. Of course, a partnership also means that you may not get to do everything exactly your way. That may not be a bad thing if you find someone more experienced in building products to partner with, but it can still be frustrating.

You may have to get pretty far into the planning stages to determine just what you're going to need to do to make your idea a reality. You may have to put together a prototype or draft and start tweaking it to see what your options are. The further you go, the harder it seems to turn back.

You've got a sunk cost, in terms of your own time, that makes you want to power through even if you don't have all the resources necessary to do things right. But if that is, in fact, the case, take a step back. Releasing a less-than-perfect product will be worse for you financially than waiting until you can finish the product correctly. Don't ever be afraid to put a product in the drawer until you're truly ready to move forward on it.

How Easily Can You Market Your Product?

One last question you need to ask yourself is if you really can market your product. If marketing isn't your specialty — if you struggle to market your freelance services — than adding a product into the mix can be hard.

A product needs just as much marketing as the rest of your business. It’s an ongoing process, too: A lot of people talk about the wonders of passive income projects, where you create a product and it keeps selling. But there are almost no products that will sell with absolutely no marketing.

You’ll need to budget marketing time for your product, as well as the time to create it. You may need to learn some new strategies, since the techniques that sell services aren’t always the same as those that sell products.

If you’re comfortable with all these questions, you may very well wind up with a great product that supports your freelance career and provides you with a second source of income.

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