Offering a service is one of the fastest ways to get a new business off the ground. As long as you have a skill set that’s useful to potential clients, you can start freelancing or consulting with minimal startup costs. Yet, selling services comes with its own special set of challenges.
If you price your efforts per hour, prospects can get scared off because they have no idea how long a given project might take. If you offer project estimates, you might find that you’ve underestimated how long it will take you to complete a project, particularly if you’ve got to go back and forth with your client over decisions.
Instead, take a second look at the services you’re offering, and consider whether you could adopt them into products. This presents an opportunity to smooth out your pricing and sales strategies.
Even better, creating service-based products may make it easier for your business to grow because your revenue will be less tied to the number of hours you can actually work. In this article, we look at why you should turn your services into products and we take a close look at those that are doing this successfully.
A Product is Just a Service, Properly Packaged
There are an infinite number of ways to recombine different services to benefit your customers. At the most basic level, products are just an approach to selling the final results of a bundle of services, whether those are physical services, or a system of processes for approaching a given situation.
There are more than a few examples of how an adept service provider can create a piece of software to handle at least part of the work necessary to perform a given service for a client, but it’s perfectly possible to offer non-software based products as well. A few other options include:
- Training prospective clients to do at least part of the work you do to speed up the process of working with you.
- Creating a system to follow to guarantee that users will get consistent results.
- Bundling together related products that your clients will need in the course of working with you.
Mridu Parikh, a professional organizer and coach, used to only provide in-home organizing services. She was able to create an online workshop that teaches simplification and organization. She took her service experience and transformed it into this information product.
The online program is very different from working with an organizer in your home: students can follow the program at their own pace, while still getting an opportunity to ask questions through an interactive discussion board.
For Parikh, the idea of offering an online class was a natural extension of how she learned herself: “After taking many online courses, (on marketing and business development), I realized that I, too, could reach and impact a larger market and scale my business with an online product.”
Myscha Theriault shifted her tutoring and teaching clients to a subscription model, presaging a shift in the market she was working in: “The market has recently shifted towards more of an a la carte situation with regards to study guides and curriculum versus a full-on comprehensive subscription preference,” Theriault notes.
While both Parikh and Theriault gave their customers tools to do projects with less guidance, effectively moving their business model away from providing services toward providing information products, they went about this process very differently.
Productizing a Service is Like Building Any Other Business
Building a new product — even if you’re repackaging knowledge or services you already offer — requires doing at least some research into the competition you’re facing. If possible, testing out what you plan to offer is incredibly valuable as well. It’s a simple truth of doing business: you need to know what you’re getting yourself into.
Parikh did both:
I began researching other online organization workshops and training programs to see what was available in this space. I also purchased an online workshop to see the quality, format and delivery experience. Before I created my program I ran a few local workshops (in person) to verify interest and [gather] feedback on my information. This research was invaluable as it set the direction for my online material.
Theriault has a special talent for recognizing underserved markets. She was able to make use of her experiences, rather than conducting too much new research. She’d already carved out a niche specializing in international teaching and she recognized a need for some specialized teaching materials, based on her time in the field. “I knew from experience how hard it was to find children’s literature based on underrepresented countries, and I knew that it was harder still to find any teaching materials for what few books there were,” she explains.
Theriault had a need to create teaching materials for her own students, which she followed through with, so she effectively had a ready-made product already. She saw the opportunity and went for it. “I noticed other educators were always wanting to borrow my files. That was pretty much all of the product testing I needed.”
But Theriault did need to consider some new business models, including selling through third-party company platforms; that effort paid off. Making the move to a new business model of selling through a third-party platform increased Theriault’s sales dramatically. She puts a conservative estimate at a 200 percent increase on her monthly sales.
Another benefit is that the approach cut her costs. Theriault points out, “It also reduced the overhead costs for product hosting completely, as I have the content posted on a variety of sales platforms.”
Part of the dramatic increase in sales was Theriault’s ability to access new markets. “Having the curriculum offered electronically allows me to reach more teachers and clients than I ever could if I was still working in the classroom, and I’ve been able to access the homeschooling market as well.”
A new approach has also given Theriault an opportunity to access new opportunities, even as she phased out some of her more traditional teaching and tutoring services:
This has happened organically. I was talking with an international business associate in the Middle East a couple of weeks ago and he asked what new things I’d been trying over the past year. I mentioned I’d taken all of these materials I’d developed years ago and packaged them as a la carte curriculum books. He said he’d forgotten that I was a teacher since I’d been doing travel and financial writing for so long. Then he said he was wanting to open an international school and would I consider helping him set it up and handing the recruiting for him. That was enough to make me think about adding consulting services to my list of ‘products’ in the very near future.
What opportunities could packaging your services open up? Take a look at sites you could sell your packaged services as products on. Analyze the market and pinpoint opportunities, then take action as Theriault did.
Different Approaches Attract Different Audiences
Packaging your services is a different approach than you previously offered, and it has the potential to open up new markets for your business.
Your new product offer may attract new audiences that are interested in your services, but that are looking for a different experience than your previous core customer base, something that may require some marketing experiments to uncover.
While Parikh still has access to her original customers, her online course appeals to buyers who may not be prepared to bring a professional organizer into their homes: “...I believe I'm reaching more working moms that don't have the flexibility to have a professional come to their home during the week. They are looking for solutions that fit their schedule.”
You can build all sorts of configurations that incorporate both service elements and product elements into the packages you make available for your customers: take into account their needs and your preferences to find the best fit.
Parikh actually offers three different packages based on her online workshop: the workshop itself, the workshop paired with two personal consulting sessions and the workshop with four personal consulting sessions. The approach lets her set up different price points, as well as different levels of service for customers who may want to go it alone and for those who want more in-depth guidance.
Consider what your tiered-approach might look like, as with the following example model:
- Core Offer: This could be an ebook, a guide, an interactive online course, etc.
- Core Offer Plus X: You're bundling a larger package offer here, so in addition to your core offer you would also include an additional service or benefit. This could be a larger information offer, such as including a video bundle.
- Core Offer Plus X Plus Y: This would be your largest bundle offer. One option is to get personal here and offer consulting or something special, as is an extension of your mid-tier offer.
Take a look at your services and consider how you can bundle them into an information product. What market can you tap into? Consider, what package you can put together for your core offer? Then scale that offer up with each tiered option.
Mapping Your Product Path
As a service provider, you’re an expert in your field. Just as Parikh knows home organizing incredibly well and Theriault has found a niche in international education, you’ve likely had at least a few ideas of how you can build tools to make your work easier, if not other products that might benefit the customers you already work with.
The difficulty is almost always in carving out the time and the resources to build out the products you have in mind: writing an infoproduct, commissioning an app developer, or manufacturing physical widgets all take resources that you may not already have on hand.
Build yourself a workable roadmap; it's the only way to move forward with productizing your services.
Plan your project in a workable order. Set aside some time each week dedicated to this project. Tackle your minimal viable product first as you run tests that prove you're on the right track. Build it with critical feedback from your target audience.
Put your experience to work for you.
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