Whether you’re a freelancer or a consultant, selling services is a solid business. You provide clients with your skills and, in return, they pay you a fee for the value you provide.
Still, there is a downside. Because your income is tied to your time, selling services limits your profits and opportunities. If you no longer have the capacity to take on new clients, you won’t get to scale your profits either.
One way to break free from this model is by creating products. With your services repackaged as products, you’ll be able to scale your business and serve more clients without giving up more of your time.
This productization guide and the accompanying free PDF worksheet can help you figure out if this approach is right for you. Plus, you’ll get a few ideas on the types of products you can start selling.
Let’s get started.
What Does it Mean to “Productize” Your Services?
Productize Definition: “Productizing” your services usually means taking the value, skills, and advice you provide as a consultant or freelancer, and letting a product deliver part of that value. Here are the characteristics that your product should have:
- Scalable - Selling fifty units of the product should have similar effort or cost as it takes to sell ten units. With services, you can’t readily go from serving two clients to fifty clients without changing the hours or money you put into your business.
- Not Time-Bound - Whether you bill per hour or per project, you still need to put time into your client work. With products, apart from occasional customer support, you usually don’t need to put in additional time or effort for each individual sale. You will, however, need to spend some initial time building and marketing the product.
- Mass-Produced - Rather than customizing projects for each client’s specific needs, your customers will receive the same product.
Here are some examples that follow the above criteria:
- A product photographer might still take photos for corporate clients, but she can scale at least some of her practice by creating and selling stock photos. Ideally, these stock photos should be typical of what her target market often needs for their marketing materials. She can sell them directly through her website, or go through a stock photo marketplace like Photodune so that more customers can find her photos. This can bring in extra income, whether she currently has photography clients or not.
- Nathan Barry started out as a web and software designer, but eventually branched out to creating and selling books on the subject. Now, he’s also created Convert Kit, an email marketing software that charges customers monthly. Both the books and the software are scalable products.
Productizing Services for Small Businesses
Solo consultants and freelancers aren’t the only service providers who can benefit from productizing. Even small agencies and consulting groups can scale their impact and revenues with products. In fact, as a group, you have more options for which products to sell since you have a broader talent pool to consult with.
A good example of this is Roeder Studios, the company behind Meet Edgar, a social media automation tool. Founder Laura Roeder started the company as a social media marketing consultancy. A few years later, they offered courses for sale—more scalable than one-on-one consulting. Since 2014, with Meet Edgar, they provide software-as-a-service, billing their customers monthly or annually. In over a year, this new business model allowed them to generate over $150,000 in monthly recurring revenue from almost 3,000 paying users.
So if you work with a small team, factor in their goals and skills when planning how to productize services. Involve them in the process, and you'll be able to create something that your entire team will be invested in.
5 Great Productization Examples: What Products Can You Sell?
Now that you’re familiar with what productization is and what it can do for your business, it’s time to look at the many different products you can create for your customers.
1. Courses and Tutorials
As a service provider, you have skills, knowledge, and experience that you can teach others. This is why creating paid courses or tutorials are a popular way for freelancers and consultants to get scalable income. You can teach courses that share extensive skills that take more than one sitting to learn, or you could teach shorter tutorials that allow your customers to learn a very specific skill in a day or less.
To deliver these courses, you can use existing teaching platforms such as Udemy or Skillshare. There are also teaching platforms for different fields. For example, here at Envato Tuts+ we specialize in courses for coding, design, photography, and video.
Make a Website to Distribute Your Courses
If you want more control about how your courses are presented and sold, you can run the backend yourself. You’d need to choose a payment processor, integrate it with your website, and have software for delivering the course materials.
This might sound overwhelming, but it can be manageable if you use a learning management system that helps you create and sell courses. You can use something like Teachable, or check out these learning management themes that work with WordPress or get started with the popular Moodle learning management system.
You Can Charge Higher Prices for Courses
The best thing about courses and tutorials is that you only have to reorganize the skills you already have and present them in a way that’s understandable and actionable for your audience. Also, as someone who already works in the field you’re teaching, you have credibility based on your real-world experience and client history.
You can also charge relatively high prices for courses that are well-designed, especially if you’re teaching professionals or entrepreneurs skills that can help boost their earning potential.
But creating courses, especially multi-part ones that take students days or weeks to finish, can be demanding. It will be like creating and marketing a new business altogether.
Another popular way to package your services as a product is with books. Books help your customers come up with DIY solutions to their problems, rather than the usual done-for-you solutions that you’d typically come up with as a consultant or freelancer. These books can come in the form of ebooks, print books, or both.
Why Start With Books to Package Services as Products?
If you’re looking to productize from your experience and knowledge directly, books are the simplest product you can come up with. You can create, publish, and start selling your book even without the benefit of outside experts and assistance.
An example of this is “The UI Audit” by Jane Portman, a UI/UX consultant. Through the book, Portman gives readers a primer on how to do design the user-interface of their own web apps. Web app designers who want to do their own UI/UX design don’t need to hire Portman directly—they can just get her book.
Books also tend to be easily scalable, especially when they are ebooks or are print-on-demand books. It’s rare for customers to need support or guidance after a purchase, so you won’t be spending much time doing one-on-one support.
Challenges With Producing Books
One downside of productizing with books is that it can be challenging if you’re not much of a writer. You have the option of hiring someone to write it for you—but this is likely to cost a lot, since books are a large project.
Another challenge you might encounter with books is that your pricing is limited compared to other information products. Books are mostly text and images, so they are often sold in a double-digit dollar price range. Sometimes, lower. Since courses are media-rich, they can charge anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.
If you want to raise the value of your books, you need to provide additional materials and resources. In the example above, “The UI Audit” actually comes in three different packages: $49 for the book, a $99 package that includes worksheets and audio interviews of other experts, and a $299 package includes all of the above, including a one-hour strategy call with Portman. Come up with your own relevant add-ons to increase both the value and price of your books.
If you make your own website to sell your books with, then you can offer this tiered package offers. If you build your website with WordPress then look to one of these top author themes that include WooCommerce support.
3. Licensed Products
You can also create products that allow you to sell licenses for the product, rather than exclusive access to the product itself. A common example of this would be a photographer selling stock photos. Other professions can also do this, such as programmers selling scripts and plugins, or musicians and audio engineers selling licenses to their audio and music.
As for designers, you can sell licenses to anything you create, from typefaces to graphics to illustrations. One example is cartoonist Mark Anderson. Apart from selling a service for commissioned illustrations, he has productized his service by licensing his cartoons individually and selling a subscription service that lets customers download and use his work.
One advantage of licensing is that you can make passive income from a single product for a long time. However, to get to a more consistent income stream, you need a large number of products available to license. Learn more about the advantages of developing passive income streams:
Similar to licensing is selling templates. Except with templates, customers can often make changes to the product, only using the templates as an initial framework to work with.
This is certainly the case for website themes and templates sold on Themeforest, and graphics templates found on Graphicriver. Writers can also sell templates. For example, many copywriters sell sales letter templates—customers can just fill in the blanks with information pertaining to their business, and they get low-cost sales copy.
Just like licensing, it’s possible to make passive income from templates for a long time. One downside is that the more skills required to adapt your templates, the more support you’ll need to provide.
While customers buying sales letter templates might ask clarifying questions to the copywriter selling them, customers who aren’t programmers might have difficulty modifying website templates. Keep this in mind when planning how you’ll support your product in the long run.
You might also decide to create and sell software. This could be in the form of mobile apps, downloadable desktop software, or online apps. One common approach is to create Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). These SaaS products are typically hosted in the web and require a user subscription to use.
One example of this is Nusii, a proposal creation software. It was founded by Nathan Powell, a designer specializing in landing pages. Unlike Powell’s consultancy clients, Nusii customers subscribe to the software monthly, with the fee depending on the features they want and how many proposals they send out.
Challenges With Creating Apps
While creating and selling apps or SaaS products sounds like it could be very profitable, it comes with many challenges. One major challenge is how time consuming creating an app can be. According to an interview with Everyday Designer, Powell started Nusii as a side project while doing client work. This meant that Nusii often had to take a back seat while Powell was taking on clients. But, as soon as he had some downtime, he could work on it again.
Also, since software creation is very technical, you need to be a programmer. For those without a programming background, you would need to take on a technical business partner, hire a developer, or learn to code. All these solutions have a high barrier to entry. Unlike the other products on this list, it’s unlikely that you can launch an app in a month.
Finally, it can be expensive to create, maintain, and market an app. You’d need to have a different kind of tech infrastructure in place, compared to when you’re just providing services for a handful of clients. You might also need to spend on salaries if you want people providing dedicated customer support and software maintenance.
How to Go From Idea to Finished Product
Once you’ve gone through the list of products above, you’ll have a better idea about which product types you’d want to pursue. The next step is to fine-tune that idea and make it more concrete.
Narrowing Down Product Ideas
At this stage, you’ll need to decide on a few things: Your product’s format, the target market you plan to sell the product to, and the problem you’re trying to solve. Here are some guide questions you can use to figure this out:
1. Service Target Market vs. Product Target Market
Narrow down the type of customer whom you plan to sell your product to. Who is the target market you’re currently reaching with your services? Are you targeting the same audience for your products?
If you’re targeting the same audience, identify the difference between those who buy your services vs. those who buy your products. Why would customers choose your product over your services and vice versa? Here are some options you can look at:
- Cost - Maybe people who want to buy your products have the same demographics as your clients—except they can’t justify paying your hourly or per project rates. They want the benefits of your skill and experience, but have a smaller budget.
- Convenience - Some people like a DIY approach because they can do it in their own time, or with their own team, rather than hiring an outside expert.
- Simplicity - Usually, your clients need help with several problems. A customer might just want to fix one aspect of their business.
If you’re targeting a completely different audience, note that your marketing and outreach will have to be different as well. This is closer to starting a new business rather than adding a productized version of your services. Figure out how you plan to advertise or market to this new audience segment. Find ways to reach out to them to get their feedback and do some initial market research.
2. Pick Your Product Purpose or Topic
What problems are you currently solving with your services? What problem do you want your product to solve? As a freelancer or consultant, you’re already solving several problems for your clients. You need to pick one problem that you’ll specifically solve with your product. This could be a problem you’ve helped current clients with or something completely different.
3. Choose Your Product Format
Given the target market you’re trying to reach and the problem you’re trying to solve, what format best suits the solution you’re presenting? Here are some ideas on what each format does best:
- Books - For solutions that customers can execute themselves, needing little instruction or guidance.
- Tutorials and Courses - If what you’re trying to teach your customers requires a lot of visuals or demonstrations, this method is best.
- Licensed Products - Are the skills you’re selling able to produce things that can be used or reused by many people or organizations? For example, while stock images work great as licensed products, the same can’t be said for written articles or sales letters.
- Templates - Can your process, skills, or solutions be documented or presented in a way that customers can copy and customize?
- Apps - Can software solve the problem you’re trying to help customers with? If it can, and you have the time or expertise to build your own app, this format might work for you.
4. Plan Your Product Creation Time
It’s also important to figure out how you’ll find the time to create your product:
- When do you expect to launch?
- Given your current workload, how much time per week or per month can you realistically devote to creating your product?
- Does your available time match up with your launch date?
To accomplish your product on time, it's best to follow lean practices that allow you to do smaller launches while gaining feedback from customers. These two tutorials can help you with that:
- StartupsThe Lean, Agile Way to Build Your First ProductAndrew Blackman
- Side BusinessHow to Launch Your Side Business in Record TimeCeline Roque
Judging from the examples of productized services above, it’s common for consultants to create their products on the side rather than full time. This might present a conflict of how you’re going to spend your working hours.
If you get new projects or if clients require more of your time, what’s your backup plan for following through with your product? Having this backup plan can help you ensure that your product gets finished and released into the world, even if you’re still working with clients.
Creating Your First Product
While you don’t have to abandon becoming a service provider, you’ll be running a completely different business model when you productize. This comes with its own benefits and challenges. Once you've considered your options, you’re one step towards creating a more scalable, predictable income.