137 FS Productized Consulting with Nick Disabato

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The panelists talk to Nick Disabato about productized consulting.


[This episode is brought to you by Audible. Audible is the first place I go to keep my business skills sharp. They offer over 150,000 books on business, finance, planning and much more. They also have a great selection of fiction that keeps me entertained when I'm just not up for some serious content. I love it because I can buy a book, download it to my iPhone, and listen while running errands or at the gym. Get your free trial at freelancersshow.com/audible]**[This episode is brought to you by Code School. Code School offers interactive online courses in Ruby, JavaScript, HTML, CSS and iOS. Their courses are fun and interesting and include exercises for the student. To level up your development skills, go to freelancersshow.com/codeschool]****[This episode is brought to you by ProXPN. If you are out and about on public Wi-Fi, you never know who might be listening. With ProXPN, you no longer have to worry. ProXPN is a VPN solution which sends all of your traffic over a secure connection to one of their servers around the world. To sign up, go to ProXPN.com and use the promo code tmtcs (short for teach me to code screencasts) to get 10% off for life]****CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 137 of the Freelancers’ Show. This week on our panel we have Reuven Lerner. REUVEN: Hi everyone. CHUCK: Curtis McHale. CURTIS: Hey. CHUCK: Eric Davis. ERIC: Hello. CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv, and this week we have a special guest and that’s Nick – how do you say your last name, Nick? NICK: Disabato. CHUCK: I knew I was going to mess it up. Alright. NICK: Everyone gets it wrong. It’s okay. CHUCK: Do you want to introduce yourself real quick? NICK: Sure. My name is Nick Disabato. I tend to go by @nickd on the internet and elsewhere. It’s a lot easier to pronounce. I run a design consultancy called Draft. You can find it at Draft.nu. I’m probably most known for setting up a productized consulting service called Draft Revise, which A/B tests your site on a monthly basis, and I have a lot of other offerings to my business that tend to do a lot of passive income and a lot hands-off work. That might be something good to talk about today. CHUCK: I’m curious, what do you mean by productized – How did you put it? NICK: Yeah, I called it productized consulting. It’s basically a monthly consulting service – Draft Revise in particular. I essentially run A/B tests on your site and bring design skills to bear on that. You pay me on a monthly basis. The conceit behind it is that the marketing page for it looks like it’s a SaaS app. You’re charging this specific monthly rate for something but it’s productized consulting – you’re buying something very different from a SaaS app. CHUCK: Oh, interesting. ERIC: But it’s on a fixed price? NICK: Not anymore, it’s not. That changed in the past couple of months. I now custom tailor it for specific clients’ needs. It used to be that everybody got the same price. I’ve hiked it a few times. Now I just try to match it to your needs. I figure out your revenue, your run rate and try and estimate what kind of impact I’m going to have on your project. ERIC: So it’s now sold as a product where it’s more standarized, but then it’s actually fulfilled as a service where it’s customed? NICK: That’s exactly right, yeah. REUVEN: How is this productized consulting version of A/B testing every month different from just having a retainer and doing A/B testing for someone every month? NICK: I guess it’s the same thing. People have actually slapped that label on me. It’s kind of funny. I just made this service, and I thought it was going to be a retainer agreement, and then I called it a retainer agreement, and then in the past 6 months or so I would find a ton of referred traffic from 10 productized consulting services that could teach you more about how to make your own productized consulting service. It’s so baffling to me that people call it that. Fundamentally yeah, it’s a retainer agreement. I completely agree with you. ERIC: Okay. Productized consulting is just a new phrasing of stuff that’s already been done. CHUCK: I guess the question becomes for me is, how do you structure such a thing? So productized tells me that you’re offering basically the same thing to everybody, “We’re going to do these things for you.” And it’s not custom work per se in the sense that, “I go out and I build custom web applications for people.” It would be, “I will build a specific type of app that does a specific kind of thing.” So you create a product, you offer that, and then you figure out what the value is and you do value-based pricing on that. NICK: That’s exactly right, yeah. The scope is the same from client to client. At the very beginning of it I give you a giant teardown of your site and plan for A/B testing in the next several months, and we bat ideas back and forth and try and figure that out. I’ve set up a specific number of A/B tests, usually on a monthly basis. I’ll try and run them for 3 to 5 weeks, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on your traffic. I send along a packet at the beginning of the engagement that says how much you should be expecting every month from me and how much the rate is going to be. That sets up expectations on both sides of the table about how much I need to be working and how much you expect to be getting out of it. I found that that consistency and repeatability has been really great for reducing drama between me and my clients for one, but also it’s very stable income for me. I’ve not really had to worry about my pay checks since July of 2013, and having that supporting me and being able to do whatever other kinds of projects that I want, working maybe 20 to 25 hours a month on Draft Revise clients has really freed me up to pursue other things in my consulting business. CHUCK: How do you go about identifying something that you can productize? It seems like then you can focus your marketing of things, and we can talk about maybe the advantages in a minute, but how do you identify things that you can offer to clients as a product or retainer or whatever you want to call it, as opposed to the “Hey well I build custom whatever”? NICK: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the most important thing that you can get out of all of this is looking at your own business and your own agency and thinking about the things that you find yourself doing frequently, any kind of repeated tasks. Do you find yourself doing the same kind of, say, design teardown for a client? Well, could you sell those for a fixed amount of money to certain people and say, “Here’s exactly what you’ll be getting from me. Here’s an example of it.” I ended up doing that a bit in 2013 for my own freelance business and figuring out the Venn diagram of interaction design services and things that can be sold on a repeated retainer basis, and I came up with A/B testing as a really good example of that. It’s something that is a practice, it’s repeatable, people know what it is, people know whether one is successful or not, and it’s far easier to guarantee results because you connect it to this quantitative insight. If you’re doing development work, I would say security retainers, patches, ongoing development, any kind of bug fixing, you could easily make that into a monthly service, and retain your clients maybe after an engagement or as the only engagement. Something like that would be really easy to do. CHUCK: The thing I get hung up on is basically the idea of, let’s say I’m offering bug fixes and things, they could find a large number of bugs that I don’t have the time to fix in one month, and they’re going to want them fixed.  Or if I want to offer something like – and this is an idea I’ve had for a while – is a lot of businesses need websites that look nice on a phone, and so I’ve been considering doing an offering where it’s, “Hey, we will make your website mobile-friendly.” But the issue is that they’re all going to take different amounts of work, and they’re going to want to see a deliverable at the end. So is there a way to package it up or market it so that it’s, “We’re going to offer you these steps in this month and these steps in this month”? How do you get into this? Because I think overall, the deliverable of the mobile-friendly website or whatever you want to package it up as, is something that they can look at and say, “I’m going to buy a mobile-friendly website.” But the issue that I see is that the work is going to be varied and they’re going to want it all done in the first month. NICK: Right. That makes a lot of sense. Well, that’s two questions. We’ll tackle the security one and the bug fixing one first. I think that you could potentially constrain the scope on that by offering, say 10 hours of work a month on fixing bugs, and as long as you’re upfront about your time estimates and you try and meet those, if you’re good at estimating development projects and you have enough of a pedigree on doing that, it becomes easier over time. So I would say, “You’re going to get 10 hours from me. If there’s anything particularly thorny that needs to be fixed immediately, I can do a rush service on it for a certain amount of money and then I’ll tackle another 5 hours or another whatever it needs to be, to get it done.” As far as the mobile-friendly one, well a lot of people make templates for that sort of stuff. Would it be just converting your existing site? It would vary significantly, in that case. You might want to target specific industries in that situation where the content requirements are relatively consistent, and then size it up to other businesses, might help for specializing. You would be known as the restaurant site guy, and try and be open-table or whatever have you on the reservation service and build your own. I think there would be potential ways to constrain that. I would say if you’re trying to make a responsive web application or something with a lot of moving parts, yeah I would probably shy away from that type of work and qualify out those leads if they came my way. ERIC:**I’ve been watching a lot of the productized consulting stuff and something I’ve seen, which I’ve actually put into play, is the monthly or whatever or the retainer of the ongoing stuff is the ideal. But a lot of people have had success with just a one-time thing, where you have one service, like in this case building the mobile responsive site, and it’s a one-time thing. The benefit you get is that the customer goes in knowing what they’re going to get out of it; they know the price upfront. They think they’re buying a packaged product and then you have processes, systems, [in 10:36] templates, whatever, to make it so that you can deliver and fulfil that spec the right way to them. So on both sides, you’re going into it where there’s not as much vagary as a custom development or a custom design project would have. So I think it’s not a reoccurring model so it’s like an ideal for long-term, but it’s a good way to get started in it.**NICK: Yeah, it comes in two different forms. It’s the ongoing retainer stuff and then there’s one-offs. Joanna Wiebe from Copyhackers, she used to sell website teardowns and she would write up a giant report and record a video of her going through your site and picking apart your copy for $800. Once she was done with it, that was it. That was the end of the engagement and you shook hands and moved on. The hope was that it would ladder up into larger, more lucrative consulting engagements. I’ve done that a couple of times with some of my services. But yeah, it’s usually with the hope that you can move them up into higher tiers or get them used to having a good working relationship with you and understand their needs a little bit better. ERIC: Yeah. The one I’m doing is for Rails Rescue project – a Rails project that’s gone bad or is going bad and the fixed service I do is a review. Let’s take the experience I have doing these, apply it to your project, let me tell you what’s wrong, give you help, tell you where you can go, and the idea is that some people can just take that and run with it but other people are going to need more hand-holding, they’re going to need more help, and I can have a custom service bolted on the back of that to help them do what I recommended. NICK: Yeah, that’s exactly right. It can take any form you want. The thing that is consistent between all of these things is fixing the scope and making it consistent from client to client, and I think as long as you have that nailed down it’s a matter of figuring out the terms, figuring out the logistics. Those are hard, but the first thing that you need to do is, “What am I going to be offering? What does it look like? Is it repeatable? Does it bring value to a lot of people?” You have to answer those questions first before you begin to define what the service looks like. ERIC: Exactly. CHUCK: I alluded to there being advantages to this over, say, I do web development or I do a specific type of web development for a specific industry. This seems a little bit more niched, where it’s actually I provide this very specific service for this particular market or this particular segment that needs that service. NICK: Yeah, that’s exactly right. CHUCK: It seems like there would be advantages in marketing and things like that, because people are then going to find you when they’re looking for exactly what you’re offering. NICK: Yeah, and I think right now it’s a good way to differentiate yourself between a lot of your competitors. Many other designers and developers are just commodities, right? They’re “I will give you some of my hours and you will give me some money and I will solve this problem for you in this way.” But I don’t see a whole lot of people doing this right now. There are increasingly more, to be sure, but they’re doing it such specific niched ways like you’re saying that I think it’s still a wide open market. I see a couple of other A/B testing services, but I was the first one and I’ve been doing it longer than anybody. That is a way for me to differentiate myself from other people. So yeah, I think there’s definitely some truth to that. CHUCK: How do you go actually go about marketing productized consulting setup? NICK: I tend to write the marketing pages first and I rewrite and refine them considerably. I’ll run them past my partner and other colleagues, do a lot of editing on it, and theoretically that should weigh everything out. It should talk to you in a more convivial conversational tone about how much work you should be expecting to get, what it will end up looking like and how much it’s going to cost. The next thing that I do, once I get that refined and I feel comfortable with the prospect of maybe launching it – I axe a lot of these products before I even think of launching them. I determine “Okay, that’s not actually going to work. I’m not going to like doing it. I’m not going to able to get enough money from it for my time,” that sort of stuff. There are a lot of things that can deep-six that. I’ll make the marketing page and then I’ll have somebody come in and be my guinea pig, and I’ll just do a free workshop with them or I’ll do a free month with them, and it’s with the expectation they pay me in their feedback. Every time I’ve done this, people have just flayed it, just ripped it apart. It’s been fantastic. Once it’s time to launch, I’ll launch it to my newsletter and on Twitter and I’ll let other people, other clients, friends, colleagues know about it and hope for the best. So far everything that I’ve launched has sold out the instant that it’s come out. But I think most of that comes because I hit on a need and throw away a lot of ideas and refined the marketing so that it really speaks to the person. That’s how I market it. I’m sure there are other ways to do it, but that’s what’s worked for me. CHUCK: Now when you talk about putting together your marketing pages, do you have more than one marketing page that you put up? Like the Buy Now page and then you have other pages that offer some kind of social proof? Or is it pretty much just one landing page where people come in and say, “Do you have this problem? Here’s your solution. Pay now.” NICK: Yeah, it’s more of the latter. I’m really good at writing giant bricks of text that happen to be compelling. So because that’s my speed, I tend go off that. There will sometimes be testimonials inside of there based on prior work, based on my pedigrees as an interaction designer, other clients, big names, whatever have you. For the one-off stuff I’ll put a Buy link at the bottom because it’s okay if the engagement ends at some point. But if we’re going into a long-term relationship, I usually end with an application, so you have to go to a Wufoo form and fill out a little 10-question, 5-minute survey about your business. That works well to qualify out tire kickers and unqualified leads and making sure that I’m doing right by that. But beyond that, yeah, that’s my call to action, and I usually just put it on one big page. On the homepage of Draft, the business - the Draft.nu – there’s a list of the things that I offer and you can choose among that menu what looks most interesting to you and what might help your need most. REUVEN: How did you decide to start doing this and what were you doing earlier? NICK: That’s a great question. I ran an interaction design consultancy for about two years prior. It was me solo and whatever band of justice league that I wanted to cobble together at the time, and I would work on one-off projects and when I stopped getting paid for them, the project was over and I would have to try and find my next client. I went from client to client that way like any other typical independent consultancy. I read a lot of books on the business of running a design consultancy at that time. I read Design Is A Job by Mike Monteiro, I read Million Dollar Consulting by Alan Weiss and thought a lot more about how I actually go about carrying myself and standing up for myself and figuring out how to get better paying clients. Every year I take an intermission that lasts for a month, from any client work, and I just work on business development stuff. So I go into work every day, I’m just working on my own stuff, and I came up with Draft Revise that way. I thought, “What can I do that would be repeatable?” threw it out there as almost a lark. I didn’t expect it to convert heavily and I expected it to have a halo effect from a Kickstarter that I ended up launching the next day. Yeah, it blew up and I sold out in a week. That’s a very short summary of my background there. I’ve been in interaction design for about eight and a half years now and worked with a bunch of agencies prior to that. I didn’t like having a W2 job and now I’ve just been going independently and it’s been fantastic. REUVEN: Oh, neat. So where do people hear about your consulting service or productized consulting services? I mean you talked about how you write good text and I’ve seen that you speak at conferences and you obviously have a newsletter. Are typically the people who come to you people who’ve already subscribed to say, your newsletter and have heard about you, or they’re people who just stumble across your website and want to sign up? NICK:**Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that the majority of Draft Revise clients, I ask every single person who comes in; I ask them where they found me because I’m curious. In the first week that Draft Revise was out, Brennan Dunn, who’s another freelancer, he wrote up a summary of a couple of different projects that other freelancers were putting out and Draft Revise was one of them. He was like, “I want to you to be more like Nick in the way that you position yourself.” And then Patrick McKenzie picked that up and he wrote a 4,000-word teardown of Draft Revise’s marketing page and that crashed my server and sold out all my slots. [Chuckling] Yeah, it was insane [laughs]. It was referral at that point and it was analysis of marketing. It was like this very different way that I normally get work in. I launched a monthly coaching service last week and all of them came in off my mailing list, so I think I’m doing something right on the mailing list front. Most of my interaction design work comes in through referral, comes in through people knowing me through my book – I wrote a book about interaction design in 2010 – through my speaking engagements, sometimes through podcasts, like this one. People raise their awareness by knowing of me and I can put my name out that way, and it’s really great. It’s a variety of different ways.**CHUCK: With the referrals, do you usually – I want to dig into all of these – but with the referrals, do you usually ask people to send you referrals or does it naturally happen? NICK: Yeah, so when I work with you, I have a system set up that reminds me to ping you and just check in about how you’re doing. I use an email utility called Sanebox – if you go to sanebox.com. I CC an address that tells me to ping you back in three months. I do that, and I write something very open-ended that’s just like, “Hey Jane. How’s it going? I just wanted to check in and see how your business is going, and let me know if you need anything else.” That tends to begin a very good conversation. If they live in Chicago, it almost always triggers a coffee day, and then we end up talking about a lot of stuff and they ask me how I’m doing. I say, “I’m doing great. I launched a service recently and if you know anybody who would be good for it, let me know.” Normally, they don’t think to refer you until that seed is planted in their head. I’ll often ping them for testimonials that way, I’ll ask them for case studies. There is a lot of follow on that goes in any engagement, be it for Draft Revise or my one-off consulting stuff that is just necessary to making sure you’re maintaining those relationships and growing your tribe that way and finding people organically that way. I find I end up running into better clients with more interesting problems through the people that I’ve already worked with. That’s how I end up doing that on the referral side of things. But with the other stuff, it was all the other ways that people find me, I guess through guest posts and stuff like that. CHUCK: You mentioned your email list – I’m curious how you run that. NICK:**Unconventionally [laughter]. I don’t know if anybody here subscribes to my email list.**REUVEN: I do. NICK:**You do? Okay, so you know that I run my email list really weirdly. The only thing that is consistent about my email list is that I write on Monday mornings, sometimes Monday afternoons, depending. You just get whatever I feel like. I know the other freelancers you’ve gotten on here and I know a lot of my colleagues say, “Your email list should be to teach people and build business value and provide them with hard advice and all this stuff.” And if you’re going to my mailing list for that, I have some hard advice, I think that you should unsubscribe and go to Brennan Dunn or Nathan Barry or someone who will actually teach you things. People have called it a lifestyle blog, people have called it a weird lifestyle of business blog. Somebody who used to work at Gizmodo, he told me that I would run a really good Lifehacker column, which is terrifying [chuckles], and all of this. But sometimes I’ll write about business and I get a lot of people that are very interested in very different things. Some people are interested in food and local community, and they’re on my mailing list. Some people are interested in the business of freelancing and I do provide them with some advice from time to time. Some people are just really curious to see how I run Draft, and so they sign up to my mailing list and they want to know when I’m putting out new services and stuff. Yeah, I think my posts run the gamut on what I feel I want to be talking about at any given point. So this week was a little bit more business-y; I talked about the [inaudible 23:30] Belgium and tried to make a lot of lessons about how they run their business and connect that back to some lessons in the tech industry. Next week I’m going to be talking about my charitable giving in Draft where I’m giving 2% of my revenue to charitable causes. My most famous one this year probably was 1,600 words about a sandwich that I ate once and some people really liked the sandwich post. I run with whatever strikes me and whatever I feel comfortable about doing, because otherwise I’m not going to want to do it. I have a very weird relationship to it. It’s getting up on the soapbox and telling everybody, “This is what I feel like telling you today.” And they like it. It’s interesting.**CHUCK: But then you also tell them about your products and that’s where you get the sign ups, from that? NICK: Yeah. Sometimes I’ll lead up to it, like I’ll do a PS the week before and I’ll say, “Hey, I’m going to be launching something next week. I want you to pay attention to it at 9:00 local time” and then usually I just direct people to the marketing page – there’s usually a few paragraphs that lead into it – and say, I’ll be back to the usual insanity next week. You usually have a very captive audience who’s interested in what you’re doing I find that when you talk about whatever you feel like, because you’re more interested in it. REUVEN: It sounds to me like, at least in your case, and this is obviously a result of what you do and what your expertise are, you do the productized consulting, you do A/B testing and design of sites. I know that a lot of our listeners, and me for that matter, are more developers, and while I realize that productized consulting should be addressing business issues, what are the sorts of things you think a developer can offer in a productized sense? Because there’s so much software development at least, that when I think of it, is hands-on, I’m taking my time and I’m doing it, and it seems like it will be hard to automate some of those things. NICK: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. I mentioned a little earlier that some of the best potential products a developer could put out would be after an engagement ends, so you already have an existing relationship together and then you go on a retainer after that, and it’s for maintenance and bug fixing and that sort of stuff. I think that is very easy to do. There was the one Rails that you suggested. Rails LTS is another one where it’s a Rails consultancy that hacks earlier versions of Rails 3.0 together so that they handle security patches because that’s not being patched anymore by the official team. I think those are good examples. I think audits would be a good example if you want to do a security audit or something, or if you want an infrastructure audit. I was just talking with somebody this morning who’s a developer and he wants to do more DevOps stuff and figure out, “Okay let’s go into a start-up that’s just beginning to get big and assess their scaling weaknesses and opportunities and figure out the best way for them to add new servers for capacity, step up during times when there’s a lot of traffic.” We brainstormed back and forth some ideas for how can you come in and talk with a development team who are developers – they’re not Ops people, they’re not infrastructure people, but they’re in a company that maybe hasn’t hired for that particular role yet and really, really needs to soon, so getting in there and trying to workshop that out with people. I think there are a lot of specific opportunities too, like you can have somebody come in and do workshops or do product courses for specific integrations. I’ve seen people are like, “How to do stripe on Ruby?” Well, a lot of people have that need, right? And I see a lot of opportunity for that. Here’s the big thing about it, I don’t see it scaling elegantly, which is really good for competition. You can go and do nearly the exact same thing that somebody else is doing, and because they have their own resources and they’re the one doing it and they’re stretched thin on their own pool of clients, there’s more to go around. So yeah, I think those are some ideas about helping out developers just spit balling on that for a little bit. Does that help a little? REUVEN: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Although some of the things, I would say many of the things that you suggested sound in many ways like, I don’t know, service agreements. Again, the typical service agreement that people have had for years, just with a different spin and a different name, and maybe focusing more on the customer’s value prospect than just saying, “I’m going to sell you 10 hours of support a month.” But at the end of the day, that seems to be, to some degree, what it is. NICK: I agree with that, yeah. But I also think that focusing on the customer’s value prospect is what’s going to end up getting you leads. REUVEN:**True [chuckles].**NICK: It’s branding it in a consistent way. People remember me as Draft Revise. There are a lot of little things that are components of this that make it more saleable and legible to the audience, and I think there’s something very important to that. REUVEN: Right. Marketing is, as I’ve learned over the years, and I’m still learning, is in many ways more important than the product itself. In this case, it’s the key to differentiating yourself between Joe Schmo who can offer some sort of A/B testing, and wow, this product, this guy’s been doing it for a long time, he is an established expert. NICK: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. I’m not the only one to do professional coaching, right? But I’m the first one to do it in this way and say, “Okay, well I’ll try and help you position yourself well-priced on value and do all these things that I do in my business” and talking about that in a very clear fashion. It’s hard for sure. It’s something that I revised the original marketing page for it several dozen times and had two guinea pigs in before I launched it. But that kind of preparation was necessary to making sure that it was going to be successful. I think a lot of people – you could easily just put “I’m going to test your A/B site monthly and just slap it together and put it on the web,” but I don’t think it would perform as well. There’s less care put into it. CHUCK: Does this work the same way with coaching? You mentioned that you do coaching. NICK:**Yeah, I launched that two weeks ago and I have no idea what I’m doing, as usual [chuckles]. With that, I copied a lot of the things that I learned from Draft Revise. When you apply, I send along a welcome packet that packs out all the scope, I mentioned that before, but that was only something I came up with in Draft Revise six months in. All the procedures for checking in on a weekly basis and hacking all that stuff out are very, very similar and a lot of the way that I framed the marketing page, I think, is very similar, where it leads in to – it begins with some of the pains, talks about the person’s aspirations, and it leads to the thing that I built to try and fix those issues. In terms of structure, it’s very similar, but in terms of the actual nature of the work, I think it’s considerably different. That might almost work to my detriment because it doesn’t really cohere with my other products but I love doing it and it’s been fantastic. I’ve wrapped up my second workshop this morning and it was really, really wonderful. So yeah, I’ve really liked doing it and when you’re a solo business, that’s the only thing that really matters, is whether you like doing it.**ERIC: I think that’s important because, I think a couple of months ago – I don’t remember the time – I soft launched a coaching thing to my list, and it was just on the list; the normal public didn’t hear about it. I did that. I did some introduction sessions with people to help them out and then see if they’d be interested in a full-on, more in depth engagement. I had some interest but what I found is I’m not at the place where I would enjoy it and where I would actually feel like I would be into it enough to give them enough value, and so I just put it on the backburner for later. I think that was important, because I put that on the backburner so I took a different product or idea or service that I had, and pulled that forward, and that’s been doing a lot better. NICK: I totally agree with that. That’s why the guinea pig part of it is important. I wanted to make sure that I was going to like doing this work. I worried that I was just going to come off as a therapist or something for people’s broken, terrible businesses. Thankfully that turned out to not be the case. But you don’t really know whether you’re going to like doing the work that you’re doing until you actually sit down and do it. If you’re putting together a marketing page and you just launched that, there’s another problem which is what happens if it sells out and you hate it, and you end up having a fake invented job and it’s wonderful, but you’re miserable. I can’t imagine a worse fate, to be entirely frank. It just seems like I made that happen to me and it was my fault. I’ve thrown away a lot of ideas because I thought I would hate doing them. You need to be very clear and honest to yourself about that. CHUCK: How do you go about validating an idea and seeing if it’s something that people will actually pay for? NICK: Well, putting up the marketing page helps, vetting a draft to people. And I found some indicators – if I put together a draft of a marketing page and I send it along to somebody who especially is another bootstrapper and reads a lot of persuasive language in their day, and I get back, “Oh my god! This is fantastic!” reflexively, then I know I’ve hit on something. I’ve hit on at least a good opening and I tend to revise the opening more than any other part of my copy and make sure that I’ve grabbed the person and gotten their interest. So that’s a good way. I tend to be semi-public about what I do. I have a lot of Mastermind groups and chat rooms that I just sit in, and forums and stuff, and I will post the marketing page in the clear for them to look at. Draft.nu/coaching has been up since June, but not linked from anywhere. I’m just like, “What do you think? Tell me what you think.” If I don’t get near-universal praise, then I think I’m doing something wrong either with the marketing or I don’t actually care enough about the service to want to launch it, and I’ll take it down. REUVEN: It sounds like you are constantly experimenting with – it sounds like you come up with an idea and say, “Aha!” and put it up, and people flock to it. It’s a lot of consideration of the different ideas and then even many times you’ll launch an idea and it’ll turn out to either need a lot of tweaking or it’ll be bad, and you have to just be ready to toss it and try something else. NICK: Yeah, I think that’s a good way of framing it. I think that people think that all of these ideas spring forth from my brain fully formed and they’re completely amazing, but I spend maybe a fourth of my time working on business development every week, and a lot of that is just coming up with ideas for things that I could potentially be doing. I have 8 book ideas that are all half done and I sort of hate all of them, and that’s okay, it’s fine to be having that. But I think that the fact that I’ve made the time to continually generate those ideas and be willing to iterate them and polish them and sometimes cast them aside, it almost sounds hackneyed at this point because of Apple. Apple keeps talking about it in the same way. They throw away tons of ideas and they have tons of prototypes in R&D, but Draft does that too. I don’t need to compare myself to Apple in that way, I’m not making a watch or anything cool, but you’re still working on the same process of refinement and self-reflection and examination. Man, a lot of effort went into launching coaching to make sure that my own mental health was going to be preserved. What happens if it sells out immediately, which it did, and I end up overworked, which I did, and I end up panicking a lot, which thank God I have not, and trying to manage that. I took on a lower workload for every other part of my business in November and December so that I can make sure I stay above water logistically after the launch happens. And then what happens if nobody comes through and I just end up with a ton of free time? There’s definitely that danger of that happening too. It’s something that I think as a freelancer, especially as an independent business owner, always have to be thinking about, and I think everybody should be thinking about it or you’ll just end up stuck in the same rut all the time and not really shake yourself out of that. REUVEN: Let’s say someone’s a freelancer, they do it in a standard sort of way, doing software or design or something, and they really want to try the productized consulting, but it obviously demands time. The way you described it, it demands a fair amount of time and attention. Should they try to set aside a day a week or half a day a week to concentrate just on that? Do you think that’s a sufficient way for them to get into it? NICK: Yeah, I think that’s fair. I usually set a couple of hours a day aside, something like that. I have generous deadlines with all of my work which is great, and I try and set expectations with my clients and they tend to be understanding. Setting aside any amount of time to sit down and think about, “Okay, how does my business work?” I don’t think a whole lot of people do that. Brennan Dunn has a questionnaire online, that’s 30 questions about how you run your business and who your competitors are and how you position yourself against them, and I found myself going through that and saying, “Wow, I don’t bother answering a lot of these a lot of the time. I just coast through and do design work and then I go home.” I think the more that you step back and reassess how you’re working and why you’re working, the more likely you are to be enjoying your work going forward. That’s why you got into this theoretically, it’s so that you could enjoy that work, and so that you didn’t live somebody else’s narrative. I think that’s tremendously powerful. So yeah, I think stepping back and figuring that sort of stuff out is very, very powerful and important. ERIC: Yeah, one piece of advice I got, I think just from the book The Ultimate Sales Machine, and it’s more geared towards organizations. I took an idea from it, and it was every week there’s an All Hands Meeting either, in that case for a department, or if it’s a small company for a company, and in that meeting you figure out one problem or one thing you want to improve in the business and you spend an hour brainstorming. In the next week, you work on that a little bit and you do a new problem or idea. I’ve been doing that for a while. Mine’s only half hour, it’s just me, I don’t have to fight for myself as much as an organization would. But just the self-reflection, the sitting down and having this time where I can actually explore things has been really helpful and really eye-opening. Most of the stuff I’ve launched or came out of in the past 6 months has come from one of those sessions. NICK: Yeah, I think just a lot of people would write it off as a waste of time or navel-gazing, right? Just this weird introspection. But it’s something that you have to practice for sure. It’s a skill that gets better over time. Figuring out how to vet things and how to understand whether you’ve got a good idea or not. The more you do it, the better you’re going to get at it, and the better you’re going to run your business as a result. So yeah, I think that’s a really good point CHUCK:I’m still trying to think of some ideas that I can do this with [chuckles] that just really make a ton of sense.ERIC: Take what you’re already doing. Take a service you’re doing that feels like you’re doing it over and over and package it up. My Rails Rescue Review stuff, that’s because every project I come into where it’s an existing project, I would have to take a week or two weeks to look at all the stuff that they’re doing, looking at what’s going on wrong, find the problems. Then sometimes I make a report for them, sometimes it would just be an informal email. But I’d have to go through with this process and I’m like, “Heck, I could package this up and sell this, and let people who aren’t going to be a full client take advantage of it, or people who have inexperienced teams take advantage of it. CHUCK: Mm-hm. CURTIS: I look at the same thing for my ecommerce work. I often get into them and there’s a bunch of terrible code kicking around that we have to find out later, and that’s something that I have been looking at providing a productized service as well. So I mean, you get that report out of it and you do go on to work with whomever you like. REUVEN: Right, I guess those are two key points there. If someone’s going to hire you to do the development, then they’re not likely or at least in my experience, less likely to hire you also to look through things and pay you a lot to do that. If it’s not part of the development effort, if it’s you’re coming in as an expert to evaluate what do they have, then what should they do and how should they move forward – that’s something that gives them a lot of value and giving them written report is proof of that. If you just send them a quick email message and say, “Oh I think you should do X, Y and Z” that’s not worth nearly as much as – I don’t know how long your reports would be – 3 pages, 5 pages, 10 pages, saying, “I went through your database, I went through your network, I went through your versioning. Here’s what you should do.” ERIC: Yeah, and that’s already what I’m doing with the scoping session is to have it put out as a product that anyone can buy; I only offer it to clients as we get started in the project. Any project actually, I’m requiring that now at the beginning that we have to do that because I hit so many things in lots of other projects where they were just blockers, once we got into Day 2, I was like, “Well, this doesn’t work and this doesn’t work. We got a whole bunch of bad code sitting around so we have to stop and fix it first.” REUVEN: But this brings me to another marketing question which is, I already feel like my website is talking about too many different things. I do consulting, I do training, I do development, I’ve got an eBook, I do online things, and I just have to imagine that if I were to put this product on my website as well, it would become even more difficult to navigate. So Nick, do you have separate websites for these? Do you just have separate landing pages on to your website? How do you offer so many things without confusing the heck out of people? NICK: All of Draft’s offerings like Draft Revise and coaching and Revise Express are all separate landing pages within the same site. Cadence & Slang is my book, it’s been around for 5 years and that has it’s own site because it’s got it’s own errata page and it’s own separate wing of things that I do. I have all of those different things. I think there’s a broader question embedded in this about how you end up choosing the array of things that you offer, and I might be with a covey out here, I might be bad at this because mine don’t conceptually cohere quite as well as certain other freelancers that I know. Brennan Dunn is a terrific example of this. All of his offerings are geared towards freelancers. All of Nathan Barry’s offers are geared towards designers. All of Sean Fioritto’s stuff is for CSS developers. Those are all things –. But I have a coaching service, an A/B testing service, an interaction design book, and I make wire frames for people and none of those cohere at all. With that in mind, I still think there’s something to be said for paring back the number of things that you offer or at least the number of things that you talk about in a very prominent way, establishing maybe a hierarchy, if you offer a lot of different things is super helpful. Rudy Sayte does this with his 50 different products. I see that working pretty well for him. He makes a split between paid and free and all of that sort of stuff. But if something’s not performing well and you don’t necessarily like doing it, kill it off. If you want to go down a specific path of specialization, which I always strongly recommend to people, then I would play down the other things that you’re doing, even if they maybe revenue generators; keep them around, just downplay them and say, “Hi, I do this.” People will start paying attention. You’ll end up getting – there might be a corrective period where you have to get new clients and stuff like that, but figuring out how to get those people, that’s part of your business; it’s part of examining yourself and figuring out how you sell to people. I think that was very slapdash but I think it strikes at the heart of it, which is you need to be very careful about what you’re choosing and not be afraid to kill off a certain product. ERIC: One thing I’ve seen is, you can have different landing pages for products and, like you said, just don’t link to them. Have them hanging off, only send it to email subscribers, only Tweet it or only hand it out to people who you talked about personally, and that way if it works for the good you can bring it in, put it on the homepage or whatever. But if not, it’s just this little limb hanging off the website and no one has to go there. NICK: Yeah, that’s exactly it. It’s a matter of awareness. People aren’t going to be dissecting your site to try and find all the fun hidden offerings. If you want to downplay something, that’s your prerogative, and you can make the hierarchy look however you want it to look. There are a lot of things in the deadpool that I’ve put together over the past 3 or 4 years that I just simply don’t link to anymore, because I don’t want to nurture them anymore, and I think that’s okay. It’s okay to cut those things away. CHUCK: Alright. Do we have any other questions before we wrap this up, guys? REUVEN: I have a question about just something else that Nick has written about, and this would probably consume a whole episode, but I’ll try to condense it into one short question. Nick, maybe you can give one short answer. You wrote an interesting blog post a few months ago about how to self-publish a book on Kickstarter. NICK: That’s right. REUVEN: I find it interesting that people are writing e-books; I think all of us have either written or are writing them. I’m in the process of launching it, and I’m curious to hear why would you suggest going the Kickstarter route as opposed to just marketing the book? NICK: Yeah, that depends heavily on the type of book that you’re making. There are a lot of books that benefit from being a printed medium. Actually the mail carrier just rang my doorbell to hand me this really fancy looking art photography book, and yeah absolutely print the heck out of that. It looks beautiful and it’s clothbound and I really like looking at it. But if you’re making a technical book that’s liable to go out of date quickly, no, you should make a PDF of it. It’s cheaper and easier and there’s no gatekeepers. You can put it up today and you can launch it however you want. Probably for a goodly amount of your audience, if you’re developers, you probably want to go do more of an info product, like making your own type of book route. I went on Kickstarter because Cadence & Slang, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a physical copy of it, but people say that it is an exempler of its own principles. About 88% of my sales are print, so that’s potentially worth noting as in terms of the exact content. The reason I wrote that post is because for the past 5 years I’ve gotten emails from people, “How do I put together a self-published project on Kickstarter?” And it’s people – some of them are making professional texture, but most of them are writing the great american novel and they just want it to be a physical book that they can hold and be proud of. So I had to write something out that was essentially what I’ve been telling everybody for 4 years. It took maybe 2 weeks to write, it just came out because I’ve known it and I’ve been down that road. It may make sense for you if you have a certain topic matter, but yeah. CHUCK: Alright. Well, should we do some picks? NICK: Let’s do the heck out of some picks. CHUCK: Alright. NICK:I came up with a few before this podcast. There are a couple of books that set me down the path of becoming a designer. I made sure they weren’t on this list. One of them is called The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte. He is a Yale Professor of Emeritus of Statistics, and he talks about statistical graphics in a way that’s very accessible. I know Statistics is usually a dry subject, but he actually makes it really fascinating. Robert Bringhurst’s The Element of Typographical Style, which Cadence & Slang ripped off the format of more or less. It’s a book about typography, written by a poet in Canada who knows how to write a good sentence and will make you care about fonts more than you ever did. On the business side of things, I would recommend Value-Based Fees by Alan Weiss. He’s a typical business consultant, like McKenzie or Bain [chuckles]. Like John McCain, no. He does typical business consulting, but he’s one of the original price on value people. He has a very specific world view and perspective about how he does what he does, and I very strongly recommend that you take a look at his stuff. You probably know a lot about existing tools and existing posts and other freelancers and stuff, so those are my three slightly less likely picks. So there you go.CHUCK: Alright. Eric, what are your picks? ERIC: There’s a movie, as of today it’s on Netflix Instant Watch, which is how I found it, but who knows, that stuff changes all the time. It’s called Mile/Mile & A Half. It’s basically 5 or 6 people hiking the John Muir trail – really interesting. All of them are either photographers, videographers, and I think one was a sound guy, and so it’s not just people going and talking, but they have some really gorgeous shots of things. After I watched that I found that they did Kickstarter to help get the movie out, so it’s actually pretty independent and all that. But it was an interesting thing. The second is a tool I’ve been using I think about a month now. I want to give it a good runthrough to see how it works. It’s called Edgar; the website is meetedgar.com. And it’s basically a tool that’s like Buffer in that it can automate your social media and that you fill it up with some stuff, it will just get tweeted out or put on Facebook. Unlike Buffer, you’re not always shoving things into the bucket. With Edgar, you can set up categories. I have all of my books in a category so they cycle through. Today, I might tweet about one, tomorrow I’ll tweet about another and that sort of thing. I found that’s useful for not just promotion stuff but also there’s some really great freelancing articles that I think everyone should read, but if I tweet about it now I’m only going to get 1% of the people who follow me. By scheduling it out at multiple times, I can make sure that everyone that follows me is going to see this, is going to read it, or maybe even has a reminder. It’s a great service for that. I’ve set it up; I’ve been using it for, like I said, at least a month, I think a little bit over a month, and I haven’t had any problems with it at all. CHUCK: Cool. Curtis, what are your picks? CURTIS: I’m going to pick a book about publishing called Author Publisher Entrepreneur, often short formed to APE, by Guy Kawasaki and some other guy who I don’t remember right now. I just finished that and it’s a really good overview of everything, of all aspects, from the author, to publishing it, to being an entrepreneur and marketing it. He’s probably convinced me to release my next book also on Amazon as well. CHUCK: Nice. Reuven, what are your picks? REUVEN: I just got one pick this week. I guess it was yesterday, we’re recording this on November 4th, so yesterday they sent out a notice saying that Tom Magliozzi, who’s one of the two guys from Car Talk, had died. I listened to Car Talk many, many years ago even though I could not have cared less about cars. It seems seeing all the stuff online, there are a heck of a lot of other people who similarly could not have cared about cars, didn’t know about them, but really enjoyed listening to the show. And just probably over the last 2, 3 years or so ago, just before they actually started going into re-runs, I started listening to it again. It’s just great fun, fun to listen to, you actually learn something. It’s also useful to listen to how they listen to callers come in. Yes, there’s a lot of good-natured kidding, but they take into their callers very seriously and they treat them like a real person, and no matter how silly or ridiculous the question, they, at the end of the day, really want to help the people out. I think it’s a good attitude – the mix of fun and seriousness. They showed a good attitude for people in the service industry to have. Car Talk is still in re-runs and apparently will be for some time, which shows how profitable it must be. Anyway, that’s my pick for this week. CHUCK: Very nice. I only have one pick this week. It is a book by Dave Ramsey called The Legacy Journey. I’ve been listening to it on Audible and it is amazing. It’s just really touched me. It is very deeply Christian-rooted so if that’s not your thing then – but I think it’s a healthy view of wealth so if you’re looking for a healthy view of wealth, I do recommend you check it out. I just can’t say enough good things about it. It’s given me a lot of perspective about money and wealth, and made me think about a lot of other things in my own faith, so it’s awesome. Yeah, as far as announcements go, we are doing the live show on the 20 something-th. If you go to freelancersanswers.com, that should be up and set up for that. I think it’s the 25th but I’m not a 100% sure on that. But yeah, it’s Tuesday. It’ll be at Noon, Mountain Time, which is 2 pm Eastern Time or 11 am Pacific. So yeah, come talk to us if you have questions. If you want to just hang out, it’s all cool. That’s all I’ve got so we’ll wrap up the show. We’ll catch you all next week! [This episode is sponsored by MadGlory. You've been building software for a long time and sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. Work piles up, hiring sucks and it's hard to get projects out the door. Check out MadGlory. They're a small shop with experience shipping big products. They're smart, dedicated, will augment your team and work as hard as you do. Find them online at MadGlory.com or on Twitter @MadGlory.]**[Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at BlueBox.net]**[Bandwidth for this segment is provided by CacheFly, the world’s fastest CDN.  Deliver your content fast with CacheFly. Visit cachefly.com to learn more]**[Would you like to join a conversation with the Freelancers’ Show panelists and their guests? Wanna support the show? We have a forum that allows you to join the conversation and support the show at the same time. Sign up at freelancersshow.com/forum]

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