139 FS How to Turn Consulting Into a Product with Brian Casel

00:00 2817
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01:37 - Brian Casel Introduction

02:54 - Productizing (Consulting vs Manual Services)

07:16 - Niching Down

  • Eliminating Discovery
  • Off-the-Self Selection

13:32 - Price Points

  • Removing Time from the Equation
  • Value-Based Pricing
  • Communicating Benefits
  • Pinpointing Expertise

18:14 - Scaling Up

  • Standardizing the Work
  • Streamline the Process
  • Writing Procedures
  • Delegating Tasks

22:28 - What Makes a Good System

  • Being Refined
  • Adding Granular Detail
  • Freelance Chi
    • Eric’s 3 Core Systems
      • Lead Generation
      • Lead Conversion
      • Project Delivery

28:13 - Finding Your Focused Team

31:52 - Marketing

36:31 - Quick Lanches

40:23 - Brian's Free Crash Course: Productize Your Service


CHUCK: I can show you my pretty face.[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 139 of the Freelancers” Show. This week on our panel we have Eric Davis. ERIC: Hello. CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv. And this week we have a special guest, and that’s Brian—is it Caysel or Castle? BRIAN: Casel—just like a Castle. Everybody says Caselle or Caysel. I’ve been getting that my whole life. But, yeah, it’s Casel. CHUCK: Awesome. Do you want to introduce yourself really quickly? BRIAN: Sure. I’m a web designer/frontend developer by trade and I’ve been doing that for years. But really in recent years I spend most of my time running my businesses, doing a lot more writing than anything else. The main business that takes up a lot of my time is called Restaurant Engine, and that is a hosted, managed, web design service for restaurants and food trucks. It’s built all on top of WordPress, and it’s delivered in kind of a SAS model—Software As a Service—but really it has also evolved into much more of a productized service. I mean almost all the service is delivered manually, and we’ve built it up with systems and processes. So that’s the main business. Then the other side of what I do is I write and teach on my personal site casjam.com. I write for freelancers and a lot about bootstrapping and business online, and making that transition from freelancing and leveling up into a products business – I write a lot about that sort of thing. I recently released a course on that same topic. It’s called “Productize” and it really focuses on launching, automating, and systemizing and then marketing a productized service business or a productized consulting business. That’s at casjam.com/productize. CHUCK: Very cool. So we talked to Nick Disabato a week or two ago, and he talked about productized consulting but it sounds like yours is more focused on—I don’t know. So what he’s doing is he’s basically packaged up his freelance services as a product, and it sounds like you’re more—I don’t know. Maybe you can explain the difference. BRIAN: So yeah, I know Nick and I interviewed him as a case study interview as part of the Productize course. Actually that particular interview was released for free on our Podcast. I also host a Podcast called Bootstrapped Web with my cohost Jordan Gal. A couple of episodes back we had Nick on, and we just released that case study interview with him. In the course I cover both sides of that coin when it comes to productizing. Most of these case studies around productizing fall into two different buckets. One is the productized consulting model which is very much what Nick Disabato has done: staying small/solo, focusing in on one particular service or one solution, and eliminating all the extra things that most freelancers have to do – taking on work you don’t normally enjoy or may not, be the best for your business; focusing in on just doing one particular thing that you enjoy doing yourself. The other side of this is building up a productized service business, and this is more along the lines of what I’ve been doing with Restaurant Engine and others—like Dan Norris has built up with WP Curve. Building up a business that’s still very much centered around manual services—delivering things manually—but it’s focused on building systems and processes that can then allow you as the freelancer, as the founder of this business, to remove yourself from all the day to day operations so that you can focus on the bigger picture: managing and growing the business and scaling it up using systems, and processes, and people, rather than investing in software automation or that sort of thing. I mean that can be part of it, but really it’s about automating and growing through systems. CHUCK: That sounds really interesting, and to be honest, I have a whole bunch of dumb questions that I’ve saved up for someone like you that can explain to me how to set up good systems in my business, because that’s something that I’m really not good at. But let’s back up for a minute. So it sounds like this is something that you could grow from the productized consulting type thing that Nick is doing where it’s – I’m going to do a certain amount of services for you, and you’re going to pay me a certain amount to get it done, be that a retainer deal or just a one off thing too. You can scale up and train other people to do that, and then you can serve an entire niche of people that need that service. You can have people that do the work for you, and so you wind up then doing the business development and things like that, where somebody else is actually doing the work. BRIAN: Yeah, exactly. I think it’s really all about figuring out your personal and professional goals. Where do you want to end up a year from now? Three years from now? Of course it’s impossible to truly know the answers and predict the future. But you do want to have an idea of why you’re making the changes in your business that you are making, because that’s really what this is all about. When I’m teaching a course on productization, a lot is picking a business model, and focusing in on the right service and what not, and then how to build systems and write really strong procedures and stuff. But what we’re really talking about here is making a change in your business—changing the way that you do things or maybe changing the way that you’ve done things for many years. So I think it’s a matter of personal preference. Someone like Nick—I think I asked him this in the interview. He could delegate a lot of the repeatable work but he just chose not to—like he doesn’t want to grow in that way and that’s perfectly fine. But my original goal when I launched Restaurant Engine was I wanted to build a business that could potentially run and grow without me. And now three years into it, it’s basically there. Every day we’re servicing customers. We’re bringing on new customers. Every piece of that process essentially happens without me having to necessarily touch tickets, or get on sales calls, or things like that. So it’s really just a matter of thinking with the end in mind and then taking the necessary next steps. CHUCK: So, one thing that strikes me with a lot of what you’re talking about—and we’ll just use Restaurant Engine as an example—it looks like you’ve more focused on providing websites for restaurants. So that’s kind of your niche. You’ve chosen a vertical and a service that you’re going to provide to them. Let’s say that I’m just a regular web developer. How do I get to the point where I can do this kind of thing for my clients? Or I can find clients that want this kind of work done—maybe it’s more appropriate. BRIAN: Yeah, sure. So what I suggest is look at all the list of things that you currently do for your clients. As a freelance web designer—I was a freelance web designer for many years, and what most of us do is we do a lot of different things. We’ve worked with plenty of clients from all different sectors, and industries, and different requirements—small size/large size applications—everything. You look at the list of things that you do consistently or that you’ve done over the years. You want to narrow it down to just a couple, or just one or two things that can potentially be built out into a productized offering. The way that you start to narrow that list down and make the decision on which one can actually become a service is to figure out what is that one service or one solution that is most valuable to paying customers. There are a few points of criteria for that. Number one: are customers willing to pay for it? Ideally if you’re coming from a freelance background, have they actually paid you for this particular service? A lot of the examples that I’ve written about—one of the things on my list of twenty plus different services was I used to create and write email newsletters for clients. In a few instances I actually had clients who solely hired me to write an email—to create an HTML email newsletter, and write it, and send it out. So that right there shows there are clients willing to pay for this particular service, and then it’s a matter of pricing it and putting together a scope that actually offers a strong value proposition for that client. So it’s a combination of looking at the things that you’re already doing; looking at who you’re serving too. That’s the other part of this. It’s a matter of changing from—‘I’m serving anyone and everyone, and every type of business and organization” to “I’m now serving one particular type of client, or really one person who stands to benefit way more than anyone else from this particular solution’. Once you focus in on that one specific person then, in terms of marketing your business, it’s really just a matter of finding more and more of that same person, rather than taking on calls, and discovery meetings, and consultations with all sorts of different people, and then having to reinvent your service every single time. ERIC: Right. And I think that’s what’s interesting about the privatized consulting idea is you have this standard set of services. It’s not cookie cutter in a bad way, but cookie cutter in that a certain kind of client comes to you. They get a certain type of service from you, you deliver it, and then you can do the same thing for someone else. By doing the similar or almost the exact same task each time, you can actually refine your process, get better at it and all that, versus the standard freelancer consulting model like everything’s up in the air. Like what does the client want? How do they want it? How much is it going to cost? So it’s 100% custom. That kind of model can work, but it’s really hard to build processes around that sort of service implementation and delivery. BRIAN: Yeah. That’s exactly right. I call it eliminating discovery. Basically that’s, as a freelancer or even as a larger agency working with different clients—every single time a new client comes through your door, sends you an email, or asks for a meeting or whatever, you have to go through this long drawn out process of figuring out their requirements. What are their goals? Just nailing down the scope of this project. Then you have to go back and write it all up in a really long proposal—at least that’s what I used to do. Sometimes it involves several phone calls or several meetings over a number of months until you finally give this long proposal, and then it’s still up in the air. Like fifty-fifty chance that they’ll actually become a client? Now you’ve wasted all these hours going through this whole discovery process. Then you do it again and again, every single time there’s a new client. So you have to figure out, in this process, what that client’s goals are and then reinventing your value proposition for each individual client. Whereas with a productized service, you start with the solution in mind, and that’s fully laid out in this package that you’ve put together. Then, as new leads come in, it’s really just a matter of figuring out, “Well are you the right type of person, the right fit for this, or are you not?” That’s a much faster process for getting them on board or passing, avoiding a lot of wasted time. CHUCK:**Yeah. That makes sense. I guess the other thing that you run across is that it makes it easier for them to self-select because you have the right solution to the right problem for the right market. So overall they look through the solution and say, “Yes, that’s what I want.” [crosstalk 12:20] Because it’s something that they go, “Yes, I want to buy it.”**BRIAN: Yeah, exactly. I mean that’s really what it’s all about is positioning your service as a product, as if it’s a product off the shelf at a store, or something that you buy off of Amazon. I think that really benefits the customer, benefits the client as well. It’s really not just about you and making it a more comfortable working situation. Of course that’s one half of it, but it’s also about aligning the incentives for your clients. So, if you look at Nick Disabato’s business: his clients benefit on a monthly basis. They’re getting increased conversion rates through these A/B tests he’s running on sites every single month. If that were delivered in a billable hour model, the way a typical freelancer would, Nick would be incentivized to just bill up more and more hours, and they would be incentivized to limit the number of hours. If you’re talking about a new project: how could we make this project smaller? But really, the end goal is to make the business more money, and that’s how they’ve designed, and that’s how Nick has designed his service: set price. The single goal for me is to increase your conversions, increase your sales, and the more that I do that the more likely you are to remain subscribed to the service. ERIC: Yeah. Right. I switched to weekly billing—I don’t remember—a few months ago at least. What I tell to people when they’re talking to me and they’re wanting an hourly quote is I say, “Look, with the weekly thing, you know what you’re getting. You’re paying a set chunk for this week. You’re going to get me exclusive access for the entire week.” It becomes just up to us to figure out what we can fit in there. I’ve had clients where they were kind of concerned at the beginning. “Well, how much are we going to get done?” Then two days into it they’re like, “Oh wow, we’ve got enough done that if you stopped right now we’d be happy.” Having that kind of fixed price point—that kind of cap on this—is the kind of terms you have to work with me. That actually removes some of the risk from them. They’re not worried that I’m going to go over and charge them four times what they thought they would pay because we have that agreement up front that this is what they’re booked and this is what they’re going to pay. BRIAN: Yeah, exactly. I think the more that you can move away from billable hours and the more you can remove time from the equation—or from the conversation around the value of what you’re doing—the better. I think a lot has been written on about value based pricing. The services that you’re delivering: what are they actually worth to your client? It might only take you a week or two to build a new website, but that website might be worth tens of thousands of dollars in increased sales to that client. That’s what justifies a higher price point. Then the other thing about price point productized services is that I strongly recommend showing your price up front—putting it right on your website and in the way that you communicate. What that does is, like you said, it helps to self-select. You’re not going to get requests or leads from people who are just simply out of the price ballpark. But it also establishes the price and it removes it from the conversation. Then it keeps the focus on, “What’s the value here? This service costs a thousand dollar one time service or it’s whatever it is—$1500/month. Whatever your particular service is. Then the conversation is, “Okay, what’s included and what are the benefits? How is this actually going to impact my bottom line?” These are the things that clients and companies really care about. So the more that you can focus on that, rather than the traditional model of freelancing—it’s all about billable hours. “Okay, how much is this going to run me? How long is this going to take?” Then you’re not talking as much about, “Well, what’s included in that and how is that actually going to benefit us?” ERIC: Yeah, I mean if you take the emotional part of buying aside--that’s a huge component—but the logical side for a business is if they have the money and if it the service seems like it’s going to help solve a problem they have, it just comes down to, “Is the benefit from this service over a period of time going to be worth more than what it costs?” About having the price there and especially if you can justify the price and contrast it. Say it costs a thousand dollars a month and then you have a testimonial company saying, “This saved me six figures in a year.” That makes it really easy to sway a decision of, “It’s worth it.” Especially like this kind of packaging you can do the more product idea of giving guarantees and stuff like that. You can say, “If you don’t like it; it doesn’t increase your sales in three months, I’ll refund all your money” or “I’ll refund the last one.” It makes the buying decision easier. You still have the emotional parts but that’s a whole ball of mud right there. BRIAN: Yeah, totally. What you said, there are testimonials or doing case studies is very, very powerful. Showing real results and communicating the benefits—not you communicating them, but your clients actually communicating them for you—that’s as authentic as it can get. The other thing is, when a business is hiring someone to do something like A/B conversion optimization tests—like what Nick Disabato does—they’re looking for someone who really knows how to do that better than anyone else. They’re looking for the expert, the specialist. They look at a site like Nick’s, and this is all this guy does. He does this one thing. Of course he can do the job. That’s what he does. I used to get a lot of requests as a freelance web designer. “Can you do an e-commerce site?” In the early years of my freelancing I thought, “Sure. Of course I know how to do an e-commerce site. I have all the tools available. I can do it.” “Okay, so let me see some examples.” I didn’t have any at the time. I just didn’t have any recent projects where I did an e-commerce site, but I knew that I could do it. So you get into these situations where you’re doing so many different services that it’s hard to pin-point your expertise or where you can provide the most value. That’s where focusing in on one particular solution and then matching that to one type of customer can really help spur on the growth over the long term. CHUCK: So I want to change tactics a little bit and talk a little bit more about how you scale that up, because I think we understand pretty well the benefits of doing something like the productized consulting. But how do you get to the point where—let’s say that I have this brilliant idea and I’m going to go out and I’m going to start plumberengine.com. BRIAN:**I have had people emailing me about plumber [crosstalk 18:39] I get emails every week: the same idea for Restaurant Engine, but for plumbers. I’ve heard it for magicians. I’ve heard it for real estate. I’ve heard it for every industry. That’s funny.**CHUCK: Yeah, that’s interesting. Anyway, so let’s say that we do plumberengine.com. So I get started, and I’m building plumber websites. At what point to I want to start looking at scaling it up, and what kind of systems can I put in place to make it easier? BRIAN: Yeah. So building systems is really what it’s all about. I think once you get your head around getting into this systems mindset—that’s really going from, “I’m a freelancer, and I do everything myself” to “Now I’m a business owner, and I’m building an asset. I’m building a machine that can run itself.” This is really a multi-year process. It certainly was for me. It’s always still a learning process. It comes down to this. Number one: it’s about standardizing the work. You want to make sure that, not only are you delivering one particular service and one solution, but you’re also delivering it the same way every time. As we all know, there’s twenty different ways to build a blog website or 100 different ways to build an e-commerce website. But you have to choose one particular method for building it. So for example, you’ll always use the same framework or you’ll always use the same toolset, the same process and procedures for delivering that same service. You’re standardizing it and making it as predictable as possible. So before you even get into writing procedures and hiring a team, you first need to do that work of, “What do we do, what don’t we do, and make our work as standardized as possible.” That’s step one. Step two is streamline it. So find ways to streamline the process any way that you can. Maybe that’s using templates, optimizing your framework. It can start to get into procedures and writing standard ways of doing things. Maybe finding a piece of software that can help do one of the steps faster than doing it manually. Just finding ways to streamline it. Then it gets into documenting. Writing detailed procedures—and these are step-by-step documents outlining the individual steps of performing the same repeatable service that you do for clients on a daily or weekly basis. Writing procedures is something that’s always going on. I still write procedures today. I have plenty of procedures that I will write. You’re just always writing them, and you’re always refining them and improving them. This is something that takes a long time to get into this habit, because it actually takes a lot of extra time to make sure that you’re documenting everything that you’re doing. We all know, if we’re sending out a MailChimp email blast, we can knock that out in fifteen minutes. It’s easy. But to do it and then document it can take three times longer. I’ll spend two hours maybe documenting the whole process of, “How do I go about sending out a MailChimp blast for my business?” Once you have that document in place it really pays off, because then you can get to that final step which is beginning to grow your team, bring in employees or an assistant or someone that you can then give them that procedure and then they can start handling that process. Now you have freed up your time as the business owner—not necessarily to go lounge on a beach somewhere; maybe you do want to go do that—but really once you free up that time, once you start delegating these tasks and getting them off your plate and trusting in the systems that you built, that your team is handling them, now you have all this extra free time. So now you can focus on how to actually grow the business. Now you can focus on how to find more of that ideal customer, or setting up a new marketing plan, or writing more systems. That’s the cycle. CHUCK: So what makes a good system? What are some of the things you’re going to run into with that? BRIAN: Yeah. So I think the important thing to note is that it’s constantly being refined. In the very beginning—I said it takes a lot of time—but in the very beginning you can just keep it simple. Just jot down a bullet point list of five or ten steps that it takes to knock out this particular task. Then over time you want to start adding as much detail as possible. If you look at some of my procedures in my business today, multipages long in Google Docs. Every step has really granular detail of exactly how to perform each task. Then I’ve got screenshots, notating them with arrows and circles and things like that. Sometimes I use video screencast as well. But go above and beyond putting all this granular detail in because my goal when I’m writing a procedure is to make sure that my teammate, whoever’s following this, they have everything that they need to basically just knock it out of the park. They’re going to do an outstanding job because of the time, and effort, and care that I put into writing this procedure. Of course you want to stay open to them asking questions, especially when they’re doing it for the first or second time. But it’s all about ironing out all of those kinks as they come up, because they will, especially once you start doing it for paying customers. You can write a procedure theoretically. Right now I’m rolling out a new add-on service to Restaurant Engine where we’re going to be managing their email marketing and social media updates. I’m writing some procedures based on what I know about how to do email marketing and posting social updates, but we’re still in the process of rolling this out to actual customers. So I know that these are just first draft procedures. But in a couple of weeks when these are being performed for real customers, inevitably we’re going to see kinks and bumps in the road: “Oh we really didn’t think of that. You’ve got to go update the procedure.” So it’s just a never-ending process of making it run like a machine. ERIC: Well one thing I did is I started a weekly newsletter thing called Freelance Chi. There’s multiple steps. I have to review a bunch of sources, curate them, find which ones are good, summarize them, put them into a document, make sure there’s—not just ten from one site—I have to give them a variety. Then I’ll talk about how to do a Podcast, which involves recording, editing, uploading – the whole nine yards. The first one, I just ran through it, did it, just threw it together, and it worked. Then the second one I was like, “Let me take some time and write a procedure for it.” I did a simple procedure. The third time and the fourth time I made a mistake in both the Podcasts. I actually didn’t attach the Podcasts to the feeds. The Podcasts are supposed to be recorded and you play it online—it didn’t actually show up on iTunes. The first time I saw it, “Oh, I just screwed up.” But the second time it happened I was like, “Okay, my procedure’s wrong.” I went back and found the procedure, and found that I didn’t put any of that detail in there. So I changed the procedure to add that detail, and so now my document that I’m going through and checking off for each issue each week, now it has that so I’m never going to have that problem or that bug happen again. I told the guys that it takes two or three hours a week to do it, but this procedure is going to get better. It’s going to get more refined. I might bring in someone to help me with the editing or someone with the curation. I can hand that part of the procedure off to them and let them run with it. I know it’s going to be at least the minimum standard of quality that I need. BRIAN: That’s awesome. It’s always about finding the things—like something comes up, a piece of the procedure broke down, and then it’s a matter of going into the list and diagnosing. “What went wrong?” Sometimes it’s just about changing the order. “Oh, if you do step four before step two, this whole thing becomes much easier.” I also like to include little tips for my team to follow. “You might want to open two browser tabs for this and then copy from one to the other.” It’s a quick tip and it makes it go a lot easier. You don’t want to keep that stuff to yourself. You want to just include everything. Over time, what it can come to is, once your team is the ones knocking out these tasks according to the procedures, then they start to improve the tasks because they’re doing it day in day out. So they’re even closer to the work than you are once you being delegating. So you want to make sure everyone has access to, and everyone has the ability to edit the procedures and make improvements to them. CHUCK: Yeah, that makes sense. I also really like the idea of putting together procedures for me. Eric talked about that. Because there are things that I do that I don’t really think about it that way. I think I know how I want it done but to actually sit down and write it out. A lot of times it also just clarifies my thinking by doing that. BRIAN: Totally. So I see that myself as well. It just makes you better at doing your job and finding more efficient ways to do it. Really with all of this, again, it’s about making the transition from freelancer to business owner. Even if you remain solo, it’s stepping back and working on your business rather than in your business. Working on your business, you’re” taking on a birds-eye view, thinking about “How can we make this more efficient? How can we do things so that they’re more effective for clients and for the business?” Maybe I think about how to grow this business in the next six months or twelve months. “What are the changes that we’ll need to make in order to get there?”, rather than focusing and spending all of your time and every hour of the day thinking about, “Oh, I have this deadline to meet next week for this one client” or “I need to debug this error for this website.” Of course those things come up and it’s always a balancing act, spending time in both of these worlds. But the more time you can start to work on your business and take a birds-eye view, then you’re being more strategic about where things are headed over the next year and that sort of thing. CHUCK: Yeah. So one other thing I’m running into just thinking through this is that some of the stuff I’m that going to need done is stuff that’s going to take some kind of expertise to get done. So for example, let’s say I go ahead and do Plumbers Engine and I’m like, “I need someone who can tweak CSS or who can work on a WordPress theme or things like that.” How do you find those people, and what kinds of systems do you set up for them given that they have a certain baseline amount of knowledge? BRIAN: Yeah, sure. So systems, and procedures, and best practices and everything can apply to really anyone on your team no matter the skill level. My customer support team in Restaurant Engine all have CSS skills and web development skills. They do make customizations like that to customer’s websites on a daily basis. We have a set of guidelines of what’s possible within our platform, and what do we do, what don’t we do. So, these are all things that have been documented in our process. I think it’s a matter of finding people you’re comfortable working with, that you’re comfortable with their skill level. Of course we have a really long procedure for the blog on Restaurant Engine. We do a lot of content marketing. I have a team of writers, with one head writer, and we have a procedure for him to not only write the articles and publish them to the WordPress blog—that’s technically very easy to do—but they also now have a procedure for how to brainstorm new topics for the blog. That’s a much more nuanced process. You have to use some creativity. You have to figure out what’s really going to resonate with this audience. We have a whole set of procedures that we’ve refined over a number of months: looking on other blogs, looking to our previous blog audience and seeing what resonates with them, and then filling up an editorial calendar, and doing an internal review of that, and then writing out the article. This is like three or four different procedures linked together. So, yeah, they can become pretty complex and they can also be very high level. When it comes to managing and directing creative people on your team—by creative I mean anyone who does design or development, coding, or writing, or anything like that; if they’re creating or producing anything—I typically don’t necessarily want to direct how to actually create something. But just a few guidelines: like “What are our end goals?” You’re the expert so use your code however you prefer to code, but work within these guidelines. Work within this framework. We’re going towards this end goal. ERIC: So flexibility but with some constraints. BRIAN: Yeah, exactly. It goes back to making sure that the work is standardized, like in Restaurant Engine—or Plumber Engine—you want to define. “We do these types of sites, with this feature set, for this audience, but we don’t do that, that, and that.” Because if you do anything and everything then it’s not Plumber Engine anymore. It’s a web design agency and we work with anyone. So it’s about becoming focused. My team will sometimes come to me and ask, “This customer asked for this complex customization on their site.” Then it’s a question of, “Well technically maybe we can do that, and they even know how to do that.” But sometimes we have to say, “No. That’s not really included” or “That’s not really ideal for our platform. You’re trying to do something that’s a little bit beyond,” or something like that. I think any way we can keep it standardized and predictable can help. CHUCK: Do you have any other questions, Eric? ERIC: Yeah, so two sides for the marketing. I want to know what you can do to continue to market. You mentioned earlier how that process gets easier because you’re trying to attract leads who fit your target customer profile. But how do you get started especially when you know the service works in a completely custom consulting environment but extract it out? How do you know, “Is my service going to resonate? Am I targeting the right people?” How do you actually build marketing around that and get it bootstrapped enough to get it started? Because I think that’s where most people are going to get hung up on it. BRIAN: Yeah, definitely. I guess the first thing that I would say is, “Take some time to start learning a thing or two about marketing. If marketing is new to you—and I know it’s new to most designers and developers—I come from a design and development background. It was new to me. It still is in many ways new to me. I’m still learning. I think first and foremost you have to take an interest in marketing. That means going on marketing Podcasts, and listening to interviews and reading blog posts, and just familiarizing yourself with some of the things that other people are doing, with success. Just to look at them as case studies. So just take an interest in it is the first thing, but then it starts to get a little bit overwhelming. There’s so many different tactics and strategies that people throw at you. Then I think it’s important to simplify it. By that I mean, I wrote an article the other day—a couple weeks back—called How to Un-Complicate Your Marketing. Really it’s all about just knowing who that one customer is—that one person in your audience is—because once you know who you’re writing for and who you’re trying to attract, everything else becomes easier. There are a number of different strategies you can take in terms of building traffic and getting leads to your website and whatnot. I’ve always naturally gravitated towards some form of content marketing or education marketing. I think these days that’s really what works in all of online marketing: some kind of educational aspect. Whether it’s starting with a blog or a Podcast or even just starting with an email course or a webinar, the first thing you need to do is build trust. The best way to build trust with an audience is to teach them something of value; help them improve in some way for free. That immediately gets them interested in what you have to say, and following along with what you’re doing. Another key aspect of this is building up an email list. If you’re not building a newsletter—I mean I wish that I started my newsletter years before I did—that’s the best way to capture those first time visitors to your website and get them into your audience so that they can find out about the next thing that you’re doing: your next article or your next Podcast. So then they can come back a second time. If they don’t get onto your email list—even if they follow you on Twitter or follow your RSS feed. Whoever still does that, I still do but not many people actually do. The chances of them actually catching your next few things that you’re doing are very slim unless you’re sending them an email to their inbox, because that’s where they definitely will see something from you. Building up that email list, knowing who you’re speaking to: it’s just super important. On my site, CasJam, I’ve really invested heavily into this for the past year, not only building the email list but anybody who joins my list now, the first thing that they receive from me—I think it goes out the second day after they join—it’s a very short welcome email and it has three questions. It says, “Tell me what you’re working on right now.” Question two is, “Where would you like to be twelve months from now?” Question three is, “What do you see as your biggest hurtle between getting there, now and then.” I read every single one of those replies. I get a lot of them now, and people write a lot. It’s really great to read those because that then informs me exactly how I should be writing my next article. You start to see these trends. You start to see the same types of responses and the same challenges coming up again and again. Then you start to really get an idea of, “Who is the most common person in my audience?” and “Who am I writing for.” Then the next time I sit down to write an article, or do an email newsletter, or write a landing page for some kind of product, I know exactly the language they’re using to describe their biggest challenges. It’s just a matter of answering that. I know I’m just rambling on a little bit here, but I think that just scratches the surface. Then you start to get into it a little bit. Try things out. Add that welcome sequence to your email newsletter or send out a survey. Start listening in on interviews and Podcasts talking about different marketing tactics. I think the more you get into it, the easier it gets. CHUCK: Yeah, that makes sense. I have to say—I don’t have time for it—but I’m really tempted to see if I can pull something together. There’s an exercise to see if I can really build a business like this where I’m offering some kind of service to a particular niche. BRIAN: That’s the other thing that really excites me about productized services is that you can literally launch them so quickly compared to building a software product or something. A couple of case studies—I think Nick Disabato launched his service in less than a week. He just wrote the landing page one day and put it up there and announced it to some of his current and past clients. I think he had his first two clients that way. Jarrod Drysdale, think a month or two ago he launched a landingpageinaday.com. He designs and launches a landing page for a new product or new service, whatever you’re doing. I think it’s currently a thousand dollars for one day service. I think he had the idea on a Friday, launched the landing page by Monday, and by Tuesday/Wednesday—after he posted it to a couple of forums and tweeted it and stuff—I think he booked seven of those days. That’s the beauty of this thing. It’s not a “get rich overnight” type of thing. None of those things really exist. It’s so easy to get started, get that initial traction, and get that customer number one, number two quickly. Then you can learn, and improve it, and then grow it. ERIC: Something that Nick mentioned that I’ve taken to heart—this week, we recorded on Monday I planning to extract another business out of something I do for clients a lot of the time. The idea that Nick gave me was—especially if you’re already doing a lot of the custom stuff for clients—extract out a part and go to some of those clients that you have—or maybe new leads—and try to give them the service but give it to them for free in exchange for critical feedback. You don’t have to build a sales page. You don’t have to build a marketing funnel. In Nick’s case you go to someone and say, “Hey, I want to do some A/B testing to help your e-commerce. I’m going to offer it to sale for my clients on a reoccurring monthly basis, but I’m want to try it with you for a month. Basically, you’re the guinea pig for me and in exchange you get all this value for free.” See how that works. I’m willing to bet, especially if you have a relationship with some people already, they’re not going to turn you down. They’re going to want that free thing from you, they might actually turn into big clients later on after the freebee period’s over. They’re going to give you that “on the ground” feedback you need to get you to make it through the wider market. BRIAN: Totally. You couldn’t have said it better. Doing the service for free—once or twice with clients and really nailing down those results. Obviously, you will need to change and get their feedback, and refine it, and iterate it over time. That’s the whole point of getting it in front of live clients. But then ultimately you can turn those into your very first case studies. That goes right on the landing page when it comes time to offer it as a paid service. So, yeah. Totally. CHUCK:Yeah. I really dig that idea, too. If you have somebody that’s out there in that market already that you know, you can get the validation and everything else at the same time. It just really [inaudible 39:48].BRIAN: Yeah, exactly. If you’re coming from a freelance background, this can run alongside what you’re already doing as a freelancer. You don’t necessarily have to change everything that you’re doing in your business from today to tomorrow. You can just start offering a productized product alongside the traditional consulting stuff. I also see the productized offering as an introductory thing to getting more consulting work. I think what Jarrod said was he booked a whole bunch of those landing pages and day projects, but a couple of clients asked for additional pages on the website. I think he said some people asked, “Well can I just buy three landing pages in a day or three days?” He was like, “No, I’ll do the one landing page but then we can just talk about doing a separate project, and these are my rates for that.” CHUCK: So we’ve talked about marketing. We’ve talked about finding the idea that you can profit by. We talked about different approaches to this. Are there any other areas of building out that product/services into a business, that we haven’t covered? BRIAN:Well, I mean I could talk all day about this kind of stuff. [Chuckles] But I think we covered a lot of the high level stuff. The way that I break down my teaching on all this is breaking it down into three channels: launching and focusing on one service, building that value proposition. The second one is automating systems; writing those procedures. The third is getting into the marketing side of stuff and knowing who your customer is. Those are the big three there. I do have a free email crash course on how to productize your service if anyone’s interested. It’s right on the homepage of my site, casjam.com. That goes a little more in depth on some of these same lessons. If you guys or anyone else has questions about this stuff, you can always reach out to me at brian@casjam.com.CHUCK: Cool. Well, thanks for coming. Let’s go ahead and do some picks. Eric, do you want to start us with picks? ERIC: Sure. First one is a good book on building systems. I think this was the best one was very strategic and why you should build a system. But it also gave you the best tactics on how you do it. I’ve read a lot. I got into some systems theory books, which were completely overwhelming with feedback cycles and syncs and stuff like that. But this book: it’s called Work the System by Sam Carpenter. It’s really, really interesting. I read it a while ago but if I remember it right he basically talks a little bit about the history of building his business and getting it to the point where it is using systems and manuals and that sort of process type stuff. Really interesting; you can scale it down and I have actually used it for my business. Like I put in the chat: I have three core systems. If you can duplicate those, you can duplicate most of my business. It’s like Lead Generation, Lead Conversion, and Project Delivery. That’s the standard consulting systems. Another one, I read this a little bit ago, and this is more for Chuck than anyone else. It’s How to Make a Thousand Dollars in the Next 14 Days Without an Idea. It’s basically a really quick and dirty way of building a productized consulting service, if you’re just getting started and figuring out what to do. I thought it was really interesting because it was pretty easy to understand. I think anyone can take this and apply it to whatever industry or niche you have. That’s it. CHUCK: This weekend I took my wife up to Park City, Utah—it’s actually about an hour from here but it was just nice to get away. I’m just going to pick Park City, Utah. It’s where they hold the Sundance Film Festival, if you’re familiar with that. It’s just a really great town to go and hang out in. That’s my pick. Brian, do you have some picks for us? BRIAN: Yeah, I do. Well, I have one. I just gave you the link here. It’s The Tim Ferriss Podcast. I’m just now getting into some of these episodes, and I was just listening to one. It’s episode 44 of the Tim Ferriss—you know Tim Ferriss, four hour work week and all that. So most of his episodes are really long interviews. This is a shorter one. I’ll give you the YouTube link because it’s not actually listed on his site for some reason. This one is only 17 minutes but it’s called How to Avoid Decision Fatigue. I just really resonated with this one because I’m working on these businesses all day and working on my work. My brain constantly gets drained because I make a lot of decisions every single day. I’m figuring out what to work on next, or how to fix a problem and all this stuff. He just really talks about how to limit that and reduce the number of decisions that you force yourself to make. For instance, one tip that he gives there is, the night before or the day before just plan ahead of time your first hour of your day—what you’re going to wear that day, what you’re going to eat for breakfast, your sequence of events from the time you get out of bed to the first hour or two of your day. Just so you can start your day on brain dead; save that mental energy for later in the day when you really need it. I started trying that this morning. I’m trying to get back into getting to the gym, so I put my gym shoes on the floor and shorts and everything ready to go so I don’t have the think “Where are my gym shoes.” Just everything is preplanned and set so that I can just get out of bed and go. I’ve heard it a lot of times. I read an article about President Obama a while back. He doesn’t decide his tie color or what he’s going to eat. People just decide that stuff for him because he has to make so many decisions throughout the day. They want to reduce the number of the mundane decisions that he goes through. So, the Tim Ferriss Podcast; I think it’s episode 44. That’s definitely a good one. CHUCK: Cool. ERIC: Just so you know, that’s actually in the feed that came out today or just recently. I just checked. I actually watched it on YouTube. BRIAN: Exactly. I heard it on the feed, and then I was looking for it on all his sites but I didn’t see it there. CHUCK: Nice. Well thanks for coming, Brian. It was really good to talk to you and get some ideas from you. BRIAN: Yeah. Thanks for having me, guys. It was fun. CHUCK: Alright. Well 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? 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