Productizing by Not Selling Talent

A longtime friend of mine is a diamond salesman, and a very good one.

What always struck me about that business is the inherent and unquestioned quality of the product. There is no ambiguity. Both the buyer and the seller know exactly what’s being sold, and at what level of quality and characteristics.

My friend is able to sell this product with full confidence. The sale isn’t based on a mere promise of quality, or the unique talents of one individual. The sale is made once the stone has been examined, weighed, qualified, and valued.


It’s been almost two weeks since I opened the doors to my new business, Audience Ops.

Things are moving fast! I’ve surpassed my sales goal of landing 1 client retainer in the first month. 4 clients have signed on already and we’re only halfway through the month!

Productizing a service isn’t just about making a simpler way to sell it. It’s about crafting a better way to deliver it. The client must receive a better solution than the alternatives. 

I want to sell diamonds. Unquestionable quality, delivered consistently and reliably every time. No ambiguity or unmet promises. Trust and confidence in every sales conversation, backed up by a service that I know delivers. Period.

So how do we get there?

I decided to start by writing down what I’m calling “high level service goals”. These are not sales goals, or marketing goals, or productivity goals. These are my goals for the service itself. What will it be? What will it not be? How will we meet a high quality standard, and bake it right into the service from day one? These goals serve as my framework for all of these decisions.

Here they are:

  • Don’t sell talent.
  • Save through focus.
  • Every interaction should be routine.
  • Respect the responsibility.

Let’s unpack each of these…

Bonus Download: Productized Service Tools

Don’t sell talent

When a designer sells their service, they’re selling the promise of their talent living up to the expectations of the client.

Many designers make a great living because they’ve honed their craft and built up a strong client base. But every so often, their client’s expectation isn’t met and things go off the rails. Sometimes the client is being unreasonable, sometimes the designer simply didn’t execute. Either way, when talent is the selling point, it adds an element of risk, both for a client when hiring a designer, and for the designer when taking on a new client.

In Audience Ops, the selling point is not my personal talent as a content marketer. Nor is it the individual talent of whichever writer is writing for a client’s blog. Sure, I’m seeking out highly talented individuals to join the Audience Ops team. Sure, I’ve built up personal experience when it comes to using content marketing to grow a business.

But these alone are not the product. You can find talented and experienced individuals anywhere. Our value prop has to be built around something unique that only Audience Ops can deliver.

The selling point in Audience Ops is our overall methodology, and our resources and systems that execute it.

We have proven methods for doing customer research that help us get inside the minds of our client’s customers. Every blog post and email campaign we write for our clients go through a collaborative process that involves 2 writers, a copy editor, and a technical assistant.

Yes, everyone working here is talented. But it’s our collaborative process and unique approach to doing up-front customer research that will actually move the needle for our clients.

This is how we’ll achieve the goal of giving the client a better solution to the alternatives, which would be doing their own content marketing or hiring a single freelancer.

Save through focus

Southwest Airlines has an interesting way of cutting costs. They don’t skimp on the free peanuts or pay their pilots less (at least I hope they don’t).

Early on, Southwest made the decision to fly just one sized aircraft–a 737 that is ideal for domestic flights around the US. This keeps costs down when it comes to service, maintenance, and training their personnel, since these can all be streamlined for just the one 737 plane size. If they had a large fleet of different plane sizes, they would have varying requirements and complexities, which would be a more expensive operation to run.

The key to making the numbers work in Audience Ops is to stay focused. If we’re doing lots of different things for lots of different clients, it will be nearly impossible to streamline our process.

Using the same strategies I teach in the Productize course, I’m focusing the service in two ways:

  • Delivering one solution
  • Serving one ideal client

One solution

Already, we’ve had requests for a wide variety services. All have been related to content marketing. But each is targeted at solving a different problem, requiring varying resources and processes. For example, I’ve had requests for guest blog outreach, infographics, sales page copywriting, conversion rate optimization, and other requests.

My team and I could do all of these things. But instead we’re focused on solving one key problem: Founders need a reliable way to grow their audience and customer-base, but don’t have the time or resources in-house to do it.

Our solution is an end-to-end blogging package, designed to attract the right people into their audience, and keep them engaged through smart email drip campaigns and newsletters. We have a process for executing this (and only this) service effectively and efficiently.

I’ve chosen this specific set of features in our service, because in my experience, this solves the problem most effectively, and gives founders the content marketing system they need, fully implemented, running, and managed for them.

One ideal client

We’ve had quite a few inquiries from potential clients for Audience Ops (more than I expected!). Luckily, most have fit the ideal client profile Audience Ops is built for: B2B online product companies.

By serving B2B companies, we can write for audiences made up of founders, entrepreneurs, marketers, freelance professionals. These groups tend to be hungrier for content that will help them get ahead, which is right in our wheelhouse.

We focus further by working with online product companies. SaaS, downloadable software, and productized (online) services. These types of companies stand to benefit most from having a growing audience, which converts into ongoing leads to grow their customer-base.

Serving one ideal client has several benefits:

  • Plenty of audience and topic overlap. Our clients benefit from having a team who is well-versed in writing for this type of audience. Each market has it’s own unique aspects, which we target in our content, but having this general focus helps us be more effective.
  • We’re able to optimize for best results. By serving clients with similar audiences, we’re able to apply our learnings to all of them, making results more predictable.
  • Marketing to one ideal client is much easier than casting a wide net. We’re working on launching the Audience Ops blog, which will be aimed at educating our ideal customer.

Every interaction should be routine

Building on the idea of focus, my goal is to ensure our processes are completely dialed in to the point that every interaction is routine.

Back when I made my living as a freelance web designer, my weekly interactions were all over the place. One day I’d work on a custom one-of-a-kind website, another day I have to put out a fire with an unhappy client, the next I’d take a sales call with a new prospect, another day I’d chase down an unpaid invoice, and in between I’d have to learn the latest tools and techniques.

That lack of routine led to burnout, lack of focus, and lack of quality.

This time around, my goal is to ensure every step in our engagement with a client goes according to plan. Each interaction should be a defined step in our process. From our pre-sales consultation call, to the founder interview call, our research process, monthly report, and ongoing delivery. Nothing “pops up” out of nowhere and throws us off our game.

If I find that a particular client eats up far more of our resources, or that we’re tasked with doing something “just this once”, then I know something’s not right. It’s not the fault of the client. It’s my job to ensure these things don’t crop up from the start, by focusing on an ideal client, solution, and an ever-improving process.

Respect the responsibility

I chose to get into the business of content marketing because it can make a real, lasting impact for our clients. It’s not intended to be something that sits on the side, out of view. We’re being the voice of our client’s brand, speaking directly to their customers and building that relationship. That’s a huge responsibility.

I feel strongly about ensuring that every piece of content we publish on behalf of a client would be good enough (if not better) to publish on one of my own business’ blogs. But just saying this isn’t enough. It has to be backed up by processes that ensure we meet this standard every time.

One of the (not so) secret ingredients to our process is the collaboration among our team. A lead writer will be assigned to a client’s blog. But every piece will be reviewed internally by a 2nd writer who’s job is to find 3 ways to improve the piece. From there, it goes to a copy editor who’s job is to catch any typos and other mistakes. Finally, our technical assistant adds graphics and other enhancements. Right now, I’m involved in some of the internal feedback and creative direction, but eventually this will be the role of a project manager / content strategist.

It’s systems like these that make me excited about getting back into consulting again, this time with quality and process built-in from the start.

Bonus Download: Productized Service Tools
  • Great post! I’m really trying to do this with my own business. Like you, I get requests that are all over the map and it’s easy to get sucked into working on something that’s either not in your wheelhouse or not what you want to be doing. The tough part is sticking to your guns and not letting projects slide into grey areas.

    • Thanks Jen – Yep – tough to stick with it, but I found that over time you start to see the costs of doing things that are out of the norm. Extra time, extra resources required, sometimes more stress, etc.

  • Thanks for sharing these goals, Brian. They’re high level enough that anyone can apply them to their business. I particularly liked the idea of rejecting work that’s related to content marketing but wasn’t a solution to the problem your solving. Keep us posted as you learn more 🙂

    • Good to hear Raymond – Still early now and figuring things out, but I’ll be sure to publish more.

  • Thanks for this post Brian. I’m eagerly following the progress of Audience Ops and I hope you continue to share takeaways as you grow it.

    One thing in particular that struck me in this piece is “every interaction should be routine.” Holy crap, that would be a dream for my productized service! haha

    I’m like the old you: clusterf*ck of emails and different requests, all essentially dependent upon my expertise to solve the problems.

    To the point where I’m no wondering whether my productized service is really even scalable.

    One of the guys in my productized services mastermind group, before he launched his service, had this checklist of requirements that the service concept had to meet before he decided that yes, this is the service I’m doing.

    He was uncompromising about the checklist, and now he has a very successful productized service that’s largely on autopilot.

    Here’s the list he shared with me in case any of you guys might find this useful:

    1. 3 years from now where will I have to be personally and professional to be satisfied with my progress?

    2. What are the filters to run decisions through in order to achieve this? (Note: This was my checklist)

    Here’s what he wrote late last year:

    3 Years

    Focused around my strengths

    Another, and final kid

    Financial foundations in place (3 month savings, able to invest, etc.)

    Purchased dream home

    Spending 2+ months a year abroad

    Time to game regularly (RPG / tabletop)

    Ample time running non-profit program

    Summer in Italy

    Summer in Japan

    Mission trip with my family

    Paid speaker

    Filters:

    – Residual income component (selling a software/platform)

    – High value consulting components (builds my brand)

    – Able to be executed remotely

    – Virtualized teams for support on implementation

    – There is a niche I can be an expert in

    – Easy to sell – it just makes sense

    And this was *my* list:

    “3 Years”

    $120k/year profit (~$10k/month)

    $50k cushion saved up

    Brown belt in BJJ

    Year in Rio De Janeiro (next year) training and meeting beautiful brasileiras

    Year in Japan (2 years from now) training BJJ, Judo and learning Japanese

    Make a ‘homebase’ somewhere with a rented house (Thailand, Bali?)

    Have a largely passive, largely automated business that doesn’t depend on me personally (resale value; processes, REAL business)

    Squat 2x bodyweight

    Do a full split

    Visit home country, Ukraine

    Time to sing and play guitar regularly

    Get total testosterone up to 1000mg/dL

    “Filters:

    – Largely passive once business processes are set in place and marketing channels running

    – Location independence

    – Something I’m passionate about (health/BJJ/music)

    – Scalability via enhanced distribution, deals with big names, high level of scientific rigor and transparency

    – Easy to sell – it just makes sense” (stealing this one for myself!)

    – Makes a dent in the universe, however small it may be

    ***
    Vic Dorfman – Membership Site Expert
    http://www.vicdorfman.com

    • Thanks Vic – I like this list. Really helps to think big picture and to take a step back to look at what you’re working towards. Thanks for sharing

    • Anf

      Awesome list Vic! Got some great questions there that I’m going to apply to my biz.

  • Rex Stevens

    Brian,

    Great post! I noticed in your tools that you use Google Hangouts for team meetings but slack for chat. We use Google Hangouts for chat and i’m interested in slack but all of my remote team all already have Google accounts so is it worth it to bring them into a new system? Just curious what your thoughts are since you are using both.

    Thanks!

    • Google chat (IM) is good for one-to-one chats. Google Hangouts is good for group video calls.

      Slack fits nicely as the team-wide chat tool. You can ping individual people on it, but the whole group can be kept up to speed on the conversation.

      I’ve also done some integrations with Stripe / Trello / Zapier –> Slack for various things, like automatically pinging the team when a new customer signs up and we need to handle them, etc. So you can do fancier stuff with it when the systems are dialed in 🙂

      • Rex Stevens

        Oh, nice. Thanks!

  • Great stuff Brian. Keep going and posting about your progress with Audience Ops. Best of luck with your new business venture. Regards from London. Marcin

  • Great detailed post on how you’re pulling this off Brian, love it. Are you also going to write about your sales process?

    • Thanks Davesh – I’m sure I will at some point, but for now it’s still very new. So far, the sales process looks like this (in a nutshell):

      1. Consultation request (form on the website)
      2. I reply via email, and ask the person to book a time with me using calendly.
      3. I get on a call with the person and see if they’re a fit.
      4. If they’re a fit, then I send a simple proposal (I’m using http://nusii.com for this)
      5. The proposal points them to a personalized purchase page on the AO website, which I set up with a purchase button for the plan that I’m recommending for them. I hooked up the purchase button using http://wpstripe.net.

      Hope that helps!

      • Ah I see. I was wondering about the top of the funnel, so it’s all through web traffic, no outreach or outbound sales at all?

        • so far, it has just been seen by my network (we’re still only in month 1). In a few weeks, we’ll be rolling out our content marketing for Audience Ops, and other actual marketing strategies 🙂

          *Brian Casel*
          casjam.com

  • You use Stripe? You’re fine with them taking 3% off the top? I’m curious what other payment methods you looked at and why Stripe should be “obvious”

    • Well, all credit card processing has some sort of fee. Stripe isn’t the lowest % out there, but it makes up for it in ease of use, and the many integrations built for Stripe.

      *Brian Casel*
      casjam.com

    • I second Brian. Trying to find a cheaper payment gateway is early optimization. Strip makes it easy to implement, and the existing third party products that integrate with it are great too. I use https://www.profitwell.com/ to get metrics on my business for example (free).

  • Hi Brian, how does wpstripe stack up against the Gravity Forms Stripe add-on?

    Thanks,

    Mark

    • Both are great, but I like WP stripe checkout for its focused use. Does exactly what I need… Button to initiate a payment and a subscription.

  • Brian, congrats for the project. Looks really good indeed. Glad things are working well since the beginning.

    How do you feel about having so many separated websites though? You write in this blog, but then you have to maintain your several other sites. Is it manageable at all?

    The reason why I am asking this is because I want to run something very similar. However, I don’t know whether I should squeeze everything in my personal website -making things much easier and pointing all the SEO juice there- or create a new brand and site -which would look more professional but would make things more complex and hard-.

    PS why your plans lead to a free consultation instead of the wpstripe form (and once you receive the payment is when you let them book the call and setup the project)?
    PS’ is there a number of minimum months commitment? I think Neil Patel works offers his consulting service quarterly.

    • – Separate websites – casjam.com is my personal site, where I teach courses and write my articles/newsletter. Audience Ops is intended to be a standalone business, and this is what I’m spending most of my time on right now.

      – consultation form – We don’t let just anyone sign up as clients for Audience Ops. First of all, we must manage capacity. For example, right now there is a waiting list to get onboarded as a client. But also we work specifically with B2B software companies and not everyone fits that. So the consult helps determine who’s a fit.

      – In Audience Ops, we do offer the option to pay quarterly or monthly.

      • Brian,

        re-catching up on this.

        Have you niched down the B2B online product companies?

        I’ve seen relatively big B2B SaaS companies (50-200 employees) already have several full-time employees doing the content and email marketing.

        Solopreneurs (up to 5 employees) seem to be an easier sell because they have nobody doing any of this. However, they very rarely can afford a $2,000/month retainer. Less than that, wouldn’t be worth it from a business model standpoint, in my opinion.

        Could you share more about the companies who have already paid you? Especially regarding their size or if they have attempted to do content marketing before by themselves or hiring someone else.

        Cheers.

        • We do focus on B2B software companies. We have found that there quite a few companies who fall in that middle-ground between being big enough to hire full-time staff to handle their content marketing (and all that goes along with that), and solo preneurs who do their own.

          There are companies — even bootstrapped companies — who have revenue and know they need to execute on content marketing (and maybe have done it themselves for a while), but they need to spend their in-house resources on other things, such as development, sales, support, etc. AO is a good value prop for those in that stage.

          *Brian Casel*
          casjam.com

          • Makes total sense, Brian.

            Have learned anything regarding pricing? I personally think the prices you have in AO are cheap, especially having 2 writers, an editor and a designer, as you say.

            Are they happy with the retainer?

            I like how you have the “set up” as a one-off project and then the retainer if they are happy you doing the ongoing job.

          • The prices are a bit low for now, as we’re still only a few months into it. They will likely raise at some point.

            But currently they’re in a good spot for us, and we haven’t had much, if any pushback (folks only get in touch after seeing our pricing).

            *Brian Casel*
            casjam.com

          • I see. Many thanks for sharing all that knowledge and experience. Much appreciated.

            All the best at the Double Your Freelancing Conference!

  • dapitts08

    excellent article and right on time. i was just having a discussion last week with an advisor and explaining why i did not want to make me talent the value proposition for my new business venture. thanks for so clearly laying this out.

  • Great article Brian – love the concept of taking the pressure off the “talented” individual. While this works when it works, when it doesn’t it is depressing and frustrating for the individual who can come to define themselves by their skill, now suddently called into question.

  • Pingback: Produktizace služeb freelancera | Elektronický Ott()

  • Pingback: TMBA307: The One Where a Business Starts on the Show()

  • Jade Barham

    Great idea and fantastic execution Brian. I have been looking into a similar thing for businesses in New Zealand but have had trouble finding a good niche – I really had to lower prices to get anyone interested. I noted your positioning comments below and will do some more brainstorming. Glad to hear it went well and you had more interest then you hoped, but I was also intrigued. I kind of assumed everyone these days finds a niche market and validates their product first with some keen clients. So I expected you either had a defined niche and at least one pre-sold client, or good market research telling you there was demand and you could fine-tune positioning later?

  • Pingback: TMBA321: Productized #3 – An Expert’s Advice()

  • Pingback: How to stand out as a freelancer in a saturated market - rezzz.com | Jason Resnick()

  • Pingback: From Solo-Preneur to Manager-Preneur()

  • Pingback: How to Start a Sustainable Freelance Business - rezzz.com | Jason Resnick()

  • Pingback: The Anti-Agency()