Intro: Last week, we heard from Maddy Osman about how to make money on marketplaces, and at the core of that advice was the ability to productize your services. But if you’re not sure how to do that, where do you even start? This week’s guest, Brian Casel, has you covered. His advice has inspired me to start offering my own new productized service, and I know that he’ll do the same for you. Now is a great time to start looking at how you can make your business and your income more predictable, and the advice that Brian gives in this episode will surely inspire you to start doing that. We’ll get into all of that in a minute, but first a word from our sponsors.
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Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Brian Casel, he is a business and product owner, and I know him best through Audience Ops, where he offers a productized service. Brian, before I bring you in here, I just want to say that I am offering my very first productized service thanks to advice I got from Brian at CaboPress, a conference that happens around October put on by Chris Lema. So Brian, thanks for coming on the show. How are you today?
Brian Casel: I’m doing good, Joe. Good to talk to you while it’s freezing temperatures out here compared to where we last talked down in Cabo, where it was beautiful.
Joe: Yeah, in paradise. I don’t know if you’re friends with Chris on social media, but he’s there as we record this.
Brian: I saw, yeah. I don’t think he ever leaves there.
Joe: I don’t think so either. I think his office is just a green screen and he’s always there. I am near Philadelphia, and it’s just a frigid– It’s a painful cold now. I tolerate the cold pretty well, but this is– It’s like 10 degrees.
Brian: It’s bad. I’m in Connecticut over here, so same deal.
Joe: Nice. Let’s see, are you in the northern part of Connecticut or the southern part of Connecticut?
Brian: Southern. I’m near New Haven, down on the coast there.
Joe: Does that make you a Yankee fan?
Brian: I grew up in Long Island, New York. I’m a Mets fan.
Joe: A Mets fan? Gotcha. OK. All right, that’s–
Brian: I should probably stop talking now.
Joe: It’s fine. I like the Mets, I’m a Yankee fan, but I like the Mets fine. I just divide New Jersey and Connecticut based on fandoms.
Brian: It is a weird mix here where I live in Connecticut, you get Boston and New York mixed in the same area. It’s weird.
Joe: When people tell me they’re in central Jersey, especially, I’m like, “Do you like the Phillies or the Yankees?” If they say “Phillies,” I’m like, “You are southern Jersey. There’s no such thing as central Jersey.” But that’s neither here nor there, and we are going to talk about productized services today. I’m excited about this. Last week I spoke to Maddy Osman, who talked about making money with marketplaces, and we touched on how you need to have pretty clear and predictable offerings on something like Fiverr in order for it to go well. That reminded me a lot of some advice that you have, so let’s start off with a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Brian: I usually like to work backwards on that question a little bit. I have done a bunch of things over the last– I’ve been self-employed doing my own thing out here for eleven years, almost 12 years, I think. Right now, I mostly I do a couple of things. One thing is I run Audience Ops, which is a productized service company, which we do blog content as a service. A lot of the SaaS companies and WordPress companies and things, they use our team. I have a team of writers and copy editors, and we basically write and produce all the blog article content that comes out for them. We also do some podcasting services through Audience Ops and some customer case study stuff as well, but basically, that’s all productized, and I’ve been working on that for almost five years now to a point where I’m not in the day to day on that business almost at all. I spend maybe an hour or so a week doing a little bit of sales, just answering a couple of questions here and there from my team. But I’ve got managers in place who handle most of that, so that frees me up to spend– It’s not like I’m vacationing all the time, I’m still working 40 hours a week, but I’m these days I’m working mostly on software. I’ve been designing and building my own software products, the main one being one called Process Kit, which is a tool for– Some freelancers use it, but it’s mainly for teams and agencies and companies who need to manage their processes and run their projects powered by their repeatable processes. It automates delegating tasks according to your processes on how you deliver things to clients, and how you onboard, and that sort of thing. I’ve been rolling that out throughout this year, and this will be coming out in 2020, so that’s taking up most of my time. Then working backwards from that, before Audience Ops, this goes back to 2012-2015 or so. I worked on a business called Restaurant Engine, and that was a website builder which turned into a productized service aimed at restaurants, it was all built on WordPress, but I learned pretty early on in that business that they don’t want a website that they can come and set up their own website. They want it done for them at an affordable price and high quality, so I built this system like a SaaS business, but then I ended up hiring people to set up restaurant websites and get them onto the subscription. I built that business, again designed to remove myself from the process, and I sold that business in 2015. That’s when I
transitioned into Audience Ops. Before all that, I come from a background as a web designer and web developer.
Joe: It sounds like, across your career, you’ve run the gamut. You’ve done the services, you’ve offered a SaaS, or you have a SaaS now. You’ve sold a business which is cool. I like what you said about restaurant owners, and how they don’t want this vast product where they can customize everything. I think this is why Squarespace and Wix are so popular for people who just need a website. You can do anything with WordPress, but most people don’t want to do anything. They just want their phone number on their website.
Brian: When I started Restaurant Engine, I started out around 2011, I think. Squarespace was around, but it wasn’t as popular as it is today. WordPress was out there, obviously, but what I found then was that most small business owners, especially restaurant owners, they don’t even know what WordPress is let alone– They don’t even know what a domain name is. They’re just ancient with that, so I saw that gap as “Look. I know how to set up WordPress sites, I know how to handle hosting and install plugins, and have some themes designed and all that.” I put all those pieces together into– My thought was it would become a hosted WordPress platform, which it was, and my thought was it would be a SaaS. Which it sort of was, but quickly in the first six months of that business working with customers it was like, “OK. Sure, I’ll just set up your sites for you. Just to get you onto the platform.” And then I started charging for that, and then I started hiring people to have a process to do that, and then it was like “I guess this is a productized service.”
Joe: Nice. We’ve both mentioned that a bunch of times, but we haven’t defined it yet. How would you define a “Productized service?”
Brian: It is in my mind different from typical freelancing or consulting, it’s also different from typical agency work. Whereas those tend to be pretty customized, work can vary from one client to the next, all your clients are very different from one another, and every time you have a new client, you’ve got to figure out “What do you need? How much is it going to going to cost? How many hours is this going to be? What’s the proposal going to look like?” You go back and forth, and it’s just a painful process. With productized services, I think of it as just a very set solution to a problem for a fixed price with more or less fixed scope. But the key idea is that it’s aimed at a very specific type of customer, so if who your best customer is and maybe you’re targeting a certain industry, maybe you’re targeting a group of industries, but the same type of role in that business. If you have a problem that you know your best position to solve, you can design the ideal solution to that and put a set price on it. The goal, the key idea is that it’s easier to sell number one, and it’s easier to scale up as a business, but it’s also easier for the customer to buy. Because if you think about the typical client who’s going to go hire a freelancer or a company who’s going to hire an agency, it’s painful for them to try to figure out “Can they do what I need them to do?” Or, “I don’t even know what I need. I know I have this problem, but–” And then, “OK. They’re quoting me all these billable hours, and I don’t know. How many hours is it going to take?” It’s just a painful process. Then you and then you start to negotiate over, “If we cut out this and that, then maybe we can change the price.” With a productized service, the goal is to get it to where it’s just a yes or no. The customer comes to your website, or they meet you, or you reach them, however, you reach them, but then it’s just a question of “Am I the customer that this business is identifying? Yes or no. Do I have the problem that they are aiming to solve? Yes, I do have that problem. Yes, this is a no brainer. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.” It should be easier to buy and sell, basically.
Joe: That makes sense. It makes me think of going to a mechanic, where an oil change is a set price, and you know exactly what you’re getting from an oil change. But when you get your car inspected and then they’re like, “The brakes and rotors are going, and you need this new hose, and that’s going to cost $1,000 dollars.” And you’re like, “Do I? I don’t know. I guess I do. I have to trust this guy enough to know if he’s yanking my chain or not.” But I think with a productized service, something– It’s probably niching down but to the next level. Because you have selected some industry or some area where you want to specialize, but then you also know that area so well that you’re removing the question of “Does this person know what I need?” With restaurants, you knew exactly what restaurant owners wanted. Whereas maybe since I haven’t done a ton of restaurant sites, I might go in and be like, “Yeah. We could probably do your menu, but we don’t want to do a PDF.” And now it’s like, “I have to manually input all of my menu items, or whatever? What’s that like?” Or whatever.
Brian: Yeah. That also comes through in the marketing and the messaging too, so when I ran Restaurant Engine– It’s still running today with a different owner, but when somebody goes to that website if they are a restaurant owner, they’re looking at this website that says “Restaurant websites.” They’re seeing pictures of restaurant websites, and they’re seeing testimonials from other restaurant owners. The question in their mind, “Are they–? Is this company capable of making me a restaurant website? Of course, they are. Clearly, this is what they do every day.” Compare that to a random client coming in contact with a web designer whose website says, “I design nice websites.” OK, but do you design them for my university or for my doctor’s office? I don’t know. I don’t know if I can trust that yet or not.
Joe: It’s the difference between going. “Yeah, I could do that.” And “Yes. I do that.”
Joe: That’s fantastic. Like I said at the top of the show, after having a conversation with you and a few other people at CaboPress, I decided to start offering a productized service. Because we can get into this a little bit more, like when should somebody do this? I want to focus more on my memberships and my podcast, and as this episode comes out, my wife is due in July with our second child. So I don’t want to trade time for dollars anymore. Or, I want to do that as little as possible. I’ve been in the podcasting realm for a bunch of years now, and I know exactly why people would want to outsource this to somebody, like “It takes too much time. I don’t know all the steps.” I know all the steps, and it takes me less time, all you have to do is talk” or whatever. My messaging is getting honed, and I picked up my first client shortly after I launched that because they tried to launch their own podcast, and it didn’t work. They’re like, “We will gladly pay you to do this.” So I had my reasons for launching a productized service, are productized services for everyone?
Brian: That’s a good question. That’s a good point there because I think everyone has– There’s a lot of very common reasons why somebody would want to go down this path. Sometimes it’s a little bit different from person to person, so for me, my goal was always– I was a freelance web designer. I did freelance, just typical web design work as a freelancer for maybe four or five years there at the beginning of my self-employed career. The frustration that I had back then was, “OK. All of my income is tied to my hours.” This was before I had kids, and my wife and I would take a vacation once in a while if we could afford it, but even when we do, it’s like I’m taking a pay cut because I’m taking a week off of work. That just got frustrating, and then the other thought that I had back then was “OK. How can I ever start hiring people? When am I going to be ready to hire people?” Sure, I could sign on a bunch of projects, and I did contract out to other freelancers once a while. But I didn’t feel comfortable with just hiring employees and turning it into a business, because it just didn’t seem predictable enough. It felt like I could get a bunch of projects, and then I could lose a bunch of projects, but I can’t commit to hiring. I did try hiring an assistant and then that just caused too much work for me, so fast forward a couple of years of trial and error through this and what I learned was if you can make the business more predictable so you’re selling a more predictable service and you’re doing the service in a more predictable way, then you can start to define “OK. Every time we build a website or every time we set up a podcast, we’re always going to use these tools, and we’re always going to follow this process, we’re always going to follow this timeline.” That’s the basis for a process that you can then remove yourself from, and then you can hire people to run that process in a predictable way. This is the thing that definitely will not happen overnight, and it does take a lot of work and a lot of trial and error, a lot of research into your market and talking to customers and all that. But that being said, I have found that that going the route of a productized service is the– If your goal is to transition from being a freelancer selling your time for money and hours for dollars to a business that could run without you, that could scale and grow and grow a team and free you up, I have found that productized services is that path of least resistance. That’s what I like to call it because that is what got me out of it. Because I was also getting into info products, ebooks, and courses, and I wanted to build software products, and I still do. But those were much harder, and they are much harder to make that leap from replacing an income from being a freelancer to getting a full time income from selling a course. It’s just not going to happen overnight. Same with software, especially with software, because you’ve got to spend a year just building it first. The nice thing about productized services is that you can start to charge your first customers very early on, very quickly. Then as you’re working with them, you can start to hone the process and figure out then step by step remove yourself from that. I think even you can make that transition a lot easier that way.
Joe: Yeah. That’s a great point because I’m sure a lot of freelancers– This was me for a long time, I would say “I want to start, I have an idea for a WordPress blog. I have an idea for a course I want to launch. I’ll just do it on the side while I do client work.” But then as soon as things get slow, you’re like, “I’ve got to backburner this so that I can make money.” Then you get stuck in that loop. I was stuck in that loop for ten years while I was– Even when I had, let me tell you, even when I had a full time job. I was like, “Great. I have income coming in, and I can work on my product idea, but then if somebody came to me and they were like, “We’ll give a good amount of money to do this weekend project.” I’m like, “All right. I’m going to backburner the side project. This is money now.”
Brian: It’s cash.
Joe: Yeah, exactly. I love that, with a productized service, you can start charging nearly immediately. You develop it, and then with your first client, you can have money coming in because it is that hybrid thing.
Brian: Yeah, exactly. You don’t need to spend a lot of effort on designing the service and getting it perfectly right. You really shouldn’t do that. You should wait until you have real clients in the pipeline, and you’re learning as you go. But the difference, I’m sure you and your audience have heard of the idea of pre-selling a product, so with an e-book, you can announce it and say “I’m going to write this book and it’s going to come out four months from now, but you can pre-order it now.” That’s great, you get some validation, and you get some excitement about it, maybe a little bit of upfront revenue. But it’s usually not very much. It’s not going to be significant, whereas with a productized service you can literally just charge– You can just start charging whatever you’re going to charge from day one and you can start delivering the service because it’s a service, so you don’t need to build any custom software, and you don’t need to go write a big book or a course, you can just start getting to work on it. I hesitate to say “It’s so easy that it can happen overnight,” because it really does take a lot of work and it’s usually built on whatever experience and inroads you have with a certain type of customer, but once you identify the customer and the problem you’re solving and the way that you want to solve it. Once you identify that, you can begin getting those first paying customers very quickly. With Audience Ops from the time that I had the idea and passed it around to a couple of my warm contacts to the first paying customers, that was under 30 days. It didn’t replace my full time income in 30 days, but I had three paying clients within 30 days, and that grew from there. So you can start doing this pretty quickly.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Again to mirror that, because you’ve been doing this for a long time, maybe some people are saying, “He knows exactly what he’s doing.” Again, this is my first productized service. From the time I built the page to again shortly after I floated it to a few people at Word Camp US is when I started pursuing potential productized service clients. I signed my first one within 30 days, and I’ve got two very warm leads that I’m guessing it’s probably just because it’s the end of the year as we record this, so people are on vacation and budgets and things like that.
Brian: It’s awesome because it’s not like they’re just meeting you like you’re a freelancer or consultant. It’s a podcasting service or production service?
Brian: So you’ve identified that thing. Those are people who are like, “In the New Year, I need to get a new podcast started. But I don’t know how.” And it’s like, “Boom.” Your solution was right there, the right place at the right time.
Joe: That’s exactly right, and to your point, I knew– We met, and I talked about this, and they were like, “We were thinking about starting a podcast, but–” And I’m like, “But where do you host your audio? But how do you schedule this? What equipment do you need?” And they were like, “Exactly.” And I’m like, “I know all of that. So you just show up with a microphone, and I’ll do the rest.”
Brian: Yeah. I love it.
Joe: It’s fantastic. So hopefully, by this point, we have convinced at least some of the listeners that a productized service is right for them. I will say this, if you are– I have my masters in software engineering, so I love programming and solving interesting problems. If you’re somebody who always wants to be solving that crazy, interesting problem, maybe a productized service is not right for you. Maybe you are more fit for that agency life where every new project is a different project. It boils down to what you want out of your business, and “Do you want to be replaceable?”
Brian: I would push back on that a little bit.
Joe: All right. Yes, please do.
Brian: I come from a designer, developer, programmer background. And I think of productized services, especially when you start to think about the processes. Very much like programming, it’s literally like “Follow the process step by step, and if this happens, then do that, or if this happens, then do that.” You are literally programming your business to run a certain way, and that’s what Process Kit does. The tool that I built, it’s just putting people in place to run it instead of software to do it. But you’re doing that, and then the other thing is I get this question a lot, where it’s like “I don’t want to just do the same thing over and over again. I like the variety. I’m a creative person, and I’m analytical, I do different things.” I personally found that. As I transitioned away from just doing websites for clients to building different businesses, it’s much more challenging. In fact, every project that I’m working on these days is different from the next, and it’s just that the products that we’re selling is the same.
Brian: Just the product and what the client buys, that’s supposed to be as predictable as possible, but I’ll spend one month working on the product, I’ll spend another month working on our marketing plan, I’ll spend another month working on our team, I’ll spend another month working on our website and a different month working on improving churn or retention. There’s always something new and a new challenge to work on, and you’re constantly learning. Once you get into this game of “If I can build a business that can run without me,” then all of a sudden, it’s almost a blessing and a curse. It’s great because you’re building something that can grow, but at the same time, it was like I never realized there were all these other challenging things that I have no idea how to solve, but I’m going to try to figure it out.
Joe: That’s interesting. You essentially moved from solving problems, from working in the business to working on the business.
Brian: Exactly right.
Joe: The problems you solve are different. Yeah, I like that. That’s great, and I’m glad you pushed back on it. So let’s say we’ve now convinced even more people, how do you start a productized service? What is the first step I should take to figuring out my productized service?
Brian: I like to think about this concept of if you’ve heard of the term “Product/market fit” to know if you have the right product for the right market? I think there’s another side to that, which is “Product/founder fit,” or “Business/founder fit.” If you think about yourself, you have some connection, whether it’s to an industry or a type of client or a technology or a platform. In your case, you know podcasting well. So it’s some area that you have a unique insider knowledge, insight, or a unique advantage that other people don’t have. Basically, you’re well positioned to solve a certain problem. You want to start there, and then at the same time thinking about “What type of customer am I well positioned to solve that for?” You have to merger a number of things, number one, which customers have experienced this problem and they know that they experience? Which ones are willing to pay for that problem to be solved? Which customers can I easily reach? I’ll be honest, and when I ran the Restaurant Engine business, I didn’t think so much about that early on, I don’t have any personal connections to restaurant owners. I just very slowly over a number of years clawed my way up into Google rankings to try to reach them, but if you can go to a Word Camp and you know a lot of WordPress people, and that’s easy access to a group of people who experience the problem, you want to start there is what I’m saying. You want to start where you already have a unique advantage, and you already have some inroads and connections. That’s a good place to begin, and then and then you just start to think about that problem and solution.
Joe: Love it. That’s great. So again, what you’re implying here is it’s not going to happen overnight. You’re making inroads into something, and if you’ve been freelancing for a while, maybe you realized, “I do these types of sites well.” Or, “Projects where I get to work directly with the lead programmer go well for me. So maybe I want to make sure I offer a productized service where I’m talking to their lead technical director, or whatever.” Stuff like that, it comes down to understanding what you do best, what you like to do, and like you said, where you can make those inroads.
Brian: Everybody has some inside connections somewhere, you might be surprised if you just haven’t thought about it before. But even if you’re coming from working at a full time job, you worked in some department, and you know the inner workings of how companies like that work. There’s probably a whole bunch of things that they do that the outside world doesn’t know about. “They’re using these crazy spreadsheets to handle this thing, and it’s chaotic. If only you can go in and solve that problem for other companies like them.” My wife is an occupational therapist, just having known her, I know about all these weird challenging problems in that industry that other people wouldn’t know about. You never know where you can find those inroads, or you’re a freelancer, and you’ve been working with a non-profit client, “Nonprofits have these challenges.” You can find them anywhere.
Joe: That’s another really good point because I’m sure there are some people listening going, “I don’t feel what I do is that special,” but it’s less that and it’s more “What’s something that you enjoy doing that you feel you do well for a particular group of people you do well?” You mentioned that you do some podcasting through Audience Ops, and we talk to completely different groups of people, though. Even though we might be offering something similar, which I’m not entirely sure we are, we’re still offering it to those groups of people that we’ve already made inroads with.
Brian: The other exercise that I like to think about at this stage when you’re just getting started with this is a thought exercise, so just imagine if one of those dream clients, a perfect type of person that you would like to work with or a company that you would like to work with. They just came to you one day, and they said, “I think we have this problem or we want to achieve some goal, but we don’t know what we need. Budget isn’t an issue for us, so you just tell us what you think we need to do.” Obviously, that very rarely happens. But if you can just imagine it, what would you say? If somebody came to you and said, “I want to on a launch of a podcast in January. I have no idea where to start.” You can start to say, “If I were doing it for me, I would want to use this microphone. I would want to use this planning for the calendar, and I would want to do this, this and this.” You can put together your best ideal solution, everything that you think should be in there, and just design that ideal solution. Then, of course, you could figure out the pricing and how to make a profit on it and all that, but that’s the first step. To package up your best ideal solution without having to go through the back and forth of “Do you want this? Yes or no? Do you want that? Yes or no?”
Joe: All of those “Yes” or “No’s” start to make the product more predictable– Or, less predictable. I’m sorry. You said pretty early on, “A productized service is about offering something, and the goal is to get to where it’s a ‘Yes’ or ‘No.'” Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
Brian: Yes. That’s just about formulating that value proposition. So today, people come to Audience Ops website, and they’re probably coming in already sold on the idea, “We know we need to do content marketing. We know we need more blog content.” They come to our website, they learn about what we do, they see our pricing right there on the home page. It’s just “Yes or no?” It’s not that that people even buy it right there on the spot, they still get a consultation, and they do a sales call, but they book the call already knowing basically what we do. They know how much we charge, they’re basically sold on that idea, they just need to talk to somebody and get some questions answered about it.
Joe: It’s almost like doing a custom build of a house versus buying a pre-built house. You go, and you look at the house, “Yes. I want this house.” or “No, I want–” If you’re having custom construction done, there’s a million meetings, and you don’t know how much it’s going to cost.
Brian: I just remember as a freelancer, I hated writing proposals. I hated it. I spent– Because you would get a lead, somebody would come to you, probably a referral from someone else, and then “I heard you design websites. Great. Let’s have a meeting and talk about it.” Now I got to go take a train into New York City and talk to somebody for a day, and I don’t even know if they’re going to become a client, and then I come home, and I got my notes and everything we talked about. Then I spend another whole day just writing a big, long proposal. Then they see it, and then they try to hack it apart and negotiate over it, then we go back and forth, and then it’s a 50/50 chance of maybe they’ll end up signing a contract. It’s all that wasted effort, and it’s just painful. If you can get to that point where it’s like, “This is what we do, if this seems like the solution to the problem that you know you have, then it’s a yes or no. And if it’s not, great. We don’t want you as a client if it’s not what you need,” basically.
Joe: That’s another great point. What if somebody looks at your site, and they say, “This is great. I love all the content you’re offering. But can you also do a white paper for us, or whatever? How much extra would it cost to do that white paper?”
Brian: I think in some cases, it’s OK because, especially early on, you want to hear those questions, and if you hear the requests come up repeatedly, it’s like “OK. Maybe that’s something that we should build into the service for everyone.” Other times it’s like, “OK. That’s just a distraction, and it’s just going to make it harder to build into a process.” But early on, again, it’s not the thing that happens overnight. For me, it’s that I went through years of transition where I was doing Restaurant Engine and still doing totally custom projects to pay the bills. That happens, but ultimately– Today every question, we’ll get requests sometimes for “Can you can you do this extra thing?” Or “Can you do it twice as fast than you normally do?” We learned the hard way early on that we can’t deviate from the process because it just makes everything fall apart, and it just makes everyone’s job harder.
Joe: Absolutely. Those are two great points. Starting off, those special requests are probably good. If in the next year or so, as I start to get more podcasting clients if they’re all asking– If they just want me to buy the microphone for them or something like that, I can build that into the price. “I will buy and ship you the microphone that you need, and here’s a video on how to set it up,” or whatever. That’s probably more of an outlandish thing, but one of my add on services right now is a website, and it’s a super canned website that’s just going to list the episodes. I offered that because it’s what I do best. I don’t know if people are going to want it, maybe in six months, I’ll decide I’m not going to offer that because it makes my service less predictable.
Brian: That’s the other thing, I definitely found a few things very early on in Audience Ops that I thought were valuable to include, and it turns out– We did this thing where we prepared this whole big monthly report for every client, “Here’s how your content is performing.” In theory, it sounds like it adds a lot of value. But in reality, number one, the clients never looked at it. Number two, it took my team weeks just to prepare these reports every single month. We would send the November report on December 20th or something like that, and then as the client list grew, that just became a massive rock to– It was just killing everything in the business, so we just ditched it. After a year, we just stopped doing it. You can find things like that where sometimes it’s whether they’re not asking for it or not using it, or it could be something that could add value.
Joe: That’s great. We have been talking for quite a while now, and we are coming up to the end. I think we have a really good foundation for at least people to start thinking about, “Should I offer a productized service, and how can I start that?” What are a couple of tips that you would offer to somebody who is ready to make the jump? I know we’ve been mostly that the last 10 minutes or so, but if you just said “Do one, two, three,” what would you say to the listeners?
Brian: It’s uncomfortable to start to think about, “I’m going to start doing some work that I’m not being paid for with my hourly rate?” It’s hard to get your mind around that, but at a certain point if you are going to grow out of freelancing and into a business that can ultimately grow and not only grow in size but grow in value, you’re going to have to get to a point where you’re not working on things and being paid by the hour, but you’re working on the business. If you can take any time out of your schedule, like during your work week, don’t do this on a Saturday or whatever. Spend a Friday, or every Friday, thinking about “How can I make my business better? Or what are the areas in my business that I’m not happy with right now?” And try to diagnose the underlying issue, and maybe it’s some of the things that we talked about here, but if you just take that time away to analyze it and work on your business you can start to think about things like “What if I was not the person doing this work for the client, and somebody else on my team was? What would need to be true for that to happen?” We would need to have a process, and I’d need to have the right person in place, things like that.
Joe: Gotcha. I love that. Especially, “What if I wasn’t the one doing it?” I think that’s a principle that I’ve learned, especially in podcasting, if it’s not something I need to do, I don’t want to be the one doing it. Like editing, I outsource editing. Transcribing, I outsource transcribing to people who have been doing it for my podcast, and I trust them. If I did those things, this service would not work because I would spend too much of my week doing things that I didn’t necessarily need to do and probably don’t do as efficiently as my editor and my transcriber.
Brian: The other the other thing that I hear a lot about productized services is, “My clients trust me,” or “They want me, and they want my talents, they’re not going to trust my team,” or whatever. I would push back on that. I think people would be surprised that ultimately your clients might like you personally, but ultimately they’re paying you money because they have a business problem and they need it solved. They will trust in your ability to build the systems and build the process and your ability to vet and hire the people to carry out your service, and they’ll trust in that just as much as they’ll trust in your personal talent. In most cases, the quality will be better. In Audience Ops, believe me, my clients don’t want me writing their articles. That’s just not good. It’s not going to be very good, and I’m not a professional writer. We have professional copy editors and everything, and it’s just a much better process for them.
Joe: Absolutely. It’s almost like, I like Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, but I don’t expect Ben and Jerry are going to make the ice cream. So actually, quick follow up question before I ask you what a trade secret of yours is, what if you do get push back from a potential client? They’re like, “No. I want you working on it.” Is that an automatic “No?” You’re like, “All right. We are not a good fit.”
Brian: Yeah. In my business today, that’s just not an option. I’m trying to think if– I’ll be honest, I just haven’t even had that request. Really since day one of Audience Ops, which was back in 2015, from the very beginning when I announced it to people, they knew that I was the one behind the business and designing it and building it. But it was abundantly clear that I was not the one writing their content, I just don’t know. I didn’t have that request. But the way that I would handle it is just that because you want to sell your process as a benefit and your team as that. One of the big selling points for my company now with Audience Ops is that you’re getting so much more value than hiring one person to do it. Because that’s literally what they’re coming to Audience Ops for because their alternative is to either hire a full time person which costs way more than Audience Ops or they’ve tried hiring a freelancer, and they didn’t like the results. It still took them too much time to manage their freelancer, and with us, you get a dedicated writer plus a copy editor plus a content manager plus the assistant, and our process and everything is handled, and we’ve got it dialed in. You’re getting this whole team of specialists for a fraction of the price of one person. That’s a big selling point that I talk about on sales calls and stuff.
Joe: That’s great. You want to sell your process as a benefit, and I like that because it’s true. I’ve had people who are like, “I want you to work on this project.” And I’m like, “I don’t have the time,” or “It’s going to be way longer now, I won’t be able to get to it for six months.”
Brian: Or it will cost ten times more.
Joe: Yeah, if I’m going to bump you to the front of the line. I think that’s great. It’s like, I’m still the brain behind the process, but now you’re getting people who are better suited than me to do each of these specialized things. I like that a lot.
Joe: Awesome. So as we wrap up here, I do need to ask you my favorite question. Which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Brian: Trade secrets. It’s different for everyone, but I’ll say, “Wake up early.” I have become a morning, an early morning person, and I just don’t know what it is, but I get so much more done in the early morning hours than the rest of the day. I try to push my calls and things out to the afternoon, but the morning for me is sacred. I literally get 10 hours worth of work done in a two hour span between 7-9AM, or so.
Joe: I can level with that. I was going to the gym first thing in the morning, and I realized that my productivity took a little bit of a hit because my morning is when I’m most productive, so I reworked my schedule a little bit now. I will say that I haven’t been as diligent about getting to the gym because in the afternoon I’m just zapped, or it’s rush hour by the time I’m ready to go. But I think what you’re saying is right here, waking up is different for everybody, but you have found your most optimal time, and you have arranged your schedule to help that.
Brian: Yeah. Also, thinking back to when I was doing that balancing act between trying to get Restaurant Engine off the ground and I’m still doing client work as a freelancer, I remember that I prioritized my product work first in the day. Wake up early and work on Restaurant Engine, and then I know I’m going to get to my client work. I have to. I have deadlines for that. I’ll just do that stuff in the afternoon, but my personal priority is getting this product business off the ground even though it’s paying me way less than my client work is paying. Just do it first. Give it all of your energy, and you’ll get to the other stuff later.
Joe: That’s great. I love that, because your clients are an external force on you. If somebody’s hired you to do something, that’s going to be the thing that pushes you to get it done. But if you’re not motivated in the afternoon, and you’re like, “Now is when I was going to work on my product or my course,” or whatever. It’s like–
Brian: You’re burned out by then.
Joe: That’s great advice. What a great trade secret. Awesome. I feel like I don’t think I have explicitly clarified it yet on the show in 200 episodes, but when I say “Trade secret,” I never mean “Give me the secret sauce to your business.” I mean, “Give me something– An interesting piece of advice.” I’ve had a couple people who are like, “I don’t want to give you a trade secret.” And I’m like, “I just mean advice.”
Brian: I’m pretty open with everything. That’s another thing I’ve been really into, especially this year, is trying to share as much as I can. I do a podcast, and lately, I’ve been doing– This isn’t related to productized services, but on my YouTube channel I do a lot of “Watch me work” stuff where I’m doing a lot of my design and software development, like “This is really what I’m working on. Watch me do a real project.”
Joe: Nice. That’s great. Almost like Twitch TV-esque, but for business.
Brian: A little bit edited after the fact, but I just released a series where I just created an explainer video for my product. While I was creating the explainer video, I was also recording how I’m making it.
Joe: That’s cool.
Brian: I released that as a whole series.
Joe: Nice. I might steal that. If you’ve seen me do that in early 2020, know that we recorded this in late 2019, and I stole it before this episode comes out.
Joe: That is a perfect transition, you talked about some of your other stuff. Where can people find you?
Brian: On my personal site at BrianCasel.com. I do sell a course called Productize, and we have a private community. It’s great, and it’s been growing over the years. It’s folks like us, consultants, and freelancers making that transition to productized services. That’s at ProductizeCourse.com, and I’m on Twitter @CasJam.
Joe: Nice. All right, awesome. I will link all of those and everything else we talked about in the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it. Brian, thank you so much for your time today. When we started, it was bright, and now it looks like the sun is setting for both of us. Thank you so much for your time, I appreciate it.
Brian: Yeah. Thanks, Joe.
Outro: Thanks so much to Brian for joining us this week. I honestly loved so much of what he said in this episode, and like I said, he inspired me to start my own productized service over at ShipYourPodcast.com. I think the things I want to highlight here are your thought exercises, “What would the ideal customer look like? What would you say if somebody came to you and asked you solve a problem?” Things like that. I liked his tips, and definitely be sure to check out Brian and everything he has to offer. I also want to thank our sponsor for this episode, Ahrefs. I’m so excited to have them on board because, as I said during the sponsor read, they have legitimately helped me make money by understanding what content of mine is working the best. Be sure to check them out as well. To learn more about them and to get all of the show notes, you can head over to HowIBuilt.it/165. You can get all sorts of downloads there as well as find links to our sponsors and to rate and review the show, which, if you liked this episode, be sure to do that because it helps people discover us. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, get out there and build something.