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All right, now let’s get on the show.
Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” This is another bonus episode where we are going to wrap up the year so far. We have officially ended Season 8 and we’re moving into Season 9. So I wanted to go over some of the lessons learned so far this year. This year is not going to plan for a lot of people, I suspect, with everything that’s going on. But the principles that we learned from lots of our great guests still apply. So I want to go through that.
There’s going to be three topics that we touch on here: finding the right clients, productizing your services, or at least your services more predictable, and building your email list and your network. We’ll go through all of those. I’ll recommend some episodes in case you haven’t heard the whole season. But those are the three big lessons that we’ve learned so far this year. So we’ll get into all of that. There’s going to be show notes. Those show notes are going to be over at Howibuilt.it/174. You can get all of the links, all of the episodes that we talked about over there. Let’s get on with it.
So, first, the first topic: finding the right clients. We had a lot of guests around this topic because I set out at the beginning of the year to focus Season 8 of the podcast on helping small businesses grow in whatever way that looks like. And I thought most of you, most of us do client work. So finding the right clients, vetting the right clients, getting that pipeline up and running appropriately would be a good thing to start off with.
The first guest of this season did a great job of that. That was Jason Resnick in Episode 150 of preventing the famine. And he talks a lot about the importance of your pipeline and vetting clients, and most importantly, finding the right clients, not just accepting anybody who was going to be willing to throw money at you, right? Because if you have a bad client, that could end up costing you money, and it will definitely cost you time.
I think that one thing that Jason talked about that I really liked was his red flags list. For a long time, he had a red flags list right next to his computer. And when he was vetting clients and talking to potential leads, he would keep that in mind, and the importance of saying no when you know that the project or the client is not going to be the right fit for you. I think we’ve all been in a situation where we have said yes to projects we definitely should not have said yes to. That’s rough. It kind of makes you question whether you’re cut out for the kind of work that you’re doing, or at least that’s definitely the case for me.
One of the ways that you can do that is by niching down. I was excited to have Sarah Dunn back on the show talking about this. I had her, I think it was nearly two years to the day on the show, talking about how she was thinking about niching down. And she came back two years later to talk about her experience niching down. Some of the things that she talked about were finding her specialty. I almost said speciality there because my daughter really likes Star Wars, and we’ve been watching Episode 3, returning to Revenge of the Sith throne room scene, where Obi-Wan says speciality. That’s neither here nor there. That was just something I like to include.
But it took her eight months to find her specialty. Then she started doing the work and iterating on her process. She said it was slower than she wanted it to be. But it worked out in her success story about her getting a client who was told she was the expert, even though she didn’t know who the referral was. She said that that has paid dividends. I think her advice about niching down is really good too—lower your own perceived risk as much as possible, take baby steps.
That episode, and talking about niching down is important because when you niche down, you find the clients that you most want to work with and the projects that you most want to work on. So if you find your niche, then saying no to work that will end up costing you more, gets a lot easier. If you work on eLearning sites and somebody comes to you and wants a restaurant website, it’s a lot easier to say, “No, I don’t do restaurant websites, but I can refer you to someone” I think Sarah’s episode on niching down is good. I think Sarah’s advice is always good.
Then finally, Nathan Ingram came on. And I specifically asked him to come on because I read his book about finding and managing client relationships. I’m blanking on the name right now, even though it’s somewhere in my notes. But kind of the friendly monsters is how he frames it. So you have these clients that either purposely or not purposefully can affect your business. And we talk a lot about that and the importance of having the discovery call, making sure that you’re the right match, defining the scope of your project because the more you define upfront, the easier it will be to keep everything on track. And there’s just a lot of great advice in there for managing clients. He has a fantastic product called Monster Contracts that he is able to use with his projects. And he has it for sale—that’s so that you can use it with your projects.
The three episodes that I just talked about here, how to find the right clients, managing expectations, niching down, and saying no are things that will help you get your client work under control. Build your pipeline, improve your process, and make sure that you are taking the work that makes you money instead of taking the work that costs you money. I think that that was a big lesson in a big thread that showed up throughout the entire season, even in the next few topics we’re going to get to. Again, that was Jason Resnick’s episode, Sarah Dunn’s episode, and Nathan Ingram’s episode. I’ll link to those in the show notes over at Howibuiltit/174. But vet your clients, niche down so that you know the kind of projects you want to take on, and communicate clearly to manage expectations.
We’ll get into the next two topics in a minute. But first, I do want to tell you about this week’s sponsor, TextExpander.
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So, let’s get back to it.
Joe: The next topic that I want to talk about here, the next thing that we learned throughout this season and this year is productize your service or at least make the service more predictable. We’ve heard this from a bevy of guests, starting with Shannon Shaffer. Shannon is fantastic. I mean, I just think she’s a great person. Her process for the top part of the funnel onboarding clients is great. She can do things that you would otherwise have to pay one or two employees to do. And she is running her small team like it’s a big agency, thanks to the processes that she put in place.
I think that you should listen to her episode because you will hear her say in her own words, what the process is like, and the analogies that she uses. But I came away from that episode with a lot of things on my mind and I actually changed up some of my processes to make my own processes more automated. For example, now, thanks to Shannon and her advice, when somebody accepts a proposal, an invoice is automatically created from FreshBooks. I love FreshBooks. They’re a former sponsor, but my proposals are use Newsy. I really like that and I got a really good AppSumo deal on that way back when I’ve been a big fan of it.
But when a Newsy proposal is accepted, an invoice is created. And then based on the line item in the invoice, once it’s paid, an onboarding email is sent to the client. So, if it’s for my Done for You Podcasting service, they get one email. If it’s just generic client work, they get a different email. But either way, I don’t have to worry about remembering to email them. They get the communication they need faster. And I can pick up where that automation leaves off for my own personal touches. But if I need content or something, or they need to fill out an intake form or a survey, that’s all automated. And that is thanks to Shannon’s advice. So definitely check out her episode.
On top of that, Matt Adams mentions kind of having a good pipeline, making your income more predictable. I really liked the things that he said in his episode about making sure that your cash flow is good. I included that here in this section because cash flow is such an important thing that a lot of freelancers don’t think about starting out. I certainly didn’t. I just kind of thought, you know, as work comes in, great. And Jason touches on this too when we talk about feast or famine, but Matt really drives this point home. I think it’s something that’s super important to him. So he has processes in place to make sure his cash flow is more predictable.
One way, but two different guests, that you can make your cash flow more predictable is by productizing your services. And that doesn’t mean automate everything. When we talked to Maddy Osman, she talked about how she is making money on Fiverr and other marketplaces, because she was able to take services she offers and turned them into products. So the whole process is still high touch for her and her employees. But now it’s super clear what her clients are getting. So she has a very clear process in place. And she’s able to remove herself a little bit from the business and either just get final word on what is created or have trusted employees that understand her process because she was able to productize it.
Brian Cassel talks about the same thing. In my mind, Brian Cassel is the productize services guy. He’s repeated his own process and now he has a course and a product to help you productize your service. A little meta, but fantastic. The advice that he offers is really Good. And all of this is rooted in the fact that you want to make your business more predictable. This is so important. Because if you can predict what’s coming down the pike, then you won’t be worrying about income or money so often. You know when you can spend and when you should save, and you can figure out your production calendar a little bit better. So his advice on how to start a productized service, again, was advice I took and applied to my own business. With my Done for You Podcasting service, with my tutorial videos, I want to make those processes as predictable as possible. Fantastic.
I think that those four guests, kind of that suite of episodes will really help convince you that you need to make your business more predictable. You can do that with good processes and automation like Shannon does. Then you can look at the services you offer and determine how to turn them into products. Again, not in the sense that somebody pays for something on your website and then immediately has it, but in the sense of that, they know upfront what they are paying for, and you know upfront what you’re going to deliver, and how long it takes. So, thanks to all of them for coming on the show this season, and for providing fantastic advice.
Now, you’re probably wondering if you don’t have a pipeline, if you don’t have a funnel, how do you go about doing that so that you can find the right clients and implement all of these fantastic processes that the previous seven guests have talked about. We’ll get into that in a minute. But first, I want to tell you about our second sponsor, CircleCI.
Sponsors: This episode is Sponsored by CircleCI. Whether you’re on a development team, manage a development team yourself, or you have a business that relies on working software, a good process is so important to make sure you’re creating high-quality work. Continuous integration or the ability to check and manage code automatically can help you as your developers streamline the process in a big way, and CircleCI is here to help. Designed for modern software teams, CircleCI‘s continuous integration and delivery platform helps developers push code with confidence. Trusted by thousands of companies, from for person startups to fortune 500 businesses, CircleCI helps teams take their software from idea to delivery quickly, safely, and at scale. Visit Howibuiltit/circleci to learn why high performing DevOps teams use CircleCI to automate and accelerate their continuous integration and continuous delivery pipelines.
As someone who’s worked on big coding projects with distributed development teams, I can tell you that continuous integration tools have helped us make sure we’re delivering working code to our clients. It helped instill trust in our team and the work they were doing, and it let them focus on solving new problems instead of dealing with the same ones over and over again, like, “Where should I push this code? And how do I do a code review?” These are things that CircleCI and continuous integration can help you with. So, once again, learn how CircleCI can help you and your business at HowIbuilt.it/circle ci today. As a special bonus for How I built It listeners, CircleCI is having a virtual raffle where you could win a pair of the newest Sony noise canceling headphones. Improve your team’s processes and enter for a chance to win at Howibuiltit/circleci.
And now, back to the show.
Joe: We have in our head that we need to find the right clients, say no when it’s appropriate, create processes to make our services and products more predictable. But how do we get our stuff into the hands of our potential client base? Well, this is where the last group of guests and the last major piece of advice comes into play. And that is building your email list and your network. There were a bunch of guests talking about this. I’m going to highlight five for you here, starting with Jessica Lawlor.
Jessica’s episode has been a very popular one and one that I kept harkening back to in future episodes because the advice is so good. Jessica does content strategy and content planning, and she gives you a framework in that episode on how you can create a good content strategy. Now, what does this have to do with generating leads? Well, building a good content calendar, putting out consistent content allows you to have a call to action where people will join your email list. When people give you their email address. It’s as good as money according to lots of people, right? The email address might as well be a $10 bill or a $20 bill, because that can be so valuable to you. People get on your list, you continue to deliver good content to them, and then when they are ready, they will hire you.
This message has been reinforced by so many people that I instinctively understand and believe it. I’ve seen it in action. I most recently read it in Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller. I will link that in the show notes as well, because that’s been a fantastic book. But having a good content strategy is the first step in building your email list.
Then we have Angel Marie, who is from ConvertKit, who gives you some great tips on ways to incentivize your email list or incentivize people giving you their email address. So she’s from ConvertKit. Obviously, she recommends ConvertKit. I also recommend ConvertKit. That’s what I use. They made some recent changes since I recorded that episode with Angel, where you get the first, I believe it’s a thousand, but I’m not 100% on that, but you get a free account and the first number of email addresses for free. In other words, you can send an email to up to—I believe it’s a thousand—a thousand people completely for free. That is such a high number. It’s not much less than my current email list, and I have already made money off of my email list. So check out ConvertKit and build your list. I think it’s super great.
But that’s not the only thing that you can do to generate more business. So the other few guests that we’ve had are all about building and expanding your network. I think the guests that bridge the two gaps between good, clear content, and expanding your network is Matt Medeiros. I was excited to have Matt on the show again. He’s a good friend of mine, and he’s in the WordPress and podcasting space. But he came on to talk about his locally-focused podcast, South Coast FM. He focuses on small businesses in his area. The reason that he started it and the dividends that he’s starting to see are that he is building a local network of people, and he is meeting new people and becoming known for being a podcaster in an area where podcasting is not super important.
I tend to talk to a lot of tech people, a lot of business people, and especially in the tech world, podcasting seems like an old thing, right? It’s been around forever. But to local business owners, maybe they don’t know about podcasting yet or they’ve kind of heard about it, but they’re not sure. And Matt has been able to establish himself as an expert in that area while also meeting other local business owners and telling their stories. Matt’s episode inspired me with a little push from my co-host, Liam Dempsey to start our own local podcast called Start Local. And I’m having a lot of fun doing that because I don’t really know anybody in this area. I’m a transplant. I came from New York and lived in Scranton before moving down here to Chester County, Pennsylvania. So I don’t really know a lot of people in the area, and I’ve gotten to know a lot more people since starting the show. And we got to interview a US Congresswoman to boot. So that’s always a lot of fun. I say always, it was the one time I did it, and it was an honor. But it’s cool that the idea that Matt has just started a local podcast that I decided to steal, straight up steal from him, I’m starting to see the benefits that he talked about. So something to think about.
Then, of course, just going to events when you can or attending virtual events to expand your network is also really important. Vito Peleg of WP Feedback talks about the importance of contributing to a community that you want to be a part of and expanding your network in that way.
And John Vuong talks about just building relationships with future and current clients by communicating clearly with them, by again, building your email list. He focuses on local SEO. A lot of in-person businesses, brick and mortar businesses have had to move online. And because of that, he’s encouraged them to expand their network through SEO, building their email or text list. The advice that he offers, and just what he has to say, I think is really good. He barely talked about his own services. We just talked about relationship building, and I thought that was really great advice.
The biggest piece of advice I think is owning your list. So he reinforces the own your own mailing list and be generous with your time, be generous with your knowledge. He says his goal is to make an impact and educate. Again, I just think it was really refreshing. He came on and he just gave great advice. And that’s always a lot of fun that we got to kind of talk about that, especially at a time where, as I record this, a lot of stay at home orders are relaxing in the United States. But there’s still a pandemic. So you got to be creative about building your network. And I think that he offers some creative advice for doing that.
To wrap it up here, the three areas that we focused on here in Season 8 were finding the right clients by niching down and properly vetting and clearly communicating, making your services more predictable by productizing them and adding in processes that perhaps you can automate, and building your email list and your network by putting out good content and being generous with your time and your knowledge. People will remember that and they will reward that. I am confident of that. I’ve seen it. That’s it for this episode. I hope you liked it.
Thanks to our sponsors, CircleCi and TextExpander. Without their support and their generosity, this show would not happen, or I’d have at least a much harder time putting the show on. So definitely check them out and thank them for their support. And if you’re interested in checking out their products, definitely do that.
All of the show notes for everything that we mentioned here will be at howibuilt.it/174. If you liked this episode, give it a rating and review on Apple podcast. It really helps people discover the show, and I want to reach as many people as possible. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, get out there and build something.