When we talk about powerful yet tiny businesses making 7 figures in revenue without employees, freelancers may feel left out.
After all, you’re just one person serving clients, and unless you’re perhaps an attorney or financial advisor, it’s tough to get to that level alone. And starting an agency or larger firm doesn’t seem like a dream business for a lot of people.
But there is a way to turn a client service business into a high impact 7-figure small business. It’s called productizing, and Brian Casel is with us today to explain what it is, and how to do it for yourself.
Brian walks us through the three main phases of creating a “productized service:
- Create: This is when you start working “on” our business, not “in” your business, and creating your value proposition that will lead to a scalable service.
- Automate: Here we talk about systematizing and scaling your operation. That could mean bringing on other freelancers and delegating to a team, but you’ll also learn about how to streamline your work even if you want to work solo.
- Market: Finally, we discuss how you can take a proactive approach to getting customers and growing your business, using tried and true marketing strategies.
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Freelancers: Create a 7-Figure Small Business With This Approach
Brian Casel: I am Brian Casel. I turn services into products and I am unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the podcast for freelancers and entrepreneurs who value their freedom, creativity, and income way too much to ever accept a regular old job. For the full Unemployable experience, sign up for our email newsletter for tips, tools, and trends that will take your business and lifestyle to the next level. Simply head over to Unemployable.com to join us. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: When we talk about powerful yet tiny businesses making 7 figures in revenue without employees, freelancers may feel left out.
After all, you’re just one person serving clients, and unless you’re perhaps an attorney or financial advisor, it’s tough to get to that level alone. And starting an agency or larger firm doesn’t seem like a dream business for a lot of people.
But there is a way to turn a client service business into a high impact 7-figure small business. It’s called productizing, and Brian Casel is with us today to explain what it is, and how to do it for yourself.
Brian walks us through the three main phases of creating a productized service. First up is create. This is when you start working on your business, not in your business, and creating a value proposition that will lead to a scalable service.
Next up is automate. Here we talk about systematizing and scaling your operation. That could mean bringing on other freelancers and delegating to a team, but you’ll also learn about how to streamline your work even if you want to work solo.
And finally, there’s marketing. We discuss how you can take a proactive approach to getting customers and growing your business using tried and true marketing strategies.
I’m Brian Clark and this is Unemployable. Today’s episode is brought to you by iThemes Hosting for WordPress. That’s our host here at Unemployable.com, and it keeps the site fast and reliable while not breaking the bank. To save even more, simply visit ithemes.com/BC50. That’s “BC50” to save $50 off your first year.
Or head over to unemployable.com/hosting to read our full review to find out about several unique features that iThemes WordPress hosting includes at no charge. And then click over to your $50 discount from there.
Brian Clark: Brian, how are you? It’s great to have you on the show finally.
Brian Casel: Thanks for having me on, Brian. I appreciate it. It’s great. I’ve been a fan for years.
Brian Clark: Oh, thank you very much. I’ve been following your work for years, so I guess we’ve just been admiring each other from afar without talking to each other, which I guess happens on the Internet quite a bit.
Your work is a topic of high interest to me, and I think definitely for our audience. That’s why I wanted to finally get you on the show and talk about it a little bit.
What’s Your Background?
Brian Clark: Before we get into that, let’s talk about you. What’s your background? How did you become an entrepreneur?
Brian Casel: That’s a great question. It’s interesting, because just the other night it was Mother’s Day and my mother was over here. We were having dinner and we were talking about my grandfather, who was a lifelong business owner, entrepreneur. He actually started out as an architect and a builder and learned how to build. He basically taught himself and built a whole career out of building houses in Long Island, New York and then owned a store for many years.
My other grandfather owned Casel Supermarket in New Jersey for many years. And so I think I had that entrepreneur bug in the blood. But it was interesting, when I was younger, I didn’t really see that as a path. I wasn’t one of these people who always aspired to, “Someday I’m going to be a business owner.” I was into music, I was into sports and all that kind of stuff.
Then as I got older, I thought I would pursue a career in music and audio production and music composition and things like that. But a few years into my 20’s, I sort of stumbled into working at a web design agency, and then I sort of stumbled into freelancing. And from there, I sort of stumbled into agency services and then into products and productized services.
Obviously, a lot more goes into it, but the main thing that I always find interesting is that I never really aspired to be a business owner, but just something occurred to me like, “Oh, people do this as a freelance thing. That’s interesting.” So, I tried that. And then when I was freelance, I was like, “Oh, people are selling products out there on the Internet. Maybe I should try that.”
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s interesting. You say, “Well, I stumbled into this and I stumbled into that.” I feel that. And I feel like a lot of people, we like to look back and have a nice, neat narrative. Sometimes I think it seems like that to people, but really you’re just doing the next thing that comes along usually a little bit bigger and better. And I think that to me sums up what the concept of productizing means to a freelancer, a consultant.
What Happens When a Client Business Hits the Wall?
Brian Clark: Anyone who deals with clients and is offering basically custom solutions for a client struggles a little bit with that business. I know I did in a couple variations. What are your thoughts on that? What do you see out there with people when they kind of hit the wall with a client business?
Brian Casel: Yeah, I totally felt that myself. I was working full-time in a web agency and then I left there in my 20’s to become a freelance web designer. When you’re new at freelancing, it’s always pretty exciting. All of a sudden, you can make your own hours, you can work from home, and you feel like you have all this freedom and flexibility.
But a year or two into it, reality starts to set in and it’s like you traded one boss for 50 different bosses, like 50 different clients, and every client is different. And sometimes you get good work, but many times you get frustrating work. And you have to deal with all sorts of personalities and deadlines.
Ultimately, what I found and what I hear from a lot of people is you hit this realization where “The time that I spend working is the only time that I’m actually earning an income. And the time that I’m not working, I’m literally taking a pay cut.” It’s not like you can go take a vacation and be paid for that time. The business doesn’t keep running unless you are at your computer keyboard working and producing some sort of output or billing for your hours.
So, a few years into that cycle of living project to project, doing freelance web design work, that started to set in. And I started to think about, “Well, how can I start to hire people and grow this beyond myself, where it comes to a point where projects are being worked on and being billed for without me actually doing the work?”
At times, I tried the traditional agency route and I hired people. I worked with contractors and started to scale up that way, but it soon became pretty apparent that even that was hard to scale or at least go from zero to one or one to two, if you will. Because you still have the variation from project to project. Everything is different, you’re working with all different types of businesses and customers and types of projects and deliverables in all different shapes and sizes.
That’s what made it too unpredictable to be able to go hire people and put them into specific roles. And that’s what made it feel like, “There’s just too much risk to hire people if I can’t predict what kind of work is going to come down the pipeline, because every project is different.”
That’s where the realization started to set in where it was like, “Well, if I can make all the projects the same and if I can make all the customers more or less the same, then everything becomes more predictable.”
So, you start to focus on selling to a specific market or an industry, and you start to focus on not doing everything, but just taking 20% of that and saying, “This is the solution if you need this problem solved, and we do it in a certain way and we can do it the same way again and again.”
I mean, I learned that lesson over a long period of time. It wasn’t overnight, but that’s ultimately how I started to shift away from doing billing by the hour or billing per project where every project is different to: “We solve a certain type of problem for a certain type of customer. We charge this much for it and here’s how we do it. If that resonates with you, come on in. We’ve got a great setup for you, we’ve got a team. It’s all optimized just for that.”
Brian Clark: Yeah, and it makes sense, because a lot of projects in a particular industry or niche, whatever you want to say, are very similar if that’s the way you choose to tackle it.
How Productizing Bolsters 7-Figure Small
Brian Clark: Here on Unemployable, we’ve got this theme about 7-Figure Small. It’s basically a solo or a very small company that uses creativity, technology and automation and smart marketing to basically become this powerhouse, high revenue, tiny business.
But I think a lot of freelancers are like, “Okay, that’s cool, but that doesn’t apply to me, because I’m only one person. So that means I have to start an agency, which is not a tiny business. And it just seems like an exercise in futility.” But that’s what productizing solves, right?
Brian Casel: Yeah, and I love that concept of the 7-Figure…. Sorry, what was the name?
Brian Clark: 7-Figure Small.
Brian Casel: Yeah, 7-Figure Small, I love that. I was just looking at it on the site.
As a freelancer, even as an experienced consultant, you do hit some sort of ceiling. You can raise your rates and that naturally happens. I raised my rates for years, but you still come up to a ceiling where you can only take on so many projects in a given period of time and you can only raise your rates so high before, as a solo person, you start to compete with larger agencies and their rates. So, yeah, that does start to require you to grow into an agency format, and that comes with all sorts of different stresses.
But by focusing in on a productized service, that’s where it becomes a product. Again, a very predictable deliverable, a predictable market that you can target, and then you can start to actively market to them rather than completely rely on client referrals and word of mouth.
Once you have a very specific idea of who that ideal customer is and you know that problem inside and out that you have optimized your business to solve, you can really build a whole brand positioning around that. You can build content, you can build advertising, you can do all sorts of strategies to fill the pipeline with more of that type of person. And then of course you can optimize the delivery.
In my business, my productized service business is called Audience Ops. We have a team of 25 or 26 really, really talented content writers and copy editors and project managers and assistants. But it’s really predictable and very stress-free compared to my experience working at agencies. Because again, every project is so predictable, so that I can really design a very specific role for each of those people on the team. They can fit right in. They run with our processes, they train themselves or people on the team train the new people.
But it just kind of runs without me today, and I’ve been running this particular business for about four years now. Today, I’m literally spending less than two hours a week on running and operating this business. And that’s mainly just answering questions that escalate up to me from the team.
I’m spending the rest of my time being able to develop new products and continue my unemployability while that business is essentially sustaining that and paying my bills and all that. And that’s thanks to focusing in on a process and a productized service and letting it scale that way.
What Is the First Step in Creating a Productized Business?
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s always refreshing to see someone who practices what they preach. You actually do this with a real live successful business. But I do have to say you’re remarkably on message about productizing. You’re not all over the place with a new thing every six months. This is what you help people with.
You have a great course that I purchased a few years ago. I understand you’re also developing some software, so I want to talk about that as well.
But let’s break this down for people so they understand a little bit more about how one takes something you do for clients and transform it into something that’s closer to a product.
I know that you always say the first step is kind of the old E-Myth mantra which is: get out of your business and start working on your business. Step back and look at what you’re really offering, what’s your value proposition? Is that what you still recommend to people? Where they begin?
Brian Casel: Yeah, especially if you’re coming from being a freelancer for a few years and doing some form of services, probably in a variety of different formats. For me, I came from being a freelance web designer. I was doing brochure websites, I was doing ecommerce websites, I was doing WordPress blogs, I was doing all sorts of different things.
I started to step back and look at again, “How can I make this more standardized? How can I get to a point where all of my clients more or less look the same? They have experienced the same problems, they’re using the same language to describe those problems.”
Through a few twists and turns, my first productized service business was a business called Restaurant Engine, and that was websites for the restaurant industry. I went from creating websites for everyone in all shapes and sizes to just creating restaurant websites. The idea there being every restaurant website, more or less, has the same set of features. They need a food menu, they need photos, they need to show their hours, maybe take online ordering, take reservations.
So I built a system, like a template-based WordPress system. At first I thought it would be one of these website builders that any restaurant owner can come and create their own website. But what I very quickly learned in that business was they don’t want to create it themselves, they want it done for them.
Then I quickly, maybe more behind the scenes, shifted the focus to, “Okay, we are a done-for-you restaurant website building service. We just happen to use our tools and our team to very, very efficiently turn out these restaurant websites.”
I was able to build a team around that, train them on setting up restaurant websites. We turned that into basically my first productized service, which was they come and pay a setup fee, we set up their website in two days. And then they’re hosted by us and we do done-for-you support. So, anytime they wanted photos or updates to their website, our team is there. That was a nice, scalable, more or less passive business for me to run. Then I ultimately sold that business in 2015.
It wasn’t life-changing, but it was a pretty significant exit for me. To just be able to actually build a business that could be sold was a totally new concept for me. Before that, I was just doing websites myself. That’s not a business that could actually be taken on by a new owner and continue to run. So, yeah, that was the first sort of iteration of it for me.
What I advise and coach freelancers and consultants on is to think about all the clients that you’ve been working with, especially recently, think about which ones are actually really great to work with. Because you could probably point to two or three that were like, “They were sort of a dream client. If I can find more of that person, that would be really great.” And I’m sure there are plenty of other clients — “The client from hell, I don’t really want to work with them again.”
But if you can point to two or three, whether the industry was really great, they come from a place where they have a lot of budget to work with, you happen to have connections or inroads to that network or that industry, you have some insider knowledge, you can identify a very specific problem that they had hired you to solve. If you could identify that and really start to think about building up that profile, then you can build a business around “How do I find 20 more, 50 more, 100 more of that type of person?”
Can You Move Straight to Productizing Without Being a Freelancer?
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. And it occurs to me, I think about productizing as the solution or the evolution for a freelancer or a consultant, as you say. If I remember correctly, I think your course focuses on that evolution. But I’m sitting here thinking about it. You could just start out this way.
If you can spot an opportunity, like you said, maybe understand how an industry works, understand where the gaps are in value proposition versus market demand — all those types of things. For example, people coming out of a corporate job, they see the problems and that’s why so many entrepreneurs end up rolling straight out of that way, even though we think you have to stop at freelancing first.
What are your thoughts on that? Because it seems to me fairly viable the way you described it.
Brian Casel: Yeah, you’re totally right. I get that question a lot from people who reach out to me. They’re looking at the course or they’re looking at this model in general, and they’re like, “Well, I’m not a freelancer. Am I able to do this having not been a freelancer yet?”
And you’re totally right, because I actually think that they are at a unique advantage. If I think back to it, the only way I was actually able to make it work was because I experienced some of the frustrations of being a freelancer.
If you’re coming at it from a corporate job or just have not done freelance services yourself, you almost can have an easier time thinking strategically about that value proposition, because you don’t have to break out of the old ways of thinking about billable hours and working with anyone who knocks on your door. It takes a while for a lot of freelancers to get over that hump of changing the way that they sell their services and how they market themselves.
So, yeah, I think if you’re coming from an industry and you have some sort of insider knowledge, you have some networks built up or inroads, or at least you know a few people who you can talk to about it, that does help a lot in getting started and being able to form some sort of value proposition around that.
What Leads to the Aha Moment of Identifying the Value Proposition?
Brian Clark: Obviously, spotting that value proposition and what this offering looks like is kind of the essence of the exercise. But can you point to maybe one or two things you think lead to the “aha” moment for people? Is there something that stands out?
Brian Casel: Yeah, one exercise that I like to share with people is if you’re in this phase where you’re really trying to figure out like, “What is that idea that I can productize?” Say I’ve been a writer or I’ve been a designer or an illustrator and I’ve done a hundred different types of projects, I don’t know what out of all this can actually be productized.
One way that I like to think about it is just picture in your mind: what if this dream client just came to you and said, “Hey, I’ve got a pretty decent budget. I know I’ve got this problem or I have this goal for my business, but I don’t really know exactly what I need. So, money’s not really an issue here, but can you just tell me? What do you think is the best solution or the best way or the fastest way for me to get from where I am today to that goal or solving this problem or improving that thing?”
Obviously, that’s a dream that almost never happens with freelancers, but if you can picture that. If you got the opportunity to actually design the whole scope for solving a certain problem in the best way that you know how with the best strategies and the most efficient process, what would that look like? And that can start to form your solution that you sell and turn into a product.
For example, in my business now called Audience Ops, we do blog content as a service. If you’re a software company and you need ongoing weekly blog posts, high-quality written…. Or the way that I thought about it back in 2015 when I started this business was, “Well, I know a lot of software entrepreneurs and I know that they struggle with this idea of getting a blog up and running and starting to get going with content marketing.”
What I heard and what I saw was the challenge is in them hiring writers and putting all the little pieces in place, like setting up blog posts and sending out social media posts and sending out email newsletters. So I took all that and I said, “Well, if I’m going to build a productized service around this, what would be my ideal best solution that I can give to a business owner, so that they can just be like, ‘Yes, that’s what I want. I want to click the Buy Now button, because that includes all the features that I would want?’”
So I put in blog article writing, copy editing, setting up the WordPress blog post, setting up the social media posts, sending out email newsletters, doing content upgrades, all of that. It’s all included in the standard package. There’s a price and there are two options and things like that.
I put that together, so that it becomes easy, not only for us to sell it and for us to operate and produce content in that very predictable way, but it actually becomes a lot easier for customers to buy it, because it’s just, “There’s the price point and it has all the features.” It’s just like you’re going to Amazon to shop for a coffee maker. You’re looking for a certain type, it has to have this, this, and this. And if the price is right, then you can get on with your day and do it.
That’s sort of the idea that you want to get to. Because I didn’t want to start a business where I have to talk to every new lead and negotiate with them over an estimated number of hours and what’s going to be in the scope and what’s going to be beyond the scope, and what do they actually need versus what do they really want.
I just put this thing together, a package of “If it were me, if I were doing it for my own business, I would definitely need to have this, this, and this. So, I’m putting all that into our solution to X, Y, and Z.” In our case, it’s blog content writing, but you can do that for any service that you’ve been in.
Brian Clark: Right, but this is a set amount recurring every month, right? It’s an ongoing productized engagement.
Brian Casel: Yeah, in our case and in many cases, it’s that recurring billing model. I think that works really well when it is an ongoing need. For example, blog content is an ongoing need, advertising management. There are all sorts of other things that can be a monthly or an ongoing need, whether it’s bookkeeping or anything like that. And that’s always very powerful, of course, to have that subscription revenue or recurring revenue.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of productized services that just sell a one-time offer, one-time purchase. It’s a one-time project, but it is very predictable. That can be great too.
Sometimes people can get a little bit tripped up when it is more of a one-time need and they try to fit it into that recurring revenue box, but it just doesn’t quite fit. That’s when you start to see a lot of cancellations within two or three months. In that case, you’re probably better off looking at a one-time project type of model. I think both can work, but it’s always very powerful when you have that recurring revenue.
Brian Clark: Absolutely. I constantly advise freelance writers to find a way to get yourself into a recurring situation. Don’t do project work, don’t bill by the hour or the word.
I was just sitting here thinking…. For a freelance writer, if you could essentially create your output into a product that is a recurring arrangement, it becomes so much easier to think about, “Okay, here’s what I have to do to get to X amount in revenue.” So, yeah, it seems so smart to me.
Now, I understand that a lot of people, especially writers, love the craft. They love the variety, they love tackling new things, researching new ideas. But if you want this kind of very powerful, tiny business, then I think you’ve got to look at this.
And then from what I heard you say earlier, you’ve got a full-fledged productized business running while you go off and create new things. You’re creating software. You’ve got time to do other stuff.
So, if you’re a freelance writer and you want to continue to take the good, juicy, interesting projects, good — do that. But productize the rest of your business. It’s almost like you’ve got a foundational healthy income that allows you the freedom to do the projects you also want to do on the side.
Brian Casel: Yeah, totally. When I talk to people about it, I always try to get an understanding of really what are their personal goals with all this. For me, it’s always been I need to enjoy my work every day. But ultimately, I’m looking for freedom and sustainability.
The productized service business for me is there to grow and scale. I put a team in place to run it so that I have all this other free time to be creative and work on new products. I’ve just spent the past year learning how to code and build software products, and that’s been really fun for me. So that’s been my goal.
But I speak to plenty of people who really just enjoy the craft, whether they’re designers or developers or illustrators or writers. You can build a productized consulting business that is optimized around that. You don’t necessarily have to grow a team or grow it very large.
You can be a one to three person shop and you get to only work on really great projects. And since it is highly focused and productized, you can attract a specific type of client that you really enjoy that you know is good to work with. Either one can certainly work.
How to Successfully Pull This Off Using Automation
Brian Clark: At this point, I think some people are intrigued and are thinking, “Okay, but how do I pull this off?” And I think this is, to a certain degree, the secret sauce. This is process meets technology in the form of automation. How do you advise people to kind of break down what they are aiming to deliver in a way that is super-efficient?
Brian Casel: Yeah, that’s really where it comes down to processes — standard operating procedures, documentation, whatever you want to call it, SOPs.
In my business, for years we’ve had hundreds of documents just documenting every detail of how we do every part of the service. From how we onboard new clients to how we train managers to how managers deliver the weekly deliverable to how writers produce a blog article – everything. How we set up an article on WordPress, how we do our sales calls, all of it.
The goal of that is so that when we bring on new people to the team, we can just point them to the process and they can run with that process. As time goes on, as we learn new things or as we run into issues or errors are made, that’s where we can go in and diagnose: where was it in the process that that broke down?
I think early on you don’t need a super complex set of processes. The nice thing about a productized service idea is that you can literally launch it very, very quickly before you build any of that stuff out.
First, just focus on that value proposition like we talked about earlier. But once you have a few clients, as you start to deliver the service in real time, that’s when you can and you should be documenting everything that you’re doing.
Start just bullet pointing out like, “These are the things that I’m currently doing for the client or for the deliverable. What if I was not the person doing this? What would they need in order to follow it and do more or less what I’m doing?” That’s where you start to document the process.
I used things like Google Docs for that for a long time and kind of duct taped that together with other project management tools.
In my businesses, we found that over time, especially for a highly repeatable project-oriented business, that starts to break down quite a bit. So this year I’ve been creating and launching a new software product called ProcessKit designed for that purpose. It’s basically your central repository for all of your ongoing processes, but also the place where you merge those with repeatable projects.
If you’re doing articles every week, your articles always get your article process. If you have a team, then that process would automatically assign the right people, automatically calculate the due dates and things like that. And you can build in further automation from there whether you’re getting approvals from clients and having that trigger off next steps and all that kind of stuff.
Ultimately, the goal is to have this business that you can… I like to think of it like programming. I’m programming a service business to run a certain process. So, if this happens, then this is the output. Or if this is the scenario, then go down this path and follow this process and assign it to that person.
It takes a long time to work out all of those “If… thens” and all of the edge case scenarios, so that it becomes… I can literally look back on the last three years and see. Three years ago I used to have all these questions come into my inbox, all these escalations and all these issues coming from the team and from clients. And two years ago, that reduced.
Then last year and this year, I’m spending almost zero time in the business, because my team is running with it. They’ve seen all these edge case scenarios. Those edge case scenarios have been documented and built into our process, so we know how to handle it when, “Oh, a client’s not using WordPress, they’re using Squarespace? Okay, then we’ll handle them in this way, with this process.” That sort of thing.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I like that — coding a service. Essentially a process is an algorithm, so that’s a perfect analogy when you really think about it. I just don’t think most people think about it that way. And that can be one of those aha moments when you realize, first of all, don’t keep anything locked in your head (a lesson I learned the hard way over and over) and document everything.
Brian Casel: Yeah, absolutely, and it’s a continuous thing. Even right now, I’m removing myself from the very last piece of the whole thing, which are the sales calls. All the management, all the client communication, the onboarding, the delivery, all of that has been off my plate for a long time. But I’ve still been doing the sales calls.
This month I’m training one of our people to take over that part of the process and I’m going through that playbook again. I’m documenting what I’m doing, I’m giving it to her, letting her ask me questions and she can point out the gaps and places where things aren’t clear or could be improved. And that’s where we’re making the process even better.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s interesting to me. I want to talk more about ProcessKit in a second, because it’s a natural next step for your business and what you help people with. And that really kind of seems to be the missing element, because every client services business has its software, whether its Photoshop for designers or what have you. But there’s not necessarily, at least not that I know of, software that lets you take that service and code it into a product, as you put it. So, that’s going to be interesting to talk about.
How to Handle Marketing
Brian Clark: Before we get there though, I want to keep going on the third element here that’s essential that people often forget about. And it’s what leads to the feast or famine cycle for freelancers and consultants. Because when you get busy, what’s the first thing that goes out the window? Marketing. And then the business dries up and you’re like, “Oh, God,” and you’ve got to go scramble to Upwork or something terrible to just pay the bills. That’s the worst position to be in.
Obviously, whether you’re a regular service provider or not, you want a fresh flow of lead generation and prospective clients and nurturing and all that going on. That’s standard operating procedure, I would hope. Not always, but it should be. How does that differ?
Or really I guess I should say one of the things that you get freed up to do is actually grow the business, because you’re not down in the business.
Brian Casel: Yeah, 100%. And not only that, you actually have the option of doing real marketing.
When I was doing just generalist freelance web design, there’s not a whole lot that I could do to say, “You know what, in the next three months I want to double the number of projects that I’m going to take on.” There was no gas pedal that I could just step on and make that happen. I could hope that more clients would refer clients to me and that would be nice. But there wasn’t anything that I could actively do about that.
But once you’re in a product business or a productized service business and you know who that ideal customer is, you know, “Oh, I’m selling to restaurants,” or, “I’m selling to SAS software entrepreneurs,” or, “I’m selling to architects.” Once you have that idea of an ideal customer, that’s when you actually can do what I think of like “real marketing.”
Whether it’s writing content or creating content or podcasts or videos for that person, you’re creating content that you believe will be interesting and useful to a certain type of person. If you don’t have that person in mind, then your content (you know this better than anyone) is just going to be bland and not very useful, because it’s just way too broad.
The same applies to any other form of marketing or sales. If you want to do outbound cold email or LinkedIn outreach or anything like that, if you’re serving anyone and everyone, where are you even going to begin with that? Just look to LinkedIn and start with the list of a million plus users on there? No, if you know that you’re targeting marketing managers at businesses that are over $100,000 a month or something like that, then you can target that person on LinkedIn and start to do actual outreach to drive new business.
That’s where it really starts to pay off to focus. You don’t even necessarily have to be so hyper niched down into an industry within an industry. But once you really understand who your ideal target customer is, that’s where you can start to be strategic about marketing, start to travel to certain types of conferences, things like that.
Brian Clark: What I love about the way you approach this and teach it is the marketing is baked in from the beginning. Go back full circle to that value proposition: “Who is this for? What keeps them up at night? What’s their problem that you’re going to solve for them?” So many people just don’t think about that too much. Their marketing is ineffectual, because it’s all over the place. It’s trying to please everyone. That’s the kiss of death.
When you think about it, marketing’s not the third phase, it’s right from the beginning. But it plays itself out in this way where you systematize to the point where you can truly take that value of proposition and spread your message in a way that, of course, grows revenue at a much higher pace. And even better, you can now handle it because of the processes.
Brian Casel: Yeah, and if you think about the typical agency website or consultant’s website, it’s typically, “I am a copywriter or I am a web designer and here’s why I’m great at web design and here’s my process for doing web design,” and things like that.
What you need to get to on your marketing website, on your homepage or on your service page or whatever it is, is “Hey you, I know who you are. I know what type of business you’re in. I know the problem that you probably have. It probably feels like this to have that problem, and you’re probably thinking you need this sort of solution. Well, let me lay out the solution and exactly the terms that you would expect to see.”
When you know who that “you” is, like I said, when you know who that target customer is, you can really start to write copy, design your site, design your packages that truly resonate with that person. So that your goal then would be if you’re doing any sort of outreach or inbound stuff and you have people coming to your website, your goal is to have a random stranger land on your homepage and instantly feel like, “Oh, yeah, they know me. They get me. Clearly this thing has been built for people like me.”
It’s that social proof. Obviously, you want to see the traditional social proof kind of stuff. Testimonials and case studies and all of that stuff is always very helpful. But even just seeing the packages, even just seeing what the service offers, can send some signals around like, “Oh, they get it. They get me, because clearly they’ve put together this service in a way that I haven’t seen other generalist freelancers explain it to me before. Because clearly they’ve done this before.” That’s the sense that you want to leave with people when they come across your site.
Brian Clark: “They’re talking to me” — beautifully put. That’s what copywriting teaches you. It’s not about selling yourself so much as identifying with them so that they feel comfortable, so they know, like, and trust you.
Same with great content marketing. It’s about them, not about you, until it’s time for maybe you to help them out. Yeah, that’s fantastic.
How ProcessKit Helps with Automation
Brian Clark: Let’s talk more about ProcessKit. This is interesting to me. Again, thinking about your own evolution and entrepreneurial journey, it’s the natural next step. But I’m really interested to hear more about how it helps this process during that critical automation phase.
Brian Casel: Yeah, as I said, I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands over the last year or two. And I’ve always loved building things on the Internet. I’ve been a front end web designer for many years, but it wasn’t until this past year that I actually got over my fear of back end development and using the command line and things like that.
I learned Ruby on Rails and I built ProcessKit, which is now actually this month just rolling out to the very first users. So all the information and videos and whatnot, that’s at processkit.com.
Essentially, like I said, it’s a tool that brings together your processes and your projects, especially those repeatable projects. So that every time you one click, create your new website project, it automatically pulls in or preloads all of your processes and those processes automatically assign the right people. It automatically calculates the right due dates and you can build all sorts of automations around those processes. That’s the goal with ProcessKit. It’s been a lot of fun to get it out there.
Since my audience are agencies and freelancers and productized service people, that’s basically my target customer number one for this thing. And I’ve been really optimizing for that group. But I get interest from plenty of other types of businesses that have some sort of repeatable production line of work and a growing team that needs to have that process. I’ve been doing customer calls every week for the past six or seven months.
When you’re a solo person, it helps to document your processes, but you’re probably going to use some sort of free tools for that. When you have a team of three to five people, that’s when you start to think about the tools and collaboration and processes.
As you’re growing beyond that point, that’s where it starts to become painful when you don’t have things documented. And things start to fall through the cracks or the founders or the managers, just everything comes back to their plate. They’re constantly stopped with, “Hey, you got a minute? How do I do this thing or that thing?” That’s where processes really need to start getting dialed in so that you can grow to a team of 10, 20, 30, 30-plus people.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it sounds fascinating. I can’t wait to take a look at it.
Will ProcessKit Integrate with Zapier?
Brian Clark: Earlier, I think on Twitter, I saw you talking about Zapier, and we talked about that last week and how valuable it is even for non-coders. I always thought it was more complicated than it really is.
But you were talking about kind of baseline starting with Zapier integration. Is that something that ProcessKit will feature?
Brian Casel: Literally, just before we got on this call, I sent the email to the ProcessKit list to announce that we’ve just added Zapier integrations.
Brian Clark: It’s a good thing I follow you on Twitter, because you kind of alluded to it without saying it, so that makes sense.
Yeah, that sounds fantastic, because you’ve got your core processes in one place. But to me, and without having played with it or really having this type of business, it just seems like being able to tie another software is where it gets really powerful.
Brian Casel: Totally. I had a ton of requests for it. I heavily use Zapier myself in my business. Everything is tied into it, going in and out of it. So, clearly, for a process tool like this, we needed and we have now a two-way Zapier integration.
That means you can use ProcessKit. Things that happen in ProcessKit, like the creation of a new project or a task and a process being checked off or being completed, that can trigger a zap. So, you can have Zapier then send a message to Slack or send something off to your CRM or tag somebody in Drip or whatever it is.
Or the other way, which is your tools can trigger things inside ProcessKit. If somebody fills out a form on your homepage, like a lead form, that can trigger ProcessKit to create a new lead nurturing project, and that can get your lead nurturing process, things like that.
Or if you’re integrating Trello or any of the other tools that you’re currently using. Even using custom tools, you can send web hooks to it. You’ll want to be able to initiate processes and have processes initiate other things in your other tools. That’s the whole idea.
Yeah, what I said on Twitter earlier was I think if you’re creating a B2B software app these days, it is just so essential to have that Zapier integration. Zapier itself is such a fantastic platform. It’s grown in such popularity that it’s almost like its own language, but it’s still very easy to use. Just about every business owner I know is using it.
So, really prioritizing that in your feature roadmap… I had more requests for it recently, so I just popped it right to the very top of the list and finally got that out there today.
Brian Clark: Nice, this is very cool stuff. Like I said, it fits in perfectly with the whole 7-Figure Small concept. And freelancers should not feel excluded at all. In fact, you may have some insight you didn’t even realize was sitting right in front of you.
Where Can We Find Out More?
Brian Clark: Brian, thank you so much for being here. Tell people where they can find out more about your training and the upcoming software.
Brian Casel: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. My personal site is BrianCasel.com. You can get on my newsletter. I send a live email newsletter every Saturday just talking about behind the scenes stuff.
I’m all over the place, but all those things link to each other anyway, so you’ll find it.
Brian Clark: They are, you are remarkably consistent. I like that. That’s good.
All right, this is good stuff. Thank you again.
Everyone, go check it out especially if you’re intrigued with the idea of this very human but also automated to a point where you can really create outsized impact from a small business. Take a look at productizing. I think you’ll be interested in what Brian, and the general concept, has to say and can do for you.
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