Exploring the idea of packaging my services into an off-the-shelf product.

For the past several years I’ve taken on side design projects, in addition to my regular 9 to 5 day job. But freelancing is not scalable – meaning it can’t grow beyond what I am physically able to accomplish myself.  Trading time for money.

DEADLINE MISSED

I should have mentioned it in my last post, but I fully expected that I’d miss this deadline too. I’ve been struggling with this topic a lot and I’ve had a hard time writing this article.

I’ve spent the past week learning about how to turn services I provide into off-the-shelf products. This article is part of a five part series about how I plan to generate a revenue stream using passive income sources. Read all the articles in the series here:

  1.  What is Passive Income?
  2. Should I Write Books?
  3. Should I Teach using Online Courses?
  4. Should I Create a Productized Service? – that’s this one here!
  5. Decision Made: My Passive Income Adventure Begins – coming soon

First, let’s define productized services and what that means when applied to my business and thought process. I like the way Brennan Dunn at Double Your Freelancing puts it:

“A way to package your time into what looks and acts like an off-the-shelf product, and — done right — it can be huge for both the long term stability of your business (by creating recurring revenue) and as a low touch method for getting new clients.”

Essentially the idea is to pick a service that I do already – which would fall somewhere in the graphic design realm at this point in my career – and standardize the service to the point where it functions more as a product than a customized service.

Here’s what I do now:  When I take on a big client project that needs a lot of dedicated time and energy to complete, my available freelancing time is eaten up with just that one project and that one project gives me just one stream of income during the scope of that project. When that project is finished, I can begin the next project for another single stream of income. This is how I’ve been operating for the past five years or so. And this is exactly what I want to change.

What I learned about productized services

The traditional thinking for productized service usually takes you to some type of software that helps the service provider actually provide that service in a faster or more efficient way. For instance, an app or program that automates some action that business owners need to accomplish – like analyzing website traffic or creating content for a blog through curation or managing social media marketing and advertising. However, there are some folks out there who are thinking outside the box and have some super innovative ideas.

I came across an article written by Richard Patey, a freelancer-turned-entrepreneur who started Snow Bistro – a productized service for the ski industry where he helps ski resorts with SEO and content marketing (plus a bunch of other things) for their websites. His venture was so successful that now he helps other freelancers come up with their own productized service ideas and helps them implement  those ideas.

In his article he has a list of companies who are offering a product as a service – that list of examples was enlightening to me. Seeing what others are doing gave me ideas for how this could work for my own business plans. I like the idea of taking a service that I provide already and finding a way to systematize it to the point where it is a packaged product that I can offer to my clients in a super simple way. No more writing proposals for custom design projects – instead, the client picks what they need from a list of services and it’s ready. The client also wins because they don’t have to deal with those proposals and negotiating prices with a designer… they pick a service off a list of services available and get exactly what they need much quicker than normal.

For instance, there’s a company on the list who offers book cover design. You can pick from three main packages for custom design or you can pick one of the pre-made cover options at two different price points. The designer at Rocking Book Covers has a definite style that would fit the fiction horror/mystery genre beautifully (or, more literally, scarily), so if your book topics fit the style he produces in the premade section, this is a great economical choice for getting a professionally designed cover for your book. The productized service of custom book covers is a great case study for me. It gave me a better understanding of what types of service I could offer based on my skillset and passion.

A reminder about me

By day I’m an in-house graphic designer – which just means that I work in a corporate environment rather than a design agency. On the side I take on graphic design and marketing projects for clients that I love.  I’m good at what I do (I’m also humble – Ha!). I love the process of taking an idea or a few paragraphs of text and turning it into an effective and visually beautiful marketing piece that will help a business grow and flourish. Obviously my time is limited because I’m working full time plus have a really long commute to work (on the road about 15 hours per week) – so I can only take on so many client projects without burning out completely.

So that gives you a bit of context (and a reminder) for what comes next…

Is this passive income?

This is a big question I’m struggling with right now … and might actually be the reason I have been dragging my feet on finishing my research and writing this article about it. In my head I know that offering a productized service would become a form of passive income – is there a term for income that’s not fully passive and not fully active? I guess that is more in line with the semi-passive income we talked about in the first article of this series.

So no, it’s not passive income. But it would function very much like semi-passive income once it’s up and running and I build a reputation around it. But it’s the “get it up and running” is the part that I’m a bit stumped on right now.

Now what?

I absolutely love to design great marketing materials and I love helping small businesses have a better chance at success because of their effective (and beautiful) marketing materials. Is there a way I can combine the two into a service that is streamlined and packaged so it’s easy on the client and they get exactly what they want plus it’s also easy on me so I have time to help more and more people?

Moving in this direction would be a complete change in my mindset and how it relates to my design projects. Right now my mindset is about 80-90% custom – the other 10-20% represents my use of pre-made elements and purchased illustrations or templates that speed up the design process, so I’m already a little bit in the streamline-mindset. But I’d have to take some major leaps in that area to make this happen. I like the idea of packaging a service to make the administrative and execution portion of a project less cumbersome and more streamlined. I think this is a good fit for my skills and my passion of helping others.

However, how will this fit into the plans I have already set in motion for writing books and incorporating teaching into my big dreams?  The topic for those efforts focus on self-help and personal development, not graphic design (don’t worry, you’re going to hear all about those plans in the next article … stay tuned). The simple answer is: It doesn’t fit. I feel like this is a completely separate thing that I’d need to build apart from writing and teaching.

Once I get the writing underway and then layer teaching on top of the writing over time… I can see how some type of consulting service could then be layered on top of those two. But right now I don’t know what that service might be. And I don’t think I can actually know the answer to that mystery until after I get more fully into the first two parts of the trifecta.

So for now, my only frame of reference for a service product is based on what I’m already doing to earn an extra income – which is design. I know that I will need to continue taking on a select number of design clients, just as I am now, over the next several years so I can continue to bring in the extra income (to gradually build my empire). But I also know that I need to be highly selective with those client projects so they can fit inside my other, bigger dreams of building passive income streams that will help me be more financially secure. It’s like a huge jigsaw puzzle (and I’m terrible at jigsaw puzzles!).

So here’s my answer.

I will NOT make any big leaps into productized service right now.  But as I take on new design clients, I WILL look for ways to streamline the design process (everything from writing less elaborate proposals to finding efficiencies in my design process) so that I can explore and discover ways to productize some of these services I offer. I care a lot about my clients and want them to have the highest quality service I can provide to them, so it’s important to me that I don’t cut them short on what they have come to expect from me.

This one is going to take a while, so don’t expect overnight movement here. But I’m glad I did the research and have my thoughts written here for future reference. I’ll keep you posted when I move forward in this area.