From Solopreneur to CEO: How to Productize and Scale your Service Business

9 July, 2020
Marilyn Wo

Marilyn Wo

6 minutes
woman carrying her baby

This is a guest post from our friend, and solopreneur turned CEO, Marilyn Wo of MeetAnders.

Complete control over your time. No supervisor to boss you around. Along with the premium rates up for grabs, freelancing has grown to be many dreamers’ escape from the corporate world.

However, it sucks that no one warned me about how running a service business won’t be all cupcakes and rainbows. 

What I expected to be a freedom-oriented career became a hostile avenue for burning out and spreading myself too thin. There are multiple tasks for clients with unique preferences, but there’s only one ultra tired me.

Outsourcing never crossed my mind as a solopreneur. I saw it as nothing but an extra hassle accompanied by reduced income. 

I also thought it was smarter to keep my graphic design business small. Well, I have never been so wrong!

After my first kid was born, I was slapped by a huge wake-up call. Being the best mom ever is impossible as long as my business entirely depends on me.

In this guide, allow me to walk you through the next big step you could take as a solo freelancer (aka solopreneur). Gear up as we explore the essentials of building your own productized service business.

Tired of being a solopreneur, and dreaming of building a successful business with a team to support you? Read this guide. #entrepreneur Share on X

What is a productized service?

As a conventional solopreneur (freelancer), you tend to base your output on your customer’s needs. 

Reality check – your research and templates that one client loved could make another cringe in disappointment.

This is where productized services can be a worthy upgrade.

Basically, this business model involves a predefined list of services that clients can choose from.  This eliminates the hassle of crafting customized solutions that can take weeks to complete. 

I just love how it takes calling the shots to another level.

Isn’t it frustrating when clients demand excessive rounds of revisions? Some might even delegate tasks that are not within the scope of your original agreement.

With a service product business, it’s entirely up to you to fix your package inclusions, its price, and the deadline for completion. Instead of getting stuck in negotiations, a new client can either take it or leave it.

Even better, it allows you to focus on specializations instead of offering tons of services just to attract more clients. This means that the production of your products can be replicated and outsourced. 

Related: Why Build a Productized Service (Instead of Consulting)?

What are the advantages of a productized service business?

Even if things seem pretty and perfect in your solo freelance career, a major life event can dramatically change your priorities. Take it from a mom who struggled with babysitting while satisfying clients.

Don’t settle for a business that can only earn as long as you’re available for work!

Here’s why shifting to productized services is among the best decisions I’ve made in all 10 years of my graphic design career:

Expanded earning potential 

In freelancing, higher revenue comes at the expense of longer working hours. You can also opt to increase your rates, but this could be a major turnoff for some customers.

Sadly, you can’t clone yourself or petition for added hours in a day.

With productized services, you can identify a set of common items that have high market demand. Package it up, grow a team that can replicate its production, and voila – you can now sell this single product to as many clients as you want!

Skip the hassle of solopreneur negotiations

Ten years in the freelancing industry as a solopreneur made me realize one truth – negotiating rates is a complete waste of time. 

Regardless if you badly need a laptop for work or just want a luxurious upgrade, you can’t bargain a MacBook’s price with Apple. Why should you allow clients to haggle with you then?

My current packages feature monthly services (usually limited simple graphic edits) at a fixed rate. I no longer have to design outputs from scratch for every single client, and neither do my customers have to wait for pricing quotations.

10 years in the freelancing industry made me realize one truth – negotiating rates is a complete waste of time.  Share on X

Clear scope of contracts

Don’t fall for clients who promise that their expected output is absolutely simple, only to receive tons of major requests later. You might have billed them for only an hour’s worth of work, but their new demands blew the required effort way out of proportion.

You can kiss this nightmare goodbye with productized services. From the onset, clients will understand the scope of what they’re paying for (e.g. no branding research, simple changes in a template only). 

Fixed price. Fixed tasks. Fixed time span.

Faster payout

In my solopreneur freelancing days, wanting to get paid pronto and wishing to provide as much value as possible is difficult to balance. The best compromise was to ask for an initial deposit, then send a final invoice after submission. 

However, it’s rare to find clients who pay promptly. I had to chase them with daily emails just to get what’s due.

In contrast, selling productized services work starts once clients have fully paid their chosen package. This is made possible by the clear set of deliverables that comes with fixed monthly charges.

Related: Productized Services and Why You Should Bootstrap with Brian Casel

How exactly can you productize your service business?

Tired of all the headaches I got from solo freelancing, I built a graphic design startup using the core principles of a productized service. 

Allow me to walk you through what I’ve done, along with tips on how you can get yours started:

Step 1: Choose your target market

By focusing on a specific audience, you’d be able to tailor your offers to their needs and wants. It will also be easier to establish a trusted reputation.

Imagine your buyer persona.  

In my case, here’s what an ideal client looks like:

  • Needs design work done on an ongoing basis via outsourcing
  • Has a company-sponsored marketing budget
  • Comfortable working remotely with designers
  • Knows what they want out of their marketing materials
  • Has worked with graphic designers before

Step 2: Decide what you want to offer

Instead of making yourself available for anything and everything, focus on your target market’s most pressing and recurring problem. 

In my niche, I noticed that clients regularly need help with simple graphic editing. I then created a package of “unlimited revisions per month” at a fixed fee.

You can test your idea by posting in a forum or social media group. Its community must be buzzing with daily engagements from at least 10,000 members. 

Here’s what I posted as a litmus test for my first productized service:

Marilyn Wo shared link

Apart from the rich feedback I received, I even closed a deal with two clients with this post!

Step 3: Envision your ideal team (before you hire them)

Don’t even try to do everything on your own! Cast your fears about added expenses away and invest in expert team members.

Design your organizational chart even before you hire your first employee. You can look into what I’ve prepared before as a guide:

Ideal team graphic

Step 4: Create a system to deliver your offer

In the beginning, you don’t have to worry about the specifics of your processes. It’s best to stay flexible and responsive to industry changes.

To get you started, here’s what I’ve mapped out in the early days of my company:

  1. Customer onboarding – After successful payment via ThriveCart, we send an email to the customer to brief him on the things we’ll need to get started. We also use Zapier to automatically create a Google Drive folder for the new client.
  2. Customer support – While our designers are working, the project manager will respond to any concerns the client may have.
  3. Customer fulfillment – Designers will hand off their output to the project manager for quality checks. If no revision is needed, it’s then forwarded to the customer.

Step 5: Price your packages

A lot of peers wonder how I can still earn a decent profit out of affordable unlimited graphic design services. 

My secret? Hours of work on paper to generate financial projections ahead of time. With varied prices in mind, I calculate the number of customers I’ll need to reach my target monthly income.

Here are some steps you can consider when pricing your offers:

  1. Decide how much you want to earn
  2. Decide how many customers you’d like to serve
  3. Calculate how many customers each employee could handle
  4. Compute your estimated cost of operation (e.g. web hosting, automation tools, salaries, etc.)
  5. Run your projections

Related: How I Used The Stairstep Approach To Build My First Product Business

The Bottom line:

You may dream of being a freelancer who’s well respected in your niche, but why stop there? It’s absolutely possible to evolve from a stressed-out solopreneur into a nurturing CEO of your own business. 

Thanks to developing a productized service business, I no longer have to choose between being a super mom and being a superstar in the graphic design industry. I can be both!  Gone are the days when it’s tempting to join my baby’s tantrums and cry over all the living nightmares that come with freelancing.

Ready for your ultimate career glow up? Feel free to drop any questions you have about productized services in the comment section below.

Posted By

Marilyn Wo

Marilyn Wo

Marilyn Wo is the co-founder and CEO of MeetAnders. Like the “Uber” for graphic design, MeetAnders helps marketing leaders with unlimited graphic design at a fixed rate of less than $500 per month. Growing her business while raising two kids, she is also sharing her journey on how to productize a service business to earn recurring income.

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