September 23, 2023
Sell your sawdust: Simple frameworks for creating profitable service-based products
As they say, time is money, and every entrepreneur I've ever met is short on one or the other (and sometimes both). The following framework is one that I used to take my agency from a strictly time and materials business to a service-based product business, gaining back valuable hours while being more profitable along the way.
What does it mean to sell your sawdust?
The term "selling your sawdust" comes from the lumber industry, which began selling their waste (sawdust, chips, shredded wood, etc.) to other companies for a hefty profit.
Today you can find the byproduct of their milling process in dozens of consumer products, including concrete, particle board, synthetic fireplace logs, pet bedding, and mulch.
Taking this model and applying it to your own business, do you notice any "waste?" Are there byproducts of your work that might be valuable to potential or existing clients?
In the following sections, I'll introduce easy-to-use frameworks to help you take the services you're already providing and turn them into stand-alone products you can sell on autopilot.
From problem to product
If you're an entrepreneur, you've probably experienced the transactional nature of client services or consulting. A client offers to give you something you want (e.g., money) to help them get something they want (e.g., a bigger social presence).
To the uninitiated, it might appear that the client is simply handing over money for a bunch of new followers. But that's not the whole story.
Whether expressed or not, the client has specific metrics in mind when evaluating the value of their purchase. They're paying for tangible outcomes such as increased awareness, better conversion, more engagement, or any number of additional KPIs outlined in their brief.
The client isn't paying you for a bigger social presence; they're paying you to solve their problems. Problems like how to turn an audience into a revenue stream, getting leads for a new business venture, etc.
Luckily, most problems you'll solve during the consultation aren't unique to that particular client. Hundreds of other clients will experience similar issues at some point (whether they know it yet or not).
When consulting, keep an eye out for recurring client issues — they could be the key to unlocking a new product opportunity.— Matt Downey (@mattdowney) March 3, 2023
Take advantage of what you already know and build something that can solve the problems of many rather than one.
For many digital entrepreneurs and consultants, regardless of size, solving client problems is usually straightforward—create a practical, repeatable process that you can implement over time. Once you take that newly created process and wrap it around an existing service, you have yoruself a new product. And there's no better way to divorce time from money and scale your business than by selling clients products that solve their problems.
But I know some of you are saying, "How will I know what problems potential clients are facing?" The short answer is that you won't—unless you change how you position yourself and your services.
In the next section, I'll show you how to identify common, recurring problems many people face by becoming a trusted partner.
Be a partner, not a vendor
One of the best ways to understand people's problems and produce value for them is to dive deeply into their business and learn everything you can from the inside out.
When you take an interest in your client's business, you hone your communication skills and engage with them in a profound and meaningful way. They start to look at you as a partner, not just another vendor. And once you have a relationship based on trust, you can start to tease out answers to questions that might not come up otherwise.
As a consultant, I spent a lot of time identifying common client issues and then building service-based products to solve those problems. The following is a list of questions, answers, and, ultimately, products I created after learning what they needed:
Me: "Do you have a strategy to strengthen and foster relationships with your existing customers?"
Client: "Not really, but it's probably a good idea to stay in touch via email more often."
The product that was born: An email drip series that ran every month to drive engagement and keep my clients top of mind with their customers. I kept it industry-agnostic, and once created, I included it as an add-on to every new proposal for an additional fee.
Me: "How's your new user onboarding going? Is there anything that could make the process better?"
Client: "Some customers are confused about what to expect during sign-up. It would be nice to communicate with them more clearly, so they know what's coming and when."
The product that was born: A plug-and-play email funnel in Mailchimp to ensure all incoming customers received automated touch points at crucial stages of the client's onboarding process. Since this automation was simply a series of timed messages, it worked for any client—and yes—I included it as an add-on to every new client proposal for an additional fee.
Me: "What is the most significant pain point when updating your website?"
Client: "We have issues matching the existing elements and making everything look consistent from page to page. It's maddening!"
The product that was born: A password-gated style guide with visuals and style classes to ensure that the new content they added looked great on any page. The style guide could live on their own domain, and they could give access to anyone they wanted. And you guessed it—I included it as an add-on to every new client proposal for an additional fee.
Me: What is your strategy for staying relevant amongst your competition besides Facebook and Google ads?"
The product that was born: A keyword accelerator and content calendar to help build their visibility in organic search. This content calendar became a staple in my consulting business, and, say it with me—I included it as an add-on to every new proposal for an additional fee.
These problems and solutions outlined above aren't new—and they're certainly not unique. But by becoming a trusted partner, I could pinpoint recurring client needs early in the vetting period and assemble solutions into neat, process-driven packages to sell to clients over and over again.
Creating demand for your service-based products
Now that we've identified ways to create products out of your daily routine, let's look at how you can generate demand for these products to sell more.
Offer your products to existing clients
The easiest and most obvious way to generate demand for your products is to offer them to your existing client base. If you have multiple clients (which you should), there's likely an opportunity to cross-sell your products to clients in different industries or backgrounds.
Add your products to the new client sales cycle
Another way to introduce your offering (and increase average order value) is to include your products a la cart for all incoming clients. These products already exist, so it's simply a matter of adapting them to specific client needs.
And even if they don't need your product now, there's still an opportunity to sell them later once you thoroughly break down project needs and goals.
Sell your products to strangers (not in a weird way)
If you have a marketing budget, it couldn't hurt to create a landing page for each of your unique product offerings and drive traffic there.
Position your product as the solution to your potential customer's problems, empathize with them, and offer something that will give them a quick win. From there, the door will be open to upsell in the future—turning a small, lightweight sale into a more robust relationship in time.
Oh, and if you don't have a marketing budget, these pages are a great way to attract organic search traffic by adding choice keywords. With a little bit of work, these products can also become businesses of their own—but that's another article.
Make it once, sell it forever
By now, you should be able to see the value of turning repetitious, tedious parts of projects into one-off products that you can sell again and again. I hope these ideas spark your curiosity and set you down a path to readjust your thinking around service-based products and frameworks—ultimately using them to sell more and work less.
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