This article was originally published on Oct. 31, 2017, and was updated on July 30, 2019.
If you’ve ever felt you needed more time in the day, or that you’re only working on one project at a time and find yourself resisting or struggling to scale, you might want to learn how to productize services.
In the website services industry, the struggle is real. We create products on a daily basis, but as a service.
The thought of productizing our own services can seem elusive or mysterious.
How do you know if your service can be turned into a product? Below, we’ll take a look at what productization includes and how to productize services for your own business.
What is productization?
Productization is taking “delivery” and making it repeatable, scalable and standardized. It also means that you personally don’t deliver the whole process from start to finish.
For example, take a book, software, course or plugin. Those products can be delivered as a service. What you learn in a book or a course could be delivered as a consultation. A plugin or software to manage your budget and accounts can be done by a person.
All of these examples could be delivered by their creator as a service, but as a product, they can scale faster and deliver a standard result to all customers.
Don’t get me wrong, services are a fantastic way to run a business. But for some, they’re not as scalable or profitable as they originally hoped. The biggest problem with delivering a service is that, even with staff and a team, you can only deliver so much at once.
Creating a product from your services is easier than you might think, but it requires you to swallow a few fears and take a deep breath.
Service vs. product
Productizing your services is often seen as a magic bullet when it comes to solving many of the problems that website professionals face. We love the idea of having a suite of well-polished and well-defined products that suit our customers. But often, when it comes to delivering them, we’re still delivering a service.
In his book, From Single To Scale, author Mike Killen talks about the three laws of scale that help define if something is a product:
- Do I have to do the work or can someone else?
- Can I receive 1,000 orders tomorrow and handle it?
- Is the process/delivery repeatable so anyone can do it?
Frequently, we find that many website service-based businesses that want to productize services struggle because they can’t deliver a standardized service to their customers.
Sure, some products have add-ons and small customizations, but the standard delivery process itself does not change. Have you ever tried to negotiate the terms of your checking account at a bank? Your account is such a standardized product that the idea of customizing it is unheard of.
It doesn’t have to be custom
Without a doubt, the biggest roadblock to creating a product, or suite of products, is that we believe customers want custom. We’re website designers and developers, right? Aren’t they’re coming to us because they want a custom and bespoke solution?
We often fall into this trap, believing our clients’ businesses and their needs are so unique that they deserve 100-percent custom, individual requirements and specifications. But we’d be wrong.
If your desire is to productize services, you have to lovingly say goodbye to a certain level of customization. There’s nothing wrong with custom work — but the reality is, most businesses aren’t charging enough to justify a fully customized solution.
Productize services by answering these 11 questions
Here’s our 11-point checklist to see if your website-based service can be turned into a product.
- Does your service offer a solution to a problem?
- Does your service have a deliverable?
- Can delivery of the product be scaled?
- If some level of service is involved, can it be carried out by someone else?
- Has there been proven demand?
- What are competing companies doing?
- Does shifting your service to a product help your customers still achieve their results and continue to add value?
- Can the product offering and price be fixed for a wide audience?
- Can you tweak the current delivery of your service?
- Can you develop a watertight process?
- Is it something you are passionate about?
1. Does your service offer a solution to a problem?
The best gauge to know if your product will succeed is to evaluate whether or not it solves a problem. If it solves a problem, then you can almost be certain someone needs it. Focusing on your product as a solution is the best was to refine your product’s offerings, messaging and projections for demand.
2. Does your service have a deliverable?
It’s nearly impossible to convert a service into a product if there’s no deliverable. When someone forks over their credit card to purchase your product, what are they receiving in return?
In creating my business, WP Care Market, where we match small business owners with website consultants, I knew the importance of a deliverable to shift our services into products. With that in mind, we refined WP Care Market to be responsible for the website audit of the small business owner’s website before matching to a pro. This way, our customers receive beautiful reports on the intricacies and needs of their site before we make a referral to the website pro.
3. Can delivery of the product be scaled?
Review the three questions above from Mike Killen’s From Single to Scale and evaluate if your product can scale. Could you receive 1,000 orders tomorrow and deliver the same results to every customer?
Consider a small business owner who builds custom tables from reclaimed wood. Often, we as website service-based businesses are delivering custom-built, reclaimed wood “tables” from hand (much like the aforementioned craftsman), but for Ikea prices.
Ikea, on the other hand, can scale their table sales because the manufacturing and delivery process is scalable. It’s repeatable, and everyone gets the same thing. Yes, the product quality is different, but that doesn’t matter to Ikea’s target market.
4. If some level of service is involved, can it be carried out by someone else?
There are numerous companies that sell products that still require some level of service. Removing all elements of the human touch is not the point of productizing — removing you from the central hub of providing that service personally is the point. You must be able to remove yourself from carrying out the delivery of the product to truly transition your service to a product.
5. Has there been proven demand?
“Build it, and they will come” is the number one killer for new products. You must confirm that people want the solution first before looking to scale. Productizing should be seen as a solution to scale, rather than the first offering.
6. What are competing companies doing?
When you’re looking to shift your services into a productized offering, it’s important to know what your competition is selling.
As a basic rule, to attract customers, you will want to be sure that you’re offering unique products or solutions.
Beyond that, though, competitive analysis allows you to identify the gaps in your industry, whether they’re product gaps or organizational gaps. Identifying where there’s a need in your industry can help you to further refine your solutions to meet consumer needs.
7. Does shifting your service to a product help your customers still achieve their results and continue to add value?
Shifting to productizing shouldn’t impact the results and value your customers found through your service.
Picture yourself as a consultant where you coach business owners one-on-one on how to navigate the tricky world of online marketing. Shifting to providing productized services in an online course should in no way water down or de-value the impact of your technique, insight and advice. It might impact the personalization of your message, but it should still help the customer achieve their desired results.
8. Can the product offering and price be fixed for a wide audience?
As we touched upon earlier, the product needs to be delivered with a strict set of rules, which also determines a fixed pricing structure. This means you have to have a specific target market in mind, know what that target market will pay to solve their problems, and then price and structure your offer accordingly.
9. Can you tweak the current delivery of your service?
Think outside of what you’re used to delivering. Is there another way to deliver those same results?
Say I’m a chef at a restaurant and someone wants to learn how to cook my meals. I gladly accept their offer, and we meet in the grocery store to get started. We pick out our produce and head back to the kitchen.
Yes, this process is repeatable and standardized, but what happens when 1,000 people ask?
We obviously can’t have 1,000 people in the store or the kitchen. So, we switch our delivery method to webinars, online videos, books and worksheets.
10. Can you develop a watertight process?
In John Warrillow’s book, Built To Sell, he talks about writing down the process for your most popular service to determine your best product.
For example, if you are a website developer, write up your process for how the website delivers results to your customer. Does it attract traffic? Does it help them rank on Google? Do they capture leads and email subscribers?
Next, are there other ways you can deliver those results through a watertight process? Possible avenues to help solve these needs might involve software, plugins or operations manuals, among many others.
Related: How to start a web design business
11. Is it something you are passionate about?
Lastly, creating a new product is hard work. I can guarantee that if you are not passionate about the problem it solves, you’ll barely rev that engine and get the plane off the ground.
When deciding to productize services, you most certainly will be putting in serious man-hours upfront in the early stages. Make sure it’s worth it.
Where do you go from here?
You’ve determined, “Good golly, I might have a product?!” So what are the next steps?
Develop your product offering through standardization and process. Even if you don’t think you have a standardized method, try it. You might surprise yourself.
To begin, ask yourself what happens from initial contact all the way to delivery. Go through each step, and look at what is repeatable. This is the start of your product.
If you can write up a standardized series of steps for delivery and checked off all of our 11 items above, congratulations, you’ve got a product!