Selling services is easy: let people know you have a skill, and get clients.
But when you’re ready to shift from selling services to making your own products, it’s a little more complicated — especially if client work pays the bills while you’re developing your new business or income stream.
In this article, we’ll talk about what it takes to shift from selling services to making your own products. You’ll learn:
- The types of products you can launch to create new lines of business
- 5 Tips for making the shift
- 8 steps to build your own brand while continuing your client work
Selling Services vs Products
Why do so many people talk about this shift? Because a service-based business is where most solopreneurs start.
If you’re just starting your solopreneur business, selling services is an easy way to get your business off the ground. You probably already have a skill:
- Website development
- Business strategy
- Hair care
- Yard work
You simply need to get the word out that you’re available and start pulling in clients. As challenging as it is to get those first clients, you don’t have a lot of set-up to get your business off the ground.
You don’t need to do any research and development. You don’t need to find suppliers and fulfillment companies.
You only need to build a website — and even that’s not absolutely necessary. In many cases, word gets around, and you never really have to do much marketing. Your business grows through referrals and word-of-mouth.
The trouble with services is that, in many cases, you are the product.
When you sell a service, you’re selling your time. So your business inevitably devolves into an even exchange: my time for your money.
And yes, you can grow your services business quickly, but at some point, you’re going to bump up against a glass ceiling. You can’t charge more for your services, and there’s no more time to take on more clients.
When this happens, you’re stuck. There’s a hard cap to your growth potential.
Product-based businesses, on the other hand, aren’t as easy to launch. It takes an up-front investment — sometimes thousands of dollars or months of behind-the-scenes work — to develop a product, set up a digital store, and find customers.
If e-commerce is your game, you can speed up this process by drop shipping products from other brands. But with this approach, your product isn’t original. Other websites will be selling the same product, making it harder to rank as the number-one source for your products.
Another quick-start idea is digital products. They can even be sold in advance, before you’ve created them. But there’s no guarantee you’ll make a profit.
If you sell just five seats to your new digital course, you’re obligated to invest time and effort to deliver the course — regardless of how much (or little) you made on the launch.
Bottom line, services are the easiest way to start a business. Products are the best way to grow your business.
So let’s look at the different types of businesses you might build, both service-based and product-based.
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Types of Service-Based Businesses
The most common types of service-based businesses include:
- Business service
- Personal service
The service may be anything, really. People buy because it’s outside their expertise, or it saves them time, money, or effort. Rather than performing an important task for themselves, they hire you, an expert, to do it for them.
But as we’ve mentioned, the biggest challenge with service-based businesses is their scalability. They’re usually built around a personality. People hire you because of your experience and authority. Once your calendar is full, you can’t take on more clients.
Which means you can only grow to a certain level. At that point, you have to decide whether you’ll cap your income or hire workers to take up some of the slack.
Neither is an ideal solution. Which is why so many service-based businesses begin to shift to products.
Types of Product-Based Businesses
Common product-based businesses include:
- Digital courses
- Affiliate marketing
- E-commerce: dropshipping products
- E-commerce: making your own products
- E-commerce: Amazon fulfillment
- Media + sponsorships and advertising
Notice that many of these options involve selling knowledge or an experience. That’s actually an easy transition for a service-based business. You teach people to do what you do, and for those willing to pay for the service, you offer a done-for-you solution.
Another thing I’d like to point out is that you don’t have to limit yourself to just one stream of income. You can run an e-commerce store, sell a course, and offer coaching. You can create a media company with a membership component and events.
Your business is just that — your business. Put the pieces together however you like. As long as you have a target audience that loves you, you’re able to drive revenue and stay profitable, you’re good.
Moving From Services to Products
Selling services is a natural starting point for new solopreneurs, especially if you’ve been an employee working for someone else. Working with clients is just one step removed from being an employee.
I emphasize this a lot with new solopreneurs. It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking orders and fulfilling requests. After all, that’s what kept you in the black as an employee.
But as a business owner, you’re not an underling. You’re a peer.
Instead of working for your clients, you work with them.
Their success is your success. So you don’t just take orders. You act as a consultant, giving them feedback, guidance, and ideas while helping them reach their goals.
Sure, along the way, they’ll tell you they want six articles, and you’ll fulfill the order. But if an assignment doesn’t make sense, you’ll tell them. You’ll make sure they get six articles that will help them achieve their business goals.
But as we’ve already discussed, you’re going to hit a point at which you can’t grow your business any further. You’re working too many hours. You’d like to increase your earning potential, but you can’t spread yourself any thinner.
Or, you’ve been burned by a few too many bad clients, and you’re ready to diversify your income.
Or maybe you’d like to create an exit strategy and prep your business for acquisition. For that to happen, you need to remove yourself from the business. You need to hire help and create something that’s profitable without you.
To truly grow your business, you need to shift away from selling services. You need to make your own products or create additional income streams.
In all honesty, you should do this anyway.
Even if you love client work, the more income streams you have, the more stable your business is. You can lose your clients and still be profitable. Or one of your income streams can dry up without affecting your revenue.
It makes good business sense to diversify your business. But if it’s something you’ve ever tried to do, you know how hard it is to make that transition.
So let’s look at what it takes to move away from a client-based business.
How to Shift From Services to Selling Your Own Products
Let me begin with a caveat. This transition is very possible. Many people have done it before you, and many are doing it right now.
But it’s not easy.
To restructure your business, or you need to start your new business line on the side, which means working doubly hard while you’re building your new brand.
As in every other area of life, your transition will cost you money or time.
I’m going to assume you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars in the bank to support you while you revamp your business. That means you’ll build your product-based business on the side, while still taking care of clients.
That doesn’t change anything process-wise, but it does mean you’ll have to be patient. You’ll also have to manage your time and priorities, so everything gets done.
Starting new income streams will add work to your to-do list. You’ll feel stretched thin, trying to get everything done. But if all goes well, it will be a short-term investment in yourself.
Just go into it knowing that’s what it takes. If your eyes are wide open, you won’t be surprised.
5 tips for making the shift
In a minute, we’ll review an 8-step process for making the transition to a product-based business. But before we look at the details, let’s quickly review some tips for successfully navigating this transition.
1. Be realistic.
You’ll likely still have clients while you’re building your brand. Be realistic about how far you can stretch your time. Jot down all your great ideas, but focus on low-hanging fruit and activities that will make a big impact. Many of your ideas will need to be put on the back burner until you can work on your new biz full time.
2. Don’t quit when it gets chaotic.
Building a new business or income stream on the side is going to get chaotic. Don’t let that scare you. Don’t try to control the chaos. Instead, embrace it. It means you’re on the right track.
3. Focus on revenue.
It may take some experimentation to figure out what your offers are, how to price them, and who your best buyers are. Be careful that you don’t create a business that’s just as limiting as the one you’re trying to replace. Be careful that you build something you love.
Pay attention to what attracts your target audience. Look for the activities and offers that drive revenue.
4. Integrate the extra work into your routine.
Treat your new business idea as another client. Find a way to streamline the work and integrate it into your existing routine.
Don’t treat this new venture as “extra.” If you do that, it won’t get done. Set goals for yourself. Calendar your deadlines. Hold yourself accountable.
5. Reset your priorities and focus.
Major shifts in the way you run your business will require some changes. Make time to regularly assess what’s working and what’s not, where you’re going and where you want to go. Reset your strategy whenever needed.
For me, a strategic regrouping happens every other week or so. Otherwise, I may veer off track. So check in with yourself to make sure you’re doing the activities that will build the business you envision.
Make sure your priorities are set correctly. You need to focus on the activities that get results.
Make sure you’re not letting work slip through the cracks. Hire help if you need it.
8 Steps to Build Your Own Brand
Okay, so you’re committed to shifting your business. You’re all set to embrace the chaos. You’re ready to move forward. How do you do that?
Here are 8 steps to turn your business idea into a successful income stream that could replace your client work whenever you’re ready to let it go.
Step 1: Refine your idea
Not every idea is worth pursuing. But every idea deserves serious consideration.
Start by figuring out what you want.
- What type of business do you want to run?
- Who do you want to serve?
- Where is your passion?
- Where do you want to make a difference, help people, or bring about change?
Keeping these answers in mind, assess any business idea that comes to mind.
- Can it help you build the type of business you want?
- How much time and money will it take to develop?
- Is it something you’d enjoy doing the rest of your life?
Step 2: Set your strategy
Once you’ve decided on your business idea, you need to map your milestones. In early stages, your ideas may be a bit vague. Just run with what you know.
Start by visualizing the business you’d like to build. Then work backwards from there: What are the milestones you’ll need to reach to build your business?
You can refine this map as you go, but you need to have a rough idea of what you’re building and how you’ll do it.
Once you’ve done that, plan your first few steps. Think about the steps you can take now, while working on your idea part time.
- What’s absolutely necessary to get the business off the ground?
- How will you get these tasks done?
- What’s the timeframe?
Step 3: Test your idea
By now, your strategy feels solid. Now it’s time to share your idea and validate three things:
- Your idea is appealing to your target audience
- People are willing to pay money for your product or solution
- You can generate the income you expect without putting in more time or money than you have
At this stage, you simply need to start talking about your idea. Post your thoughts on social media. Write a blog post. Do a live video. Do an interview. How do people respond?
If no one cares, you might need to revisit your idea. But if they do, you need to validate that people will pay for whatever you’re selling. Create a mini-version of your product, and offer it to your target audience.
Does it sell? People may love the content, idea, or message but not be willing to buy. It’s better to figure that out now, before you invest too much time developing your product.
Step 4: Quick launch
If you’ve had a good reaction to your idea, it’s time to do a quick launch to see if you can start driving revenue right away. There are countless ways to do a quick launch. Here are three that have been proven to work:
Beta launch: Sell access before the product is fully developed. Books can be pre-ordered. Courses can be sold before they’re developed. Tickets to events can be sold before you’ve scheduled your speakers.
Even big brands do this. Here’s a pre-launch sale by Barnes & Nobles:
A beta launch is sometimes offered at a reduced price, because buyers know they’ll have to wait to access the product. You may also ask them to give you feedback so you can improve your product.
Event: Put on an event, such as a seminar, webinar, or digital conference, to introduce your new business to the world in a big way. This is a fantastic way to build excitement and interest. It gives you instant credibility and builds brand loyalty quickly.
Just come up with your idea, put it in the calendar, and start promoting. Make sure you give your customers a great experience, then offer a product or membership at the end of the event.
Invitation-only access to your program or product: You don’t have to do a big launch. You can do an invitation-only launch or ask people to sign up for access. This gives you lots of control over who sees your product. It also allows you to get instant feedback, ideas, and testimonials.
Step 5: Get the word out
Once you’re sure your product will sell, it’s time to announce it to the world. How you do that (and where) depends on the type of business, who your audience is, and where they hang out online.
If you have a tech product, ProductHunt is your friend. If you already have a following, tap into forums, social media, and your email list.
You might also invite some of your beta users to help you spread the word. Offer a commission for each sale they help you make, and you’ll have an army of ambassadors eager to promote your product for you.
Note: At this stage, you need to refine your marketing. Build a funnel. Offer a webinar or other lead magnet to get prospects on your list. Then use email marketing and introductory offers to get them hooked on your message and products.
Step 6: Build awareness
Now it’s just a matter of expanding your reach. Get your offer in front of everyone in your target audience. At this stage, it makes sense to use paid channels as well as organic. Think ads, social media, word of mouth, trials, and reviews.
You should also put yourself in front of as many people as possible. Make appearances on popular blogs and podcasts. Do interviews and write guest posts.
Step 7: Build adoption
By now, your brand is established. You have customers and are hopefully driving some good revenue.
Focus on adoption. One-time buyers aren’t as valuable as loyal customers. So make sure your customers don’t just buy once. Engage them. Help them get results from your product. Make your product a part of their life.
How do you know your product is being adopted?
- Your customers use your terms or branded phrases when they talk about your topic.
- They’re consuming your course and visiting your pages.
- You’re getting repeat purchases.
- You’re getting random or unsolicited comments like, “Wow, I needed this.”
At this stage, focus on how you can boost consumption, build excitement, and improve the customer experience.
Step 8: Build profits
Being profitable is about lowering your overhead and raising your revenue. So focus on refining your marketing and streamlining your workflow. Look for ways to simplify and to get big results with less work.
As soon as you figure out processes, create SOPs (standard operating procedures). This will make it easy for you to repeat your successes. It will also help you hire help when needed. Just give your contractors your step-by-step instructions, and let them take some work off your desk.
Are You Ready to Make the Shift from Selling Services?
Client work can be rewarding. But most solopreneurs ultimately reach a point where they want to grow their business beyond clients. If that’s you, the steps we’ve talked about here will help you make the shift from selling services, exchanging time for money, to making and selling your own products.
Before you get started, though, make sure you love your new business idea. It will take a lot of commitment to grow it into a successful business. And there will be a lot of chaotic moments along the way.
But if you’re willing to put in the work to share your product with the world, you’ll not only remove your dependence on clients, you’ll break the income cap.
Then, it’s up to you how big and how far you’ll take your business.
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