Ready for a spoiler alert? You can’t offer the same freelance services as a million other people and expect to earn a high income. It just ain’t happening, my friends. To stand out and attract high-paying clients, you must have strong positioning and strong offers, or productized services.
In this post I’ll explore the pros and cons of productized services, share real examples from my own six-figure freelance business and others, and walk you step by step through my process for creating valuable offers that your dream clients want and need.
This post is a doozy. If you already know you don’t have time for 3,700+ words of good freelance advice, then download the productized service worksheet and be on your merry way.
What is a productized service?
Some of you may already feel nervous and fidgety about productized freelance services because you’re wondering what strange sorcery I’m talking about. Let me put your mind at ease.
Remember your last oil change? You bought a productized service.
Have you ever had to get a new roof on your house or replace your water heater? Yep. Productized services.
What about the photographer at the cosplay event who charged you $50 to snap shots of your Captain America getup? Her Pepper Potts costume was on point, and she must have made a killing with a super-niche productized service that day.
A productized service is one you package up as a fixed price, fixed scope project with clear deliverables, benefits, and due dates.
By carving off a slice of a nebulous, open-ended offering like photography, content marketing, or website maintenance, you make it more timely, relevant, and enticing to prospective clients.
Instead of touting your many skills and capabilities, you can offer to rid prospects of a specific problem or help them make tangible progress toward a goal. For example, if you were to sell your research and writing skills, you might put this on your website: “I’m very detailed oriented and methodical and use a 33-step process to research blog posts.”
There’s nothing wrong with that sentence except that it is a steaming plate of Meh.
A productized service puts the same freelance skills in more attractive packaging like this:
“Two well-researched, well-edited blog posts each month will help to position you as a thought leader in your industry, bring more organic traffic to your website, and generate new leads.”
How is a productized service different than a regular freelance service?
The services we offer tie into the skills we have. We get into freelancing because we can craft copy, design logos, sling code, snap photos, or coach business owners.
Valuable though skills may be, clients spend more time stewing on their desired outcomes than your skills.
They are much more likely to have thoughts like this: “We can’t keep up with all of these support tickets. The bugs in this software are driving me crazy. Our churn rate simply isn’t acceptable. Aargh!”
They are less likely to walk around thinking: “Woe is me! We have an appalling lack of high-quality code!”
Unlike regular freelance services, a productized service will address specific pain points. For example, a freelance developer could create a fixed price, fixed scope consulting engagement for early-stage SaaS companies that focuses on three main benefits:
- Squash bugs.
- Reduce churn.
- Keep up with support tickets.
Another key difference between regular and productized services is perceived value. While at home, you will not value a glass of tap water. If you were lost in Death Valley, however, a gallon jug of spring water would mean the difference between life and death.
A client with an expensive problem or dire situation will pay more to make the pain go away. Your opportunity as a smartypants freelancer is to create valuable offers for clients in a state of supreme business discomfort.
What are the benefits of selling productized freelance services?
Freelancers start selling productized services for a variety of reasons.
Maybe you’re finally ready to niche down. Maybe you want to avoid being lumped together with freelancers who have less experience or expertise. Maybe you’re ready to truly differentiate yourself and stop competing based on price alone.
Once you start selling productized freelance services, you begin to see many short- and long-term benefits.
Here are some of the ones I have found over my last twelve years as a freelance writer and brand consultant:
- Fixed price, fixed scope projects put you in the position to sell the same project again and again and standardize your process.
- Streamlining fulfillment increases your efficiency without sacrificing quality and reduces your total time investment.
- Standardizing processes and streamlining fulfillment makes it possible to scale. Once you clearly define your process, you can delegate part or all of them to other freelancers.
- Reducing your own time investment increases your “effective” hourly rate. You make more money in less time. Each project ends up being more profitable.
- As profits go up, the ever-present urgency to rustle up your next client, next project, next paycheck, goes down. You must always prioritize marketing and generate new project leads, but you don’t need as many projects to hit your revenue and income goals.
- A smaller number of profitable projects produces brings higher income with less complexity and less anxiety. Managing four projects at a time requires less effort than manage eight or twelve. It’s easier to focus, and fewer tasks fall through the cracks.
- A small menu of freelance “offers” leaves less room for hesitation and second-guessing and thus helps prospective clients to make a choice more quickly. Meanwhile, you waste less time on tire-kicker prospects who liked the idea of buying from you but would have put off making a decision for months—or forever.
- A small menu of core offers makes it easier for you to figure out who your dream clients are, to niche down, and to show up where they hang out online more often. Your marketing efforts become more focused.
- Productized services as the Trojan horse that helps you get your foot in the door, earn trust, and sell higher priced offers later.
Productized freelance services make it easier for clients to buy from you.
Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon, and contrary to what many freelancers believe, a prospect making no decision at all poses a greater threat to your freelance business than the cheap freelance writer willing to work for half of what you charge.
Your imperative is to lead prospects to present a handful of valuable offers and get a clear yes or clear no. Take some cues from Picasso, a Michelin-starred restaurant at Bellagio Las Vegas.
Our waiter gave Megan and me three options:
- Prix fixe menu
- Prix fixe + optional lobster
- Prix fixe + optional lobster + wine pairing
Contrast that highly curated experience with the dazzling array of options at Chinese restaurants. I adore Chinese cuisine, especially from the Sichuan region, so I’m willing to wrangle long menus with barely perceptible differences between entrees. However, endless variety and variation make understanding the menu and picking an entree more difficult.
Most prospects won’t take the time to understand how you’re different than cheap freelancers. Endless variety and variation of your freelance services adds friction to the buying process.
By removing options and simplifying the experience, you position yourself as the accomplished “chef” and lead prospects to a decision point.
Freelancer: “Would you like Branding Package 1 or Branding Package 2?”
Client: “I think I’ll go with Branding Package 1.”
Freelancer: “A fine choice, sir. Would you like to substitute the cold-water lobster tail for the shrimp? Sorry, I meant to say, ‘Would you like to add the brand story exercises and final brand story that I write with you’?”
Client: “How much extra is that?”
Client: “Sure, let’s go for it. You only live once.”
Freelancer: “Indeed, sir.”
What are the drawbacks of selling productized freelance services?
It’s only fair to list some of the drawbacks of selling productized services.
- Some prospects may not have a goal or problem that aligns with one of your offers and may not start a conversation with you.
- No matter how thorough your explanations of scope, some clients will ask for extra work. Scope creep can cause awkward conversations.
- Delivering the same productized services and same projects over and over again can get boring. After all, variety is the spice of life.
- Productized services will not be a good fit for a client with unusual needs. Even if you can convince a prospect to buy a cookie-cutter package, don’t. You would not be truly meeting her needs. Either sell her a custom engagement or refer her elsewhere. Both the client and your reputation will thank you.
- Productized services do not work for clients who need a quick turnaround. Blowing up your trustworthy process and realistic timeline to save a client from his own poor planning backfires.
- Some clients believe 1) their companies and brands are special snowflakes, and thus 2) their needs are unique. Productized services can be a turn off for clients who turn up their noses at services that seem generic even if the promised outcome is exactly what they need.
- Clients who have never worked with a freelancer or agency will require hand holding and reassurance. The pricing and efficient delivery of productized services is the linchpin of their profitability. Thus, the extra time required to educate inexperienced clients, field their questions, and soothe their anxiety and concerns eats away at profit.
How do freelancers create productized services?
The benefits of productized services still outweigh the drawbacks. Let’s go through the steps.
1. Start by drawing two circles labeled “Services” and “Bestsellers.”
In the Services circle write down all of the freelance or consulting services you currently provide or could offer.
Then, in the Bestsellers circle, write down all of the services or specific projects that you sell most often.
You get bonus points if you answer these questions:
- Why do you think those services are the most popular or in demand?
- Which projects do you most enjoy and which ones are annoying (if you’re honest with yourself)?
Some projects are easier to sell than others. Maybe you’re a designer who loves hand lettering, but those projects haven’t come with enough frequency to fully support you. Meanwhile, pumping out Instagram posts is something you can do in your sleep.
Maybe you don’t always love it, but with Instagram’s continued popularity, the work is reliable and tolerable. Design for Instagram can pay your bills while you build your hand lettering portfolio, reputation, and network.
The goal of this step is to gain insight into which of your projects are easiest to sell.
2. Draw a third circle labeled “Profitable.”
Overlay this circle on the first two to create a Venn diagram, and add the projects that pay the best to it.
If you’ve only ever charged hourly, then “profitability” may be a hard cat to catch. Some of you may find it easier to answer this question for the Profitability circle:
- Which projects that are the best candidates for a standardized and streamlined process—that is, better efficiency over time?
For creatives who sell time and creativity, efficiency is a long-lost friend.
By charging a fixed price, increasing efficiency, and reducing the time required to deliver the desired outcome, you bump up what I call your “effective” hourly rate. Your client gets the same or better results, and you make more money in less time. 🙌
That is a winning proposition that you can scale into a satisfying, profitable freelance business.
It’s okay if you don’t know what your effective hourly rate is for certain projects. Just go with your gut for now, and start using a time tracking app for future projects. (My team at Balernum uses Everhour.)
For example, let’s say Sarah the Hand Lettering Queen pivots from charging $50 an hour for Instagram posts to a fixed-price offer—20 static feed posts per month for $750.
Sarah tracks her time. After a couple of months, she has dialed in her Illustrator template, and she can crank out all 20 posts in around 10 hours. By charging a fixed price, she doubled her effective hourly rate from $50 to $100. Score!
Again, the goal with productized services is to increase what you get paid. Every improvement in Sarah’s process and incremental increase in her efficiency further reduces her time invested and bumps up her rate.
3 More Examples of Better Efficiency & Earning More
- A freelance writer gets higher efficiency and higher effective hourly rates from editing blog posts instead of writing them from scratch.
- A marketing strategist makes more in less time by selling more standalone strategy sessions and spending less time in the weeds of implementation.
- A mindset coach downshifts from 1-on-1 sessions to a less expensive (for clients) but more profitable (for her) group coaching model.
3. Make two lists of 1) your favorite clients and 2) the industries you have worked in and look for niches.
Answer this question: “Historically, what popular, enjoyable, profitable projects have my best clients needed?”
Once you have three circles (Services, Bestsellers, Profitability) and two lists (Favorite Clients, Their Industries), you will see where they all overlap.
You’ll know where to focus your marketing efforts. For example, Sarah might start conversations with the owners of 100 salons and spas. They need a lot of Instagram content, and she can deliver it.
4. Sketch out your three packages or offers.
Here’s what the rubber meets the road. You should have enough intell now to assemble three different offers.
Your offer will have multiple pieces:
- Promise. How will you make the client’s life better? What will happen? What will be different afterward?
- Process. How will you lead the client to that destination? What are steps or phases of the journey?
- Outcomes. What tangible results does the client get? Plus, what are the emotional benefits of working with you? Will the client be able to move faster, experience less stress and frustration, waste less money, or make more money?
- Price. What this valuable outcome worth? And what price are you charging based on that value?
Don’t panic if you’re not good yet at charging premium prices. You’ll finalize details and craft the sales copy in Steps 9 and 10.
5. Think through your offers and estimate the time you need to finish all the tasks and deliverables.
List out everything you must to do meet and exceed your clients’ expectations and deliver a positive outcome.
You want an accurate estimate of the TOTAL time you spend on admin and project management, not just the time you using creative skills like writing, design, video production, or coding.
Be sure to account for the following:
- Project setup and prep (e.g., research)
- Project management and client communication
- Admin work like scheduling and answering email
- Meetings and phone calls
- Quality control (extra edits)
6. Calculate your internal hourly rate.
By “internal rate,” I simply mean a private, non-published base number that you use to calculate prices for productized services. Your clients will never know about this internal rate.
A good place to start is multiplying by 1.5 whatever hourly rate you have charged clients most recently. For example, if Sarah charges $50 an hour, then her internal hourly rate for productized services is $75.
Why do I recommend charging 150% for fixed-price, fixed-scope projects? Because the goal of productized services is increasing what you get paid! As long as your clients are happy with the value and outcome, then the amount of time the project takes you is irrelevant.
7. Multiply the total time needed for the project by your internal rate and finalize the price.
Awesome. Now your three core offers or productized services have prices.
If you’re feeling cocky like I usually am, go ahead and round up to a “crunchy” number. For example, if you came up with $245 for well-researched, well-edited, authoritative blog posts for law firms, then round that number up to $300—or better yet, $325.
People are more price sensitive to big increases, such as doubling from $245 to $500 than relatively small increases like $245 to $325. An extra $80 per post won’t be a deal breaker for most prospects, especially if you’re offering two blog posts, not one, and using other benefits and strong copywriting to focus the prospect’s attention on value, not price.
Rounding up puts extra cushion in your pricing. This cushion absorbs the impact of minor scope creep. You won’t mind a 10-minute request here or 15-minute change there.
One reason why I prefer productized services with premium pricing is this: I have plenty of profit built in and can afford to be generous and create an amazing client experience.
8. Double check your price anchoring.
I like to have one entry-level offer that will be accessible to most prospects interested in working with me. The other offers in my product pathway (or up my value ladder) increase in price, scope, and value.
Our freelancer designer friend Sarah might have offers like these:
- $750 for 20 Instagram static feed posts per month
- $1500 for design plus writing captions and managing the account
- $2750 for design, writing, management, audience growth, and a bonus of 2 Insta stories per week
You catch my drift. Some clients will always go for the least expensive option. Some will see the value in the pricier packages and choose those.
Must I even say it? Always give clients the option to give you more of their money!
9. Brainstorm a promise, process, and benefits for each offer.
As a freelancer, you need both high-level positioning and offer-specific messaging. Go read this post I wrote about how to position yourself as a freelancer and raise your rates.
For example, if Sarah decided to target salons for her design and Instagram packages, here are some of the benefits she brings to the table:
- Benefit #1 – Salon owners can show off the talent of their best stylists.
- Benefit #2 – They can use beautiful images to get the attention of followers.
- Benefit #3 – When tagged in photos, existing clients will want to share. This creates more visibility for the salon and attracts new followers and clients.
Sarah’s promise might read like this: “Get top-quality Instagram content, grow your audience, and book new appointments without having to manage everything yourself.”
10. Craft messaging for your three core offers.
Answer these questions to generate the raw content that you can edit and polish:
- What are the deliverables for this productized service? What does the client get? (For example, “15-20 beautiful, high-res, professionally edited photos of real clients from your salon)
- How would you describe that specific offering? (For example, “photo editing for salons using Instagram” or “done-for-you thought leadership articles for startup founders in top publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Inc.” or “simple, effective SEO packages for e-commerce companies”)
- Can you get a testimonial related to this productized service from an existing client? (Note: If you don’t already have it on hand, steal the feedback questionnaire we use at Balernum: https://balernum.typeform.com/to/lwOF5e.)
- Can you anticipate any fears or objections that would-be clients might have?
- What would you say to a new client in that situation?
My friends, that is how you create productized services for your freelance business.
Does it take work? Yes.
Will productized services help you escape the charging hourly trap and make more money in less time? Double yes.
Once you have your menu of 3 valuable offers, you can show up where your dream clients hang out and start conversations.
What are real examples of productized services?
Now, let me share some examples.
Example #1 – ConvertKit Consulting.
My friend Jason Resnick spun up a new brand called NurtureKit. He helps ConvertKit users convert more leads into customers. He productized his done-for-you email funnel build-out service by charging a per diem rate. That’s right, hire Jason, and he dedicates an entire day to setting up and/or optimizing your ConvertKit setup and automations.
Example #2. Video Testimonials for Lawyers
Crisp Video out of Atlanta doesn’t just offer “film production” or even “video testimonials.” They have niched down and kept on niching so that their agency specializes in premium legal video marketing and law firm coaching. One of their products is video testimonials, and judging by their success stories, the narrow focus is paying off, both for Crisp and for their clients.
Example #3 – Brand Development for Consultants & Online Creators
I lead a branding and marketing studio called Balernum, and over the past year we have gone from offering myriad services to serving direct-to-consumer outdoor brands and online creators/entrepreneurs. We have two specific packages: 1) brand development plus launch strategy, and 2) brand development, visual identity, website, and launch strategy.
Outdoor brands and online creators really need to stand out because they operate in highly competitive markets. They must offer more than the functional benefits of their products. They need real brands, and we usher them through a deeply satisfying process that pulls out their key differentiators and helps them tell a powerful story.
Example #4 – Detailed Case Studies That Read like Forbes Articles
Joel Klettke at Case Study Buddy has done an exemplary job at taking a generic service like freelance writing and turning it into a premium productized service. Imagine trying to convinced a writing client to pay $1,980 for 1,256 words. Most freelance writers despair about ever charging $0.50 per word, let alone over $1.50 per word. Yet, that’s exactly what Case Study Buddy does. By changing up the packaging and adding more perceived value with strategy, storytelling, and design, Joel’s team can charge over three times more.
Now it’s your turn to create productized services.
If you made it this far, you’re obviously motivated. You’re ready to stand out from other freelancers with your skillset. You’re ready to level up your business. You can make it easier for yourself by doing four things:
- Download my productized service worksheet.
- Make an appointment with yourself in your calendar.
- Create a rough draft of three new offers.
- Pitch one offer to one prospect within one week.
The rest is just practice and ongoing refinement.
Put in your name and email address below to get the productized service worksheet.