EPISODE 133

2 Ways to Combine Online Courses with a Productized Service with Brian Casel from Audience Ops

Today Chris Badgett of LifterLMS discusses 2 ways to combine online courses with a productized service with Brian Casel from Audience Ops in this episode of LMScast. Brian is the creator of Audience Ops, which is a content marketing company, and they have made a name for themselves in the industry with their done-for-you content service.

You can use Audience Ops to have content written for your blog and they will also write email newsletters and social posts to go with the blog. They are also releasing more content marketing tools, such as calendar software and a content marketing training program.

In this episode Chris and Brian really get into how you can provide productized service with online education. Brian learned the concept of productized services through the process of trial and error. He sees the process of moving from consulting to a productized service as a bridge where you use the knowledge you have to move to a product you can sell.

Chris and Brian discuss the difference between a productized service and an agency. A lot of people think of a productized service as a glorified agency, but it isn’t. Agencies will do specialized things for different clients, whereas a productized service uses a standardized and systematic way to offer the same package to all clients.

Having a productized service and a course built around the same content is very valuable. Clients that are willing to pay to have it done for them will have that option. And customers that are starting up and are on a tighter budget will have the option to learn how to do it themselves.

Brian believes a productized service can also come in handy for companies that are not able to pay for the consulting that you may do, but they are willing to pay for the service. They also talk about how having a requirement of a payment for entry helps keep students engaged, because they have invested something other than time into what you are selling.

Chris and Brian talk about constructing a productized service and what goes into that. You will need to take into consideration what you include in your service that customers may face issues with, such as delivery, common questions, and package content that is not as easily delivered through a course.

For something that can’t be delivered as an online course, a set up service could be the way to go. As they discuss, a set up service could range in price and what needs to be done. The set up service does become more active for the employees providing the service, and that is one challenge. Chris likes the software plus set up service combination.

To learn more about Brian Casel you can check out his personal website CasJam.com. And you can visit Audience Ops which is a productized service for creating ongoing content for your site. You can also find him on a podcast called Bootstrapped Web with Jordan Gal.

You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today we have a special guest, Brian Casel from Audience Ops, and many other projects that we’re going to get into in this podcast. Brian’s also an expert in productized services. He teaches how to do it, and he’s done it himself many times and consulted on it, so we’re really going to get into that. And we’re going to get into two ways that you could really think about combining a productized service with online education, with online courses, and a couple of different scenarios to get the gears turning about some different options you might be able to put on the table for your business that you might enjoy, might make your life easier, and might make things a lot more scalable, and your customers happier.
But first, Brian, thanks for coming on the show.
Brian Casel: Hi. Thanks for having me on, Chris. Yeah. Good stuff. Glad to talk to you.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, I’ve seen a lot of your stuff online, and a lot of the messaging starts with the phrase, when you’re done with billable hours, what’s next? I can relate to that. I’ve done a lot of consulting and projects with marketing and developing agency and stuff, but where does the root of that phrase come from?
Brian Casel: Yeah. That’s interesting. I wrote that, I came up with that phrase probably about two years ago, probably around the time I came out with the productized course and really just started thinking about that concept of the productized service. And when you’re done with billable hours, what’s next? That was the mindset that I had in a couple of years prior to that. I had been making a living as a freelance web designer for a few years, and not necessarily billing by the hour, mostly billing by the project, but that’s essentially the same.
You know, you can only take on so many projects, and you’re essentially selling your time for money, and the thought that kept popping into my mind year after year was, how far does this go? You can keep raising your rates, which I did over time, but then even that hits a ceiling at a certain point, so then the next step is, what’s next? Are you going to build an agency? Are you going to hire employees? Or you going to transition into products? And all of these different directions seemed really confusing, challenging, possible, not possible, so it’s just that question of how far can you go by billing by the hour.
And what I learned through trial and error over time is this concept of productized services. That seemed to be the easiest path, or the easiest bridge to go from being a freelance consultant to owning a business and a brand that can actually grow in different directions. I mean, we can get into more specifics about productized services, but I did find that was the bridge that can take me from, hey, I’m Brian Casel, and I do websites to I own a business. It’s called this, and this business does this service, or this product, and we have a team, and it’s a self-sustaining thing, and then eventually that business that, the first one was Restaurant Engine, I was able to build that into something I can sell, and I exited from in 2015. You know, it didn’t require me to run, and then now I’m into the next one, Audience Ops.
Chris Badgett: That’s really cool. Well, just to tie into your story of being done with billable hours, I got there in a sense with building up a web development and design agency. We’re up to about 17 people. Our hourly rate was $200 an hour, and that’s what we would use if we were doing a fixed-price project, in our estimations pretty much. But at the end of those projects, they were often pretty high stress. There was a lot going on. We did some quite large projects, and we’re really at the higher end of the market of a certain type of web development, specifically focused on membership sites and sites that were doing online education.
We kept doing that, and then we made the jump to building our product, which LifterLMS, and for those of you listening who haven’t heard it, if this is your first time, LifterLMS is a WordPress plugin that makes it easy to create, sell, and protect online courses. And then after we got that going, and that’s been going for about three years, and eventually we kind of phased down, took the foot off the gas of the custom client work. The product was really taking off in its own right, and we also added productized service, which I think is probably when I first came across your material online is, I really wanted to make sure I was thinking through a productized service, and how to do it right, and what it’s all about. I’m a big learner-type person, myself, so we created a done-for-you setup service with that.
But that, your messaging resonates with people like me, who is like, okay, I’m kind of done with billable hours. I appreciate the ride. It was a good journey. Some people, I forget who I’m stealing this from, but there’s something called the corner office test. And I was looking around. I did not want to be the CEO of an agency that was, like, 25 deep, 50 deep, 100 deep. I would rather focus my strategy and innovation more on a scalable product or productized service. That seemed much more appealing, exciting, and the more of the type of team I wanted to build and have fun with.
Brian Casel: Yeah, absolutely.
Chris Badgett: Nice job on your messaging, because it definitely hooked me.
Brian Casel: Hey, I mean, those are things that I dealt with for years, myself, too. I knew it. Yeah, like how to grow this thing, how to make it more scalable, and then all those frustrations that come with typical consulting. And don’t get me wrong. I had some clients who were great. I loved working with them, did some really great, big projects over the years. But overall, whether it’s taking days to write a big proposal that doesn’t sell, or going to these client meetings, or getting pushback from clients, or doing 20 different projects in a year, and all of them are completely different from one another, and the idea of hiring people to do those projects with you is so hectic, because everything is different.
That’s the difference between what I consider to be a typical agency and a productized service, because a lot of people get that confused. A lot of people think, “Well, the productized service is just kind of a glorified agency, isn’t it?” And it’s semantics, but I consider them to be pretty different, because agencies do anything and everything for all these different clients. As long as they have the budget to afford the agency, then they’ll do it. But what’s required there, is you need to hire a lot of different people, and a lot of people who can handle putting out fires, and dealing with client requests, and giving clients custom attention.
We do that to a certain extent in Audience Ops today, but it’s in a very systematic and standardized way. We essentially offer the same package to all clients. We deliver it in basically the same way, the same process, the same schedule, the same deliverables. The content, we do blog content, so the content of course is unique, 100% original, tailored for each audience, but the package of how we deliver that and the process for how we create that content is all the same. And that makes it easier to hire people, to put people in specific roles that fall into our process, and to essentially remove myself from the delivery of the service, so that I can focus on those systems. I can focus on marketing. I can focus on building our new products, which we’re doing this year.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome.
Brian Casel: Actually, just listening to your story, though, I followed this pretty similar path. I was doing freelance stuff and then got into doing Restaurant Engine, and I took probably about two years to bootstrap Restaurant Engine and slowly, gradually phase down that freelance work, as needed, you know.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s awesome. I like what you’re saying, like a difference between an agency and a productized service. One way I think about it is, the agency, you got to have a bunch of really smart, adaptable people.
Brian Casel: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Whereas the wait in the productized service is more on the packages and the process. Both create value. They’re just totally different ways of creating value. And that doesn’t meant that if you have an agency, the people are really smart, and there’s no process, and everything’s like the wild west. You still have process, and you know, if you have a productized service, you’re still working with smart people. It’s just, which are you leading with? Are you leading with process and packages, or are you leading with an all-star, adaptable team?
Brian Casel: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: But let’s get into a couple scenarios. Some of the people coming to this podcast are teachers or experts in something, and eventually, one of the things they’re looking for is scale. They’re used to doing one-on-one consulting, or they’re teaching at live events, or in classrooms. They can only get so big and only reach so many people. With online courses, that’s all about, let’s take that experience and put it online, where you have global scale, and put a price tag on it. And yeah, it’s may not be as bespoke and custom as one-on-one consulting, where you’re reacting to every nuance of what’s going on, but you can create an education product and do that at scale.
If someone’s like, “Okay, I’m getting tired of one-on-one consulting. I’m going to create a course, but this productized service thing also sounds interesting.” Where do they start?
Brian Casel: I think that the productized service can be, like I said earlier, like a bridge to go from being a general consultant to having a product that you can sell. And when I say a bridge, I mean, you can take whatever consulting that you’re doing now and find ways to really standardize it, make it more focus, deliver it in the same way with standardized pricing and packages, and that’s a way to basically productize your service. But the benefit of coming out of that, and the way that you take that bridge over to turning it into some sort of course is, you take the methodology that you use in your consulting, whether it’s the same advice that you’re giving to clients again and again, the way that you answer the common questions, and all that data, all that knowledge, and all that expertise that you’re building up, and that you’ve really refined through your consulting, that’s what essentially goes into the course.
And when I say finding focus and standardizing down your service, it’s not only in terms of what you’re doing, how long you’re doing it, but it’s also who you’re doing it for. A lot of consultants just work with anybody and everybody who comes through their door, and they’re ready to work with you. But you know, through that process of building a package and a price, and a price tag and a value proposition, the other really important side of that is, who is that for? Who does it resonate with? Who resonates with the specific problem that you’re solving, and once you can identify that, that’s for, it really leads you down the path to say, “Okay, now I really know what that specific pain point is, and that’s something that I can build a course around, or a software product, or something.”
Chris Badgett: Something I’ve noticed just in having a consulting service, a productized service, and a product is that, sometimes the audiences are little different at the different points. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Or sometimes maybe it’s, they’re just on a different part of the customer life cycle, or buyer’s journey, or whatever. What would you have to say to that?
Brian Casel: Yeah, that’s something that we found with Audience Ops, and that’s why this year we’re going almost in our third year of Audience Ops, and now we’re transitioning into really just expanding our product line for that reason is, we found that there are different segments. The done-for-you service, our content service, basically that’s how we started, that’s how we launched the business, that’s what has made it self-fund and grow itself and help us establish ourselves. But now that we have established ourselves, now the done-for-you service becomes the high end, and we’re going to be coming out with a software product called Audience Ops Calendar, and a training product of course, as well, which is also about training on content marketing.
What I found through the done-for-you service is, most of our clients see it as a really good value. The pricing that we have set up for content, actually, it’s cheaper than hiring a full-time writer for your business. It’s more efficient, more cost effective than having the founders do all the writing themselves. They see the value proposition there, and they’re usually established businesses who’ve been around a couple of years, and they’re ready to invest in having the content done for them.
But we also found that there was a smaller segment of our customer base who, maybe they’re bootstrap startups, tighter budgets, and they’re looking for an entry point to start doing content marketing. That’s where this course is going to come in. And then the software, Audience Ops Calendar, could also fit that group, but it’s really aimed at people who are doing content marketing, or managing a content calendar for your business, or for your clients. If you’re doing kind of what we’re doing with content marketing for our clients, the Audience Ops Calendar product will be aimed at managing a content calendar, streamlining the process with your team, but it also has some analytics built in, so you can measure performance of your content, and see it all right on the calendar.
Essentially, in the next couple of months as these new products roll out, we’ll be able to keep having the high-end, done-for-you content service, and then options for do-it-yourself stuff, like the software or a training product that you can get into. And the other thing is that, we’re using the training product as an entry point into the done-for-you service as well. The course, you could apply that credit towards the first month of the content service. Clients of the content service, we’re using our software for them, so they get access to the software too. The three products kind of work hand-in-hand. We’re still a content marketing company. We’re not doing all these different things, but we’re just breaking it up into different segments of the same audience.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. One of the big takeaways there, if you’re listening, and you’re a highly paid consultant who’s relying on your smarts, and in the moment that adaptability is, there are more clients out there. There are other segments. There are other adjacent markets that maybe can’t afford your high-end consulting but would fit perfectly in your productized service.
Brian Casel: Yeah, and the thing that I want to stress here is that, it sounds like we’re doing a lot, and right now we are doing a lot. Soon we’re going to have three products sold through our sites, so that’s doing a lot. And I’ve developers. I’ve got writers. Got managers. We have a lot to manage right now. I would never suggest to do all this stuff right out of the gate. That would not have been possible. Two years ago when I was starting up Audience Ops, I looked at building a SaaS right from the get-go, a software-as-a-service product. And the economics just did not make sense. Investing all that time and money into hiring developers, and it would take almost a year to build the software. We would have no audience of our own. It just didn’t make sense. Instead, I only started with the productized service. That was profitable and self sustaining, and self funded the growth of the company, and now two years in, now we’re able to take these steps to expand. Again, that’s why I see the productized service as that bridge.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, and it doesn’t all have to happen at once, and if you’re consulting right now and thinking about doing a productized service, it starts with just creating an offer. Put that in writing, make a sales page or an opt-in page about it, and really the act of creating that is going to force you to really isolate, what is it that you provide the most value at, and what can you go to process around, and it’s just a great exercise to do, even if you don’t launch it, just to clarify your thinking in what makes your offer so good.
Brian Casel: Yeah. The way that I like to think about it is how to come up with a really valuable offer. You’ve been a consultant. You’ve been freelancing, and typically what happens is clients come to you, and they say, “All right. I need a new website,” or whatever it is they come to you for. “I want this, and how much time will it take? How much does it cost?”
If you flip it on its head, what if you had an opportunity where a potential client came to you and said, “Well, I don’t really know what we need. We’ve got some money to spend. You tell us. What do you think is your best recommendation for what we need based on where we’re at right now?” It’s your opportunity to design the best possible solution, the best packages of services that you know will really drive home results for this clients. What would be included? What would you include in a service like that? How would you deliver it?
It’s like the dream for any consultant, to not be dictated to what they want, but actually they use their expertise and recommend what they believe the client should have. That’s what forming a value proposition for a productized service is all about.
Chris Badgett: Very well said. And once you start doing this, you’ll see all around you, there’s packages everywhere. If you go look for a car, there’s three versions of it. If you’re looking at some sort of vacation package, there’s different versions of it.
Brian Casel: Exactly.
Chris Badgett: Packages are everywhere. Not every car company says, “Okay, well what sort of steering wheel would you like,” or “Tell me all the pieces of the car you would like.”
Speaking of segments and different types of markets and people, some of the people listening to this episode in software companies or some kind of product business, and they’re not consultants. They’re not trying to necessarily create courses as another revenue stream, but they’re rather doing it to educate their customers, both for marketing purposes and also for onboarding purposes, to reduce churn, and you can really actually use the same course for that. But one of the things I’ve noticed is, a lot of times with a particular software product, it’s another company that ends up building a productized service around it, but if I have a software company, and I also want to build a productized service, like a setup service, what’s your advice to that person?
Brian Casel: First, I think it’s a good idea, and I think not software businesses are open to that idea of opening a service. A lot of software product businesses are, “We got in this thing to build software, not to provide services,” right? But I think that there’s a big opportunity there, and it’s a way to really add a lot of value and increase loyalty for your products. There’s so many benefits to this.
Because if you think about it, if you have a software tool, let’s say it’s an analytics tool or something like that, that only solves half the problem. The other half of the problem is actually implementing the tool, setting it up, configuring it for your business, and actually getting the value out of it. There’s really two side to that coin there.
There will always be the customers who are do-it-yourself. They don’t need the hand holding. They just want to set it up themselves. That’s great, you know. Hands off. But if you can offer some sort of done-for-you setup service, consulting service, a coaching. There’s coaching for success out there that’s kind of like included customer support, but you can go above and beyond, where it’s like concierge onboarding, or even monthly strategy sessions with your customers.
There are a lot of different ways that you can go with this, but what I found, the way that I really came across this was with Restaurant Engine a few years back, my previous company. Originally, when I started it, I thought it would be a website builder for restaurants, and restaurant owners would just come to the site, sign up, create their own website using our system that we give them, and they would onboard themselves. That was the idea from the outset.
We built all the software automation to set up their sites automatically, and all these customization options, all this stuff built in. And then, during that first year, what I learned was, they just need it done for them, and if we offer that as a service. First we offered it for free, like, “Hey, we’ll set up your website for you. Just get onboard with the service.” And that was good for a little while, and then we started charging for it. You know, $99 setups and then $200 setups. I don’t know what they’re charging now, but what I found then was, once I started for that setup service … Oh, and then eventually we made it required, so all customers had to pay for the setup service.
What I learned was, yes, it definitely decreases the number of new signups, obviously. You’re asking for an upfront payment. That’s always going to decrease your number of signups. But the people who sign up are, a) 95% more likely to complete the setup and get onboarded into the subscription service, and b) also way more likely to stay onboard for a long period of time and not churn out, because they invested in some sort of initial setup service. They invested their time and energy and money into it, so the likelihood of them switching away is much reduced.
I think it definitely pays, and you know, since it’s a software, it’s a very standard operation. Again, it’s not totally custom services different for every client. It’s setting up your software that you designed in the best way that you know how. You can just train your team to do that in a very streamlined, efficient way, so at the end of the day, it doesn’t really cost you a whole lot to offer that service. I just think that combination of software plus service, or courses plus service, or coaching, I love that combo.
Chris Badgett: What about productized services, like with us, we have a done-for-you setup service for your learning platform site, but we’re not really going after recurring revenue. It’s not like it’s a productized service that goes on and on and on, and just continually adds value. It’s more of this investment that gets you over a hump, like you’re talking about, like these are the people who are going to succeed because they’re not going to get bogged down in the technology that’s going to get launched. They’re going to be ready to roll.
But we’re not really going after ongoing stuff. What are the pros and cons, or how do we even think it? Should we, if we do a productized service, think recurring revenue, or one-time white-glove, like, “Okay, I’ll take the TV from Best Buy, and I’ll set it up in your house for you, and then we’re done.”
Brian Casel: Well, you know, there’s no doubt about it that recurring revenue is a more attractive biz model. It grows over time. Every month you’re not starting from zero again, and you’re growing. That’s always great, and I tended to seek our business models that are a recurring model, but I don’t every business has to be in the recurring mode, and certainly not productized services. I’ve sold, and I do sell, products that are one-time, like my productized course is a one-time sale, and it comes with an option for a one-time coaching session. That’s a very simple one-hour productized service that I sell, basically.
And I’ve seen other productized services work really well. I saw one a while back that’s like, “Landing Page in a Day.”
Chris Badgett: Oh, cool.
Brian Casel: It’s like you book your day on the calendar. You pay a thousand bucks, and he’ll design and write the copy for a landing page on your site, and he’ll spend that one day working with you, giving you the revisions, and then the day’s over, and that’s it. And so, that’s a really great way, especially if you’re solo, and you plan to stay solo, and you don’t really want to grow the team. That’s actually a pretty good model to standardize your service, eliminate all that stress that comes with putting out of the fires of being a freelancer doing a thousand different things, and just doing one thing in a very standard way. You get to focus on your craft that love doing, and you work with one customer segment who you really love to work with, and just schedule it out, price it at a point where you know makes sense for your lifestyle, and that’s a great little business right there.
And you know, the other thing that I’ve come across a lot is, as I said, recurring revenue is a really attractive model, but I think too many people try to fit their business into a recurring model when it just doesn’t fit.
Chris Badgett: There has to be a recurring value, right?
Brian Casel: There has to be recurring value. You have to be solving a problem that repeats itself on a monthly basis. If it’s designing a website, maybe it takes a couple of months, but once that is done and launched, yeah, there’s a little bit of maintenance, and that can be an ongoing service, but the cost of designing and building a website is not the same as maintaining it over time.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. One of the things I’ve noticed sometimes is some fear around, if I switch, it just seems like it’s not possible from high-end consultant, the value is me, and I can come into a room, and I can do all this stuff, and I have these high-end engineers around me, and I can figure it out. What’s your advice for helping someone either personally or with their team to transition, change the mindset, because it seems like it’s a true mindset. There’s a lot of inner work that you’ve got to do to do this stuff.
Brian Casel: I guess first of all, you don’t have to change overnight. You can phase one in and phase one out over time, or you can just keep a balance for a long time. A lot of people do that too. You can kind of experiment with offering a productized offer that’s like a sidebar, or only when it makes sense for a particular type of client, you can offer that. Otherwise, you’re doing your custom consulting. That’s totally fine for a while.
The other thing that I encourage people to wrap their heads around is that, as talented and as much of an expert as you are, that doesn’t mean that other people are not just as smart and talented and experienced as you are, and you can bring that talent into your team. And your offer and your business does not have to have your name on it.
For example, Audience Ops right now, we hire exceptionally talented writers, and we have a very high bar in order to be hired as a writer at Audience Ops. Right now we’re hiring a writer, and we’re sifting through hundreds of applications, and so, you know we have really talented, smart, capable writers, and we’ve just defined a very specific creative process that our writers follow. And so at the end of the day, our clients are receiving … And frankly our writers are much better writers than I am. Our clients would not receive the same value if I were the one writing their articles than they would our writers, and our editors, and our designers all working on it.
I think that’s the way that you need to start to think about it, if you’re on that fence.
Chris Badgett: For the people out there that haven’t really seen Audience Ops yet, what’s the quick elevator pitch of what it is?
Brian Casel: Yeah. Audience Ops is a content marketing company. As I said, we’ve made the name for ourselves with our done-for-you content service, where we write the content for your blog, and we also write email newsletters and social posts to go with that, and we’ve designed a whole package around that. Now we’re also releasing content marketing tools, like the calendar software and a content marketing training program, as well.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Ever since we last talked, I’ve been thinking about software with a service with education, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there. Even if you’re not a software company. Let’s say you do high-end consulting for setting up Infusionsoft or Active Campaign or Drip, you know, marketing funnels, and you go into a business, and people pay you lots of money, and you deconstruct everything, and you’re doing high-end consulting, and maybe you have a team around you. But even if you don’t own Infusionsoft or Active Campaign or Drip, or whatever, there’s an opportunity there for a consultant to create a productized service around it, and also create education. Nothing sharpens the saw and makes you even better than trying to teach what you do to somebody else.
Brian Casel: Yeah, that’s so true. My mother actually taught me that. She was a long-time teacher. She taught college level. She doesn’t do it anymore, but she used to teach computer programs, word processing, and Microsoft Office, and that kind of stuff to college people and also professionals. She did corporate training. And it’s true. She taught me that you don’t really learn a thing until you have to form it into a lesson and really get it across to somebody else who depends on them learning it for their job or to get ahead.
You know, the other thing, and going back to that last question about, if you’re the expert, how do you productize that and get other team members on board? I mean, you can use your expertise to design the best system and solution. For example, we do some stuff with Drip automation, with the email sequences and stuff that we set up for clients, a lot of that was built out of my experience working with Drip, and so I built the strategy, and then I’ve just formed it into a process, and then I hired people who can use our template and implement it. And there are plenty of different ways you can do that in different businesses, so rather than using your personal expertise to be the person in the room talking to the client, you can be the person behind the scenes, to design the solution, and then hire people to put into the roles to execute it.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s awesome. I used to do some of our productized deliveries, and I would just carry it around in my head, and I sat down with our product manager, and I was like, “All right. We’re going to build a process here.” And then, she’s been doing a lot of them, and it’s going famously. And she’s improving the process as it goes, which is another important thing.
Brian Casel: Oh, totally.
Chris Badgett: With courses and with productized services, you’ve got to have a feedback loop. It’s important not to automate everything and totally remove any kind of listening, because there’s so much room for improvement, and sometimes one little tweak, you might uncover a lot more value.
Brian Casel: So, so true. We’re two years into our done-for-you content service, and this month we’re overhauling a lot of our processes, and we’re always doing that. Kat is a member of our team who helps out with the processes, and we’re just going through it. We’re changing some of the strategies based on feedback, based on what we see drives better results, and now we’re slowly tweaking the processes, and getting each member of the team onboard with, all right, here’s how we used to do it. Here’s how we’re going to do it going forward. There’s a constant refinement of the processes, for sure, so important.
And you know, also that, as your team starts to grow. Early on, I was the one who created all the initial setup processes. But then as the team starts to grow, I become more and more removed, and so then I actually rely on the team to either tell me what’s happening on the ground. Where can these things be improved? What are some shortcuts that we can build in? And now, it’s gotten to the point where a lot of the new processes and things, the team is actually writing, and I just look at it, and I’ll review and coach them on how to do it.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, I know the listener is thinking, “Well, how do I actually create processes?” And I’ll just share my way is, I usually start loose and more creative with mind maps and just make sure I get the brain dump. And then, ultimately, I try to end up in a spreadsheet, or a Trello board, or something like Asana, where it’s like, okay we got it. Here it is. This is step by step. But it definitely, I don’t start with something like Trello, or a project management software tool. I need to make sure I get every opportunity to get all of the ideas out of the right brain, or the creative side of the brain, or whatever. All that stuff that’s locked in the consultant’s head that you, some of it goes down to the subconscious, and you’re just operating on auto pilot, but you got to bubble that stuff up before we can build a process around it.
But how do you capture processes?
Brian Casel: Yeah. Pretty similar to you. Almost everything I do, whether it’s processes or just planning a new initiative, whatever it is, I try to do a brain dump into my notepad. I do that a lot. And then, I kind of process it all and build it into something. We use Google Docs to keep track of all of our processes, and then once spreadsheet to catalog them.
In terms of creating a process, if you’re going from a point where you’ve been doing a lot of stuff, and you have no processes documented, what I would recommend is just start simple. Start with the low-hanging fruit, which are the things that you find yourself doing repeatedly, on a weekly basis. The big projects that you do maybe once in a while, totally custom, it doesn’t really make sense to document that, because you’re probably only doing that once. But the recurring things like, I don’t know, sending an invoice to a client, or doing QA on a website … I just come from the web design world, so these are the examples that I know … but editing an article, editing something that you’ve written, that has a process that’s repeatable. And so, start simple. Just jot down some of the high-level bullet points, like I’d step by step, how am I doing this today? You don’t have to get into all the details, just kind of step by step. And then next week, when you’re doing it again, go back to that same process and maybe fill in a few more details. And then, keep filling in more and more detail. Maybe include screenshots. Include whatever you think would be helpful.
My whole goal, really, in managing my team is, how can I make their jobs as easy as possible? I want them to feel like, “Wow, everything is just handed to me on a silver platter. All I need to do is show up and follow the process and do what I’m great at.” That’s the feedback that I get from the team is, I just try to make their jobs as easy as possible. If you’re new to this, think about it like, if somebody else were to do the thing that you’re doing today, what would they need in order to execute it in the same way that you’re doing it? They would need some instructions, so try to see it from their eyes, a new person coming in, and get to a level of detail that can get there.
Chris Badgett: And that, ladies and gentleman, is another example of how a productized service is different from an agency. An agency would take that fire and pass it to somebody on their team.
Brian Casel: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: A productized service, would they like, “Hold on. Let’s take a moment, and let’s build a process around this.” It’s still going to involve people, but you’re going to put the fire out with process, not people.
Brian Casel: And that’s another great point, and this comes up again and again over the last couple years with Audience Ops. Same thing back with Restaurant Engine. As these fires come up, but fires will still come up. A client will have some edge-case scenario where it’s like, “All right, well how do we handle this? They have some special requests.”
I always stress with me team, don’t just say yes to the special request right off the bat. Sometimes we will accommodate it in some way, but first bring it to the team. Let’s look at it. Let’s see if it’s something we can work into our process for all of our clients, not just for that one special case. And if it is, if it would benefit all clients, if it makes sense, then we’ll tell the client, “All right. You know, sounds good. We’re going to take a few weeks. We’re going to work out a process for this, and then we’ll roll it in.” And try to find a way to deliver it in a standard way, rather than just saying, “Yes. Sure. Yeah, we’ll do that. We’ll do this.”
And then in some cases, when it’s just something outside the scope of what we would do, and it just doesn’t make sense, then we’ll say, “No. It’s not something that’s included, but here’s some resources that might help you out.”
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s awesome. We do that at Lifter LMS too. Now, if it’s starting to drift into custom-land, we have basically a referral of trusted agencies that we can refer people to, and it feels good to do that, to have gotten to that point.
Brian Casel: Yeah, totally.
Chris Badgett: Well, Brian, I want to thank you for coming on the show, and I’m going to try to list some of your stuff off, but at the end, fill in what I’ve missed.
You can find out more about Brian Casel at his personal website, CasJam.com. He’s also the creator of Audience Ops, which is a productized service for creating ongoing content for your site, which I encourage you to check out, especially if you’re an online course creator, a membership site owner. We spend so much time focused on the content that’s locked down inside your online course, or in your membership site, that it’s easy to forget about the blog, and you know, you should be creating some content to start attracting new leads as part of your content marketing or your inbound marketing strategy. I highly recommend you check out Audience Ops. And Brian’s course on productized services is located at CasJam.com/Productized.
Where else can people find you on the web, Brian?
Brian Casel: Yeah. I mean, you pretty much nailed it. The other thing is, I cohost a podcast called Bootstrapped Web with my buddy, Jordan Gal, and we’re just coming off a real hiatus on that, but we’ll be recording tomorrow. But we’re just talking week to week, updates behind the scenes, what we’re working on in our respective businesses, so that’s kind of fun. And yeah, like you said, CasJam.com, that’s my personal site. You’ll find stuff about productized services there. And AudienceOps.com.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thank you for coming on the show.
Brian Casel: Thanks, Chris.