Sometimes it can feel as though everyone but you is making an app, an online course or building a membership site (and totally raking it in). Maybe you’re at a loss as to how you can create something like this for your business. Or maybe those options just aren’t the right fit for you.
There is NOTHING wrong with being a service based business.
There is joy in being part of something bigger.
There is pride in knowing that you were a major factor in someone else’s successful launch.
There is security in knowing your skills will always get you more work.
There is comfort in knowing that you don’t have to be in front of everything.
It’s ok to be behind-the-scenes.
There’s so much pressure in the online entrepreneurial world to be the next big personality. But the truth is those “big personalities” take a LOT of people behind the scenes to make it all work. And the bigger the offer and audience served, the larger the team that’s involved. This year alone I’ve been on virtual teams ranging in size from 6-25 people working on projects that millions of people will see and experience.
Benefits of a being a service-based business working on virtual teams:
Getting new work
This is the NEW kind of networking. I may never get to meet most of the people I work with in-person, but I know how they operate – and I’m happy to share them with other clients who need their services (and vice-versa). We connect each other to our latest interesting projects and bring each other on-board. This networking has led to numerous profitable opportunities that I never would have even considered. I don’t have to go to local meet-ups or conferences in the hopes of finding amazing folks who know their stuff. This doesn’t mean I don’t go to these types of events, but I’m not reliant on meeting folks in outside venues.
One of the greatest benefits of being on a team is learning from other people. I’m a self-taught designer who generally works at home by herself (the dog doesn’t seem too interested in learning how to code). I used to miss the days of my semi-corporate gig where I could shout out to my cubicle mates and ask them how they would approach a problem. Now I’ve got a variety of folks I can instantly reach out to (thank you Slack messaging!) who are more than happy to share their knowledge on anything from what Facebook ads are converting best to new ways of setting up local development servers.
Constantly staying on top of the latest ways to do stuff (with the help of these teammates) has allowed me to stay flexible in my offerings and helped me secure higher paying projects.
You can still choose what you will and won’t do
There will come a time when you CAN’T (and shouldn’t) do everything on a project. The bigger (and more complicated) the project, the more you need to bring in experts. I know my limitations – so I love working with talented folks who can implement my design whims. And tasks like setting up email accounts gives me the hives. Being part of a team means you don’t have to be a “jack or jill” of all trades.
Bigger Projects = Bigger Impact
I rarely do one-off projects these days. I’m much more invested in helping my clients build larger brands. Getting involved in longer-term projects means less hustling for new work. It also means I get to see the direct long-term effects of my work. The older I get, the more I want to be creating work that truly makes an impact on this world – and it can be much easier to see that come to fruition when working on projects that get exposure to thousands or even millions of people.
Why Service-Based Rocks
The quickest route to income is premium client work
If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I love building digital products and courses. And they are a totally valid way of creating income. But it can take time to build the audience needed to sustain real revenue from your own products. That’s why having a high-value 1-1 service based offering can be a solid way of generating income. And it’s a heck of alot easier selling a $10k website than selling 400 ebooks at $25. Plus working 1-1 allows you to create deeper relationships with your core clients, leading to additional opportunities and ways to be compensated.
Working 1-1 helps you identify marketplace needs
Once you’ve been around the block awhile, you’ll start to notice patterns in what your clients are struggling with. For example, when I mentor designers, they often want to create their own website templates to sell to customers that can’t afford their higher-end packages. (Side note to anyone considering this: I rarely recommend creating templates for sale due to the customer support infrastructure needed and low profit margins). Knowing where people are struggling allows you to consider what types of products (or courses/classes) that you could create to serve that audience. In this way, your 1-1 work can support your own product development.
In my own case, I created two website guides (check them out here and here) based on hundreds of conversations. These products in turn led to more clients – people who purchased my lower-priced guides then hired me for premium 1-1 work or consulting sessions.
There’s more than one way to get paid
If you’ve got the skills (and the moxie) you can determine the WAY in which you get paid. Hourly, flat-rate project, retainer, performance based and revenue sharing are all valid ways of getting compensated. Currently I do a mixture of these based on client relationship, type of product being created and long-term potential. Having a healthy and diverse mixture of fee-based client-work, affiliate fees, revenue-sharing and income from my own products supports a sustainable business.
A quick note about revenue-sharing
Rarely talked about in the service world, I’m a big fan of revenue-sharing when it MAKES SENSE. While it may take longer to get initially compensated, the possibility for long-term, semi-passive income is real. That said, I rarely recommend doing work for equity when it comes to start-up companies. I (and a number of my designer friends) have all been burned by this.
I recommend exploring revenue-sharing with clients that have a proven track record with you (and an audience ready and willing to buy their products). Make sure you also have regular access to accounting records so you can verify your compensation.
Don’t ever feel less-than or ever ashamed of running a service-based business.
It is your work that gets things done in the world.
Michelle, great article! You’re bang on when you said “working 1-1 helps you identify marketplace needs.” Soooo true! Love your work Michelle!
Michelle Martello says
Thanks Avraham! Yes, it’s amazing what our peeps tell us they need if we listen 😉
Also the “Skill Sharing” idea is brilliant. I never thought of it like that before. One of the best examples is you Michelle. When I need advice around design or implementation of a site, you’re my go to. Your spidey senses are always right.
Michelle Martello says
Thanks for the support Avraham!! It means the world to me that you respond and read everything 🙂
Ron Clifford says
Oh man, I think you are in my head!! I keep feeling pressure to create content and make something like tutorials or memberships to create a long term income. On the other hand, I am already seeing success in the “Service to others” part of my business. I feel overwhelmed because of what I think I ought to be doing instead of focusing on what I am already having good success with. Yes, I want to create something like a membership site and tutorials and help others reach their potential, but I have to stop giving myself so much pressure about it!! (and yes I still have website shame but I have been busy and profitable so it took the back burner again)
Michelle Martello says
Right there with you Ron! Sometimes when faced with all the possibilities you have to consider what really makes you happy. I’ve personally never wanted a large team to manage – and the bigger the projects / offerings, the bigger team you need to keep it running smoothly. I think there’s a sweet spot for everything.
Tarzan Kay says
You nailed it, Michelle! I’ve done 2 launches this year and holy moly they were crazy intense and stressful! Because I’m just starting out with a small-ish list, they weren’t that much more lucrative than doing client work.
I think a lot of service-based business owners who dream of earning the big bucks with courses forget how much opportunity there is in this space—especially if you’re really talented and can truly support your clients in their product launches. There aren’t that many of us and there are sooo many amazing entrepreneurs that need amazing service!
Michelle Martello says
Phew, two launches already this year? Tell me you booked a vacation! What a lot of people don’t realize is that someone can make 100k+ on a big launch – but they have NO idea the kind of expenses it typically takes to get those numbers (especially if they don’t have a large and warm list). I’m not saying people shouldn’t pursue creating digital products – but you can make a very healthy living doing client work (even better if you can do it for a % of those big course launches!)