Scale Your Design Business – An interview with Greg Hickman

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Most designers work 1-on-1 with clients on custom projects based on their requirements. This means every new project is like starting from scratch… new proposals, contracts, emails and design work – most of which can never be used again since it’s tailored to that one client.

For most that approach is fine, but if you want to build a business that’s both profitable and scalable, there’s a better way. To grow your design business, you need to implement productised services using predictable systems. But how? On this weeks episode, Ian interviews Greg Hickman to find out.

Greg Hickman is the founder of AltAgency, a business helping agency owners, freelancers and service providers grow and scale their business without working nights and weekends.

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Greg Hickman Interview Transcription

 

Ian Paget: You teach agency owners and designers how to productise and scale their businesses using predictable systems. To give some background to this, what’s the problem with serving each client differently based on their personal requirements?

 

Greg Hickman: So it’s a little bit of a loaded question, but in a general sense, as the story unfolds as I’ve seen talking to other agency owners. Starting from scratch on every project becomes cumbersome and really, really laborious. That means it takes longer to fulfil and get each client what it is that they need, and what they came to you for. Usually the result, the reason that this happens is that traditional agencies, as I’ll call it for the sake of the conversation, are offering just too wide of services. Oftentimes in their proposal client getting sales process, the client is actually dictating which of those services they want, and which combination from the service menu. When you are trying to fulfil on that as especially an agency in the early days, you typically don’t have all those resources to do those things.

So you’re pulling in different experts or contractors, and freelancers and consultants or whatever to make an ad hoc solution for this person. Almost all of which won’t be able to be utilised for the next client. So you start over from scratch. So what I see happening is people that do that will try to create an SOP or a document that will make it easier the next time. But the frequency in which they even use those SOPs or systems to streamline the delivery of that thing is few and far between, because the deliverable for every client is different.

So they actually add more to their plate by creating a documentation for something that they don’t use frequently enough, to benefit from having it in the first place. So it turns into this cycle of well, everything’s manual. I’m always getting clients based on referral, because what you’re selling is unique to every single client. It’s hard for someone to give a referral when they’re like, “Well, Greg did this for me.” But then someone else’s like, “Well Greg did this other thing for me.”

It really creates a challenge in automating lead generation, acquisition, referrals, things like that that can be scaled. So what I’ve seen is it’s a great way to get started doing the work for a variety of people, but the sooner that you can narrow down on who it is you are serving and take that combination of skill sets to solve a specific problem via a specific solution, you’ll be able to grow a whole lot faster and work a whole lot less while doing it. If that makes sense.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, it does. I mean, personally with what I’ve been doing with my logo design services, because it was on the side of a full time job without even realising I did create a productised service, but where I’m falling down the rabbit hole now. So with things like logo design, I’ve got template, emails template, quotes template. Everything is templated and people go through this flow, but at the beginning of our conversation I mentioned that in a couple of weeks time I will be going full time.

I’m already seeing myself going down that rabbit hole of taking on more work and each specific client, one project might be an illustration of a map, another one might be a website. I’m already seeing the problems that you mentioned where for each of those clients, even though financially it’s worth it. For me, what I’m creating is just one off and it will never be used again.

In any event that I did do all of that work, there is a high risk that some of those clients might not pay. I can see if I did this more and more I’m just going to start drowning in trying to create different things for different people. So I can absolutely see the real value of productising.

 

Greg Hickman: Yeah. So I think, well first of all, being the Logo Geek I mean I’d like to assume that you’ve read Built to Sell?

 

Ian Paget: I have. Yes.

 

Greg Hickman: Okay. So I think there’s something interesting for those of you that haven’t read the book, I think you should. It’s about a creative agency that really narrow down and productise their service into just logo creation. In our journey, from going from what I call a generalist service provider, which is what we talked to from the beginning, the traditional do everything for everybody wide range of services, but not much depth.

You’re getting hired more cases for your time and your obvious your body, hands-to-keyboard as I usually call it versus like… so even with Built to Sell, they productise their service. I think one of the things that commonly comes up in this conversation of productising is, well how do you productise something that still has a lot of customisation. As you’re alluding to, there are a lot of things that you can do and just like they talk about in that book that the productisation, so to speak, and really in that book it’s the systemisation of the process in which they create the logos.

How do they sell logos? Once they get a project, what’s the step-by-step process that they move through to get them to the beautiful logo that’s approved at the end of the journey, at the end of the project? But obviously that logo is unique every time and there’s customisation, and creativity that goes into that. So in that regard, I think that type of business, there are just some types of businesses where there’s only so much productisation that you can do before you reach the… You’ve raised the ceiling, so to speak, on your capacity, but you’re still going to run into the issue of well, if in order for us to serve like five or 10 more clients every month, I need X more designers that can do logos following my process.

Now them going through your process, they probably should be able to churn out more logos per month then with no process, which is kind of the goal, increase capacity, increase number of clients.

But again, even with that level, you’re going to reach a point where it’s going to become a well in order to take on X more clients, I need X more people. So what we found is that this is where our notion of the hybrid agency really started to evolve, and productised services is a progression in this journey. You also have the opportunity to add on, and this is really what we’ve been doing with a lot of our clients.

Adding on a online program that ultimately delivers the exact same results as the service that you were doing done-for-you one-on-one, but in a done-with-you one-to-many format. Call it for the sake of terms like group coaching, high ticket consulting where it’s a program with a set deliverable with a fixed turnaround time. There’s a lot of opportunity for agencies to add a revenue stream like that to their business that really doesn’t have that, share that same cap, that ceiling that you do with productised services.

Yes, you’ll need to obviously use team to grow, but in our program, for example, whether I have one client or I have 50 clients, my fulfilment and my team’s fulfilment is roughly two to five hours a week whether it’s one client or 50. It’s not per client, it’s two to five per week whether I have one or 50. That’s a whole lot more scalable even than a productised service. So I’m just trying to draw the line that there is a progression as you want to keep growing.

Productisation to me is selling and delivering a service like a product, production line. Again with some things like logo creation, there’s still going to be a cap. You’re not going to be able to, I mean I say you’re not going to be able to. You theoretically could do a done-with-you logo. The problem is most people aren’t going to do that. I think I’m a realist in that regard, that not every type of agency or creative service is going to be able to fully get to the done with you.

However, if you started serving other designers on how to just productise a logo creation service, now you become the teacher teaching other creators, which is going to be infinitely more scalable because that could be a coaching model. So it’s almost like an intrapreneur opportunity within your own business. Like you’re launching a new business inside your existing business. So there’s really, again, it’s two different ways to get there. Sometimes you just have to go through that productisation of your service before you can even be positioned to launch, say like a group coaching program. Does that make sense?

 

Ian Paget: It’s interesting, because I know we spoke about these different levels. Firstly, I want to say that Built to Sell book, I listened to the audio version only a couple of months ago. I’ve also listened to the E-Myth Revisited.

 

Greg Hickman: Also a good book.

 

Ian Paget: There’s some similar overlaps to everything that you’re speaking about now. I think like when we’re talking about scale here so that listeners understand what Greg’s talking through is creating systems and processes so that even as a single person, you could indefinitely scale your income. It would go from at the beginning, maxing yourself out in terms of how many logos you could do to building a team.

There’s a cap to anything like that, but product services training, the one-to-many model that you mentioned, which you go through in more detail in your training course, which are I’ll link you in the show notes. I can totally understand how that is absolutely indefinitely scalable, because you can add more people to that thing without doing any more work.

 

Greg Hickman: Right, exactly.

 

Ian Paget: So in terms of productising, I’m sure there’ll be people listening to this that could be offering potential products. How do you go about working out all there is?

 

Greg Hickman: Yeah, so great question. We developed our own process, we call it creating the signature service. We have a whole workbook on it, so obviously I won’t be able to show the workbook in this conversation, but really what we’re looking at is instead of selling services like most, we’ll say most agencies are selling them, you want to start thinking about well, what is the problem that my client has, my prospect has and what is the solution to getting them the result that they want?

When I talk to most agency owners and I’m like, “What do you sell?” They really can’t answer that question because it depends on what the client wants, and fundamentally that’s the problem. So if I get a client that’s my ideal client, my solution for them is 90% already done before they ever even became a client, because I already know the problem that I solve for my ideal client and I only serve my ideal client. So the problem is predefined.

So I know my clients so well that I know exactly what problems and pains that they have. So I only design my solution around solving those problems and eliminating that pain, which means I don’t need to be good at every type of marketing service or creative service. I need to be good at only the things that will solve that problem.

So I package that up and I deliver it to a client, or I take a client through it in a step-by-step process that is repeatable that I would take any single client ever through the exact same process to achieve that result. So I always like the analogy of, it’s not necessarily an analogy, but like if you draw a line, straight line left to right and on one side you draw a circle and on the other side you draw another circle. On the left side, you write ‘From’. On the right side of this, the right circle you write ‘To’.

I like to think about what is my ideal prospect or client trying to escape from? What is the problem in their life or the pain in their business that they are trying to escape from, and where are they arriving to when that problem is fixed? So you really start to look at the delivery of your service as a transformation that you are creating a specific end to end result.

Someone has X problem and once you do Y, they end up with Z. Now you just need to find more clients with the same problem and you take them through the same process, and they’ll achieve the same result and you do that over and over and over.

That’s really the starting path. So we have our clients identify hey, what is the real problem you’re solving? This is a very ugly process for a lot of agency owners, believe me. They go through a lot of iteration on this because oftentimes, they don’t know because again, the client told them we want X, Y, Z. Can you create it?

They’re like, “Yeah.” They’re like, “Well, can you do it for less?” You still say yeah. It’s like this back and forth of like here’s my service menu. You can cherry-pick which items you want. That’s really like they’re just going to continue to use you if they do, because it’s cost effective.

At some point, you will be viewed as labor and over time, labor decreases in value. So this is why you see people say, “I want to bring an in-house, or we found someone that can do this cheaper.” Like I haven’t met an agency owner that has been established for a little while that hasn’t at least heard that once.

So first we’re like all right, well what’s the problem they’re escaping from and what’s the destination? What’s the arrival that they want to arrive at? Okay, now we’re clear on that. What would you do with them or for them to get them from what they’re escaping to arriving?

How do you get them from A to B? That might be five steps. That might be nine steps, that might be 12 steps, what have you. But we have them basically write it all out into a workbook. Then we organise those steps into buckets so to speak, because usually when you get into your granular step-by-step process of solving a problem, there’s a lot of things that you can say like hey, this is in the same category of the other thing. So let’s put them in the same bucket so to speak.

So we organise them so that all of the steps are in the same family, in the same call it phase if you will. Then we make sure the phases are in sequential order, and that gives us a roadmap to really start to identify what training can I create to help alleviate some of my fulfilment? What templates or resources or SOPs do I need to create in order to make that step of the process more seamless, or have someone else even do it for me? Like what would they need?

The high level process is to identify where they’re escaping from, where they want to go to. Map out all the steps, organise the steps into phases. Then you have usually I’d say like a three to five phased approach that is how you solve your client’s problem. Does that make sense?

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, it does. I can see that with this, you’re creating a step-by-step process that you’ll run every client through every time, and it allows you to work much more effectively. I’m quite familiar with this myself as I use processes already for my logo design projects, but I know that if you’re used to serving each client differently, which I’m sure some listeners do, I’d imagine that they could be concerned that running every client through the same process every time would feel like they’re not properly serving their client. How can you make sure that you’re serving your clients properly when you are running through the same predictable process each time?

 

Greg Hickman: Yes, I mean I would ask another question. If the process you designed to get them that result isn’t properly serving them, you need to fix your process.

Just because you have a process in getting them to the result, doesn’t mean they should be getting serviced any less. Also define what does “service less” mean. I think this honestly, and I’m not trying to dance around your question, but I think the reality is that most service providers, agency owners, they can’t in their own mind see how this would be possible.

So they resort back to thinking how it has to be done right now, and that whole mindset shift needs to change, because a story comes to my mind that would make this a lot better. I was in a room, I was actually getting coached. I was at a coaching workshop, call it. Someone asked a question, because the conversation that I parallel this to is like, well one-on-one coaching versus group coaching. Would you say that that’s a similar example?

 

Ian Paget: Yes

 

Greg Hickman: Okay, cool. So let’s assume for the sake of the example is like, some people are like, “Well how can I coach someone that I normally would coach one-on-one but in a group, and get them the same result?” That was the question that someone in the audience had asked.

So the presenter in the room walked up to them and said, “Okay, let’s say the goal of our coaching was to get you to $1 million a year in your business. Would you rather me have 12 one-on-one coaching calls with you one a month, every month for the next 12 months in order for you to get to the seven figure business? Or would you rather me just touch your shoulder, and you get your seven figure business?” Everyone obviously laughs, but the person’s like, “I’d obviously rather you just touch my shoulder.”

The demonstration was “okay, so what you just told me was what you care more about the result than you do about how we’re going to get you there. Correct?” He’s like, “Yeah, totally.” Cool. So if I were to say, “Hey, it’s going to cost you 25,000 for these 12 calls and I get you there in three calls, are you going to ask for a refund?” He’s like, “I see what you’re saying.” He’s like, “Because it might not take us 12 calls, it might take us one. It might take us 10 minutes for you to know what to do to go get the result that you want.” So if you’re getting hung up on the logistics of how I’m going to get you to the result, then you’re actually disconnected from the result.

So I play that back to our scenario here is like, it shouldn’t necessarily matter what pieces you need to do in order to get your client the result, as long as they get the result that they came to you for.

It’s your job as the service provider to be able to get them to that result as fast as possible, where obviously the work is done well and in a predictable way for you that ideally requires the least amount of work, so that you have the highest possible profit margin and to be able to do that over and over and over and over again. Does that make sense?

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, it does. I think it’s a mindset shift because if you’re used to having clients call you and coming to you with like I need a brochure, I need this, I need that. If you’re used to that, this approach is very different because I know you start off with what the problem is and you create a solution for that. So I think it’s a completely different mindset shift and a different approach, and it comes down to targeting and finding the right people rather than saying yes to everybody, which a lot of graphic designers would typically do.

 

Greg Hickman: Yeah. 100%. I mean just let’s use that brochure example, and this is going to be super high level, but say your agency only does brochures for companies. You should be the brochure expert, right? So if a company wants a brochure, now do they want a brochure or do they want something specific that a brochure delivers? A feeling, like I would like to think that if you’re just getting paid to lay out a brochure, you’re positioning yourself as a commodity and you’re going to be in a bigger trouble anyway, which is also a part of the productisation.

You guys all have expertise. I bet that when you were hired in the first place, it was because you had some level of expertise. You just got hired for the expertise and the labor, and then just continue to get paid for labor, labor, labor, labor because you brought them into a retainer and no longer is there any expertise being sold. Right?

So hence why your value goes down over time, because all you are is hands-to-keyboard for the delivery of the brochure. But if you can go to your clients say, “Hey, you’re doing this event and we know that if you give this type, this specific type of brochure that…” Like all the different, say it was for like an event. This is the way that the brochure needs to be laid out. So all of the sponsors get equal attention, and all receive a good amount of traffic to their physical booths. So it’s actually a benefit for your sponsors.

So now becomes a selling device for sponsorship, not just a brochure. It’s like this is going to help you lock in more sponsors. This is going to help your attendees navigate the venue. It’s going to help all of the, like the benefits of the brochure. If you’re not wrapping that up into a result, they’re always going to look for the cheapest version of the who can design the brochure. But your brochure needs to do something.

So I would guess if you have a specific, if you’ve done say 1,000 brochures, you probably know a brochure needs these things and here are the top mistakes that every brochure does. That when you do this, it’s a crappy brochure. That you could say, look like there’s really only two layouts that your brochure should ever have, and we know how… We’re going to be able to tell which one is for you.

So now on the fulfilment side. What assets need to go into those two layouts? Okay, now you just need to gather those assets and your creative team, literally you just turned the fulfilment process into a plug and play piece. Yes, you might need to customise some copy. Yes, you might need some custom images, but if you’re like hey, we need this type of image in this space and no other type of image, here’s how we get that image.

You can create a system and a process around that, and your fulfilment is going to be a whole lot easier because when someone pays you, you’re going to say, “Hey, we need these types of images and there’s 10 of them. Then we need copy that is this many characters long that covers these five topics.” Cool. Now we have a process to go get that. We probably at some point even have an ad-lib style framework for our clients to give us the copy we need, or that we use to get the copy out of them. Your system becomes all of a sudden very process-oriented. The thing that comes out will still be custom, because the words on the page will be custom. The colours will be custom. What the event is on the brochure is custom. So you’re reducing the amount of custom variables by identifying a framework that you can operate within no matter whatever it is you’re delivering. Does that make sense?

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. Really. It really, really does. It makes a hell of a lot of sense because, I mean going back to what you mentioned earlier about diagnosing what the problem is at the beginning. If you can create a solution to that, then like you said with brochures in particular, you could create an entire framework that solves a very specific problem.

Something that’s coming to mind is that from a sales point of view. So when someone comes to me, and I’m sure listers will have the same, a designer would be used to being provided with content, text and so on to create that brochure. They’d be used to doing it bespoke every time. If say you did come out with more of a productised system where you had maybe two or three different templates, you had a few different page layouts and so on.

From a sales perspective, in those instances where say that client does come to you and they do have their specific information already, would it be a case of having a conversation like what you’ve been saying about here where you do ask some questions about the results, versus what they’re wanting? What I’m trying to ask, to piece together some question around this is how do you go about convincing your client to go down the more productised route than completely bespoke, which they would potentially be expecting?

 

Greg Hickman: Yeah. So I think this is one of those things where it’s like you’re probably not marketing yourself as productised. You’re marketing yourself as the result of the product, and they don’t necessarily have to know in some cases how bespoke the solution is as long as they get the result honestly. I listen, we have our clients send us sales call recordings. Look, as agency owners, creatives, we all love to talk about what we do. The client doesn’t care. They want the result at the end of the day.

They don’t necessarily care about all of your logistics and your terminology, and the tools you’re going to use. They literally don’t care. They care about themselves and the result, and that’s all you should really be talking about. Can you get them the result? So if you get on the phone with someone and the client and they’re like, “Okay, well I want this brochure.” You’re like, “Okay, cool.” Like they’re bought in.

They basically said they want in and they’re like, “Well how does it work?” You basically can either sell a bespoke option or you can sell a done-with-you option if you’re doing the done-with-you productise, and you should be diagnosing that, right? You’re like a doctor. Hey, based on everything we talked about, I really think it’s best if we take you through this experience product A. It’s $10,000 and you’ll have your brochure in 30 days.

That takes one one-on-one call in the first week and we’re going to need a few things that we’ll gather that we’ll have you get once we collect the first payment, and let’s get started. Right? So you can sell it just like that. They don’t need to know that you have this whole process in the back. They don’t need to know that you only have two templates or frameworks or whatever, because you know that all they care about is the result and that it looks beautiful and that it does the job.

We have a client right now, for example, James who does lead generation for urgent care clinics. There’s a lot of technical pieces to that. He reached the same point where he was just like “I don’t want to grow a big team. I want to figure out a way to do this with more time freedom, leverage.” So he created, he went through our process and created like a done-with-you version of the service. So he’s now showing them how to do certain pieces of his process. He has raised the price of his done-for-you almost now by three X. So the done-with-you version becomes a whole lot more desirable. It delivers the exact same result, it’s just a different wrapper on how he’s getting them there. He’s had plenty of clients that have wanted to be involved in the process. So every once in a while, he’ll get someone that says like, “I know that’s expensive, but I’d still rather you do it for me.”

He has the problem right now where he said people are still willing… He keeps raising the price of the bespoke that he’s like, “They’re still taking it.” I’m like, “Well keep raising it and keep even raising your done-with-you version of your service.” He just keeps raising the prices, and so he’s getting better and better caliber of people when he does sell a bespoke, but he’s starting to sell a whole lot more of the done-with-you thing.

He can serve, like we talked about earlier, whether he gets three clients a month or 10 clients a month, his amount of fulfilment whether it’s three or 10, does not change. So that becomes like his core revenue stream, and he can choose and be very selective with who he does his bespoke stuff with. So you have both ways of delivering essentially the same result. One can be more hands-on, one can be more bespoke, but you elevate that price and you get to choose who that process, who gets to go through that process.

 

Ian Paget: One thing I really want to point out for listeners is one thing that you said slightly early on, about how you present yourself at the beginning, how you come across.

So for example, through your website. If you do take this route, it’s presenting yourself in the right way that you’re not presenting yourself as “a graphic designer” that can do anything bespoke. Instead, you would present yourself in a way where it’s like we design high conversion brochures for the sake of it, and promoting it as a product.

So it’s like you can come to purchase that and I think just that from the outset, that initial first touch point with you, if it’s very clear exactly what you’re going to be getting, then you don’t come in with the assumption of okay, I need to prepare all of this for you and so on. I think that’s one of the most important things with this approach is getting that right from the beginning.

 

Greg Hickman: Totally. I think, I really think that gone are the days and if you don’t modify this, I think this is something that is going to come back to haunt you. Is like gone are the days where you’re just like hey, we help design beautiful websites. There needs to be a result. I mean if you ask any, especially if you serve B2B, which most agencies are serving B2B to some degree, people want a result.

They don’t, like when you come in and like, “Hey, we do all of these cool things for you, and it’s a $5,000 a month retainer.” More and more because of how commoditised marketing services are and how easy it is to get websites, and how easy it is to get logos with things like 99designs. Unfortunately, some people just don’t value those things like they used because of, it’s just everywhere. So part of that comes down to you as the provider, up-levelling the type of clients that you work with.

When you choose higher caliber problems, when you choose higher caliber problems and higher caliber clients, they’re going to want more than just labor. They’re going to want a specific result and your services, however packaged need to deliver that. So when you start marketing yourself as hey, we help insert avatar, achieve insert desired result, you’re now selling a result, a transformation. It can be automate… Pieces of the process can be automated, because the conversation can be automated, because you’re now selling a… To them, it’s a product.

When you use this service, this is the result that you get, right? Not you’re going to get five hours of my time a month to do whatever it is you need me to do when it comes to marketing activities. That’s not productised, that’s just you selling blocks of hours.

So I just think like at some point, most of the people listening here got hired because of their expertise, not just because of their labor and usually because agencies are I’ll just say desperate to get more money. They’re afraid to lose clients. So they take on work outside of their wheelhouse to keep a client, and that is usually the beginning of when all you’re doing is becoming labor. Does that make sense? I don’t mean to be harsh, but that’s like I think we’re at a real crossroads for some people.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, I think so as well. One thing that you really got me thinking about, and I know a lot of people aren’t going to like it, but there’s a lot of services out there now for logo design in particular, that are the one-for-many model that you’ve been talking about. They are AI generated systems where people can go on these websites, pay $5, select a few options. The AI technology generates a few things, and then plops out a logo. That is the one-for-many option that you mentioned. So if it was a logo designer only company, that would be the way forward. I know a lot of people listening to this will be cringing, thinking I can’t stand these things.

Going back to the brochure example, I think that’s a better example for this, because it’s a less of a sour point for listeners. With brochures you could hypothetically create a piece of software, where you could guide them through the layouts they choose, they layout they insert the image that they want. You could connect the images to some kind of image database thing that you can manage. They can input their texts and stuff like that. Save it, and then you basically send off to a printer. So that’s that next level. In terms of your time, it’s literally that initial consultation then working through that. There’s endless potential to what you can do when you really focus on the problem and scaling up from there. It’s really fascinating. It’s a fascinating conversation.

 

Greg Hickman: Yeah, totally. I think one of the overarching things that I want to come out of this conversation, the importance for people is and some people might already have this, but if all you sell is a bespoke service, you have one revenue stream that is hard to systematise and make predictable. That is the reason you don’t have leads coming to you every single day using an automated sales funnel, or the reason you have trouble using Facebook ads and why most of your fulfilment is manual, because every time you sell something it’s different.

Every problem you solve is a little bit different, or different enough that you can’t have that built. So the reason we want to add a productised service or add a group coaching group consulting program or add software, is we’re adding another revenue stream that allows us to collect money with working less, doing less effort. All of those things.

If you were going to build a software, you wouldn’t do it like you do your service right now, right? Like your software would do something specific, and you need to think about your agency and your service the same way. I think the more we can start adding these leveraged revenue streams to our business, the hybrid agency model, I think the more sustainability and longevity you’re going to have and also the more profitability, especially if you’re the type of person that doesn’t want to have the 50 to 100 person agency. I know that wasn’t me. I came from that. So when we started getting more clients and I was like, “Well, in order for me to hit this revenue goal, I’m going to need 10 more employees to serve the number of clients that I’ll need to hit that number, and my profit margins will be less slightly and I’m going to have a ton more headache.” That’s not what I wanted.

So that’s when I realised why I needed to find a different way to generate revenue that wasn’t just tied to my labor and my time, via the bespoke service. You’re starting to see this with certain companies. The smart ones, like agencies that now have built software that now they use their software for their clients, but hey, they can also sell their software to their clients that can’t afford their service, but now can get some of the benefit by using the software.

You’re seeing that happen more. You even see software companies adding services. Look at a company like HubSpot. You can go pay them for coaching, and you can go pay them for done-for-you services from their internal team that go along with the software, right? They’re a software first company for sure, but they’re adding these other revenue streams that extend and expand the value of the clients coming in, in those other areas.

I think that we as small creatives and small service providers, agency owners can do the same thing, but it needs to start somewhere and we can’t, we’re not all developers so we can’t go create software. So what I always aim to do is let’s simplify what the service is that you do right now, bespoke. Like let’s simplify it down to a specific result. Then let’s go sell it as a done-with-you experience and get really good at doing that, and we do that for at least a year.

Now we have two ways to deliver the exact same result, and now when we have sales conversations, we can raise the price of our bespoke stuff and thus we’re going to get more people in the done-with-you thing, which should be more profitable, take less time and each time you do it, it gets better and better for the next client because you’re continuing to refine that system.

You start to create another revenue stream that will inch potentially in a short amount of time, replace and surpass the revenue that you have from things that are tied to your bespoke, done-for-you, highly customised, not that profitable service the way you do now. That’s like the step that we essentially take our clients on is adding that thing in 90 days, and then replacing, using it to replace your done-for-you revenue in 12 months.

 

Ian Paget: Well, you personally really sold me on this whole concept. I’m hoping that listeners will also agree.

I know you have this pyramid in the free course… I’m going to mention the free course again. Everyone needs to go and check that. It’s over an hour long, and it’s really good. Really, really, really good. So definitely go and check, it’s worth its weight in gold.

You’ve got this pyramid. So at the bottom there’s the generalist. So as a graphic designer, when you’re starting out, you will be taking on everything and that makes sense because it’s the position that you’re in, but then you get to a point where all of your time is taken up. So then you start to specialise and then you go up the pyramid, and then you start to create done-for-you services and then scale. I can imagine just scaling and scaling up, and it’s an interesting way to think about growing your business because the moment you’ve reached that ceiling financially you should be covered. So you should then be working on the next tier in that pyramid to say that people know what I’m talking about. Would you mind explaining through that pyramid because I can’t remember exactly what the different steps are?

 

Greg Hickman: Yeah, so there’s the four stages of the pyramid. The bottom is actually what I call scavenger. It’s usually when you’re in validation mode. You’re trying to find who you serve and what you actually sell, essentially just taking anything. But sometimes you get pretty good at just getting clients that you move into the generalist phase, which is that next level up. That’s where you’re able to get clients, but the way in which you get them is usually just saying yes. Like there’s no actual product that you’re selling. You probably have a service menu of a bunch of different things you can do. You try to squeeze all of them in there, hoping that they’re going to stay in some sort of retainer. But ultimately what ends up happening is they’re cherry-picking the menu for whatever it is they want and need, arguing down that price. So usually the generalist is the service you deliver is general, call it full service, all service, too many services is broad.

The type of person that you serve is, it’s like we help chiropractors, we help coaches, we help single mothers. Like there’s no trend in who you serve. So that’s the generalist phase. Then the next phase is specialist, and there’s really two stages of specialists. There’s the like looking at that generalist example and specialists, you could specialise on a niche and have a combination of services that solve a specific problem. Or you could just do one thing for one type of person, if that makes sense.

Then the top of the pyramid is CEO or owner, and as you go up the ladder we look at a few different things. We look at productisation towards the bottom. Your product is the word yes. You’ll take anything you can get. As you get to the specialist phase that you’re selling solutions as your product. It’s not bespoke. It’s a predefined problem with a pre-scoped solution, with a pre-built process to get them that, to deliver that solution.

Oftentimes at that stage, it still might be you within certain pieces of that process that are delivering it, but you can really accelerate and increase your revenue just at that level. But we have some clients that want to build even more of a call, a business where they’re actually the owner. So when you go to the owner status, it’s like okay, well now you have team that are managing the systems that you created in the specialist phase, and you’re overseeing.

This is that transition from owner operated to owner, and you now own a system and there are people that help you run and manage the system as well as technology. In that CEO phase, owner phase is really where you start expanding your revenue streams by adding products that are also, additional products that are also solutions. So you go from one core revenue stream into multiple revenue streams. Instead of the predictable revenue that you’re getting from selling the one solution, you’re actually amplifying your revenue, because now you have multiple solutions that you’re selling.

 

Ian Paget: Well, you’ve left me with a lot of things to think about, and hopefully listeners as well. I think we’ve done about 50 minutes, and I think you’ve covered everything that I think I wanted to go through personally. I’d like people to go and check out that training course. So just to wrap things up, how can people learn more about you and what you do, and learn more about these processes as you mentioned?

 

Greg Hickman: Yeah, I’ll give you guys a couple options, which is not the marketer thing to do. But that workshop I know you’re going to link it up the bottom or it’s available at altagency.com/workshop, it’s about 75 minutes long. I’d say watch it. It breaks down the whole process that we went through.

If you’re looking for a plethora of free content, I have a YouTube channel. If you just search Greg Hickman in YouTube, you’ll see on my channel I have a playlist called Productising. There’s, I don’t know, 30 to 40 videos that are essentially my podcast. Also, available audio only in iTunes and everything. They cover all the topics, the journey, the challenges, both mindset and systems automation, structure, pricing. All of that stuff’s covered on all of those videos. So definitely check out those two resources.

Obviously if you check out the workshop and it resonates with you and it sounds like something you want to move forward with, you have the ability to schedule a call with myself and with the team, and we can just see if it would work for you. If it can’t, and again if we can’t help someone, we will be the first to tell them, “Hey, this is not something that we think we’re confident in getting you that result.” But if it is, we literally have our own step-by-step process to launch this version of your service in 90 days with three to 10 clients paying somewhere between three and $10,000.

Talk about predictability of the process, the only variable in that solution is the person going through it. Like if you do everything that’s in that, you will get that result. So just like your service should do, because you’re selling a result. So yeah, check out that workshop. Again, you’ll either love it or you’ll rebel against it and that’s totally fine.

 

Ian Paget: I don’t normally give an opportunity at the end to sell, but I really do want to say that your free training course is really, really good, it’s very in depth and you’ve got downloadable worksheets as well.

 

Greg Hickman: Yeah, we make you work.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. I need to go through that a few times myself. I think you can work through the free content yourself, I don’t think you necessarily need to get in touch with you to go through your service, but obviously if someone did want to take it to that next level, they have the option. I think just the free stuff is incredible.

 

Greg Hickman: Yeah, check it out for sure. I’m here to help as much as I possibly can. That’s why there’s over 100 videos on my YouTube channel talking about all of this stuff. I could talk about this for days as you guys can tell. But yeah, like I said, I just think there’s a huge opportunity for people that are listening that have the skillset to do the work, but also want to find that thing that…

I see a lot of agency owners that are like, “Oh my God, I would love to have a course where someone could buy it and I don’t have to talk to them ever.” There’s actually a huge opportunity for the service providers agencies that combine that notion of courses with their skill sets. This is where that hybrid agency comes in, where you can still be charging a premium, you could still have a high touch experience, but you still get all the benefits and the scalability of something like an online course.

Will it be as scalable as a course? Obviously not, but it will be plenty scalable that you could do seven figures and beyond. There’s plenty of case studies and examples of people doing it. So it’s just I think a huge opportunity for the people that are skilled, because guess what? A lot of the course creators that sell like $1,000 courses, they can never charge a premium, because they don’t know how to do it.

They just only know how to teach it, and most people on this podcast listening know how to do it also and there’s a huge value in that. We’re beyond the knowledge economy and we are in the implementation economy, and you guys know how to implement and you just got to start merging back into that knowledge element as well. You guys could all be deadly.

 

Ian Paget: Hell yeah. I think that’s a mic drop moment, and the perfect point to end the interview. So Greg, thank you so much for coming on. You’ve given me, and I’m sure all listeners a lot to think about. So thank you so much for your time.

 

Greg Hickman: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

 

Thank you to the sponsor, FreshBooks

 

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Scale Your Design Business - An interview with Greg Hickman

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