You as a service

October 10, 2017

Often when we think of freelancing, it’s in terms of labor. 

We sell our time by the hour, or at a project level (an estimation of hours).

I’ve never done this.

I’ve always been salaried, and never really had the interest to work on the side. Reading, learning and experimenting were all fine, but never selling my services. 

But recently I’ve been thinking, if I was to freelance, what would I sell? Or more importantly, what set of skills and potential business outcomes would a professional or business pay me for? What value can I offer?

Let’s see.

Currently, I work as a product designer at a startup. We build and maintain a rails app, and apps on iOS and Android platforms. 

Specifically, I discover and define user/customer goals and translate them into instructions specific enough to pass off to a programmer. I code a little bit, but is mainly as a means to communicate, really no different than creating a powerpoint.

The value for the business is mainly around the end experience for the customer. If all goes well, and I help build the right thing. “The product performs in a way which exhibits a meaningful, positive, material consequence to the user - you know, the whole reason why they pay for it.”

For me to deliver this experience to customers, I would need at least a backend/frontend dev. And realistically, I rely on many other business functions (marketing, operations).

So what’s my service?

Erik Dietrich offers one idea. Rather than selling hourly labour, figure out a niche, outcome based, productized service.

I love this idea, and would like to explore it further. 

A couple of reasons why:

• This is positioning theory — You will be seen as differentiated and the ‘top of the pile’ in terms of that specific area. You won’t be compared to ‘web design’ or ‘ux design’ agencies. 

• You’ll become an expert and the more work you get, the more credibility you can demonstrate to future clients.

• Operating cost drop, efficiencies improve. You are solving similiar problems every time, since you are not exposing yourself the hell that the hey I make websites” position will find you in.

• Running a business like this also syncs up nicely with this idea of radical transparency. The internet is growing everyday, and our ability to reach millions of people has never been easier. In that world of abundance, it makes sense to focus on who you are. You don’t need to pretend to be vanilla anymore.

• If I call myself a designer, I should put my efforts into helping more businesses have access to good design. I get to design a sliver a tiny sliver of the world, but for everyone else (I am) the user”. The reality is, libraries, rental car kiosks and tennis court booking systems, don’t have access to scrum teams. 

Anyway, if you’re interested in how you might do this for yourself (it doesn’t really matter what the profession is), try out this ‘positioning exercise I stumbled on. It’s hard. But most important things are hard.