I’ve just gotten an inside look at a local service business that has nothing to do with the marketing or copywriting industry, and the way they’re selling their services is a total game-changer…
If you’re like many of my readers, you make some or all of your income from selling your services. Maybe you’re a copywriter, consultant, coach, or offer some other kind of creative services.
And, your projects are likely big. As-in, bare minimum of $1,000 a pop, with a scope of work that may not be totally clear up front, or may change from client-to-client, project-to-project.
Maybe, your projects are completely customized to the client and situation, and can feel totally unpredictable when you’re just getting started. By the time you’re halfway through the project, the scope of work has shifted completely, and even though you’re under the original contract, what you’re doing is almost unrecognizable compared to what you signed up for in the first place.
If any of this has you nodding your head, you MUST pay careful attention to every word of this essay.
I’m going to break down this model for selling your services. I’m going to explain it in detail, focusing on the underlying principles of what makes it work.
Then, I’m going to where it will work, and importantly, where it will NOT work in the context of selling copywriting or other services.
Here’s a 4-step model for selling services that is stunningly-effective, precisely because it’s the opposite of how most service providers work…
First, I’m going to speak in pretty generic terms. I don’t want to give away the company, or even necessarily the industry. Those details are not that important anyway. All you need to know is that this is for a service-based business that regularly does projects in the $10,000 to $100,000+ range. They’re local, but that’s also an irrelevant detail.
Perhaps the most relevant detail that you should understand is that their projects are very dynamic, and cater to the buyer’s specific situation. And those buyers are not regular and consistent buyers of services like theirs. In many cases, the buyers may be engaging a service provider in this industry for the first time, and many will only go through a handful of projects like this in their lifetime.
In other words, the buyer doesn’t have a process for buying this service, so it’s up to the business selling the service to have an effective process for selling the service — and walking the buyer down the garden path toward the result they most want.
So let’s imagine for a minute that you’re a buyer who reaches out to this business. You tell them you’re interested in talking to them about a project. Maybe you call in, or fill out a form on their website.
In their first response, they send you a one-page document that lays out this process. It’s how they work, and what you can expect going forward if you continue to engage with them.
Here are the steps this document explains…
Step 1: Introductory Meeting
This is free and complimentary, lasts up to an hour, and is an opportunity to “meet and greet” and get basic ideas about the project you’re considering.
From your side, as the buyer, this gives you an opportunity to meet key members of their team, and get a very rough idea of what the project would look like, including rough cost within about a +/-20% range. (That is, if at the end of the meeting they anticipate this to be a $100,000 project, the final cost could come in between $80,000 and $120,000.)
From their side, this gives them opportunity to understand your project, and evaluate you as a buyer. They get the basic details, and based on rough estimates and experience on similar projects in the past, they are able to lay out a very rough estimate of the work involved and the cost.
Aside from any minor follow-up communication after this meeting, this is your last opportunity to pick their brain or engage with them on a free basis.
If you choose to move forward, you have to move to Step 2 (or in rare cases, they’ll combine this with Step 3).
Step 2: Feasibility Study
The purpose of this step is for both parties to determine if the project can happen, and to get more specific on what it would look like.
This is a PAID consultation. Based on the initial project estimate in Step 1, this has either a minimum fee or 1% of the estimated cost.
They invest significant time, energy, and resources into at least a rough design of the project. They get into details, including the cost of any resources/goods needed to complete the project, as well as any additional service providers that may need to be brought in.
By the time they’re done with this step, they have a more accurate idea of what the total cost of the project will be, plus any potential roadblocks or hurdles that will have to be overcome. The price estimate delivered at the conclusion of this step is within +/-10% of the final project fee.
At the completion of this step, you can choose not to move forward or roll your fee into the project fee.
Step 3: Project Design
The purpose of this step is to come up with a final project plan, and determine all relevant details and scope of work such that the project can move forward unhindered when you say “go.”
Again, this is PAID above and beyond Step 2. The total fee for Step 2 and Step 3 is 2.5% of the estimated total project fee, or their flat fee — whichever is greater.
Here they get into all the little details required for the project to move forward. The goal, by the end of the Project Design step, is to be able to move forward on the project without any further input on your part. (I know this isn’t always possible in all creative projects, however it is effective here and is something you should consider working toward if you copy this process in your business.)
They get any final pricing necessary on resources, goods, and external service providers.
By the time Step 3 is complete, they have a clear project plan, and a fixed price to move forward based on that plan.
You are not required to move forward from here. (Nor were you obligated to move forward after any other step.) If you do not move forward, they still own the project plan (you can’t go shopping it around to others) and you’re out the design fee, but again you’re under no further obligation. If you do move forward, they roll everything paid up to this point into the project fee.
Step 4: Project Implementation
This is about what you’d expect at this point. Once you’ve signed off on the design, and made any initial payments on the project fee, they move forward based on the plan laid out.
At this point, there should be very little question regarding any part of the project, as scope of work, cost, and any relevant details were covered throughout the previous steps.
Here’s why this is so effective…
First and foremost, this puts the service provider in control of what can be a sometimes-unpredictable process, and takes a lot of the headache-causing “unseen” variables out of the equation, before they’re really in there doing any major work.
Since “scope creep” can be one of the biggest challenges in any service-based business, getting that all under control up front makes life much easier during the most intensive phase of the project.
Not only that, this process contains in it a clearly-delineated threshold that weeds out tire-kickers from buyers. There are a lot of people who like to shop a lot before they buy. The problem with this in service businesses is that shoppers can waste a lot of time you could be selling to buyers. And so if, in the course of their shopping process, you devote substantial time to working through all the details and design of their project/service… And they turn around and NOT BUY… You’re out. Not just the time invested, but the opportunity cost of having sold that time to another client.
Free time, free proposals, free project design for people who will always be shoppers can kill your service business.
It does make sense to have some kind of initial free meeting up front, to establish fit and get a general sense of what the project they’re expecting will look like.
However, the moment you move past this free qualification/disqualification conversation, you should stop giving them free time.
Which means you have to have a clear and explicit next step for them to go to — one that they must pay for — even if the total project is not clear yet.
Depending on the size and complexity of your projects, including both feasibility and design steps might make sense. Or, simplifying it into one clear design step is a good option, too.
This should have a flat fee that justifies the time and effort involved. Not just in meeting with the client and defining the scope of work. But in any additional outside work that’s going to be involved in delivering a finished project plan.
It only makes sense that you’re paid for this time. And it only makes sense that even if they do not choose to move forward, you get to keep that fee because it was for the design phase of the project. I also believe this company is totally in the right to maintain ownership of the project design.
Also, it is seen as fair to roll that fee into the total project cost, if they move forward. This also has a subtle psychological effect to it. It’s considered a “sunk cost” and there’s a desire to “get that money back” by moving forward with the project. The only way to do this is to move forward.
Here’s when to copy this model, and when not to…
I made some very important distinctions up front, regarding the sophistication of the buyers of this company’s services. Namely, that many are engaging in this service for the first time. And of those who come back, most will only buy similar services a handful of times in their lifetime.
In other words, their buyers don’t have a process or a system for buying services like this.
Compare that to high-end direct response publishers, who regularly hire freelance copywriters to deliver their services.
Those companies have a clear project plan in place, before you walk through the door. They know they want, for example, a long-copy sales letter, an order form, a handful of supporting emails, some ads, and so on. Not only that, they’ve hired 5 other copywriter for similar projects this year, and are very familiar with the process.
If you go to those buyers with a process like this, they’re likely to say, “No, this is how we work.” However, they’re also not likely to give you the same kind of scope creep headaches, with a constantly moving target regarding what the finished project looks like.
If that’s who you sell to — or the market is similar in its sophistication — a standard “package” is likely the best option for you. You have Step 1 and Step 4 of the model above, and Steps 2 and 3 are unnecessary.
However, if the market for your services is less sophisticated, if project finish lines and scope of work are unclear, and if every new client and project represents is a blank slate… Seriously consider how you can match the model above.
I’ve actually done both. For the most part, my core offer is my core offer. But when I’ve worked with more entrepreneurial clients without a clear idea of what their campaign or project would look like, I started with a project design process. (And it paid off when they flaked, too.)
If you want to go deeper on this…
I currently have three separate courses on BTMSinsiders that are specifically focused on building a copywriting business. $37 gets you immediate streaming access.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,