Should You Productise Your Agency? (with Julia Chanteray)

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One of the best ways to scale your agency is to disconnect your time from the money you earn. There are several ways to do this (I’ve spoken about value pricing many times before, for example) and today we are going to be talking about productising your business: what this means, how to do it and the various steps along the journey.

Time Stamp

02:00 Introduction to today’s guest, Julia Chanteray

02:17 How Julia’s business is changing and starting Adventures in Products

02:54 Let’s start with the typical journey a business owner goes on and the roadblocks they hit along the way, and how it can easily get out of control!

06:40 What are the 2nd set of stumbling blocks as the agency starts to grow?

08:40 The importance of the business owner ‘getting out of the way’

10:18 Why have you decided to specialise to help businesses productise?

10:40 What does productising your business mean?

12:34 Can you give us some examples of a productised business?

15:50 You are either a PRODUCT business or a RELATIONSHIP business

16:54 Tell us about your programme and some of the members who have joined

19:25 How do you work out what your product should be?

21:04 How to avoid shiny new object distractions

21:44 What are the biggest challenges people have on their productisation journey?

23:08 You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!

24:29 There is no such thing as passive income

25:30 A typical member who is part of Julia’s programme

26:45 If you could go back in time and give your younger self, just starting out in business, a piece of advice what would it be?


"If you are clever, you start building some kind of product that breaks the relationship between how they spend their time and how they make their money.” - Rob Da Costa
“As a coach, you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink!” - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

I'm not a big fan of selling time for money. In fact, one of the ways we can scale our agency is by disconnecting our time from the fees that we charge and there are obviously a number of ways of doing that. I've talked about value selling many times in the past. I obviously teach my audience how to build a self-running agency, an agency that's less dependent on the owner. But you can also look at how to produce ties to your business. And that's what we're going to be talking about in today's episode of the podcast.

And I'm excited to be joined by Julia Chanteray, who is helping her audience to produce ties to their businesses and disconnect the amount of time they have available from the money that they earn. So we're going to talk about exactly what this productisation means and how to go about doing it. And what are the various steps that you need to take along the journey from being a service-based agency to selling a product-stylised business? So that's what we're talking about today and let's jump into the episode. I want to apologise for my audio a bit because this was recorded whilst I was in Florida in a rather echoey room.

So hopefully you'll forgive the quality of my audio. I'm Rob Da Costa, and this is The Agency Accelerator podcast as someone who has stood in your shoes, having started, grown and sold my own agency and just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life. So this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing mine and my guests' experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable and enjoyable business. So good morning, everybody. Welcome to the latest episode of The Agency Accelerator podcast.

I'm really excited to be joined today by Julia, Sean, Trey and me. I was talking about this out, Julia, but Julia and I have known each other for at least 10 years, and our paths have crossed multiple times, and Julia is the founder and the owner of The Joy of Business, and she helped. She's a business advisor specialising in working with small businesses with less than 30 staff so similar sort of sector to me. So welcome to the podcast Julia and a reasonable introduction to who you are and what you do.

But there's anything else you wanted to add to that? I suppose I'm changing. I'm going from my caterpillar to my butterfly, on my butterfly to my next butterfly. And while I'm keeping the coaching and the joy of business website in particular going, I've also set up a brand new site for some of the stuff that we're talking about today about productizing. Yeah, so that's called Adventures in Products. Fantastic. So we'll dig into that. I'm really interested to know why you've made that choice. But first of all, I'm just really interested to talk to you about the typical journey that a small business owner goes on.

And what are some of those constant roadblocks that you see them hitting along the way? It's funny. I've just done a video about this with a picture of somebody walking along and then clutching their foot in a landmine or one of those big bear trap things. There's very much on my mind, and I think there is. Everyone has a different version of starting off in business but usually, there's some call to action there where we get made redundant or we finally say, Right, I'm going to go and do it I've been meaning to set up my own business for years.

There's something that causes us to do it and to go out on our own. That's what we talk about, and then the first six months often go really well. We're all excited and it's all kind of like, “Yeah, I got some business cards or got a new website. I've got a logo. I've got my first client. I've sent my first invoice”. I remember all those years ago going and buying myself a very fancy handbag, on the basis of my first ever self-employed invoice.

And so it's that sort of celebration. But then, after a while, well, I've got one client. What needs some more? I've got to do some of this marketing stuff, and we're not usually equipped for that because, in a previous job, somebody else did that, and then we get the money wrong. We go and buy handbags with our first invoice. Instead of putting the money away for food or VAT or corporation tax. And then we realised that we don't have anyone to book annual leave with anymore.

So we didn't book any annual leave, so we didn't go on holiday. And we've been working for six months straight. And then we think about going on holiday and then thinking, Well, I call it, got all this stuff booked in or not booked in and a bit of if I don't work, I don't get paid. The reality starts to bite and you can carry on doing that. But it's not particularly constructive. So it's all of these things, the feast or famine. And I've got 20 clients this month.

I've got no clients next month, all of that. These are things that can bite us on the bomb as we go along and cause it to be, well, a bit of a headache. Does that fit with you? Rob, Would you say that? Yeah, I would say it's exactly the same thing, and I think it kind of probably explains why so many businesses give up after the first year because, as you say, it's easy at first because they kind of got their black book of contacts that they can reach out to win their first clients.

But when they have exhausted that, then they're going. What do I do next? And like you say, they probably are not marketing experts. So they've got to figure this out. They probably try to do some more for things like cold calling or cold emailing, and that doesn't work. And it's so destroyed. And the other point you made is the whole feast or famine thing, like getting really busy, having no time to think about the future, and just servicing clients now. Then those clients come to an end for one reason or another, and you go, “Oh, my God, Now what am I going to do?”

I can't afford to pay the bills. And I think the thing is, everything sits on their shoulders, right? So they get to a point where they've got to make a choice. Do they hire people? Do they hire freelancers? What do they do? So what, after they get over that hurdle, what do you see? Sort of the next stumbling blocks for the business as it grows. I think there are a number of things that go on there. People either get into the satisfying sink, which is a weird word.

That's a mixture somewhere between it being satisfying and it being kind of all right. So people put up with it and they'll sacrifice quite a lot in order not to do the commute to London in order to have flexibility on their time. In order to, if you're called to being self-employed having children and wanting to actually see them, which I think is part of the point of having Children. Are you sacrificing money for being able to actually spend time with your kids?

So people either get into a kind of freelancing mentality. They have a nice lifestyle business, and it's okay, and they grind away at that. But I think that for a lot of people there is the potential to do so much more or people go, Yeah, I'm going for this now. I'm gonna build this up and they start learning. They start learning how to do marketing. They start learning how to build a tribe. They start learning about pricing and how to charge decent money, all of these things, and they build something up this bigger.

And if they're clever, I would say they start building some kind of product. So that breaks the relationship between how they spend their time and how they make their money so that they can have a holiday and they can get paid while they're not working such a common theme that I see all the time. And it was a conversation we had yesterday, my group coaching call, where we were talking about how it's so important that the business owner delegates and gets out of the way. Because everything, every skill, every entrepreneurial approach that they took to build their business can become the roadblock to growth because there's only one of them.

And yeah, of course, one of the reasons people start their own businesses. They want control because they didn't have control before. And now that need for control starts to get in the way because they don't like they want to see everything. They want to approve everything. They want to do everything and you know they've got to learn to ask the right question, which is not what people doing as well as me but is are doing it well enough. So the client's happy, so I think that's really interesting.

Now, at this point in the journey, this is where you and I are taking a slightly different approach. Let's dig into this. So I work with my clients to build us what I call the self-running agency. So a business that is less dependent on them so can have the flexibility and freedom that they craved when they started but also earn a decent income. And that's one very valid approach. But you're also valid approaches. Teaching people how to produce is so, like you say, linked disconnecting the link between time and money but having a product.

So talents tell us a bit about what exactly that means. I'm also interested to know why you've moved in this direction and what you feel the benefits are to the business owner of starting to look at how to produce their business. Okay, so I guess the middle question is first, why? Why am I specialising in this and setting up a whole new brand around it? It is because over the years, what I've seen from working with hundreds of people as a 1-to-1 business coach is that the people who move fastest are the people who have some kind of product business.

They grow faster with less hassle. There's just less hassle to do it that way. Now some people, love having staff and employees and building a team. And for some people, that's even the whole point of building a business Those people should talk to Rob. But for others, the whole idea of building a big team, looking after people, nurturing them, listening to they talk about their problems with their boyfriend or whatever it is that is anathema. You don't want to do that. So they would rather stay with themselves, maybe with a virtual assistant or a bunch of freelancers or people that they bring in or a team where for some people, it's kind of almost autocratic.

It's a team that they control very clearly with the work, the system approach and standard operating procedures. How that team operates, and that's fine as well. They will benefit from being able to not have the hassle of building a team if it's not for them by putting what's in their head all of their knowledge into their products. And one bonus when you take this to stand-alone products where you're not even really interacting with the client very much or at all is that you also don't have to talk to clients.

You can just sell them the stuff. Of course, there's variance within all of this. But for me, whatever variant you pick, this is the fastest way to grow. That's really interesting. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs are probably not very good people managers, so there's a good reason for them not building a team. Can you give us some examples? So I think the listeners understand the context of this. So if they are an agency or a service-based business, could you give us some examples of what you mean by productizing what they currently do?

So one example is where you do product hire services. So instead of being an agency, maybe you're an SEO agency or a design agency or some sort of creative business. Let's take a designer, and as a designer, people come to you and they want any brand, and they want a logo and they want a website put together all of these things that they need and you respond to the client's brief. And it's always different because the clients are always different with a product higher service approach.

What you would do is pick 123, a few different things that people could get with a designer. It would not be logos, because that's sort of your cheap and cheerful baby East mint. But you pick a few things that people know that they want, and your product is the whole way that you make that, and it gives you a chance to the specialist. So there's a really good example of this. A design company called Luna nine, and they have a product ties, service approach. You come to them for certain things, and they give you a price range, and they will go away and make those things.

If you go and do to them and say, I want a brand identity or I want something that isn't on their list, they'll say, “Oh, sorry, we don't do that”. So they control what they're doing and they control the process by which they do that. So they have a common approach to all of that, and this works really well for creative agencies. That's one way of doing it. It could be that you take the approach that your semi-product is what you're doing by setting up some sort of tech system in order to do it.

So I've got one client who had, who was doing very database heavy, almost business intelligence, work for people, for their market, for medium-sized companies on their marketing function, very clever stuff. And it took a lot of time. And then he worked out that it was the same requests and the same operations and computers speak. He was doing pretty much every time. So we just built a little robot to do it. And all he has to do is pay somebody to clean up data, put the data in, press his button and then spend maybe a couple of hours going over it to make sure it makes sense and drawing out some key recommendations for his client.

All the beginning bit is product pissed. He spends two hours charging five grand a month. Okay, that's interesting. So I always say to people that we are if you drew a box, either on the right-hand side, which is a product ties business or the left-hand side, which is a relationship-based business. And so what you're doing is helping people move a little bit more to the right. And also, I think one of the nails that you hit on the head is that a lot of the time we are doing the same things over and over again.

In fact, it's probably what led you to start your programme and it's certainly what led me to start my programme self running agency, the group coaching programme I have because I found myself having the same conversations over and over again with my clients and I thought there must be a way of expediting this to help them move forward more rapidly. But be quite honest to help me not have the same bloody conversation over and over and over again. So that was what started me down.

The journey of creating a resource library of telling us a little bit about your programme and some of the members who have joined in the transformation you're helping them with what I really like about my product is your expertise programme. My kind of signature six months programme that helps you to build your products and get them to market is that the people who have joined the three groups that I've run so far have got very deep levels of expertise in their fields. They don't particularly see it that way.

They just think that they do their thing. But for me, as an outsider, not in their field. Wow, that's really interesting that you do this. And let's make these products out of it and you could do it this way and try it there. So it's fascinating for me, and that's always been the best part of being a business coach. To be honest, is that you get to see quite often weird and wonderful businesses that are doing really fascinating things. I learned about how the world works. What they're doing is gradually changing their mindset to separate out the dependence on any particular clients and the idea of billable hours or making sure you know that question that you get at a networking event or your mom says it is.

Are you busy right now you're supposed to say, “Yeah, I'm really busy?” Why on earth would we want to be busy? Why not be? I'm quite relaxed at the moment, but I'm still making money and I'm having fun and learning new things. So trying not to be busy all of the time and they're building also has different products. I encourage people to build multiple products, often at the same time using a modular approach. And they are building a tribe of people who are engaged and ready to buy from them.

So we have this parallel tracks approach, and by the end of the six months, what we've got is people who have got at least their first small products out there and some people who are ready to launch some bigger products. And then they're going out there and building those up in the world and carrying on Iterating adding new products, building their tribe Father, what's the typical process that you would take? Someone threw in that six months when they're part of your programme for six months, what's the sort of start middle?

And I guess you describe the end already. But how did you start to work out? How do they start to work out what that initial product should be? So the first three or four modules and nothing to do with products? Really, I give a little smattering to hear some excitement and some people who have created successful product businesses and what you can learn from them. But actually, what I'm doing is teaching people to be a bit selfish and think about their business, and their lives. What do they want to get out of it?

What are they really good at? What impact do they want to have in the world? How can they have that impact? Who do they want to have that impact with? How do they want to change things? And that approach then gets us to who's an ideal client. What problems do they have that we can solve? And then the products are just a slightly different way of solving that problem, and then we move on to building the tribe building, an email list or a Facebook group, or however you're gonna be able to communicate with your potential market, nurturing that and starting to build the first freebies or the first small products and getting together ideas for what that product ecosystem could look like.

Then we go. People have usually got this massive list of ideas, and I've built a tool called the Priority Product Decision Maker, where we put them all in and decide which ones are the least hassle and the most money. So it gives us a clear business case of which products it might be really nice to do, and that's such a cool idea. But we're not going to do them. It's interesting. That's a tool that a lot of people could do with, regardless of their product sizing, because by definition, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial and very prone to chasing the next shiny new object.

And so having a way to assess an idea whether it's viable or not is a really good thing, isn't it? Otherwise, people get pulled in 20 directions, and having a spreadsheet colour coded for you gives you a reality check on that one. What's the biggest in that process of going from A to Z? I'm working with you to have a product that's launched and being sold. The biggest challenge that people typically have on that journey. People who have had the most challenge the people who haven't quite been able to make that big commitment to prioritising this.

And this is true about anything that you want to do in your life. If you want to lose weight or get fit or stop smoking or whatever it is that you want to do, you have to make that thing a priority and say it is more important to eat healthier later and to eat that packet of crisps. Simple. We make priorities with products. We're breaking that immediate relationship between how you spend your time and how you make your money. But it's not an easy option. You still have to work really hard on making the products and developing your marketing, so you have to be able to commit the time and when you're used to giving most of your time to clients, that is a challenge is a real stumbling block. So you have to either have the money or the commitment or the ruthlessness to just say I'm going to book Fridays after work on products and make a date with yourself to do that. Absolutely.

You get out what you put in, don't you? So you can't. That's the thing about a programme like your programme on my programme. One thing I learned that I'm sure you've learned this lesson many times is that you can take a horse to water. But you can't make it drink so you can give your clients all the tools and guidance, the advice, the best practices. But if they don't invest the time to implement and have the mindset that they believe this can work, then it won't work for people to engage with any programme or learning experience.

You have to apply yourself to it and be part of that. Definitely. Again, nothing. That's true whether you're learning how to do oil painting or learning how to build a products business. If you don't pay attention and you don't put the practice in, it's not going to give. Your paintings are gonna be rubbish. You're not going to be banged off, so you do need to be going into it with your eyes open. And I try to be really honest with people, especially because around the world of products there is a whole lot of rubbish around six-figure launches and that you just make the pdf and then you sell it for a million pounds or something and you get a VA to do the pdf for you.

Crazy is so it's such a noisy world, isn't it? And that's why people get distracted because they believe all this hype that they see. But the reality is that doesn't exist. There's no such thing. That's passive income, really is. Their idea of waking up in the morning of making thousands of pounds is just not true because you've got to invest so much just in a different way to make that money. You may not be making that money through time anymore through the selling of your time, but you're still investing the time in different ways to make that money.

You just make that time asynchronous and you make your payoff period much longer. So the great thing about products is that you can make it put all your effort into making a product now and in 10 years it can still be making money for you as long as you keep poking it with the marketing. Yeah, passive income. There's definitely no such thing as if you don't keep it going with the marketing. It's nothing there exactly. You might have the best products. It's sliced bread, fits the world, doesn't know about it, then they're not going to buy it.

So yeah, well, I always say build it and they will come doesn't exist in our world. Does it really tell us about the typical member who's part of your programme at the moment, what they look like? They're all pretty clever, and I really like working with clever people again. They probably wouldn't say this. There are people who are probably fairly well established in their businesses, so they have gone through all of those hurdles that we were talking about earlier and developed a business, and they're frustrated.

They're frustrated that they're working hard. They've got some skills. They know that they're doing really good work for their clients. But there's something holding them back, and that is often that they're fully booked out. They've read my book on pricing and they pushed their pricing as much as they can, but they're at that ceiling and they can't get through it, so it's being able to answer that frustration that probably unites them. Let's just wrap things up now because I appreciate we're heading towards a half hour before we talk about how people can find out more about you in the programme.

Let me just ask you the question that I ask all of my guests, which is if Julia, goes back in time and gives young Julia just starting out some advice about business. What would that piece of advice be? Well, if I was going to go back to being a teenager, I would probably say it is okay to make money earlier, Julia, because I spent a long time working in, not for profits and not earning a lot of money. So you get that stuff sorted out in your head earlier on.

It took me a lot of time, and I would also say, Commit to products earlier. If people want to find out more about you and your programme, where would they go? Adventures in There are lots of resources there. I love creating helpful resources and articles, and there's lots of stuff that's exclusively on the email list. So you get emails from people who have done this really well ways to do it. I've made a commitment that 90-odd percent of what I'm putting out, I'm putting out for free so you don't even have to buy anything.

Although if you want to join me and the other people who are going through the programme, then you have to get your credit card. But all of it is pretty much there. You'll find it. Yeah, good. You're preaching the kind of service, not sell, aspects of marketing and also the fact that at the end of the day, everything that you and I do is out there in the world already. But that's not why people pay for your services on my services. They pay. They won't have their handheld and have guidance and a process.

So I will make sure we include your link in the show notes today and just want to say a big thank you for joining us. And I hope you're feeling better soon. And I look forward to seeing how adventures in products evolve over the next few years. Absolutely. Thank you, Rob.

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