So good you can’t compare it—making a mixed product

Website Design and Development • 7 minute reading time

This article is part of a series discussing Launching recurring products.

A tweet by Tom Hirst last week prompted this article.

After thinking about this a little more, that’s not what this is about. If your product is rubbish, a client will cancel it in a heartbeat even if it’s costing them £2 per month.

No, what this is really about is a few different layers.

  1. Making a product that solves your client’s problems, not yours.
  2. Making a product that’s so good it can’t be compared.
  3. Making the price so good that it’s a no-brainer.

Ultimately, this is about making something so good it can’t be compared. I’ve called these mixed products, and agencies have the ability to make these all over the place. We just don’t.

Why make a “product”?

James wrote about why we started making this product and the underlying business need, but I’ll cover this briefly again.

Most agencies suffer from the same problems.

  1. Feast or famine: we’ve either got a lot of projects on or not enough.
  2. Project-based: we’re starting from scratch again and again. We want to get the project done, and out of the door.
  3. Lack of recurring income: speaks for itself.

We’d been thinking about number 3 for a long time. Most agencies do. I saw number 3 as a way to improve number 1 and 2.

I didn’t see this as “retainers”, as they’re still just selling our time. Whilst the time is secured each month and thus reduces some of the feast and famine mentality, we were still selling our time. Our time doesn’t scale, but a product should.

To know if you’ve got a good product, it should scale well: as you sell more of your product it should begin to cost you less. That cost can be in compounding experience, efficiencies, or actual money. Ideally all 3.

Retainer work—although secured each month—doesn’t offer any of those benefits.

So we returned to the drawing board and thought a little more about some kind of mixed product: the idea of combining two of our services together to create something so good you can’t compare it.

But let me first tell you why we’d hestiated for so long, because that’s probably where you’re at right now too.

Why didn’t we do this sooner?

Honestly? We saw hosting websites as a hassle. To us, not to our clients.

Previous to us creating our support product, we hesitated to even offer basic hosting. Despite our clients sometimes begging us to sort their hosting out for them, we hated doing it. We ended up doing it for a few clients, but our offers were almost custom to each client leading us back to our initial problem agencies suffer from: starting over every time you make something.

In the early days we bought a dedicated server, which was the beginnings of our hosting offerings. We didn’t know what we were doing with it though, and it wasn’t until Rich came on board that we could sort it. It still took us a while to sort out afterwards.

Rather than us answering what our clients wanted—a better way to host their websites—we just told them to find some hosting online that we’d recommend, or we’d host it for a nominal fee with a very normal hosting product.

Our clients found ad-hoc costs annoying for little website changes too. We’d change a logo, and bill a little bit of time for it. Then we’d have to chase it, and it’d end up costing us more than our original time.

The whole experience wasn’t good for us, wasn’t good for our clients, and we knew we could do better if we just listened to them.

So we started listening.

Make a product that solves your client’s problems, not yours

Our clients were facing 2 main problems:

  1. Not understanding the difference between our standard hosting and other options from other providers, other than the price.
  2. After a website goes live, not understanding what it might cost for changes and what might be included.

Once a website goes live, we often found ourselves in this uncomfortable situation with clients. We’d say we’d make any small adjustments (bugs, errors) to the website free of charge for the first month. Which was fine.

But then you get past that first month and suddenly there’s nothing there any longer. What does your client do now? We always told them we’d just charge them for our time because that was the “fairest” way for us to do it.

The truth was, it wasn’t that fair at all. Fair for us maybe, but it still left our clients with so many questions.

  • How long will it take you to do XXX?
  • What about if I want to do XXX?
  • How can I manage these costs?

I started thinking of this in terms of “aftercare”, as it helped me frame the product right. It’s not a retainer. It’s not a contract. It’s aftercare. It’s a protection plan.

So we got to thinking about a mixed product that could solve our client’s frustrations, and came up with our first draft of our support packages.

Making something so good it can’t be compared

A mixed product in our case was going to be a hosting product, a support product, and a consultancy product.

We wanted to give our clients access to our expertise across creative, technical and marketing every month, for a set fee. Basically, we were going to create a product that mixed things together from our other specialisms.

You can see a full breakdown of our current packages, but each package includes:

  • Excellent WordPress-specific hosting.
  • A portion of our studio time each month to use on the website at their request.
  • A portion of our studio time each month that we use to improve their website: speeding it up, fixing broken links etc.
  • Reporting: sensible reports that our clients could understand that shows how their website is performing.
  • Extras: depending on the level of package, we also include on-page SEO, content marketing, social media marketing and lots more.

Our goal was to pull together several things we were doing elsewhere into one irresistible package that isn’t like anything else.

When people say to us: is this your hosting?

We can say: no, this is much more than hosting. Then we show them.

What’s good about a mixed product is each part of the product compounds to make more than the sum of its parts. When you connect all these services together you have a product that can’t be compared to anything else.

You’ve made something so good it can’t be compared like-for-like. And not in a naff marketing way: in an actual real world way.

Making the price so good it’s a no-brainer (more value than they expect)

The truth is this should always be our goal, but as agencies I find we can get caught up in the idea of how much our time costs hourly more than how much people think it’s worth. And there’s often a big difference between those 2 things.

It might take you 2 hours to make a new banner for the homepage of your client’s website. Your hourly rate might be £50, so that just cost your client £100.

Was that worth it for the client?

It depends.

Does that new banner advertise a new sale on an ecommerce site which they’re about to make £30,000 from? Then yes.

Does the new banner just look nice? Then…maybe not. It’ll be harder for the client to rationalise.

We wanted to provide a support product that was more than just our hourly value. Something that seems so ridiculously good value that it makes no sense not to buy it.

We settled on a price—starting £100 per month—that seems too good to be true. On a pure cost value, it is. If we add up our cost value for the product, it costs more than the £100 per month. Which is exactly where we wanted it to land.

Your goal with anything should be to make the price a no-brainier. That doesn’t mean make it cheap. It means make the value and worth so obvious that the purchase becomes a no-brainier.

You should probably do this too

There’s opportunities to follow the methods I’ve outlined here in almost any business, not just agencies. Moving towards this model for us has made a huge difference to the way we approach our business, as well as our cash flow.

I’d love to hear how you’ve approached this if you’ve done anything similar. Laying out how we work is something we don’t do often enough.

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Craig Burgess

Craig is Genius Division's creative director. At weekends, he likes to strangle and grapple fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu enthusiasts throughout the country. In his down time, he peruses the internet's finest cat videos.