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The concept of the minimum viable product is popular among startup founders: what’s the most absolutely basic little project that you can roll out and get users interested in (and hopefully paying for)? After all, the sooner and cheaper you can put something in front of your target market, the faster you can either realize that something isn’t working or you can start bringing in some cash to fund the rest of what you need to build a company.
The same concept is valuable to freelancers, though — particularly if you’re just starting out. In order to build a lucrative freelance career, you need to specialize. That requires just as much testing and tweaking as creating a startup.
Choose One Specific Service to Concentrate On
If you pick one service, you can concentrate on marketing it, as well as figuring out how to make what you offer the best out there.
A lot of freelancers take a scattershot approach to offering services: they’ll offer a couple of broad services, like ‘developing websites’ and then take on any related work that someone sends their way. But those sorts of broad offerings are a lot harder to market. If you pick one service, you can concentrate on marketing it, as well as figuring out how to make what you offer the best out there.
Of course, once you’ve got an initial offer to get clients to your door and paying you money, you can tell them that you’re happy to take on the next project they have, even if it doesn’t fit into your minimum viable service. I certainly wouldn’t suggest turning down paying work if you feel like you can comfortably take it on.
Your minimum viable service should be very narrow:
- Make it as specific as possible, like offering one blog post on Mac software or customizing one WordPress theme for a dentist.
- Know the audience you want to target exactly, to the point that you can name several people in your market. You should know the job title, demographic information and favorite blog of the type of people who will buy this individual service.
- Perform this service in your sleep. To be able to tweak this type of service, as well as to understand precisely what you’re offering a client, you should be able to do the work in your sleep.
- Track variables about your service. There needs to be specific data you can collect about how you perform the service and the results your clients get. They can be along the lines of how much time it takes you to complete the work, but you need to have specific numbers you can easily compare. That includes the cashflow from this particular service.
In short, to get full value out of offering a minimum viable service, you can’t just tell me you want to be a freelance graphic designer. You need to say that you’re going to build identity packages just for professional skateboarders.
Obsess Over the Numbers for a While
The real benefit to offering a minimum viable service is that you should be able to see what is and isn’t working very quickly. If, in fact, you want to work on branding for professional skateboarders, you’ll be able to see right away if you’re able to land any clients for that minimum viable service — probably before you even start selling it. When you’re that specific, you can recognize potential problems a lot faster.
The real benefit to offering a minimum viable service is that you should be able to see what is and isn’t working very quickly.
Maybe you’re looking at working with a clientele with a few more members than the professional skateboarding circuit. If that’s the case, you’re going to need to watch the numbers more closely to know what’s really working and what isn’t. If you’re getting just a few clients in (less than the number you need to cover your expenses), it’s time to start tweaking.
Focus on easy changes. If you have to fight hard to get a particular service making money, it probably isn’t going to be the easiest path to build a freelance career on.
- Put a basic marketing campaign in place, working with low cost methods like guest posting.
- Look for ways to cut down the amount of time it takes you to perform the service so you’re still making the same amount of money but in less time.
- Improve the results your existing clients are getting so that they’re more excited to recommend you.
- Add on to your service to move it from a minimum viable service to a full-fledged offering. You’ll almost certainly get specific requests from your clients, letting you know exactly waht to add.
Moving Outward from Your First Service
When you’re new to freelancing, concentrating on doing one thing amazingly well is a good way to bring in clients quickly. Once you’ve been doing it for a little while, you’ll find that you have ideas for related services. After you’ve grown your first offering to the point where you know you can land work on a regular basis, consider adding a second minimum viable service. You can keep growing your freelance business that way with a lot of success.