Episode 193: Developing a Product for Your Consulting Business—with Suzy Haber Wakefield
Deb Zahn: Hi, I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. On this episode, we're going to talk about how to create a product as a way to generate revenue for your consulting business. And this episode is going to be the first of a two-part episode that is really different than anything I've done before. I've got Suzy Haber Wakefield on this episode. She is a fabulous consultant who wants to develop her first ever product and I am going to coach her through that process. So, in the first episode, we're going to talk about the details of trying to figure out what that product should be. And in the second episode, we're going to talk about how to sell that product. So, let's start with part one. Hi, I want to welcome to the show today, Suzy Haber Wakefield. Suzy, welcome to the show.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Thank you. I'm so excited to be here with you.
Deb Zahn: So, let's start off, tell my listeners what you do.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: So, I am the founder and principal of a design studio. My name Suzy Wakefield Designs. We take founders' visions, and we create concept and product and product storytelling around it. We deliver that vision with fitted garments across sizes ready to be produced to go out into the world. That would be across emerging brands, mid-size, and then because I come from a corporate design world, some larger companies we work with as well.
Deb Zahn: That's great. And I'm glad that I'm not on video because I am decidedly anti-fashion right now, although I want you to know I wore my good bandana.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: You look fabulous, Deb.
Deb Zahn: Thank you very much. So, we are going to do something that I've actually never done ever on any of my shows, which is you have a hankering to develop a product as part of your offerings. I got super excited when you told me that because I loved the idea of consultants offering products. And so we thought it might be fun to together, walk through a process where you can make some of the key decisions that you would make or at least have some placeholder decisions that would help you move down that path to actually developing a product. So, how fun is that?
Suzy Haber Wakefield: It is so fun. I love being the unique one on your podcast. It's getting you to do something different too. And for me, it's a gift because I have had this in my mind for a long time and never really been able to move from that bespoke to figuring out how to productize my offering in a small way that still feels like me.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, and that it still feels like you, I think, is the really critical piece. Well, one of the things I always tell folks before they develop a product, and I have actually done a product as a consultant that did very well, is to not just jump in and create it and do, if you build it, they will buy it, which does not always or generally happen.
So, let's start off though. I want folks to understand, what's drawing you to want to have a product as part of your offerings? What does that do for you? What do you think it might do for folks that would buy it?
Suzy Haber Wakefield: I think first of all, for folks that would buy it, there are a lot of people who appreciate our expertise and experience and would love it for their brand but can't afford to take that whole scope journey. So, for them, I would love to have something that they could rely on us to help and at the same time be more independent in the way they use it, so it could be affordable. And for me, I would like to have something that is not so bespoke and a little more consistent throughout my process.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, a little consistency in perhaps income, but also just everything isn't some new thing that has to be done. That's definitely nice to have in the mix. So, we're going to start off with the place that I believe regardless of the offer, anybody who, consultant or anybody, who offers services should start there, which is with the buyer.
So, let's start off with who do you think your buyer is that would be in that category of this gets them something that they could afford that's actually meaningful to them? Describe what they're like, to me.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: So, they would be someone, I think they are someone who has a vision, has an idea. It's either partially baked or not baked, but they certainly... It's floating in the ethos of their minds. They typically, I believe, do not have a fashion background so that the general concept of how to take that vision to a product place, to their product, to their client is very murky. I think that's the part that just becomes overwhelming for people because it's almost like fashion in a sense and product development of apparel can become a different language and they don't understand the timing, they don't understand the steps. And so what happens is people get decision overload. They don't know what's a big decision, what's a small decision.
I love nothing better than being able to help people understand what the cycle looks like, how you make something creative and also that your customer will want and that will be unique in the market because Lord knows, there's enough stuff in the world. So, we only want to make things that feel unique. There's art and science. There's a way to look at what other people are doing with the lens to say how am I going to be different? How am I going to be better? What does that value look like? So, those people with questions that they might not even know to ask yet, are my people. I will be able to help them.
Deb Zahn: So, if I wanted to develop my own line of high-fashion bandanas, which I believe exists or I would certainly buy it. I've actually bought some high-end bandanas that are hand dyed. But it's a mystery to me. I have no idea how that world works. I have no idea even what decisions I need to make. I don't even know what the first few steps would be. That's who your buyer is.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Yes. And one more point on that to say, using your bandana example, imagine if your bandanas need to be sized across a group of people and the same experience that you were giving someone in one size, you need to give the next person in the other size and on and on and democratizing how it fits and respecting the person, regardless of the size. So, that's one more complexity in the mix.
Deb Zahn: Love it. So, we have to have that body positivity aspect to it because that's who we are. And they have the mystery part that has to be solved. What generally do you think they aspire to? What would just be joyful to them such that if they bought a product, this is what they're really trying to get to?
Suzy Haber Wakefield: I think seeing their vision come to life and seeing it start to become, not in their head, but a physical product and getting it to the point where they can see the end journey where there is a well-told story, the product backs up that story, the product reinforces that story. In a perfect world where product is really the queen, everything else works around it. It's the central planet and that's what we want to do is make the message and the products sing together. I think that's what people envision is now we're all so used to the customer journey and direct to consumer, whether you're buying groceries, whether you're buying clothes, whether you're buying lipstick and what everyone compares it to is not another clothing brand, but what's their best experience online? Everything I compare to buying an Apple computer because that to me is easy peasy service. They're always there for me. I think that's what I want our clients to be able to envision is they're getting to the point where they've got the Mac and they've got the Apple service.
Deb Zahn: That's right. That's right. So, it wouldn't just be in my case, “Oh look, another bandana!” It would be a Debdana or whatever I would call it. But it's really, somebody would feel super special having it on. They would feel like this expresses me and I helped make that happen. That's part of what I'm aspiring to.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Mm-hmm.
Deb Zahn: Love that. Now you answered this question a little bit earlier, but in case there's anything more, the next question I would also ask is why would they buy a product rather than saying, "I need her by my side. I want her doing this with me step by step," and affordability you said was one. Is there anything else that would make them more drawn to a product than to a more customized consulting experience?
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Well, it's a very good question. If I think about it myself buying products of services, then I would say that they could do it at their own pace. They didn't feel like the clock was ticking and that they felt like they might want to take all the information in at once and then perhaps, spend six months raising funds. But if they'd learned the information from this productized offering, then they also, in my opinion, would go in with a little more confidence in their stride to people they might want as investors, whether that's crowdfunding, whether that's true investors or whether that's even friends and family. If you know what you're talking about, you have a better chance to be intentional about getting what you need.
Deb Zahn: I love it. I'm going to add one other thing to that I suspect. You can tell me if this is true, but it's certainly why I have bought products before is also when I know I don't understand a world and I don't understand the language, I don't understand anything, it can be embarrassing and it can spark imposter syndrome. If I just contact someone and say, "Hey, work with me," and I start using words that make no sense to them and I start asking for things that make no sense for what I'm trying to accomplish, if I had a product, I would be less embarrassed because it's just me interacting with the product and nobody is watching me.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: That's a very good point. I agree with you.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, perfect. So, all right, so that's your buyer. Anything else about your buyer? Again, the buyer is somebody who would be drawn to a product. You notice we're not saying what the product is yet. We're trying to say who's the buyer such that the product is ultimately going to be a fit for them.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: The only thing I might add that I'm not sure we covered is reassurance.
Deb Zahn: Yeah.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Just to have something that's tangible, that's a go-to to go back to.
Deb Zahn: It's soothing. So, I think of things I looked at when I was starting my podcast, which was overwhelming. I didn't understand how to do it, da da da. They're like, "Oh, it is step by step." "Oh OK, I don't have to figure out the equipment." This person just told me what equipment to get. It's so much easier. So, yeah, there's also the soothing and relief you get because you have the right guide.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Mm-hmm. Agreed.
Deb Zahn: Love it, love it. OK, and we hit upon this a little bit, but so I like to always start with the buyer. And again, you'll recognize this from some of the work that you do as a consultant, but you start with the buyer and then the next step is before you get into what the thing is, you ask the question, what are the results that the buyer wants? And so we talked about they want to be soothed. We talked about all of the other things. But if we think about if you had someone buy a product, what's the actual tangible result that they get from buying that product? I want to think about this in terms of it doesn't just have to be, and now their clothing line is available on an online store. It could be a first step or a first series of step that gets them to a place that is actually meaningful. It doesn't have to be the entire journey. It could be you get them to the first rest stop.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: What I was about to say was I envision for them, if they have the roadmap, then they can keep replicating it. So, I love your rest stop analogy because part of what can become overwhelming in a fashion business is that there's a cycle. Whether you are offering fast fashion, which I don't recommend to anyone at this point in the world.
Deb Zahn: Please don't, please don't. I'm with you on that.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Even if you're offering twice a year, there's going to be a point, there always is, when you're at a peak and a stage in one part of the process for one season and it overlaps. So, I believe that if we can lead people with a guide to whether they've finished the fashion journey, to your point, whether it's taking them to actually be production ready or it's taking them to understand the point of where they will be so they know how they want to invest the money, whether they want to invest in a designer or once they understand the process, they think they can do it themselves and maybe they want to invest in a production person. Instead, maybe they don't feel like they need both. Maybe they just feel like they can invest in social, at that point. I would like to give them the knowledge that they walk away saying, "OK, I have a clear understanding of the roadmap and I have a clear understanding of the key to what all the different stops are, so I know how I'm going to spend my budget on travel."
Deb Zahn: So, in a sense, and again I'm going to use myself as an example, so I will understand the roadmap to creating my fabulous bandana line. I will have been able to decide if I'm going to do a spring set using organic recycled cotton, and I'm going to do a wool set for the fall and winter working with a regenerative farmer in Scotland because why not? Because that's what I would probably do if I did a line.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: I can see this coming down.
Deb Zahn: I think this might have to happen. But I would know here's what that whole process is, here are the steps that I have to take. Here are the most important decisions and it's all laid out in front of me. So, you've essentially solved the mystery, and I have something where I can now develop a plan and now I know what to do. So, I haven't done it. The transformation is not everything's been released, the transformation is and I now have a plan or I have something that enables me to create a plan.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Yes.
Deb Zahn: OK. Ooh, I love that. I love that because I love a good plan. And in order to get that result, they need to know here's what the journey is, so this is the roadmap that you mentioned. And what would they have to do to get that result? So, it's one piece is knowledge and then one piece is action, so what would you envision for them to get to that outcome they would actually have to do?
Suzy Haber Wakefield: They would need to follow the steps. As you and I have talked about, there are certain consistent, replicable steps that I use with clients. Even though everything is bespoke, there's certain ways from years of doing it and from expertise to know here's how to take an idea and future proof it to make sure it's unique, to understand even if we're all at every stage of any business, putting our customer first and putting their customer first, we're making sure that even if the person, this client avatar with the vision, thinks that there's no other bandanas out there like it, they need to understand what their customer is saying, what their customer.
That has to be second nature. You need to understand what a perceived group of competitors is doing, not in any way to replicate it and not just to be different for the sake of being different. But that's the art and science is to understand what people are doing well, what the perception is, is your idea as different as you think it is? And then after that, studying the market really, also fine tuning your vision. Are you a party of one? And really from some research you do and from some thinking it out realize there aren't enough of people who want bandanas? I think there are, but…
Deb Zahn: Everybody needs bandanas.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: I'm getting a little bandana envy at this conversation. But you need to understand who is the person. If it's you, great, as long as there's enough of you because you're building a business and what does she do or he or they? What does the rest of their life look like? Because that's really important, so you know where they go. Everything needs to ladder up to what we're offering, so helping. Part of what my job is certainly most of it is creative, some of it is creative thinking and looking at well where are we going to appeal to your client once we have the product? What does she like to do? How can we envision her, him, they, a community because we need for, and this person needs to really know in and out and backwards and forwards who their customer is because you can't build a business on one product, and you can't build a business if you don't have the intention of who you're serving. Nobody opens a restaurant if they don't think about who's going to come in.
Deb Zahn: Or they don't do it well if they don't think about who's going to come in. So, let me pause there because this is all fabulous stuff. So, to get my transformation, to get my result at that, we talked about at the end, I have to know what questions I have to ask myself and what to reflect on myself, and I also have to know what questions to ask in my market to really get at competition, who the buyer is, all of the details that you just mentioned. So, that gets me to having an understanding of the roadmap is what the key decisions are and the questions that go into making those decisions. Does that sound right?
Suzy Haber Wakefield: That's the first part of it. The first part of the journey is really understanding, before you put pen to paper, who you're designing for, why you're designing, why is it going to be different than anything else and what is out there that could be perceived as similar? And in a way, one can look at it's a positive thing because if there is no audience, it might be a heavier lift. So, then all of that is the first step before the design journey begins. Then it's a matter of adding visuals to that, first conceptual visuals, mood boards and a common language of visuals. Because I'll often say to my clients, "You can say pretty and I can say pretty and we might mean way different things, but if I show you a visual board of pretty because that's what you want and you can say yay, nay, this is it. Once we align on if you want a pretty line, what that pretty looks like, then that's when the excitement begins because OK, we're on the same page."
We've established visuals that are inspiration and a starting point. We're putting ideas of color to the line and we're putting ideas of details. Is it sophisticated? Is it whimsical? And all of these things, again, build the language of the brand because most likely if your product is sophisticated and your colors are rich and deep, you're probably not going to have a super whimsical voice in your brand storytelling.
Deb Zahn: Let me stop you right there. So, you could... So, this is when we…because we could go on because there's a whole bunch of steps until it gets to, and now I'm seeing my stuff that I believe that I now have confidence that there's a buyer for, it physically exists and all of that. There's a whole bunch of steps. But let me ask the minimal viable product question, which is ultimately what I suggest when folks develop a product, and usually how people go into it when they're developing a consulting product, is what gets them exactly what they would get if they paid me, my consulting, my consulting amount to help them get to that final thing that they ultimately want? But not all buyers necessarily want that entire thing because they might take the first step and realize, you know what? This isn't really me. Or you know what? I need to do some work before I'm ready for the second stage.
So, there might be reasons that they want that first part. I'll use a non-fashion example. So, as I was considering because I've always had the entrepreneur spirit, I explored a whole bunch of things and one of them was I make this amazing peach hot sauce. I grow most of the stuff that goes with it. What if I turn that into a product that I sold? Because I actually took it to a couple restaurants and they tasted and they were like, "This is amazing. We would love to offer this." I could have gone down that road. I started exploring what would it be like to do that? And I realized, I don't want that life. I don't want to wonder when I'm sourcing peaches because I know that climate change is going to make stone fruit much harder to source. I thought through the whole thing, and I ended up at the realization that no, but this gave me really helpful information to think about other things.
Or I could have gone through that process and said, “OK, I want this” but I realize I do need money to get this kick-started. I do need to develop some relationships for sourcing. Let me go and explore that first and then I come back for the second phase. So, the question for you is, and this is as much a question about what you think your buyer would buy and would give them a result that is satisfying to them and what makes your heart sing because you matter too, your business. So, what do you think... And the term is minimal viable product, which essentially is the least thing that you can create that still gets them a meaningful result that they're willing to buy. What do you think the minimal viable product might be, given everything you've said but everything you know that they would have to do along the whole path?
Suzy Haber Wakefield: I think that it might look like some sort of super session where they have certain tools that they could do and use in between working with me a certain, let's say four or five times, and have certain formats of templates and tools that I use with my current clients, a form of my client intake form, which they often say is really eye opening for them because it gets them to already before we even meet the first, not the first time. We have a discovery first and then gets them thinking. So, I think to your question, that is probably a certain amount of high touch still, but in an abbreviated time period and leaving them with the tools that still allow them because it's a very good point, people to see whether they're ready and have the time to be able to work through it themselves.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. So, you have this fabulous intake form that people love, so that's a beautiful thing. That's an asset. Because the other way to think about this is what assets do I already have that could be repurposed into something that is either all do it yourself, self-paced or a combination of do it yourself plus handholding, direct contact with you? So, it sounds like that's an asset. I suspect you have other assets as well that could be packaged into something.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Yes.
Deb Zahn: So, if they did an intake and one of the other questions, I always ask is can they get the result doing something all themselves or do they really need access to you at a certain point? And if they do, then that has to become part of the package.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: The latter. I believe that they need a combination because I also think it's playing tennis against a backboard. Yes, you'll improve, but there's certain things that only another player can help you with your game and particularly, someone who really knows what they're doing. So, I would feel better about leaving someone in good hands that they had a chance to go through things and also ask me.
Deb Zahn: Love it. And I'm going to also reveal the other utility of that, which is they then also get to experience your magic. So, the time I did a product with some other folks, it was an assessment tool that we knew would be valuable as a standalone, but we also wanted folks to be able to ask questions to go in deeper into some things. So, it was an assessment tool. It spit back out a report that gave them priorities in terms of timing and priorities in terms of things that are most important to do, most important to do first. But we also did a call with it with an expert so that they could really say, so here's what we're dealing with. They had a certain amount of time to get a little attention for that. That ended up being super necessary for them to get the result.
But the other thing that was helpful is they're like, “Oh I really like this person.” So, there could be another offer that they also want to take advantage of because they realize that for them, some extra handholding would be helpful. So, that's when you think of here's the minimal viable product. Most people who do this will get X results, which we're going to talk about validation in the market, but you know that there is a demand for. But there might be some additional sort of add on offerings where maybe they could get an extra session with you or they could get, whatever the next step is, that would get them a higher level of value but they get to pick.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Mm-hmm. Yes.
Deb Zahn: OK.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Yes, that's a great way of putting it.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, and again, it's not... I'm not a huge fan of the term upsell because upsell is usually focused on us, and I think it should be focused on the buyer. I think of it truly, truly, truly as if somebody wants to or they can afford it, what's another level of value that I could give them that increases the result that they get?
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Yes.
Deb Zahn: Or gives them the next result. So, that's another way to think of the minimal viable product is the least that gets them something meaningful to them. But there might be other things that you attach to it that you know would be additionally helpful if they wanted to take that step.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: That's terrific. That really is a very good way of thinking about it and giving them optionality to be versatile in their journey.
Deb Zahn: That's right and that's where also when you think of the minimal viable product, you can also develop sort of, “OK, how would it be delivered?” So, you have to think through what you think a format might be. So, for example, I have a membership. I very deliberately built my membership so that somebody would not have to be a member of a social media site. They don't have to be a Facebook member, sorry, Zuck, in order to enjoy my membership. I wanted them to be able to go directly to it. So, I thought through who my buyer is, how I make it easy for them, how I make it enjoyable for them. And you think of the form that it will ultimately take and the process and all of that.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Yeah.
Deb Zahn: So, go ahead and ask questions about that or talk a little bit about what you think it might look like.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Well, I'm curious. What do you use that is a community that they don't have to be a member of?
Deb Zahn: No, goodness, no. I never build anything if I don't have to because other people are smarter at it than me. No. So, I use Circle as a membership site. There's other ones and I looked at Pat Flynn, who's a famous entrepreneur, and I looked at other people and said, "What are they using?" Then I said, "What experience do I want folks to have"? Because it's not just the thing, it's also the experience I want them to have. And then I thought of my experience, and I thought I also have to think about my day-to-day life and how much effort I want to put into this. So, I weighed all those things and that helped me sort of tease out, OK, what do I want this to look like? Feel like? What do I want the experience to be? I had been on Facebook groups, that was right when there was a lot of conversations starting about the problematic nature of Facebook and other social media sites, which I agree with.
And I thought through all those things to try and think about what that would actually be like. I went into some of these groups to experience them myself and I came up with a, I love this, and I hate this list. Transformation and getting a result, but it also has to match what I paid for it and what my expectations are. You made an excellent point earlier. People aren't just going to compare your thing to something that's like your thing. They're going to compare it to their best experience across industries. So, for example, I bought a course once from sort of a big name. He was drawing unscripted on a whiteboard, and it wasn't interesting and it didn't seem really well thought out and I could tell it was this, hey let's put a product up quick that we can make some money from.
The price didn't match the experience. I sure as heck expected more than that. The information was so-so and I didn't get a transformation. What ended up happening, and this is always the thing to avoid so much with products, is I got a taste and what he really wanted me to do was to buy a more expensive product. So, it stopped short of giving me a meaningful transformation. And so I basically paid for a sales pitch to sell the next thing.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: That is the worst experience.
Deb Zahn: It's awful.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: I had a CEO who I still... She is just an amazing rockstar, and she used to tell all of us, a value is only a value, if you're actually paying less than it's worth.
Deb Zahn: Yeah.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: It's not a value just because it's cheap.
Deb Zahn: Yeah.
Suzy Haber Wakefield: So, that's, to your point, the thing that you really don't want to be is one of these that they're just trying to upsell, that this is the thing, the teaser that's not really giving people what they want or the value. I love that you said Circle because I'm on two Circle communities, and it's such an easy interface.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, I find it easy. It's got some stuff, but everybody's got some stuff. But yeah, so here's how I define value. It's results plus experience. I keep it really simple. So, when you're developing the form that a minimal viable product will take, you think about, does it help them truly achieve the result that is meaningful to them? And two, does it give them an experience that matches what they paid for it or I would say exceeds what they paid for it? I mean at minimum, don't frustrate people. I've been frustrated when I bought things. At minimum, make it easy for people. Get rid of friction. Make it super easy. But I want to be done consuming a product and say, "Holy crap, that was worth it." That's what you want people to say at the end. So, you're developing a holy crap that was worth the product. And then the price.
Now you're not going to come up with the price now, but what I always encourage is to come up with what I call a play price because ultimately, we're going to get to the point where you're going to validate it in the market. I'm going to talk about that in a moment. But a play price could be a single price, here's what they pay to get this thing. It could be, if you decide you're going to do sort of two tiers where you're going to have some additional things that people could add that might include... What does it cost for them to do those additional things? But just something that you think is reasonable because you've looked in your market, you've seen what exists, what doesn't, you've seen sort what folks are charging for things, who your buyer is and if they can't afford your bespoke offering, you've got some sense of what their affordability is, that matches again the value.
It doesn't mean price it low. It means price it appropriately and it gives you something to play with. Now we are going to divide this up into two podcasts. I should have told folks that at the beginning because we got a lot more to go through. But if you get to that point, what we're going to talk about, starting at the next episode, is before you build the thing. Because just because you've got these ideas doesn't mean you should go build it right now. There's a validation process that we're going to talk about on the next episode and then we're going to walk through the sort of decisions you need to make again before you even try and make something about how ultimately, you're going to sell it and generate revenue from it. So, you ready to rock and roll on the next podcast?
Suzy Haber Wakefield: Absolutely.
Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up in a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything.
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