Less Hostess, More Sushi: 6 Future Freelancing Products

I’m working with a local college on some extension courses and the #1 thing they identified about my proposal was that it needed more content for freelancers. The opportunity to do more for this audience had been staring/slapping me in the face for months and I’m thankful to my collaborators for point it out and prompting action.

Good news: A lot of companies I’ve met would like to jump start the application of design thinking, Lean Startup, business model canvas, customer development, agile.

Bad news: Historically, a lot of consulting and other boardroom conversation involves the supposed prescription of ‘solid plans’. Recently, few of us have been able to escape a zombie movie or TV show. What does the mother tell her child when the zombies are closing in on their location? ‘Honey, everything will be alright.’ When we can’t get the certainties we crave, we fictionalize them.

These newer techniques require that everyone acknowledge the inherent uncertainty in creating a new product or market. Weaning yourself and everyone else off that sugary diet of fake certainties presents a challenge. Now you’re expecting me to say something like ‘challenge == opportunity’? Actually, what I think you should do is present a clear, actionable alternative. You should also make sure you have bite-sized starting points so you can hit doubles and make friends.

Here are some ideas. I’d like to hear what you think.

The Old (Hostess) Menu

Twinkie as Business PlanThe business plan (or marketing plan or sales plan)  is doubtless the Twinkie of traditional consulting. We’re hypnotized by its spongy exterior. Those charts and graphs are so shapely, they must make sense. The delicious fluffy interior seduces our desire for certainty- imagine 5 years of just following this plan to the pot of gold on page 104? Mmmmm…But look, it’s yellow. We need to face reality and prepare ourselves for the learning loops that actually give us a shot at success- next menu.

PRD as Ding DongThe PRD or MRD is the Ding Dong of traditional consulting or product development. In its efficient, stocky cylindrical shape we see a perfect chain of infinite Ding Dong’s. Write the requirements, produce the product, hand it to the requestor, get paid and get praised. What could be simpler? Why doesn’t it work? Why is some moron always screwing it up? Well, sorry, but it’s the Ding Dong. Underneath that chocolaty exterior sits a cesspool of conceptual flaws.

There is an alternate and once you acquire the taste you’ll feel much better.

The New (Sushi) Menu

I’ve formulated these six consulting products based on some ‘early’ ideas about product/market fit. In particular, I’ve selected items that I think are highly a) sellable b) repeatable and c) valuable to the consultant’s progressive accumulation of relevant expertise. A summary-

1. Business Model Canvas: Sketch out the client’s business using the canvas. Identify the key linkages, strategic pivots, and, if applicable next steps.

2. Personas & Problem Scenarios: Set the client up to ‘get outside the building’ and figure out who’s really using their product and why.

3. User Stories: With the above as an input, make explicit the individual assumptions about what the user wants to do and how to make it happen with the product.

4. Lean Strategy Management- Design: Lay out the client’s pivotal assumptions paired with an initial take on experimental design/means of vaildation.

5. Lean Strategy Management- Maintenance: Set up checkpoints and workshops to shepherd implementation of the above.

6. Lean Strategy Management- Financial Plan: Put together a working set of financials for the above.

If your reaction is ‘What is all this stuff?’, you can find an intro to all these items on this site’s SPEAKING PAGE . If you’re itching to get started, there’s a template with some explanation here: PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT TEMPLATE.

Talk Back

What do you think?

If you’re a freelancer or consultant, do you do any of this now? How’s it going? If not, would you want to? How would you start? What resources would you need?

If you’re a manager, are these items of interest? Are you doing them internally? Would you want to engage an external resource? If so, would you want them to train your folks to do these things? Or would you just want to outsource it?

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  • Prasad Saranjame

    Hi Alex – Very good post. The only other things I would consider / call out are:
    1. The need to get a MVP done quickly so it can be used as the basis for getting quick and frequent customer feedback.
    2. Use of the right metrics (beware of vanity metrics) under your Lean Management category.
    3. As a bootstrapping founder, how do you balance your time between product development and customer development?

    My 2 cents..
    – Prasad