The lines between solo consulting and product building are blurry

I’ve been thinking about starting a small product business recently – something niche enough that I can build independently, while aiming for early profitability. As getting customers for any product requires marketing, I figured I could improve my marketing skills if I started by selling a product that already has a market: My services as a Data & AI Consultant. As the way I currently present myself is somewhat generic, my thinking was that this would be a good opportunity to improve my positioning by building dedicated landing pages for specific services and target audiences – something that’s necessary for any product.

I chatted a bit with Bing on keyword research and this is one of the things it said:

First of all, I think you should define your target audience and your value proposition clearly. Who are you trying to help with your consulting site? What problems can you solve for them? What benefits can they get from booking a call with you? These questions will help you craft a compelling message that attracts the right leads.

One of the resources it cited was a post on consulting best practices from Consulting Success, where some of the tips are around following proven processes, offering productised solutions, and developing a Magnetic Message, which they formulate as “I help [WHO] to [solve WHAT problem] so they can [see WHAT results]. My [WHY choose me]…” Another post by Consulting Success talks about building a consulting website, with the first step being to “understand your ideal client”.

This sort of advice might be obvious, but I suppose it’s needed because it’s easy to fall into the trap of making a consulting site about the consultant rather than about the ideal client and their problems. The parallel in the product world is starting from a product idea rather than from customer needs, which many people who enjoy building stuff tend to do.

The ideal bit is worth emphasising because going too broad can also be a mistake for independent consultants and product builders. Jonathan Stark addresses this point concisely, saying that “the only business strategy you’ll ever need [is to] help people you like get what they want.” This resonates with me since one of the reasons I want to work independently is to have choice over who I help – I find it hard to deal with the moral conundrums that come with working in a business that sells technology solutions to pretty much anyone (as long it’s legal).

Starting with decisions on a niche and ideal clients is in line with the advice to product-focused micropreneurs from Start Small, Stay Small. It makes sense: If one of the aims is to keep the headcount low (starting from one and perhaps staying there), it’s impossible to effectively target a broad market. This is regardless of whether the product sold is software subscriptions or consulting services. What wasn’t obvious to me until I came across Consulting Success and similar resources is how similar solo consulting can be to solo product building. I thought of consulting more as freelancing or contracting – selling time/effort for money. But thinking of consulting as achieving results and solving problems for clients brings it much closer to the product realm. Further, through consulting, it’s possible to uncover problems that are shared by many clients, which can become the basis for a pure self-service software solution.


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