How I Turned My WordPress Freelance Gigs Into A Productized Service

$10,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
5
Employees
product
WP OK
from Amsterdam
started May 2015
$10,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
5
Employees
8.62M
alexa rank
383
subs
productivity
crm

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello, this is Daniele Besana and I'm the founder of WP-OK.

We provide unlimited WordPress support for serious folks, another way of saying that we help small business owners focusing on the important things while we take care of their websites.

We offer WordPress management subscription, our flagship product, that came in three different plans designed for different needs.

From taking care of security & maintenance to providing unlimited tickets for continuous websites improvements, our goal is to provide the best support for serious website owners.

I like to describe our customers as 'serious' because they all have a professional approach to their online business and are seeking the support they didn't get before.

Most of them found WP-OK after a painful experience: a do-it-yourself approach turned into hours spent fixing WordPress instead of growing the business, a freelancer who has disappeared into thin air, or a web agency charging big bucks for any small request.

I know from my own experience how hard is to grow an online business, and how easy is to jeopardize hard work because of a technical mistake.

I also know how good it feels to have an online business, the freedom & excitement that comes with working on what you built.

That's why we target 'serious' folks!

WP-OK was born in 2015. Since then, it grew into a team of 4 WordPress experts that solved 2800+ tickets for 200+ customers.

how-i-turned-my-wordpress-freelance-gigs-into-a-saas-business Treasure hunting during our yearly meetup in Florence, Italy.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I've always worked in IT, solving technical problems for small and big companies.

During my 15 years career in network security, I was lucky to help a lot of different types of customers: from small family-owned businesses to multinationals corporations.

It’s all about people. Don't focus on the number of subscribers, followers, opt-in, conversions… when you start is all about building relationships with people.

In 2012 I started my own business, looking for new challenges.

I blame the 30-year crisis and the book 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss for this!

My original idea was to buy existing websites, with traffic and revenues, and work to increase profits.

As it often happens, the original plan didn't work out as imagined and I soon found myself drowning in a multitude of projects bringing little cash.

A friend of mine, a WordPress consultant, asked me if I wanted some customers… it looked like a low-hanging fruit for me, and I said YES.

Doing WordPress freelancing I realized that so many small-medium businesses, disappointed by bad support experiences, are losing time and money with websites that don't work well.

I asked myself: why don't help small business owners and professional with an efficient and affordable support service?

That's how WP-OK was born :)

I first offered the subscription to my existing customers, and that was well-received as they already knew and trust me.

Building a monthly revenue was nice. A few hundred euros each month gave me the freedom to leave expensive Amsterdam and reach cheaper places when I wanted, all while renting out my apartment to fuel some more time abroad.

The challenge was to reach new customers.

I chose to focus on the Italian market, launching the service under the WP-OK brand.

Take us through the process of building the product.

Following Dan Norris and Brian Casel, both evangelist of the 'productized-service' business model, I decided to build my service like if it was a product.

Brian's online course helped me to understand how to shape my idea.

In a few words, imagine buying cookies in a grocery shop vs ordering a cake from a pastry chef.

In the grocery shop, you see cookies that are done-for-you (most people like chocolate) with a transparent, fixed price ready to buy.

With the pastry chef, you discuss how you'd like the cake to be, ask the price (proposal), maybe negotiate a little, then place the order and wait for the cake to be ready.

Two different approaches with different dynamics, right?

I love the productized service approach because:

  • I could choose what to include (and what not to) in our services;
  • I could create procedures and delegate the repeating tasks;
  • I could market our services as solutions to real problems.

I believe this is the best way to grow from freelancer to entrepreneur.

I didn't need any initial financial investment but my own time and my previous experience with both support and WordPress freelancing proved to been very precious in defining what's important.

For example, I knew by experience that the backups are so-often overlooked, and how-to prevent malware by keeping a website secure.

I created three subscription plans aiming for three different buyer personas:

  • RELAX: to keep the website secured, for customers looking for peace-of-mind;
  • TOP: including tickets, for customers looking for ongoing improvements;
  • VIP: adding phone support and priority support.

how-i-turned-my-wordpress-freelance-gigs-into-a-saas-business

Someone might object that having predefined, fixed packages, rather than discuss an ideal solution with each prospect, can push away potential customers.

To me, this is a good thing because I could define who my ideal customers are and focus on building the best service for them.

It also means that I don't need to write proposals (something I personally never liked!).

I hate spending my (unpaid) time working on a solution, prepare a quote hoping to get it right, send the offer and wait hoping for an answer, if any.

Now the dynamics are reversed: our service is well-defined and prices are fixed, if you like it buy it online.

At this point I was still a one-man show, and happily so.

Describe the process of launching the business.

The launch of WP-OK was for sure an unusual one.

I was already providing the service to customers I knew, and tinkering with the idea of creating a brand dedicated to that.

Your mistakes are worth more than 100 how-to books. Books are great, but eventually you have to go through it yourself and learn from your mistakes.

One day I get an email from an Italian podcaster, asking me for an interview.

Living abroad, I was very much tuned in the international scene and English-speaking marketers and educators.

I knew nothing about the internet marketing scene back home, but it turned out that this podcast, ItalianIndie, was interviewing entrepreneurs working online and it has a large following.

I jumped on the opportunity and literally built the WP-OK website before recording the interview.

I used this unexpected media exposure to talk about buying/selling websites, and announce my new WordPress support service.

I also offered to the listener a free website check-up, something I regretted immediately as I got swamped with dozens of requests!

But in all this turmoil, I got my first five customers: entrepreneurs and small online businesses in need of professional help.

That was my launch.

I learned a few lessons from it:

  • If you find yourself often thinking about a project, go for it. Trust your gut.
  • Podcasts are a great way to get discovered. The listeners are willing to hear your story and message, and the trust is transferred from the host to the guest.
  • Your personal story , as founder, is very important.
    Practice telling what you do, for who you do it, why you do it and how you do it.
    People will connect to you first, and to your company later.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

The next challenge was to reach more companies in need of our services.

What worked for me:

Podcasts

After the first interview, a few others follow and I found myself being somewhat known among Italian online business owners.

Appearing in a podcast is good, but appearing in multiple podcasts is great because the listeners get more and more familiar with you.

Google Ads

Everyone complains that search result sponsored ads are expensive, but they are also extremely effective when you reach potential customers searching exactly what you offer.

It took months to get the campaign profitable, especially because in the WordPress arena a lot of searches are from people looking for free solutions.

My advice for you:

  • Hire a Google Ads specialist: an expert can save you money and also making sure things are done right - G-Ads is quite a complex tool!
  • Plan a 6-months investment: this is how long it took me to get the campaign tuned.

YouTube channel :

I started making videos talking about WordPress for business. Luckily I'm not a perfectionist so I really gave priority to content over video quality.

My suggestion here is, once again, just do it.

It will be uncomfortable at first, but there's no other way. Get your content out there. You'll reach people.

Videos, like podcasts, create a better connection than articles or in general written content.

Messenger chatbot

I jumped on this technology quite early, and this gave me an advantage.

I built a funny chatbot that gives advice on WordPress as well as tells jokes, and I called it Wok.

It was, so to say, well-received and it's still the most effective way to reach people with quick and direct short messages.

You can find Wok at this page… just remember that it speaks Italian!

how-i-turned-my-wordpress-freelance-gigs-into-a-saas-business

My advice for anyone using Messenger chatbots: you're competing for attention with friends, partners, and relatives.

Don't aim to create perfect copy to market your service/product.

Aim to create emotions and build empathy!

What I didn’t do

I can also tell you what I didn't do: I never invested time on Facebook page or groups.

And I'm glad I didn't, because I don't believe Facebook pages are useful for small businesses like mine.

I also stayed clear from Facebook groups talking about WordPress… they are full of frustrated freelance developers trolling each other, and a few non-customers looking for free advice.

I'm currently pushing on the SEO, mainly using content marketing. I wish I started earlier creating written content, but I didn't have a strategy.

Our original plan was to write WordPress how-tos to prove our knowledge, but this is a competitive area and we realized that this is not what our potential customers are looking for.

So we steer into talking about maintenance, security, support, with case studies and real examples from our experience.

I hired an SEO guy a few months back and together we did three things:

  • An initial SEO audit to fix any technical SEO on the website;
  • Keyword analysis to identify the topics to focus on;
  • Writing 10 high-quality pieces of content, and expanding them in time.

Here the article that took us on first page for keywords related to WordPress support.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

WP-OK is still a small business, but we're enjoying a slow growth that keeps the ride enjoyable as well as profitable.

The operating margin is around 30%, indicating that the business is healthy as well that I probably should invest more money back in the business.

A subscription-based business is a different beast compared to traditional one-time sales.

The most important parameters are:

  • MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue): this value depends on the number of active subscriptions. Each month we do have a couple of sign-ups;
  • CLV (Customer Lifetime Value): this is constantly increasing a little, with the automatic renewals from happy customers;
  • Churn: it's the percentage of customers canceling the service during a certain amount of time. This is a critical value, as cancellations are an indication of unhappy customers or that we're targeting the wrong people;

In 2018 WP-OK grew by 65% in revenues.

We're now a team of four, including three WordPress support specialists plus me as operating manager.

I like to keep the operation slim and organized, so we use external contractors for administration, SEO, copywriting, etc.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

For my 5th anniversary as a self-employed man, I wrote this article:

https://www.danielebesana.com/blog/biz/5-lessons-from-5-years

The lessons I shared there still holds true:

1 - It’s all about People

Don't focus on the number of subscribers, followers, opt-in, conversions… when you start is all about building relationships with people.

2 - Forget about Money

Every time I did something for money, I failed.

I’ve heard lots of stories of successful people, and I can tell that none of them was in for the money.

Money is a side effect.

Something that happens when you’re delivering value, working with passion and competence.

3 - Screw the books

Your mistakes are worth more than 100 how-to books. Books are great, but eventually you have to go through it yourself and learn from your mistakes.

4 - Word of mouth is the best marketing

When I started this was the best way to get customers.

The goal is always to gain trust from customers. Not their money. Not their ‘thanks’. Trust is the strongest bond.

5 - Build a team

The journey from "I" to "we" was hard for me, but absolutely worth and unavoidable to build a business.

I should have started soon: the sooner you practice hiring, delegation and management the better is.

To these 5 lessons, I add one I learned more recently.

It's all about your mindset.

The more successful entrepreneurs I meet, the more I understand that the difference between me and them isn't about knowledge, tools used, or advice received.

It's about mindset and how they make decisions.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Like most of the online entrepreneurs, I like testing new tools and find ways to automate processes.

Here my favorite tools right now, trying to avoid the most common ones to give more value to the readers:

  • Integromat: think about Zapier on steroids. It might take a while to figure it out, but the resulting automations put a big smile on my face;
  • ActiveCampaign: after wasting time on Aweber and Mailchimp, I finally use a serious email marketing tool;
  • Revue: I believe that newsletter with curated content are still very valuable and effective. This simple tool does just that: helps you build a cool newsletter in a few minutes with the content you want;
  • StreakCRM: CRM can be complicated stuff. I'm a practical guy and Streak just blended in my Gmail adding the CRM features I needed. I think is not ideal for everyone, but if you're looking for something simple and effective check it out!

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I mention two books:

  • 4-Hour Workweek: As I mentioned, this book opened my eyes and inspired me to take actions. Not everything written in that book holds valid or I agree with, but it was just the right book at the right time for me.
  • Your Money or Your Life: this book is from the 80's but still very relevant. It changed my relationship with money, and allowed me to embrace a down-shifting phase of my life that tremendously helped my financial situation.

Regarding podcasts:

  • Bootstrapped Web: this is the podcast I look forward to listening to. Brian and Jordan are sharing their entrepreneurial journey and they are like big brothers to me.
  • Pat Flynn: while I stopped listening to his podcast, it was a great source of information to get me started. Highly recommended for anyone starting in the online space!

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Right now we're looking to hire a sales assistant.

A professional that can quickly reply to inbound email inquiries and turn prospects into customers.

It's the first time I'm outsourcing this part to it's a challenge for me too.

Oh, and it has to be Italian speaker of course!

Where can we go to learn more?

Sorry, most of my other resources are in Italian.

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Daniele Besana,   Founder of WP OK

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