The other day, I suggested to a client: “Maybe you could take the Charlie’s Angels approach to productise your business?”
They must think I’ve watched too much TV, but let me tell you why thinking about Charlie’s Angels can lead to a new version of your business.
The Charlie’s Angels business model – how it works
In the Charlie’s Angels narrative, there’s an ongoing theme that the audience (and the Angels) never meet Charlie. He talks to the Angels on speakerphone at the beginning of each episode, telling them about their next job. For the uninitiated, this plot summary is a fairly typical Charlie’s Angels storyline:
Charlie assigns the girls to find the saboteurs of a charter plane carrying a cache of heroin. Jill becomes a swimming instructor for the daughter of a wealthy Mexican businessman when they travel south of the border, their mission known only to the surviving pilot of the ill-fated flight. (Source)
In this new version of your business, you are Charlie. You’re behind the scenes, maybe bringing in the assignments, but you don’t do the work.
The Angels do all the work.
(Yes, I know. The original 1970s TV series is massively sexist, and the women do all the work. But it’s okay in your version to not be sexist. You could even employ some men if you want to 😊)
Pretty much the same in every episode.
Charlie’s Angels is a police procedural.
Each time you have a project, you follow the same procedure
There will be some elements of your work, the parts you do for every client, for which you can develop a standardised approach. And this becomes your productised service.
When we watched Charlie’s Angels, the process was usually that the Angels would go undercover, dress up somehow as their “new” characters and then find out who had committed the crime to bring them to justice. Each episode was pretty much the same format. I don’t necessarily recommend the dressing-up part, but you get the idea.
You get the brief from the client, dig deeper to get more information, and apply your process to get the client what they want.
Let’s look at how this works in practice: Charlie’s productised SEO agency
Imagine you run an SEO agency. You’re already pretty organised, but you end up doing a lot of the work yourself – you are not yet Charlie. And you’ve ended up making each client project a little bit different just to keep it interesting after all these years. You have one Angel working for you, but they need a lot of supervision.
Here’s is the process map for the Charlie’s Angels version of your business. You see how you, as Charlie, are not involved in the client work at all.
How “Cheryl” used the Charlie’s Angel approach work to productise her business
Once upon a time, there was a designer. Let’s call her Cheryl.
Cheryl was fed up with chasing clients. Weary of mission creep, client demands and amends and that annoying bit where you’re one of three designers they’re speaking to, so you end up doing lots of thinking for them for free.
Does this sound like anyone you know?
Cheryl picked one element of her work that she most enjoyed, making detailed infographics. She created a productised service around this and told her network that this is what she’s doing now.
She started off as her own Angel, but the word spread, and she’s currently got five Angels working for her. They have a vast directory of templates and assets to play with (they call it the Toybox), so they never have to create entirely from scratch.
Here’s what Cheryl and the Angels’ workflow looks like today:
Notice that Cheryl isn’t in this workflow diagram at all
Cheryl loved being a designer because of the creative nature of the job. Nowadays, she spends two days a week marketing her infographics agency and one day doing all the business stuff like revising processes, making templates and recruiting and training new Angels. She spends the other two days drawing and designing, making her own artwork to her own brief.
Recently she’s even started to sell her artwork. But she can relax into this and see how this part of her career develops because she doesn’t need it to pay her mortgage.
Could you productise your business like Cheryl?
Templates and SOPs – the ingredients of productising your business
You can see for each of these that the processes rely on documents. Our SEO agency needs a bunch of template spreadsheets into which data can be imported and cleaned up, a report template and a next steps pdf.
Cheryl’s infographic agency has the “Toybox”, all the templates and assets that the Angels use to make the infographics for clients. The “Toybox” is what makes the business so efficient (and so profitable).
And they both have Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for every stage of the workflow.
Could you productise your business like Cheryl?
Can you describe your business to a 10-year-old?
I bet that if you watched an episode of Charlie’s Angels last night, you could describe what happened to me if I met you in the pub.
“Well, first of all, Charlie thinks that gambler Roy David stole $40,000 but needs the Angels to convict him of the crime. Sabrina and Bosley dupe him into betting nearly half of the loot on a losing horse. Jill then tricks him into losing the remaining money at the gambling tables. He’s desperate, and the Angels stage a hit-and-run in which Jill pretends to be killed with detailed floor plans and safe combinations to the casino in her bag. Roy steals the plans and sets up a burglary.”
But could you describe what you do for clients to me or a 10-year-old?
Could you show me the different stages, the tools you use, and the thought processes? And (if I asked the right questions), could you simplify it into a flow chart, like the ones I shared?
Your flow chart might have more boxes (mine are simplified versions) but I bet you could do it. This is the first stage of making your Charlie’s Angels productised service – make it so that your Angels have clear, written-down processes and all the tools and templates they need to be able to take on the assignment.
Rinse and repeat to productise your business
When you have a team of Angels, you can get into client stacking.
That’s one of the beautiful things about productising what you do. You can work with many clients at a time, which turns into more happy clients and more money for you. And because you’ve created all these assets of the templates, tools and processes, you don’t have to worry about recruiting people who already have your skills and experience. You’ve embedded your knowledge into the process.
I’m not saying any idiot can do it from your cheat sheet, but the learning curve for new people is much faster, and the pool of good people you can recruit from is much broader.
Why the Charlie’s Angel’s metaphor is so helpful
Once you start thinking of yourself as Charlie, the idea of the Angels is a helpful metaphor. It automatically takes you out of the game. Your business model no longer features you as the “technician”. You have the Angels following your methods and processes instead.
When I talk to people about productised services, they often have a block around the core concept of simplifying and minimalising what they do.
That’s especially true when I’m talking to someone who has a wide range of skills and expertise across their specialist subject. They’ve probably spent many years developing their “magic” or secret sauce and it takes a while to get your head around productising your business.
I get this. When you’re an expert in your subject, you want to be able to do everything. And you probably can because you can turn your hand to many different parts of it. But when your offering looks more like the tangled web of a Scandi Noir rather than the simple police procedural of Charlie’s Angels, it’s more challenging to communicate this to clients.
There are two answers to this problem:
Interestingly, where clients have opted for option two here, they’ve been able to charge more money than previously for the more profound work and have higher conversion rates. And that’s a product-based business approach you can easily crack – with or without Charlie’s Angels.
Image credits – Charlies Angels photo – PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
All other images by Julia Chanteray