AS MIKE DESCRIBES HIS LIFE pre-product, I imagine the scene he paints.
Late night in a grimy airport lounge in Riga, Latvia.
Mike’s third delay announcement of the night screeching over the tannoy like a crow’s death rattle.
Biting into something stale and overpriced masquerading as a sandwich, Mike's tired eyes throb slightly as they turn to his flickering phone screen.
Two more emails, two more clients wanting him in the training room next month.
Tapping out the same reply to both:
‘So sorry - my diary is completely full. But I do have a gap in three months – would that work?’
Texts his wife:
It wasn’t a money problem.
'I've always priced myself as a consultant at the top end.
'In my last year pre-product, my revenue was about £250,000 (USD $325,000).’
Nor was the work itself an issue - he loved what he did.
'I never looked at what I did as a “job.”
'I've got the pleasure of sharing something that I'm really passionate about that makes a difference to people's lives.
'I really feel like what I'm doing is part of my life purpose.
‘But it was me in the classroom, or coaching.
'That was it.
‘One kind gentleman already came up to me and pointed out my photograph on the first slide,’ Mike smiles.
‘That was taken pre-product days.
'I was about a stone and a half heavier.
'That was because of my lifestyle.
‘You're constantly traveling.
'You're constantly eating crap food on the road because you don't have balance.
'I felt like all I saw from one week to the next was car, airport, training room, hotel room.
'Sure, you're getting paid. But it’s stressful.
'And it was starting to have an impact on the quality of my health, my weight, my life, my relationship with my wife and those people I care about.
‘Eventually, I just felt… something's got to give here.
'Because I'm growing and growing and growing, I'm being more and more successful, I'm helping more and more people… but there's a limit.
‘I also always knew that what I teach could have a huge impact with charitable NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations), those types of organisations.
'But I was too busy traveling and working hard in order to do it.
'You and I know that if we're giving our time and not getting paid for it, there's a real limit there.
'I did wonder about the possibility of helping more people through the web, but that was very vague at that point, I had no real idea how to do it.
‘But the big thing that drove me initially was that I was fed up with all the travelling.
'It was a pain motivator.
'I’d just had enough.’
At this point, I feel like I know what Mike is about to say next.
Moment of Clarity
What usually triggers people to make the change is what I’ve come to think of as a ‘Moment of Clarity.’
For one client of mine, it was an upcoming leg operation.
He realised he'd be physically unable to get around and keep delivering his classroom training the way he had for the last twelve years.
For another, it was a trip to the doctor.
The verdict: dangerously high blood pressure.
Cue a long hard look at a lifestyle of stress, air travel and junk food.
And the recognition that work would have to change.
Actually, while Mike had the air travel and junk food elements, his Moment of Clarity was unusual, not to say comic.
A slight smile spreads across his face as he recalls the moment.
‘I remember one day, I’d just got back from a big trip and I felt more exhausted than ever.
‘I got home, opened the door, and… it was my dog.
‘What my dog did next really freaked me out.
'And it was then I knew that things had to change.’
'SO... I'VE JUST GOT in my front door.
'And I'm soaked because it's peeing down outside.
‘I get into the house and realise my dog is barking at me.
‘And not in a friendly way!
‘In fact he was jumping up at me really aggressively… and he’s normally the most placid animal you could ever meet.’
Mike explains that, as well as being wet, it was bitingly cold outside and he had a wooly hat pulled down almost over his poor, protesting eyes.
‘Then it slowly dawned on me.
‘I realised what it was!
‘My dog didn’t recognise me. I was away so much that my own damn dog didn’t know who the hell I was!
‘That was the big one for me.’
He shoots us a guilty look. ‘Don't tell my wife that.’
‘It just seemed to symbolise everything I’d been feeling for a long time,’ he continued, as the laughter died down.
‘So after I’d calmed the dog down and had a little sleep, I went to my desk and did what I thought would be a sensible thing to do.
‘I sat down and thought maybe I should develop a product, some kind of online program.’
Could Mike ‘convert’ his classroom training business into a 'product' business just like that?
It was an exciting prospect.
But he was wary, too.
All his previous attempts at expanding his business and making it less reliant on him had ended in failure.
‘You’ve got to be prepared to rake a risk but Holy Christ…
'My company almost went bust twice because I tried different entrepreneurial approaches in the past that didn't work.’
‘You know what it’s like if you're a trainer or consultant: it's very difficult to replicate you.
'If you're good at what you do and you've developed it, then often clients want you personally.
'I went down two paths in my previous life where I set up two different branches of my company. One in Denmark and one in the Baltics.
'Both of them went bankrupt.
'I was trying to spend hours and hours and hours training up other consultants to do my job and be me. It just wasn't working.
‘When that all went to pot, I remember sitting there thinking, “shit… I might have to sell my house, quite like my house, how am I going to feed doggy?”
'So, of course, there's a risk involved any time you try something new.’
But that experience wasn’t the only thing causing Mike to hesitate.
He had a lot of questions.
Firstly, would his existing clients even buy a product?
Weren’t they ‘hooked’ on Mike being there in person?
Would they accept this new method of delivery?
Could he actually make money like this?
Secondly, he knew nothing about the technology required to deliver an online product.
Was it complicated?
Would he need tech skills?
Thirdly, what kind of product should he even create?
And how should he price it?
Fourth: how would he actually sell an online product?
What would that process even look like?
‘Plus, if I’m honest… you do always wonder: do I have what it takes to actually pull all this off?
‘But hell – I was sick to the back teeth of airports and planes
‘I barely saw my wife from one week to the next.
‘And as for the dog... well!’
It seemed as though the stars might be aligning, too, because a client had just rescheduled a big training engagement.
This left Mike with a lighter month, and a rare clear week at the end of it.
And he’d recently made a useful contact on his travels: a young guy in Lithuania who happened to run a studio for filming.
‘That’s when I told my wife: “I’m just going to do it. I’m going to create this product, and I’m just going to book that studio in four weeks time and do it.”'
Mike’s decision roughly coincided with his financial year-end, so he set himself a clear goal.
‘I made a commitment to myself.
‘This time next year, I want to look in my accounts software and see the same income of £250,000 (USD $325,000).
‘But at the same time, cut travel back to no more than six in-person engagements in those 12 months.
'A work trip abroad every couple of months, I could live with.’
Could he pull it off?
And – more to the point – how would he pull it off?
To be continued…
THE REWARDS FOR TRAINERS WHO become Future Proof by productizing successfully are substantial.
Like Mike, trainers who crack the new model can reclaim their time and choice over how to spend it.
They can enjoy a more pleasant lifestyle, and travel only as much as they choose.
They can impact a much larger number of people, potentially globally, and shatter the ‘income ceiling’ implicit in an old-style 'stand and deliver' classroom training business.
They’re also less vulnerable to circumstance: less likely to be derailed by their own or family illness, or over-exposure to a few key clients.
And, by codifying and recording their knowledge they create valuable intellectual property and digital assets that create value in their business.
These assets can be exploited well into the future in many ways.
Avoiding 'The Product Trap'
The drawback is that success is by no means assured.
Becoming Future Proof isn’t as simple as clicking your fingers.
For one thing, it isn’t easy developing the gamut of skills you need in this new environment.
The reality is that most who try give up before they accumulate the ‘critical mass’ of skills and – frankly - trial and error needed to succeed.
The ‘landscape’ is also treacherous.
To successfully become Future Proof, you must avoid a serious pitfall when it comes to productizing your expertise.
It’s what I call ‘The Product Trap.’