How to know what you should commodify and what you shouldn’t.

In this episode, I address the idea that we don’t actually have to become commodities in order to be successful business owners.

First, I clarify what I mean by commodity, and what’s the difference between being a commodity and not being one.

Then I talk a bit about what it means to make that conscious choice to take a different path. Do you know what your options are?


Episode Transcript:

Welcome back to The Good Business Podcast. I’m your host, Illana Burk. And today I wanna talk about the idea that we don’t actually have to become commodities in order to be successful business owners.

Now, first, I’m gonna go into a bit about what I mean by commodity, and what’s the difference between that and not being one.

And then we’re gonna talk a bit about what it means to make that conscious choice to take the different path. Okay.

So first up, what do I mean by the term commodity in this context? Now, traditionally, a commodity is something that becomes so broadly used and homogenized that it tends to lose a lot of deep meaning, right?

It’s it gets more wide appeal. It attracts the most number of people.

A lot of times commodification and scalability tend to go hand in hand when you’re thinking about small business ownership. Right? If you wanna scale up, then you have to commodify it a little bit. Meaning you have to flatten out the levels of creativity and the kind of punctuation marks in your business, right? You have to figure out a way to re-deliver the same things over and over again.

Now, a lot of people that talk about scaling, talk about it in that capacity, right? That you have to systematize, you have to find methodologies, you have to find, passive income or, you know, there’s lots of other kind of terms for it.

But the basic idea is soften the edges of what you do. Find exactly the level that you wanna serve and serve no higher. Serve no lower. Make things as static and comfortable and repeatable as possible. A commodity are things like, oil, coffee. These are commodities. They’re things that are widely consumed and commodities are the ones that are the most middle range. They’re unobjectionable, right? They don’t really tend to take a stand. commodity is something that has the most broad appeal possible.

So in the context of small business, what commodification can look like is something to this effect. You are a coach. You come at coaching when you’re new with lots of big ideas for what you think is revolutionary for helping people in some very specific and certain way that only you are uniquely positioned to do. And you start off with all of that intention and all of that energy. And then as you continue, you find that growth is really difficult.

You find that finding clients repeatedly is really difficult. And you start looking for ways to make it easier. And in that looking for ways to make it easier, you might find that there’s, a lot of advice out there that says systematize create a course, create group offers, create a signature program that you can repeat again and again.

And basically flatten out the curve on specialization. Make things less specialized, make them more repeatable. That’s commodification. It does often result in scalability much faster, because the more you flatten out your systems, meaning the fewer peaks and valleys there are, the easier it is to grow.

That’s true, for sure. I’m not saying it’s not true, that that makes growth easier. I’m saying that you don’t have to do it in order to be successful or have a steady income or scale up to whatever financial or success levels you’re looking for. I’m saying that it’s just not the only way.

Some businesses are really well suited for commodification.

If you’re teaching skills, for example, like hard skills, how to do X, right? How to code a website, how to learn to crochet, how to design collateral for your business… these are all very hard skills with simple inputs and outputs. There’s a simple proposition, a simple promise and a simple. Those are the types of things that are prime for commodification, where commodification makes sense, where uniqueness is less important because the outcomes are very straightforward.

If you have elements of that in your business, those are the things you should choose to scale up. Those are the things that you should choose to commodify. Most of you listening are very likely less inclined to create things like that and are more inclined to do bespoke offers that help treat individuals like individuals, no matter what you’re selling. You’re far more inclined to look at whatever problem is in front of you as something that you needs that needs unique solutions. Unique inputs, unique outputs. That makes commodification very difficult. And it puts you in the position to be often talking to your business coaches going, No, I don’t wanna do that. No, I can’t do that. No, I don’t wanna have a signature program that I launched six times a year.

No, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna. And then pretty soon you’re a contrarian and stubborn and you start beating yourself up for getting in your own way.

So this is the “how to know what you should commodify and what you shouldn’t” conversation. Because you can have both in your business, or you can have one, or you can have the other. You don’t have to apply the same rules to the diff to different offers that you put out to the world, right? You can have a bespoke side of your business that is incredibly personalized and requires a high level of access and a higher investment, for example. Or you could have a lower investment option that offers really simple inputs and outputs, like I was describing, that is extremely repeatable. You can do both. Now the kicker is figuring out whether or not you should and whether or not you want to based on what you’re trying to accomplish. So always work backward from that.

And again, I’m not one to talk about goals much. I wanna talk about what are you trying to do?

What is the impact you’re trying to have? That’s what should feed the answer to this question. Don’t come at it from “what do I have that I can commodify? What do I have that I can duplicate in order to make my income better?” Instead, come at it from, “What do I need from my business in order to feel like it lights me up and gets me excited to go to work every day.”

That’s the first question. The second question is, “How do I make sure that I create stable income out of that, if I need that?” Not everyone does. Some people are perfectly fine with unstable income and dealing with ups and. downs Your situation might be different than someone else’s. For a lot of my career, I was more than happy to ride the rollercoaster.

And then I have a husband and a kid, and now I really enjoy more stable income and that’s a higher priority for me. So based on the circumstances in your life, that might change over time. Make sure you’re constantly examining that.

So what are you trying to accomplish? If you’re trying to accomplish simply a stable income using whatever falls outta your brain, then it’s absolutely acceptable to commodify whatever you can and leave the rest.

But if you’re looking for something that’s more of a high impact, esoteric, get people to question things and grow and learn, and the outcomes of that are more ambiguous and more esoteric, then it’s okay to not lean into that commodification and still have stable income.

The way you would do that is with longer term engagements, if you’re working as a service provider. It’s by looking for higher impact clientele that maybe they can afford more, if that’s appropriate for your business. It might mean that they simply have a larger reach. So whatever you teach them is gonna teach more people just by proxy.

There’s a lot of ways to think about it. I’m proof, though, that you can have a non-commodified business. My business is not, there’s nothing homogenous about it, right? Every single person that I talk to is gonna get a completely unique set of things, and always has. But I make sure, always, that I layer clients in such a way so that I’m always structuring things to have a stable level of income on an ongoing basis. That also means that sometimes, if I’m starting to hit burnout with doing a lot of one-on-one work, I might offer a more commodified course where I’m teaching hard skills for a while to help me bridge the gap from one thing to the next.

It’s not always a perfect answer for scalability, but it is one that you can look at as like, am I offering a commodity product or am I offering of a bespoke product? Can I offer more of one and less of the other? Can I think about that in terms of, “What am I needing from my business now, midterm, and long term? How do I meet those needs with what I offer?” rather than looking at it like, “In order to scale, I have to commodify,” and flush the rest.

Because usually the rest is what makes you special.

So don’t lose it completely.

All right, everybody. Thanks so much for tuning in and I look forward to our next episode. Bye.


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