One destination that starting out with service specialization can take you is a productized service. See WorstOfAll Design (https://worstofalldesign.com/how-it-works), which delivers a very tightly scoped fixed price service to a loosely-defined audience. Another destination that starting out with service specialization can take you to is something like BlockStep: a loosely-defined, almost generalist list of services (https://blockstep.io/what-tech-platforms-does-block-step-work-on/) with a more tightly-defined audience and delivery model (White label tech implementation for agencies and expert consultants).
Both Worstofall and BlockStep are offers. They are entities that incorporate a service offering that is desirable to a very specific audience, and their presentation and branding matches that of a standalone business. But they are each part of a '“family” of offers. This is why I say they are good examples of service specialization, rather than specialized businesses. This nuance matters because some will balk at the idea of specializing their entire business, but are open to the idea of setting up a somewhat disposable specialized offer. And in other cases, there will be a significant constraint on specializing the whole business, but spinning up a separate brand to offer a specialized service-as-business is free from this constraint. Specializing a service can be more experimental than a whole-business specialization.
Below is my definition of service specialization from I. In that book I included the Worstofall Design example and, had BlockStep existed back then, I would have wanted to include it too. Anyway, that definition:
Service specialization is where you specialize your service delivery. This is often synonymous with productization (where you standardize the scope and pricing of your services) or, more specifically, innovative service productization where you standardize your scope in a unique way that's attractive to a narrow spectrum of clients.
BlockStep's founder is a friend of mine, so I know they also do strategy work for their clients. They get this strategy work by doing great implementation work, and along the way, asking strategy questions. (To be clear, strategy questions that they know they can help their client answer!) The trust they earn with the good implementation work, plus those thoughtful "what's your strategy for X?" questions levers them into strategy work.
This levering-up-from-implementation would generally not work at bigger clients; too many fenced-in turfs being protected and too many lanes you need to stay in to permit people with a bit of digital dirt on their boots from having a seat in the conference room. But at small and mid-size clients the probability that levering-up can work is better.
Here’s what Ian, BlockStep’s founder said about the service in an email to me (shared with permission):
The major pivot for us has been to “help the helpers” - we handle the stuff that is boring and distracting to them (tech implementation) and—where we have the expertise—offer to help them with strategy or questions that are not in their area of expertise. The latter comes from the former. We’ve been inside so many businesses and projects, most of the time we can offer several options and examples to our partners so that they look like experts to their client…even when they’re not. Thanks for the shout out.
Funny…this is not materially different than the service we offer at https://launchthought.com/, but the small shift in presentation—offering to support agencies and experts instead of end clients—has made this 10x less friction to explain and sell.
That’s it; just wanted to share this new example of service specialization in case that’s something you’re considering.
I know I said that Worstofall Design’s offer is to a loosely-defined audience, and here I am saying the offer is for a “very specific” audience, but those are actually the same thing because although Worstofall keeps the stated definition of their audience loose and somewhat broad, the actual design and delivery of their service — the fast-turnaround aspect of it — is going to appeal to a very specific kind of buyer with a very specific mindset about business and branding and so forth. Additionally, the messaging of Worstofall’s service is polarizing in a way that further specifies and narrows the audience. ↩︎
The most memorable case of this was an agency owner I spoke with who had a whale client they couldn’t get out from under; that whale client saw any potential specialization of the agency’s business as competitive in an unacceptable way. The whale client was being irrational, but the agency owner wasn’t in a position to dictate terms to their whale client. ↩︎