2023: The Year I Started Embracing My Services Business


Ryan Chenkie

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December 22, 2023

I started to learn to code about 10 years ago. It began with some curiosity about technology. But the truth is, the focus quickly became “how can I make money with this?”.

About a year in, I got my first client. A simple WordPress website. I had no idea what I was doing but I’ve always been overly optimistic that I can figure out what I need in the moment.

Indeed I figured it all out, albeit with countless hours spent fumbling around with PHP and trying to understand what an .htaccess file was and why the website “couldn’t establish a database connection”.

Regardless, my first piece of real web work paid for with real money by a real client was live. I knew I could do more of this.

As I learned more programming, I also soaked up the business side of it on Twitter and elsewhere. The theme that kept emerging was that to really be legit, you had to start a product business. One that charges recurringly for software you write. One where you don’t have “clients” but rather “customers”. One where you’re not trading time for money.

This did and still does have an allure. Who doesn’t want to create something once and just sit back and watch as the cash stacks up?

As time went on and I continually heard this message, I started to get more clients for my website building business. It quickly became one where I was building not just websites but SaaS apps and back office software for big companies.

The cash was coming in plentifully. But I still didn’t think I had a real business.

Downplaying a Services Business

I hesitated to talk much about my business. I underplayed it whenever someone at a conference would ask what I do for my work. I felt like if I couldn’t report that I had a SaaS business making that sweet sweet MRR, then I shouldn’t really consider it much of a business at all.

I’ve finally hit a turning point in this mindset.

A lot happened in 2023 business-wise. I decided to sunset CourseLift, my attempt at making a SaaS app that could bring in that magical MRR.

At the same time, I’ve finally changed the way I look at that business I started back in 2016 to build websites. That business, Elevate Digital, had its first seven-figure year in 2023. It employs a staff of five full-time and three others on a part-time basis. I’ve stopped referring to myself as a “consultant” and rather now call myself an “agency owner”.

But the biggest mindset shift I’ve made is that I’ve dispensed with the notion that the only way to have a real business is to have one where you have products instead of services. I’ve put to rest the thought that the only legit way to operate in tech is to have SaaS business. Instead, I’m fully embracing the reality that agencies can be great businesses.

We’ve been very fortunate. We have a great client base that loves our work. We are easily referred to new clients because of it.

And the kicker to it all is that as hard as I’ve pushed back against wanting to own a service business because “there’s no MRR”, we actually have substantial MRR through maintenance/service contracts. Sure, we need to put in the hours from month-to-month. But we’d be doing that in a SaaS business anyway.

Looking Ahead

Does this mean I’ll never try for a product business in the future? Not at all! I’ve still got my sights set on a product business. But I am now far more skeptical about the notion that a product business is the only kind worth doing.

So here’s to a great outcome in 2023 for the business and to embracing fresh perspectives. Onward to more of that in 2024! 🥂