The surprising business-boosting tips you can learn from Charlie’s Angels

Business coach Julia Chanteray has worked with hundreds of creators, founders, and business owners to help them move from selling time for money to building successful product-based businesses.

In this article, she explains the unexpected insights she has gleaned from the 1970s TV show Charlie’s Angels. Outrageous sexism aside, the trio of glamorous undercover cops cracked every crime and Julia explains how you can distil the same approach to turbocharge your business. 

The other day, I suggested to a client: “Maybe you could take the Charlie’s Angels approach to productising?”

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. 

Why being more Charlie’s Angels is a good thing (in business)

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, the following 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: Wikipedia)

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!)

Charlie’s Angels is a police procedural, and you can apply this to your own business. So, each time you have an assignment, you follow the same procedure. 

Of course, this varies according to what you do. 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.

In 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 of it, but you get the point. 

You get the brief from the client, dig deeper to get more information, and apply your process to get the client what they want. 

The nitty-gritty – what you need to know

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. 

Below is the process map for the Charlie’s Angel’s version of your business. Can you see how you, as Charlie, are not involved in the client work at all yet are fully in control?

Let’s take another example: Cheryl the designer. 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. Sound like anyone you know?

Cheryl picked one element of her work that she enjoyed the most, making detailed infographics. She created a productised service around this and then 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 huge directory of templates and assets to play with (their “Toybox”), so they never have to create completely from scratch. 

Here’s what Cheryl and the Angels’ workflow looks like today:

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 and recruiting and training new Angels. She spends the other two days drawing and designing, making her own artwork to her own brief. 

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). 

Question: Can you describe your business, in a nutshell, to a 10-year-old?

I bet that if you watched an episode of Charlie’s Angels last night, you’d be able to describe what happened to me if I met you for a coffee. It might go something like this:

“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 rest of the 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 one of the flow charts I shared above? 

Your flow chart might have more boxes in it, 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. 

Want a heavenly cash flow? Consider client stacking 

With your team of Angels in place, you can get into client stacking, one of the beautiful things about productising what you do. You can work with many clients at a time, which of course, 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 so much faster and the pool of good people you can recruit from is much wider this way. I take a deeper dive into this on my website.

Why the Charlie’s Angels metaphor is so powerful

Once you start thinking of yourself as Charlie, the idea of the Angels is a very 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.

“You can’t be the accountant in your accounting firm. You can’t cut the grass in your landscaping business. You can’t work on the vehicles in your auto repair shop… And you really can’t spend all of your time managing those actions, either” – Michael E Gerber

When I talk to people about productised services, they quite often have a block around the idea of simplifying and minimalising what they do.

That’s especially true when I’m talking to someone who has a wide range of expertise and has developed skills across their specialist subject. They’ve probably spent many years developing their “magic” or secret sauce and can’t imagine how to possibly share it. 

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 difficult to communicate this to clients. 

There are two answers to this problem: 

  1. Where you want to scale your business, simplify your life and get on with knowing that you’re using your knowledge to help more people (and make more money), create a couple of clearly productised services that hit the target for what your client needs. Anyone who needs the complicated stuff will have to go elsewhere. 
  2. Where you still want to be involved in the deeper work, create one productised service that acts as an attractor for clients. Some will only buy this one, which is fine, but others will return for the other elements. 

Interestingly, where clients have opted for option two here, they’ve been able to charge more money than previously for the deeper work and have higher conversion rates. And if you continue to channel the kick-ass energy of Charlie’s Angels, this business approach is one you’ll ultimately crack, too. 

Julia Chanteray is the founder and mission controller of Adventures in Products, supporting people to escape the trap of trading time by creating beautiful ecosystems of products.