At work we sell approx 50 types of goods or service. We sell goods in our shops for example and our services include permitting, steam train rides, educational workshops and much more. Transactions none the less. I regularly get asked how to start a new revenue stream. For me the answer is simple for a good proportion of the time: Start by selling goods or services that people are already asking us for. Simple.
Case in point are the studios at M Shed. The original purpose was for the delivery of education activity. When not in use, staff would use the space for internal activity, meetings and the like. There was wriggle room for different uses. Any use that wasn’t the original intention or primary purpose I call a “by-product”. Sometime during 2015 we started to get enquiries for hiring a space that was smaller than our event suite. The event suite on the top floor was originally the only space for hire. We soon agreed with the learning team that they and us would both have access to the booking diary and use the space for education or private hire aka a new by-product. Every year since 2015 we have seen growth in the booking of this space which generates something like 5% additional revenue at this point. We didn’t transform or innovate, we simply responded to a user need and make a healthy stream of revenue.
What are people asking you for that perhaps could be the start of tens of thousands of pounds?
I regularly get emails from folks who have been instructed to get in touch with me to learn how I make money for our service. Firstly, it isn’t me making money. I help wrangle the conditions for our teams to do their best work and in turn revenue is generated. The services we provide are either designed to generate revenue OR making revenue is a by-product of something else we do. I’m sure that fancy business cases, spreadsheets and presentations work but I always start a simple question to my boss:
“What is the bottom line that you need from us?”
Once I have that single figure I can then set about to see how things need to change to respond to the goal. Better still I then internalise the goal as “how little can we afford to grow?“. Surely you’d think I would be always seeking the maximise right? wrong. Growing too much too quickly always has an impact on our resources. Sure we can sell more events but we would suddenly need to close public spaces in core hours which negatively impacts our public offer. I could insist our retail only stocked products in the £25+ region but alienate a large chunk of people who are in the £5-£25 region. The list of things I could do is endless.
So instead of having no constraints I prefer to have clear constraints grounded in walking a fine line of making money without stepping too far. Find out what is a sensible level of business by asking similarly positioned services to give you a benchmark. For example we need our retail to be in the 50p to £1 spend per head region, host on average three events per week and attract 400-500 filming days per year.
Grow by all means but not at any cost.