As a SaaS company we have an entire team in place to do web and application development. Effectively, we have one client: ourselves. Would it make sense for us to take on consulting clients as an additional revenue stream? How would this impact our business?
There are two different markets of consulting that you could consider as a SaaS company. There is the one that you alluded to -- which is the conversion of your internal technology team to be a job shop for potentially multiple of external clients to supplement the revenue from the primary venture.
There is a second -- which is the adding consulting as a value-added resource to your current SaaS offering.
Converting your Tech Team into a job shop Congratulations to you and your team for launching the software. And it sounds as though you like each other and want to keep working with each other. Another accomplishment!
After you have completed the initial development of your SaaS platform you may find yourself with a highly functioning team that has gotten to know each other and has built the operational systems which would make it very valuable in the marketplace. This is now a company asset -- and exploring ways to capitalize on this asset makes a lot of sense.
I would identify three "red flags" and three recommendations for moving forward in this model:
Red Flags Distraction : Your primary business is the start-up of your SaaS, and you do not want to take your eyes of the ball. If you shift the conceptualization of the relationship with the project from "the thing" to our "lead client" and you install a deep commitment to client success then this transition can be made without distraction.
Business Model : Move to leverage the IT capacity as a "job shop" is a different business model. You go from the business sector/space/market of your SaaS to the very crowded market space of technology job shops. While you may have a competitive advantage on projects which overlap the SaaS's market, you will need to quickly secure "testimonial-ready" clients who are not yourself.
Conflicting channels : The brand of your SaaS will probably not effectively communicate the core value proposition of your technology team. It is important to take into consideration to development of a unique brand for the tech team, and protocols to ensure proper communication channels (like email addresses, branding, phone, etc.).
We all know that having a great software solution is only part of solving the underlying problem or realizing the promised opportunity. It takes adoption. Designing and delivering effective adoption campaigns takes the direct involvement of a the team that knows the subject and the software. In other words: you.
To that ends there is a compelling consulting business of selling your knowledge and expertise on the launch of the service solution surrounding your SaaS. Not only will this provide you a relatively high margin revenue stream, it will also provide you direct user contact in and around the adoption of your software. This will ensure that your ongoing development is better, your new features more integrated with the actual customer need (and often paid for as part of a consulting contract) and a more dynamic understanding by your team of the market.
Additionally your marketing and advertising in support of the IT consulting is directly synergistic with your primary SaaS business.
And of course, most importantly the two options above are not mutually exclusive -- do them both
It does when your not full time developing "for yourself".
It makes sense:
If your "Sunset goal" or exit is a trade sale then have 2 companies with a trading name. One for consulatancy and one for product.
There are very different reasons for someone buying each type of business and if you grow you will start to diverge the internal operation / cashflow model etc. They can have both if it suits but they will normally want one or other because it fits their own model.
The number one problem with consulting? It's like heroin. The first taste is awesome, but then you need more and more.
The beautiful thing about your SaaS product is that you keep the lights on and people keep paying. You might fix a bug or two or work on some new features, but your income horizon potentially is pretty long (especially if you have contracts).
Consulting? Not so much. You're constantly trying to find work. You've got a ton of unbillable hours spent working with and selling clients. Collections, etc.
Long term, scaling a pure consulting company is extremely tough. Eventually you'll saturate either your area or your ability to find talent to perform the work. And then you're on the grind to keep all those people busy.
Now... if you do consulting to support your product that's just gravy!