Or: Sell it Again, Sell to Someone New, Sell Something New, or All of the Above.
To grow a business, it needs to raise revenue. There are many ways to raise revenues but we will be looking at either selling more things or selling to someone new. There are other ways to raise revenues, such as raising prices, but we’ll be focusing on products for this post. You can read more about pricing here.
As a social enterprise, you will have to sell something. Whether you choose to sell physical products, digital products, services or advertising space, you are selling something to someone. You will also either be developing a new product or service, or you will be trying to sell an existing product to more people, or to the same people multiple times.
Let’s consider starting a coffee shop: Hypothetical SocEnt Café.
Most coffee shops sell their products to people who already know they like coffee or other hot drinks. A new coffee shop will be selling a pre-existing product (coffee) to people who already buy this product (coffee drinkers.)
This is a good strategy for a start up because it is very easy for the customers to understand what it is that your company sells, and they already know if they want it. It can be difficult because if you’re trying to enter a market that already has established businesses, you will need to take customers that currently go to other coffee shops.
This strategy can be useful if you are able to show the potential customers in the existing market that your shop is worth trying. It will also work if you are able to provide your customers a better experience of purchasing the same product. Most businesses start with this framework.
If your social enterprise is the more inventive type, you can choose to create a new product and sell it to the existing market. In a coffee shop, this might be finding a new flavour to mix with coffee or finding a never before seen roast.
So if Hypothetical SocEnt Café’s had a new Ultra-Dark Roast Lithuanian Coffee, existing coffee drinkers would have an idea of what this new product might be like. Hopefully this new drink is different enough that it can become the new favorite of a portion of coffee drinkers, and Hypothetical SocEnt Café will have some regular customers who come in specifically for their Ultra-Dark Roast Lithuanian Coffee.
This strategy is useful if you have access to something that nobody else does. In most industries this typically requires extensive connections, or enough research and development money to create something new. Because of these considerations, it can be a risk to create a new product to sell to an existing customer base, but it could result in being the only place where people can buy their new favorite product.
The next option is to take an existing product and apply it to new markets. The key with this framework is that you need to find people who either wouldn’t consider themselves coffee drinkers, who don’t currently have access to your shop, or wouldn’t consider going into a physical coffee shop.
Expanding into new markets could include selling coffee in bulk to workplaces, online, or to industrial customers. Hypothetical SocEnt Café could also franchise new locations in their city, across their region or around the world.
One of the major benefits with this strategy is that existing social enterprises can take advantage of what they’ve learned in their current markets and apply them to similar markets in other locations. They can also take advantage of efficiencies that are created by increasing scale. For example: shipping all pre-packaged coffee from a central location, instead of packaging at each of their retail locations.
The final option we will be considering in this post is creating a new product for a new market. This is the riskiest of the strategies presented here, because there is uncertainty and risk in both the product and the market.
For Hypothetical SocEnt Café, this could include adding mixed alcoholic beverages to their product offering for the evening crowd to pair with the coffee they offer for their morning and afternoon customers. It could also include adding artisan breads or selling vinyl records.
There are many ways to approach this strategy. The most consistent and recommended method is to pick a product that is tangentially related to the existing product mix. For a café, adding other kinds of food or drink is relatively easy. If the product strays too far from what your social enterprise is known for, there is a chance it might confuse your existing customer base and pull away from your mission.
Approach this strategy with caution and evaluate carefully. If you find a way that seems to fit a new product with a new market, do some tests to find out if it’s actually viable and scale up when possible.
This post is based on a tool called the Ansoff Matrix. It uses different terms to describe the same processes. Search Ansoff Matrix if you would like to learn more.
As you decide your product strategy: Keep it simple.