Should you offer services or products?

The old phrase, The grass is always greener … is often heard when discussing the merits of services versus web-based products. Listed below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of both models. Which ones apply to you?

Products — Advantages

  • gives you unlimited income potential, because time constraints are minimal (unlike selling services)
  • enables lower prices for the consumer, as costs can be amortised over more customers
  • allows you to concentrate on building one main project, rather than several small ones
  • presents a choice of different revenue models, which are simpler to modify over time
  • affords a better opportunity for residual income, in continual license fees
  • provides an easier option to sell as an ongoing concern than a small web service does.

Products — Disadvantages

  • requires more upfront investment in time and possibly money, especially the marketing aspect
  • presents the possibility of competitors creating similar products and competing directly with you.
  • necessitates market research to avoid ending up with little or no customer base.
  • runs the risk of fielding more support queries than anticipated
  • may delay long-term growth because of the lack of immediate cash flow

Services — Advantages

  • generates income faster, because it’s easier to sell your services than a brand new product to the marketplace
  • provides scope for a variety of projects, maintaining your interest in each new project
  • offers more versatility in meeting market demands, rather than having to rebuild a mature application

Services — Disadvantages

  • reduces your capacity for income, because it’s based purely on how much you can charge and how many staff you need
  • limits short-term growth; for example, hiring staff is more time-consuming than bringing a new server online
  • makes you more vulnerable to market buoyancy than product licenses

Also remember, that it’s very simple to have a hybrid model of both: sell your current services while developing and offering products as well. This is similar to how businesses may sell hosting, stock images, and CMS licenses.

This post first appeared as part of Issue 424 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I was co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

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