I'm supporting a handful of clients who are exploring how to launch various support services within their agency. And beyond.
The story always starts the same. The need for more communications, analytics, mobile app development, fashion sense, etc. is clear. Everyone agrees. So, the logic flows...why not group us experts together and offer INSERT FUNCTIONAL THING HERE as a service? Yes, yes, yes! We'll scale up to meet demand, charge people to cover our costs and... it'll be great.
And just like many new businesses, they start running with a focus on on staffing up and figuring out how to take people's money. The middle, less developed (but more important in my opinion) piece is the service itself.
Exactly HOW is it going to be so far superior to whatever people currently are doing that they'll stop that and move their business to you?
The service concept and entrepreneurial drive is great. It is. Really. And, just the exercise of looking into what it would take to establish a "go to" function within an organization can be beneficial. But what should not be lost in the excitement of getting senior buy-in and working with budget to transfer funds and identifying customers and developing communications is this. Don't forget the awesome.
An earnest desire to offer a service and top level support are important but, together, they don't create a sustainable business.
A better and ultimately more resilient model is to methodically create a portfolio of exceptional work (some of this is tangible, some are case study examples of problems solved.) Find opportunities to show it off and get feedback. Continue to improve and refine it while getting the word out. The "awesome" is what will attract others and inspire them to pay.
Here are a couple of far flung examples of feds doing just that: digitalgov, the Historic Preservation Training Center, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).