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One Kind of Revenue Trumps Them All. Here’s Why

One Kind of Revenue Trumps Them All. Here’s Why

John Warrillow has built his career helping business owners build valuable—and sellable—companies. Celebrated entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan, writes about her recent, eye-opening conversation with Warrillow on the importance of “reliable revenue”:

What do you want your business to do? Make money, of course. To pay for people and supplies, to be able to grow. So whenever a revenue line is growing, you think that’s great news. But not all revenue is equal.

This was driven home to me the other day when I was talking to John Warrillow. He’s a master of thinking about how to build a business that can be sold. This doesn’t mean you have to sell your company–only that you want to be sure that, if you did want to sell, you could do so for a sum that would leave you happy.

What Kind of Revenue Is Best?

Warrillow is very clear that, while revenue can take many shapes, one kind of revenue trumps them all: reliable revenue. Customers who have to come back and spend, or customers who just don’t want the hassle of leaving–those are the ones who are most worth attracting. Land one and you have their revenue for life.

“Recurring revenue,” Warrillow told me, “acts like a great big pair of binoculars for your business. It allows you to see where your revenue is going to come from months–even years–in the future.”

A week after talking to Warrillow, I judged a business plan competition. All the ideas were strong and most of the teams were impressive. But not a single one had asked this question: How do I tie my customers in so that their revenue is reliable?

Reliable Revenue Models

One team had a great idea for providing lunch to big industrial parks in China. Why not, I asked, make your service a membership club? Members get served first at a discount. You have them for a life–or at least a long time.

Another team wanted to entice kids and adults to learn software coding. Why not a gym-style subscription?

Yet another had a great idea for improving pet welfare; a subscription model would have made building this business smoother, faster, and more sociable.

So when you examine your company’s revenue and pat yourself on the back because it’s growing, ask yourself: Is it getting more reliable? And, if it isn’t, could it?

By Margaret Heffernan/