Hiring out space is an easy revenue stream for many arts venues. Andrew Thomas shares tips on how to manage underused assets.
Every arts organisation has different challenges, from attracting new audiences, offsetting continued cuts in funding to losing staff to higher paid sectors. A CEO of a regional theatre told me recently about the battle to overturn a £24,000 deficit from last year, faced with even bigger cuts from the local authority and other funders.
I was reminded of a scene in the film ‘Dave’, where Kevin Kline plays a double for the president of the US and is tasked with balancing a federal budget deficit of many millions of dollars. He ran through a list of line items, shaving each one, cutting out overspend and looking to earn back small pockets of money. It was a film and so of course he did it.
Many things can go wrong, but these can be mitigated by the use of simple and usable technology
The CEO and I talked about the film and how the same could and should be applied to every area of theatre operations. The only caveat we had was not to reduce the service offered or simply raise prices. Both saving and making money take thought and planning, while kneejerk pricing or policies confuse consumers, business customers and staff. The aim is to work smarter.
Hiring out facilities
One question to ask is what do you have that you don’t really use? Space. Think about the space a typical arts centre might have – its main house, a studio, meeting rooms and a café. How utilised are those spaces? How many times do they get used away from performances, public openings or internal meetings?
Meeting rooms in Sheffield – with no catering or audio-visual equipment, just a table and chairs – can cost between £100 and £200 to hire for half a day or an evening, or between £200 and £500 for a full day.
Everyone needs a projector and a screen – if you have them you can hire them for £60 a session. Then there’s tea and coffee and biscuits. 40 people at £2.95 a head, at a 50% profit. If the meeting is held when the café is open, you can increase that margin or look at extra spending – the people that arrive early might grab a coffee or those who leave late might have a quick glass of wine.
Let’s not get too carried away, but think about hiring out a meeting room once a week for four hours at £35 per hour and the main space for £55 once a week for four hours. With a projector at £10 per hour for half those events, that raises over £2,000 of extra revenue per month.
Staffing, including cleaning, need to be factored in, but we are already opening new revenues. This small list alone could overturn that £24,000 deficit.
The importance of delivery
But we all know, whatever your specific job role, the type of organisation you work in or the art you produce, so much relies on delivery. The show, the exhibition, the website, the foyer or even the stage door. You need to be organised and you need systems for that.
I’m not advocating the end to manual solutions and replacing them all with technology, but why not take advantages of situations and tools for maximum benefits?
Stage door signs are simple: what’s your name, who are you visiting, car registration, time you arrived and time you left. But venue bookings and hires are not that simple. Many things can go wrong, but these can be mitigated by the use of simple and usable technology in the form of a venue management system.
A specialised solution
There are three fundamental advantages of using a specialised solution (rather than a black book, Excel or Google calendar):
- Record of truth: All the details are recorded – booking times, projector booking, car parking and so on. I am sure at most venues one person or department allocates parking and another technical resources. Both departments will have a method of recording their commitments and tasks. What keeps these in sync if the event is cancelled or amended? It is vital that all information on events is stored centrally, secured by a permission structure, but stored in one place.
- Audit: This follows on from the record of truth. A big black book can hold booking information, but if someone rubs out a pencil booking and overwrites with another booking, where is the audit? Or where was the permission structure or warning to advise not to delete all this information. More likely a resource can be moved or re-assigned. You cannot underestimate the time saved by being able to find answers quickly and focus on resolving the issue with the customer, rather than trying to find out what used to be written on a page.
- Delivery: So much harm can be done by misunderstanding simple requests. Remember the Four Candles comedy sketch with the two Ronnies? Using systems to validate inputs from users ensures that all data is collected and eliminates poor or late delivery.
Such systems are not free and start at a few hundred pounds per month to manage external hires and internal events. Don’t focus on saving money though – start with the aim of working smarter.
Smarter working is a cyclical process. Hiring a room out for 20 hours a month produces enough revenue to fund a venue management system, which in turn allows you to deliver more, higher quality and better earning events each month, producing more revenue.
A venue management system allows you to eliminate odd software packages and the time spent in planning meetings going though the diary and speaking at length to update the management team on events and running times.
The concept of hiring out space may not be one you’ve thought of, but with innovation and a small amount of work you can kick off a revenue stream that can help reduce operating deficits, deliver better service and increase your offering to both public and commercial customers. Suddenly the ability to work smarter and earn more doesn’t seem so far away, does it?
Andrew Thomas is an independent technology consultant in the arts industry and is currently working with Yesplan, a Cloud-based venue management and planning system designed and supplied exclusively to the cultural sector.
This article is an advertising feature sponsored and contributed by Yesplan.