A Startisan’s Guide to Employing Consultants…

To spend or not to spend…that’s the question.

I’ve been very fortunate that I have sat on most sides of business: I’ve been a buyer, I’ve been a seller, I’ve been a retailer and I’ve also been part of a start-up business. So I do feel fortunate enough to have quite a rounded view.

This post looks into a really tough question that faces all startisans: how should I spend my money?

You’ll find when you start your business that you won’t face a shortage of outlets for your cash and there will be a metaphorical queue at your metaphorical door of ‘consultants’ who can design a plan tailored to your needs (for an extortionate monthly retainer without any guarantee and a complicated set of T’s and C’s). So how do you start to sort through all the white noise and discover what is (non) essential?

I am fully aware that this post may seem hypocritical, as I consult, but I can hold my hands up in earnest and say that I will not be able to help every business. It’s just not possible. It really depends on what the individual business needs; by which I mean: where are you on your journey? what’s already in your tool box? where’s your destination?

Where are you on your journey?

Everyone has their own analogy but I think of a business owner as a parent; scared, unsure and learning on the job but the pride and feeling of accomplishment returns the investment ten fold. Now, to continue with my analogy, you cannot expect to apply the same parenting techniques to a baby as you would a teenager – you’d get some very embarrassing results if you attempted to carry an angst-ridden teenager through Manchester town centre in a papoose!

So the first thing you need to ask yourself is where are you at on your journey. If you consider yourself a startup or even pre-startup there’s little point in investing in a CRM consultant, that would be a little premature. However, you may decide that you need a branding expert to ensure you’re setting off in the right direction.

What’s already in your toolbox?

Now, the first point to note is that entrepreneurs are not good at everything. I don’t care what you say, they’re not. Even the most successful have strengths and weaknesses. However, the most successful entrepreneurs are very good at knowing their strengths and investing in their weaknesses. Conversely, it would be a monumental waste of money to outsource something that you consider to be one of your strengths.

So, early on in your startisan journey, you need to establish what your strengths and weaknesses are to make sure you’re only investing in weaknesses. There is no one better placed to sell your product than you, it’s impossible for anyone to be more passionate about your brand.

I have, unfortunately, made the mistake of employing someone to sell my brand for me early on in my business’ life and it ended badly. I have spent the majority of my professional life in either buying or selling functions so one thing I do know is how to sell so this should have been the last thing I looked to outsource. I believed that having the sales generation looked after by a third party was the right thing to do as it would allow me ‘to think bigger things’. Well, they were rubbish! These agencies promised me the world, as any good salesman would, and delivered nothing. Lesson learnt!

Where’s your destination?

This final question depends on the strength of your brand and your self-awareness of what you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t know the answer to this then I’d definitely recommend working with someone that can help you find your place. If you do then this will help you determine what sort of help you require.

So that’s a brisk walk through my thoughts on the use of consultants in start-up businesses. I have worked with consultants in various walks of life and have found that they are all very good at identifying issues and the solutions will spookily match the consultancy’s specialism. However, I often c0nsultants like getting career advice from a teacher at school – unless you want to be a teacher they’re not going to be much use!

That being said a good startisan will be aware of their shortcomings and seek out the right person to help so I am, contrary to the tone of this post, an advocate of investing into outside advice. Just be confident in what you do and fight the temptation to be bowled over by a sharp-suited, silver-tongued sales patter. Your brand deserves better than that.

Northern Munkee.


Reap the research rewards…

My new series of blogs offering a peek behind the curtain of the mind of a Retail Buyer focuses on how to add value to your product presentation.

This is the second blog in the series and will focus on market data and research. So I can hear some eye rolls already but believe me, this is really important and it’s something that artisan producers just don’t do; so if you’re on board you’ll be moving to the top of the class!

Ok, so I do appreciate that most artisan businesses don’t have access to huge budgets and even if they do they don’t really want to be spending a large chunk of it on expensive taste tests, consumer panels and research. So how should you go about it? Well, in my opinion, artisan producers are in the perfect position to do it on the cheap. So you’re attending the Foodies Festival in Edinburgh this year with an anticipated footfall of around 25,000 people and you’re sampling your products. Let’s assume you manage to sample to just 10% of the total footfall and you ask everyone that tries a sample one question: ‘what do you think? Marks out of ten.’ You make a quick score and tot them up when you get a spare moment to get your average score. Now you’re in a position to go to a buyer and tell them that you sampled your product directly to your target market and the average score was 9.3 out of 10.

You can also say that you’ve advertised your brand to 25,000 early adopting foodies. If you wanted to go one step further you could even have a questionnaire on your stand that asks your samplers to rate the product versus their normal purchases. Here you can explore more in depth opportunities. When you’re constructing your questions put yourself in the buyer’s shoes for a moment and think about what data will allow an objective decision? Just imagine how powerful something like ‘70% of people surveyed said that they would be willing to trade up from their usual purchase because they loved the product’s quality, provenance and branding’ would be. Don’t underestimate how important this direct feedback is; anytime you’re getting someone to interact with your product or brand then you should be taking advantage.

A buyer would never expect an artisan supplier to act like a large blue-chip business. However if you’re adding value to your presentation by substantiating features and developing them into tangible benefits then you’re helping to facilitate a buying decision.

Northern Munkee.