Two women, Grace Grey and Page Pink graduate from Brown University. Each sets up a business advisory consultancy. Each decides to pitch her business at the start-up & early stage market.
Grace calls her consultancy Grey and Partners. When it opens for business, Grey and Partners is a one-woman show, but Grace expects it to grow.
Grace anticipates that prospective clients will value solidity and caution from business advice consultants. She finds reasonably-priced office space at a good address in the financial district.
She decorates her office conservatively. She chooses navy blue and mid grey as her corporate colours. Blue because it instils trust, grey because it’s classically neutral. For her business’s ID, she chooses Baskerville typeface for its subdued timelessness.
For her website and credentials presentation, Grace copies the language of the big established names in the business advisory sector.
Even though her business is young, she wants clients to be reassured by the traditional cues of office furnishings, signage, language. Hers might be a startup but Grace wants it to feel like a 50-year-old practice.
With time, Grey adds partners. The partnership adds clients. After 20 years, Grace has built her business into a reputable consultancy with a good client roster.
One of the established consultancies approaches Grace with a takeover offer. After a little negotiating, Grace sells Grey and Partners for 3.5 times gross revenue. Grace moves her business into the purchasing company’s office. Grey and Partners is no more.
Like Grace, Page thinks about what her target market would want from a business advisory consultancy. She feels that they would definitely want solidly reasoned advice. But she feels that her entrepreneurial audience would want to do business with a consultancy that was also entrepreneurial. Page calls her business Pink Rock.
Before deciding where to set up office, she does a little research. She learns that her target audience isn’t located in the established financial district, but there are concentrations of them in emerging creative hubs. She finds a great loft space directly across the road from the city’s best-known incubation hub.
She decorates her office with a mix of recycled, mid-century and Bauhaus minimalism. She chooses Gotham as her corporate typeface. And black as her corporate colour.
Her business’s language is her clients’ language – young, direct, clear. Her business’s personality is her own – quirky, irreverent, humourous and disarming.
Page doesn’t want Pink Rock to be like established business advisory consultancies. She doesn’t want to offer the same services offered by the sector’s establishment.
Recognising that her target audience wants control and autonomy, she sets about creating software that lets businesses self-perform many of the traditional services of business advisors.
Her software is a hit. Not only with early stage businesses, but established ones. It becomes must-have software. Clients in 100 countries use it.
After 5 years, a major business software developer makes Page an offer for Pink Rock. To Page, it’s a crazy offer, many times more than her business’s gross revenue.
Every sector is populated by businesses like Grey and Partners. They are numerous. They are interchangeable. They are forgettable. They are worth only what’s on their balance sheets.
Every sector is reshaped by businesses like Pink Rock. They are rare. They are unique. They are memorable. They are worth whatever someone is prepared to pay for their creativity, their IP and their brand’s cache.
My clients have included businesses like Page’s in some traditionally restrained sectors. One of the big global accounting networks set itself apart by humourously challenging accountant stereotypes. A financial services client dared to innovate in a sector of me-too products and services.
Whatever sector you operate in, there’s a fundamental question to ask yourself. It’s a question rarely asked, because most of us enter a sector with preconceptions of how that sector operates, and what a business should look like and sound like. The question?
Do we want to stand out?
If yes, then do something about it:
- Challenge the rules by which your sector operates
- Reverse the accepted processes
- Study the modus operandi of heroes and villains – and adapt to your sector
- Import thinking from an unrelated sector
Standing out is harder work than blending in. Blazing trails is harder work than cruising highways.
There’s a buzz from leading your industry into new terrain. There’s a buzz from giving your creativity freedom. History suggests there’s also likely to be a big pot of gold.