My friend, Praise Fowowe calls me an Interpreter of Dreams. If you describe what you’re trying to achieve in business or life, I can often show you how to get there. It’s a mix of creative and strategic gifts.

There’s also experience and exposure. I’ve been working for a quarter of a century and have a gamut of experience from Trainee to Board Member. I’ve been a corporate executive and then business owner, across different countries. Then, there are the stories I could tell about how I went from earning a salary to financial independence!

But I’ve learnt that not many startups can afford the expertise that I bring. And that’s because it’s not an off-the-shelf product. Let me illustrate with graphic design.

The Design Parallel

When you hire a logo designer on a freelance platform, they’ll deliver in 48 hours. Behind that process is a highly standardized work product. The designer has an icon pack, a typeface library and an AI assistant. And so, they can churn out pretty decent work within a short time frame. They do this to achieve economies of scale and that’s a brilliant model.

The only caveat is, before the user approves the design, they must run a reverse image search, to be sure the same icon hasn’t been used by other designers, albeit in different configurations. The same goes for buying a website template.

The Consulting Model

I used to work in a brand strategy firm and so, I saw the design process up close.

When you give a design consultant a brief, they spend the first few days just thinking and then sketching free-hand. They might take long walks in nature or research your industry, looking for historical references. During that time, they are gathering inspiration and clues; jotting down notes along the way.

After preliminary sketches, they convene a brainstorm with other designers with decades of experience between them. In this gathering, magic happens. As they present and debate initial sketches, they collectively refine ideas so that better iterations can emerge. Only then do they start the computer-aided design process.

Before the final submission, there will be several revisions and further debates. Finally, the designer crafts an argument and checks to ensure nothing like it already exists. While Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be used for research and customization, it never replaces original thought.

Are You Building for the Future?

If you’ve read about Amazon’s logo, you will understand the intellectual and creative rigor that goes into design. There’s a reason their logo has endured and can be extended to new business lines – AWS, Fresh, Prime etc. Can you imagine if Amazon had chosen something off-the-shelf?

The problem with a lot of entrepreneurs is they are too cheap to bankroll their dreams, especially when it matters most – at inception. And so they pay what my former boss called, Failure Cost. It’s the aggregate cost of not doing things right in the first place.

No More Free Stuff

Once upon a time, I used to offer free advice, but no more. Now, I ask people to book an hour of my time. The breaking point was when a “friend” asked me to lunch to get my consulting perspective. When the restaurant bill came, they didn’t look at it and waited for me to pay. I’ve never discussed business with that person again.

There’s a project I’m working on now and before I developed the strategy deck, I spent many days just chewing on the problem and writing down thoughts. I woke up at 1am on a particular day with startling insights. Apparently, I had been dreaming of the problem!

How can a start up sufficiently pay for time, expertise, and depth? They would need to not only cover the hours, but also pay for the output itself – which in my case, was a 10-page strategy deck! And, can they afford the coaching that follows, if they want help with implementation?

As a startup, you will rarely get access to excellence, unless you’re willing to pay for it or do the grunt work yourself. The mistake many make is to assume resources are readily available on the Internet. However, many don’t know how to use or combine the information for success. If wisdom were free, we would have more success stories.

Don’t Cheapen Expertise

When you display an attitude that cheapens professionals, they will alienate you. They will remove themselves from you, so you don’t waste their time. And, the best won’t refer people in their network to you, lest you tarnish their goodwill with the same attitude.

So, your best bet might be to get into an accelerator or incubator, if you can. There, you will find a group of experts who have already been paid by the organizers, or who are volunteering their time. If you are lucky to get into such a program, please use the time well.


For more, please read Overcome Inertia To Succeed

As a startup, you will rarely get access to excellence, unless you're willing to pay for it or do the grunt work yourself. Click To Tweet

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