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“When my startup first got funding, one of our key decisions was hiring a consultant,” my client said to me through the frame of our Google Meet video call. I said nothing, giving him time to put his thoughts together. “So we decided to go for one of the Big 5.”

He named the company and I smirked.
You see, I cannot tell you the name, but I can tell you the result:

“The guy they sent didn’t do much for us, to be honest. It didn’t feel like he cared. For him it was just another gig.”

“But for you it was about your company, right?” I asked, and he nodded emphatically.

You see, unless your investor sends your way a big team of experts to support you, there’s a high chance you’ll have to hire a consultant for your company. And regardless of what they help you with – Product Marketing, Business Operations or Brand Strategy – one thing is always true:

Financially and strategically, hiring consultants is one of those decisions that may affect the success of your company.

So, how do you pick the right one?
And is going for one of the Big 5 always the right decision?

Meet Maurice: The Issue with Big Consultancies

I met Maurice when I was 26 years old and he was about to turn 22. He was a bank clerk at the time with some experience in consulting clients on how to open accounts, which insurance packages to pick, and how to get a loan.

One year after we first met, Maurice wanted a new job.
He reached out to John, a Senior Consultant at one of the Big 5.
Two weeks later, Maurice was sitting in front of a recruiter for an interview.
One month later, Maurice got hired as a Consultant in Digital Transformation.

But there was one issue: Maurice had never been a consultant, and he knew nothing about Digital Transformation, if not for the fact he did some kind of basic Cloud Technologies training during his bank experience.

Two weeks after starting his new job, he was already traveling across the country, consulting client on their Digital Transformation journeys. “You just gotta talk,” he said nonchalantly as we drank one at his place to celebrate his accomplishment. “I’ll start doing real training soon though.”

See the problem here? t’s not Maurice’s age that made him a less-than-ideal candidate to be giving advice to a client – it’s the fact he had no qualifications whatsoever.

The big consulting firm took him fresh off a bank job and sent him to give a paying customer advice on a topic he knew nothing about… without the client knowing.

This far from an unusual story.
The newly-funded startup space is full of horror stories.

Under-experienced, overpaid consultants without expertise are far from the only issue. There’s also the case of consultants who don’t actually give a damn about helping you, who don’t take the time to get to know your company’s inner workings, or who don’t even consider connecting to your team.

Some startups pay hundreds of thousands for this kind of sub-par service, which brings us to the question: If everyone started wearing clown make-up to business meetings, would you fall for the trend or would you stick to your guns (and decency)?

The Case Against The Big Bad Wolf

I’m not blind. Nor am I delusional. I’m a Brand Strategist – perfectly aware of how deeply perception influences your final purchasing decisions. 

And perception plays a big role when people refer to you as “The Big 5”, when CEOs keep your predictions as if they came from Nostradamus even though less than 30% of them turn out right, and when your budget is almost unlimited.

After all, Branding, Marketing and Propagando have always been related, and Narrative Control is the name of the dynasty.

However, here’s the thing: Even if you get 50M in funding, it won’t last you much if your “big shot” consultants are costing you 1M per year. That money will last even less if those advisors bring in nothing but fancy graphs and generic advice.

And most of you reading this will get funding, but it won’t be 50M.
So, what’s the solution? If you cannot trust the Big 5, who should you hire?

Betting On David Before He Fights Goliath

In the 1972, Hertz was dominating the car rental market by a long shot. The runner-up competitor, Avis, had two choices: Act tough and fake it till they made it, or use their main weakness to their advantage.

Their solutions made for one of the best stories in Brand Strategy. When trying to come up with a differentiator that brought their failing brand from losing $3.2M to earning $1.2M, Avis decided to do something few brands would do even nowadays:

Instead of posturing on their marketing and sales materials claiming they were #1, Avis came up with the tagline “We Try Harder.”

  • Avis couldn’t afford not to be nice.
  • Avis couldn’t afford to make you wait.
  • Avis couldn’t afford to leave dirty ashtrays.

Why? Because Avis was only #2 in the market. So they tried harder.

See my point? Smaller consulting firms might not have hundreds of marketers pumping out content every day. Nor do they have thousands of salespeople ready to talk you into any magnitude of expense.

Smaller consulting firms often outperform the Big 5 results because they try harder. Because they have a chip on their shoulders. Something to prove.

A smaller consulting firm might not give you bragging rights over other startups – something quite similar to buying a car you don’t really like or need to impress people you really despise – but they’ll give you results. They’ll go above and beyond when it comes to serving you. They’ll overdeliver, they’ll become a partner and not a burden.

Team Underdog?

Everyone loves an underdog story. From Rocky Balboa from the Gladiator, we want to see the little guy win. 

In a world where 90% of startups fail, when you team up with legit consultants, you’re actually building Team Underdog – a team much more likely to succeed, because success is built together.

And to build together you gotta care.
Want proof that I care? Send me a message. I’m always one contact attempt away.

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