Use The Brown Marker!

I spend a lot of my time advising business owners and start-ups and helping them to see their businesses through a different set of lenses. As an outsider looking in, it is sometimes a lot easier to not only see their deficiencies but also their strengths. Once I’ve identified either one, it makes my job a whole lot easier and then it becomes the basis for our discussion.

The most common issue I come across in so many businesses, regardless of their development stage, is lack of focus. The majority of the these owners are trying to be everything to their clients or on the other hand, are wasting time on pushing products or services that no one really wants only because they are sure it’s the next best thing. In many cases they’re ignoring what their clients are really buying and by focusing just a little more on these items they will usually increase their revenues and profitability.

Conversely, I see many owners competing in already crowded low margin categories in the mistaken belief that they must be visible in this space because their competitors are selling the same products. In these situations I always counsel the owners to forge a different path and find a niche that they can dominate and be profitable. This strategy sometimes will require the business to take a little longer to reach profitability but in the end they could own that particular segment. I have come to calling this “The Brown Marker Strategy”.

“The Brown Marker Strategy” name came about purely by accident during one of my consultations. You see, I’ve been known to jump up during my conversations with my clients and start sketching out my idea on a white board using dry erase markers. Inevitably, the marker I grab is usually well passed its best before date and is barely legible on the board. Discarding it, I grab the next one and repeat the process until I find one that works. Like most everyone else the first marker I grab is the blue one, followed by the black one, then red and so on.

One day while going through this process a client said “Use the brown one”, to which I responded “the brown one?” Yes, they said “no one ever uses the brown one”. To humour them I grabbed the brown marker and to my surprise it wrote like a brand new marker. What’s interesting is that the brown marker has probably been sitting there as long, if not longer than all the other markers just waiting to be discovered. It wrote with ease, was clearly legible and allowed me to focus on my message and not on trying to get the marker to work.

Organizing a business, deciding on which products to sell as well as the hundreds of other decisions you must make is hard work. It’s immensely difficult to differentiate ourselves when we are using the same blue marker as everyone else so sometimes we just have to reach for the brown marker and be different.

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