It is quite a predicament that small business owners face when it comes to getting strategy advice. Time and again I have seen consultants offer some insights into how a small brand may enter a highly competitive market and gain market share but the advice comes across as very vague and more inspirational than practical.

I do not blame these consultants or strategists. In fact I am a strategist myself. Small businesses can not afford to pay well and business strategists can not hence put in the time and effort required to come up with practical strategies that are actionable and guaranteed to produce results.

So, how can small businesses get the right kind of advice and how would consultants or strategists be able to give them what they need? I guess it boils down to money. Small businesses do not have the resources up front. Strategists have to pay their bills.

I believe that small businesses must be prepared to spend a large portion of their marketing budget towards strategy. Gone are the days when a great product practically sold itself and became an overnight hit. The market is crowded and over-saturated. Competition is mind numbing. The noise to signal ratio is ridiculous and every one if fighting for the precious attention of the consumer.

In this scenario, a quote by the great Abraham Lincoln comes to mind:

“If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I would spend 6 hours sharpening my axe”

That is so profound. Planning and preparation are the key. In terms of a business, strategy is critical. Most business owners are in a hurry to launch their product and then quickly move onto marketing. They reach out to the easy to market channels and methods and pour their money into them. Easy marketing techniques or “popular” ones are hardly effective. Having a megaphone and screaming your lungs out does not help.

It pays to invest in a good strategist. Some one who can spend some time understanding your target market, your product or service and then come up with actionable ideas to help your product or service stand out. Don’t throw your money into adwords or print adverts with out having a strategy in place. Sharpen your axe first.

Seek out mentors or strategists who are active in your market segment. They can be found on platforms such as Google+ or Quora. Ask them pertinent questions. Check out some of the work they have done in the past and then decide to invest in them to deliver you ideas that will make a difference.

The flip side is that almost every one is an expert these days. So there is risk in putting your precious investment into some one who may not be able to provide you with winning strategies. I did not say it would be easy. Social proof and references may help. Educating yourself is a prerequisite. Set aside a portion of the time you would normally spend on perfecting your product on educating yourself on at least the basics of what is required to make your mark.

Understand that there are some critical elements such as understanding the target market, identifying your core values, having a mission statement (other than making money), creating a brand story and the visual language to represent that story and then finally strategic marketing.

Posted by Mash Bonigala

Mash is a Brand Differentiator & Strategist, Film Maker, Traveller, Author and Zen Practitioner. He loves mindfulness, branding, online marketing and startup business challenges.