Creating a new business model in a crowded market is something many modern entrepreneurs grapple with. You may think your idea is unique, but in a world of intense technological innovation and a fiercely competitive business scene, someone else is probably working on it, if not launched it already.
However, there are ways you can place your company above the competition and target your chosen market.
LegalEdge CEO Donna Sewell’s backstory is typical of entrepreneurial businesses; a gap in the market and a huge desire to solve a problem. The problem was a lack of practical legal support and management, often left to an over-busy COO or CFO. The gap was fuelled by the 2009 financial crisis of slashed headcounts and budgets, as well as increasingly out of touch, expensive and specialist law firm lawyers. With her business partner, Helen Goldberg, Sewell knew they could pioneer a new business model to help meet SMEs’ unmet needs with a new model of flexible, affordable inhouse business-focused lawyers.
Carving out a space in the market, the duo looked to spearhead a movement of lawyers on a mission to innovate legal services. Alongside other early ‘new law’ adopters, such as Axiom and Lawyers on Demand, they became challengers within a very traditional, change-averse profession.
‘Agitating’ rather than disrupting
‘Rather than disrupt the industry, we wanted to agitate it, to shake it awake with fresh thinking, flexible working frameworks and innovation,’ Sewell says. She had re-imagined a way for legal services to work more effectively, as a virtual team for SMEs, that’s more excited about offering its customers the right sort of legal services for their day-to-day legal requirements and its people a better work-life balance rather than the slavish route to partner in a law firm.
Nearly ten years in, Sewell discusses how being that disruptive pioneer has helped her business.
How to be an agitator
Being an agitator is about identifying the gaps in your sector and working out ways to fill those, thereby creating new opportunities, finding new ways of working and opening up a marketplace in an impactful way. It’s about challenging the norms. It also means educating your customers about the new services you are providing and that it’s ok to do things differently, as long as it is benefitting them. We wanted to provide clients with a better, alternative service, one that truly fit their needs. This was our starting point.
Being an agitator may set the agenda for others to try to copy, which may seem disconcerting at first; but it’s good – it validates your business model and helps to open up the market.
Create a strong reputation in the market
By creating a new business model, customers, prospective customers, colleagues and peers can only sit up and take notice. You quickly become the one to watch and, as your business grows, so does your authority and credibility. You cultivate stronger relationships with other industry leaders as well as share insights, learnings and best practice – it’s a powerful way to drive your reputation through word-of-mouth.
Agitators tend to be unique in their offer too. So, for us, it’s providing flexible in-house legal support for fast-growth SMEs – something not offered by traditional law firms or the new wave of legal start-ups. Having a clear point of difference within a crowded market is how you ultimately stand out.
Be an innovative employer brand
The world of work is changing and a shift in people’s work-life expectations demands employers evolve too. In law, the long hours, the single route to partnership as the only available career progression and job dissatisfaction have made people look at other options. Our lawyers work flexibly, at a high level, and earn well without compromising on other pursuits, whether it’s family, travel or study.
Again, as an agitator, this means we can compete with bigger players for the best talent available. And the number of CVs we receive each month shows people are attracted to organisations that are happy to show creativity around the way they work, while helping build their careers.
Strengthen client relationships
Like all business owners looking to agitate, we have to stay on top of trends, incoming challengers, the next big thing, so that we can stay relevant and advise clients how to react and respond to it. And, as lawyers we need to be creative to identify more ways for our clients to excel and grow.
Being embedded in our clients’ worlds of fast-growth tech means we’re close to some amazing innovative thinking and tech. We actively refer across our clients and community to encourage new collaborations and innovation that provides that real added value.
Create stand-out for your business
As early players in new law, we founded our business for the long game. We were looking to build a business that serves our SME client base better and more efficiently while shaping a new way of working – for us and others. And because we’ve been able to locate this space – within our industry, as business owners, it’s enhanced our credibility as advisers.
Meeting other challenger brands, we’ve found they too, haven’t set out to disrupt their industry. Rather, they wanted to open up minds to a different, more effective way to work. We’ve grown our businesses on these foundations, evolving with our clients, and showing that even in the most traditional of industries, there’s always room to excite and change.
Laura Beckford, co-founder of Supernova Living, discusses how her wellness and lifestyle business seeks to innovate by offering a unique vegan protein powder product.
Our business is a wellness and lifestyle company and the first products we released were three advanced vegan protein powders with organic adaptogens. I have been a children’s TV presenter and radio presenter and then started my first business, a specialist children’s casting and modelling agency, in 2006 when I was 21 and it’s still going strong.
I think the protein powder industry is booming but it’s saturated with standard, basic powders, mostly whey and full of additives, gums and flavouring. We have a lot of USPs with Supernova Proteins which we feel make us stand out against any other vegan protein powders. We always had the vision of being pioneers and creating the most advanced, natural, powerful protein powder which benefits the whole body and mind instead of just replenishing muscles. We haven’t really adapted it from the vision we set out with and refused to compromise on the quality, even though finding quality ingredients without chemicals or processing was incredibly hard.
Identifying a niche
We noticed there was a huge niche in the market; more and more protein companies are including a vegan protein powder in their range but as I mentioned it feels like a ‘token gesture’ as opposed to a company which is dedicated to the most hypoallergenic, fully vegan range with powerful plants which have been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years.
We also wanted to provide a powder for those who ‘don’t do protein powder’. Luxury packaging that is modern, unisex and recyclable. Protein is the building blocks for so many functions in our bodies and the big plastic packaging, with perfectly ripped abs on them can be intimidating for a lot of people, men and women. Plastic also doesn’t fit into our sustainable ethos either so we’re reducing any plastic we can, including plastic scoops which we’ve replaced with hand carved coconut wood scoops. We wanted people to be able to leave their boxes on the worktop instead of hiding them in the cupboard and they do!
“We noticed more and more protein companies were including a vegan protein powder in their range”
The products are for so many different types of people, busy mums who need an energy fix, those who need a healthy breakfast but usually just run out of the door. They’re equally as powerful for professional athletes as they’re all approved by LGC and cleared for any banned substances as my husband and co-founder Jermaine Beckford is a professional footballer having played for Everton, Leicester and Internationally for Jamaica.
Starting the company took so much hard work, especially as we’re both working on other jobs too and have two small children! It was far harder than I ever anticipated and I wanted to give up every week. Customers were really encouraging and excited about the product before we released and are continuing to love it, with unbelievable feedback from them on a daily basis. We have people emailing saying their ezcema has disappeared since being on the powders, people’s anxiety has gone, their stomach problems and bloating have disappeared. The powders are so much more than protein and that’s how we stand out I think. As the quantity of the adaptogens is significant and is therefore proving to have amazing results.
The challenge of starting up
There are always challenges in starting a business and if it was easy everyone would do it. Developing a food product has so many legal requirements, rules and regulations to abide by so that was difficult even finding out what we had to do! Also learning everything about accounting systems, marketing, advertising strategies. These are things I haven’t previously done and I’m not as passionate about as the creative side or developing new products but they obviously are an integral part of a successful business so we had to learn about them all.
I would suggest you find a niche and do market research to see if others agree. The likelihood is if you think there is then others will too. I think the product has to stand out and you have to let people know it does with PR, marketing, advertising etc. We’re still working on letting the world know about Supernova! I really believe persistence is key, if you have a genuinely great product, perseverance and passion you will succeed as it is difficult and so many give up.