David Airey is an independent graphic designer working with companies of all sizes since 2005.

Be brilliant at the basics

three shipping containers in a dock

Don’t try to accommodate every customer. The more you do, the more you can potentially dilute your initial strength that people loved you for. Sure, it’s a balance; just keep it tipped the correct way.

Building a better business is certainly about giving the customer what we want e.g. the plumber who tidies up after his/her work. But it’s also about giving the customer what he/she didn’t realise they needed e.g. a text telling of the exact arrival time at your home to start work.

Don’t use email for anything that needs the expression of emotion unless you have the skills of a Mills & Boon novelist. No: see them face-to-face or pick up the phone.

Your corporate culture is not something that can be ‘rolled out’; it is the sum of what individuals do on a day-to-day basis. And understanding why they do what they do.

Notice how the small stuff can really wind you up when you’re in a line for a coffee or dealing with your bank. Does your business do that to its customers?

More important than great offices, a cool logo and a function spreadsheet is a sustainable, differentiated, profitable idea on which to build your business.

Yes it does matter. Many people really do mind that ‘customer parking’ has no spaces, that reception has last month’s business magazines, and that the account manager had an indifferent attitude.

Never talk negatively about a team member who is not present. Talk to him or her.

Everybody sells. Everybody talks value, everybody dissolves resistance to purchase, and everybody spots sales opportunities. Sure, there are some in the business (salespeople) for whom it is their final and number one accountability. But everybody sells.

Why do you want to be big? Quite. You really want to be profitable. Which may or may not correlate with size.

Make price the smallest issue. The one which is just a simple question — and how much is this/and what are your fees? — not a big debate nor negotiation. How? Through talking and illustrating and referencing the tremendous measurable value and benefit they will get when they become one of your customers.

Brilliant At The Basics of Business

These business tips were excerpted from the mini-book Brilliant At The Basics of Business 100, by author, designer, and teacher Nicholas Bate of Oxford-based Strategic Edge.

Read the full 100 business tips in this free PDF (70kb).

Shipping container image courtesy of Thinkstock.

My second book on Amazon

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24 appreciated comments about “Be brilliant at the basics”

  1. Brilliant! How basics and simple are often glossed over is such a deplorable human trait. This list is proof of that those are the things that matter, not bling or hyped stuff.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Talk about the medium being the message–Bate takes something incredibly basic–the list of advice–and puts it the simplest of ebooks–black and white, one accent color, only one non-typographical element, which is a horizontal line.

    Yet despite its minimalist design, it is light years ahead of a simple text list. Bravo.

  3. Simply great tips and yes, one brilliant mini-book more than an eye opener. Thank you for sharing!

  4. It is always great fun to read motivational comments like these. They can really put your business in to perspective and make you take action over the things we could all do better. Thanks David.

  5. “…it’s also about giving the customer what he/she didn’t realize they needed …”

    So true! This is a great post. Looking forward to reading the rest!

  6. Brilliant read!!! Thanks for the freebie David…

  7. This is brilliant stuff David.

    What I seem to really need to hone is how to tell clients “we are busy”, I’ve noticed a lot of clients get offended by this and we just can’t take on more work sometimes. I’m sure this is something you certainly have to deal with, would love to hear how you handle this.

    p.s. four years later my book is finally out!

  8. Some great tips! I like the idea of promoting unity by avoiding a culture of backbiting and gossip and not talking about people behind their backs.

    And yeah, great customer service really does make a difference in terms of trust and if I get repeat business. For example, I always stay with Southwest Airlines for travel, Subway for a quick meal, because of all of their great customer service and going the extra mile.

  9. Hi Ebi, if I’m too busy to take on any new work, I’ll tell the potential client when I’m likely to be available, and ask if he/she wants me to contact them when the time comes. Congrats on the book launch, by the way. Got a site for it yet?

  10. This was a great reminder of some of those things we know in business, but that we lose sight of.

    I was interested in your statement:

    “More important than great offices, a cool logo and a function spreadsheet is a sustainable, differentiated, profitable idea on which to build your business.”

    Maybe sometime you can expand on what a function spreadsheet is.

    Thanks – Joe

  11. I’m a huge believer in going beyond client’s expectations. Giving a client something they weren’t expecting is a game-changer. Showing willingness to go the extra mile will raise you above your competitors and ultimately win more clients and lot more work.

  12. Sometimes I find it difficult to get into that “businessman mind-frame.” All I really want to do is design things and solve problems. Obviously it’s necessary having some sort of business knowledge being a freelancer and articles like this are adding that extra confidence.

    Thanks a bunch Mr. Airey!

  13. I really enjoyed all these examples. I’ve often been told people like to work with me because I’m me not just “what I’ve done”. The more people I meet with the more people want to work with me. If I can sit down with people its much better than trying to do it over the phone or through email.

  14. “Don’t try to accommodate every customer.”

    This is valuable piece of advice should be taken seriously. Many businesses tend to lose sight of who they are actually targeting and in turn lose their own identity. It’s so important to differentiate yourself in a cluttered market and defining your market helps you define your own brand.

    Thanks for another quality post David :)

  15. I love that bit about queueing up at a coffee shop or bank! It’s a nice way to visualise programming and user interface design, from the driver’s side, so to speak.

    And as one of those people that really adds a minus mark to my mental tally when I encounter an unsmiling receptionist or sales agent, I can agree. It. Really. Does. Matter.

  16. Thank you David. Had to bookmark this for myself. This is a great reminder and I’d suggest others too to invest few minutes (only!) every now and then by coming back to this. Thanks.

  17. Well stated. I’ve often thought it necessary to demand that of others, yet it’s not a privilege we get or give to each other. The matter goes much farther than products and services, we all ought to strive for greater respect towards people.

  18. This is my favorite

    “Don’t use email for anything that needs the expression of emotion unless you have the skills of a Mills & Boon novelist. No: see them face-to-face or pick up the phone.”

    So often I forget that email shows no emotions and thats not how a business should be run. We have not gotten to the point where we are robots yet so I need to realize this.

    Thanks for the insightful Post

  19. “Apple, Harley-Davidson and Innocent Juices understand cool design. You need to as well.” !!! Thanks David

  20. Great list David. From a design point of view my 3 basic, golden rules are:

    1. Never do spec work
    2. Never got trapped into having to give a ball park figure off the top of your head
    3. Never present any work that you aren’t 100% happy to put your name to

    Oh and never, ever, ever try and do creative work after lunch.

    Thanks David,

  21. I do just the same but for some reason it just doesn’t quite sit well with them. Maybe delivery. Excellent article again! Also ditto cool offices.

    We do have a holding site http://www.nigeriansbehindthelens.com but there isn’t much on there yet. I’ll DM you the facebook page via twitter.

  22. Hello David,

    Great read that. I’m different to all or most of the boys and girls here in that I’m only an amateur, novice, but I often wonder how you handle these situations. When I was doing my degree I had the privilage of some great advice from a web design company who I thought were a very large organisation, in fact they had an office above a shop near to where I live! They were very good at what they did and more than happy to share advice and help me.

    Thanks for allowing me to chip in,

    Best wishes
    Graeme

  23. Hello David,

    I was wondering what is the best way to setup a web design portfolio? I amd an amateur and it is my hobby but I am very proud of the sites I have helped with for family and friends. I guess the obvious way is to have your own web site with a portfolio in but are there any other ways say for example a digital business card (I might have made that up!)?

    I usually say ‘have a look at this’ and write a URL on a piece of paper!

    Thank you as always,

    Best wishes
    Graeme

  24. Hi Graeme, I think the simplest way (not the best) is to use Posterous, where you can simply send an email to your Posterous account and a blog post will automatically be published with the content of your email (images/text). I’d recommend your own site, however, and the self-hosted version WordPress is a great choice (wordpress.org).

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