The most important thing in business

It occurred to me we were missing the most important thing in business – understanding people and what they value.

The first year of starting a business is often very hard, you’re on a steep incline of learning and often outputting a huge amount of effort and not seeing the return. My co-founder Mr Mike Ebinum and I were no exception and I remember it well.

At points, it felt like we were banging our heads against a wall and there was an invisible force moving against us. We were good at building software, our design and development skills made a lot of sense, but it just wasn’t working.

I looked at our competitors and they made it look so easy from the outside looking in. Time and again, we would be beaten by a competitor even though we were technically far superior – our design was better, our prices lower and we collectively had more experience. Looking back, I’m glad that we learned the lessons we did then and were not stuck there for long. So what changed?

I made it my mission to get to the bottom of it. I had recently lost some work on a project with someone I developed a very good rapport with. So, I decided to find out why. “Why did you choose to go with them, over us? We’ve worked together already and the work we have done was high quality,” I asked.

My friend and former client looked at me and said, “Can I be honest?” This was the crucial feedback I had been waiting for that completely changed my perspective and set our business on a growth trajectory.

“Of course,” I replied.

He looked me in the eye and said: “You didn’t treat my business like it was your own”.

At that moment, it occurred to me we were missing the most important thing in business – understanding people and what they value. The things we were creating were excellently crafted but not always fit for purpose. We had it the wrong way around. The products and services we offered were simply tools to help people achieve their goals and we were the ones with the expertise to help them do that.

This valuable lesson of first understanding people and what they value has now shaped our business into a whole new organisation. And the same theory applies not just to clients, customers and staff but can apply to you, too.

Your business exists to solve problems in this world for people and to help them achieve or grasp what they value. Without people, there is no need for websites, apps, consulting, accounting, legal help, jobs, food, smartphones – you name it. Your business exists to help you create value for yourself and achieve your goals – but that is created by creating value for others.

So how do I figure out what people value? Practise, empathise, listen, study and care.

You should look into persona development and the Value Proposition Canvas (VPC) tool to better understand what people value in your business. As an overview, the VPC says that people’s value is built around jobs they want to achieve – emotional, social and functional.

There’s an age old saying that goes, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Don’t sell “things” but seek to understand how your business helps the people in your world to fulfill their jobs or solve their problems. Know their wants, needs and motivations. And understand why you do what you do and align yourself with helping people achieve what they value. Own it, make it your mission to make them successful and grow.

This is the most important thing in business.

Christopher Bartlett, Gereral Manager, SEED

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