What your business can learn from Rabbie Burns

O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us…

I’m pretty sure Rabbie Burns wasn’t talking about running an SME, but you know, he had a point. You see your business one way – but do your clients or customers see it the same way? And if they don’t, what implications does that have?

I’ve been thinking about this question for a few weeks – since Venturefest in fact. The speaker at breakfast was Steve Birdsall, who runs a business called Gaist – they design and install web based collaborative management systems for local government, businesses and the emergency services.

Steve made an interesting point – that when Gaist started as a business, they “didn’t really know who we were.” Quite often I find that one of the defining characteristics of a successful businessman is a complete lack of introspection and self-awareness, so I was fascinated by this insight.

“How long did it take you to find out who you were?” I asked Steve after breakfast.

“Two to three years,” he said. And he made another interesting point – that where Gaist initially saw themselves as producers and suppliers of a product, their customers saw them as suppliers of a solution. Gaist thought they were selling a product: their customers were buying a solution to a problem.

I think we can all take a leaf out of Steve’s book and ask ourselves a simple question – “If I was a customer of my business, what would I want?”

And I wouldn’t be surprised if your answer was largely made up of abstract terms. Thinking as a customer, you might well be seeking reassurance, support, confirmation of your ideas, peace of mind – or in the case of Steve’s customers, a solution. Frankly, you couldn’t care less what type of widget it is, or what colour it is, as long as it does the job.

Whatever you’re selling, and whatever you’re saying, what your customers want to hear is, “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing. Relax – I’ll take care of it.”

So next time you’re walking the dog – or whatever it is you do to clear your mind – try and see your business as your customers see it. What do they want? What do they value? What would make them stop dealing with you? The answers might surprise you – and they might help you to re-focus and move to the next level.



  1. Jo Clarkson · March 25, 2011

    What a very thought provoking read! I’ll take your advice and ‘cogitate’ upon it whilst stuck in traffic tonight!

    • edreidyork · March 25, 2011

      Hi Jo – cogitating about customers – surely that’s what you’re doing all the time?!

  2. Steven Partridge · March 25, 2011

    Rerally interesting, Ed. As a provider of professional services I agree that it’s essential to know what outcome a client is seeking, so as to agree what needs to be done, how, over what timescale, etc. Not only does it leave a client happier, but it also reduces your business risks. Assumptions are dangerous!

    • edreidyork · March 25, 2011

      Hi Steven – absolutely spot on about understanding the desired outcome – so why do so many people miss this? Glad you’re not doing – thanks for the comment!

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