Five business lessons from Apple

You can't open a magazine, watch the news, or spend more than a minute online without coming across the Apple logo. It's had its fair share of setbacks, yet is still one of the most successful and popular brands in the world. So what can small businesses learn from Apple?

1.   Provide great customer service

Apple aims to re-create the same friendliness in its stores that you'd find at a Four Seasons hotel. It was ranked third in Bloomberg Business Week's fourth annual customer service rankings, receiving A+ ratings for quality of staff and efficiency of service.

You may not have Apple's budget, but you can still learn from its customer service ethics. It may be cliché, but the customer really is always right. Be friendly and polite during all interactions, and handle complaints calmly and professionally. Your staff must mirror your attitude, because a poor performance on their part will result in negative consequences for your business.

Make sure you have a phone number clearly visible on your website, so you can answer any questions customers have directly. Customers feel reassured if they know they can talk to another human being about issues with a product.

2.   Do one thing, better

Apple has always focused on making one idea a reality, and doing it better than anyone else. The iPod was all about getting your music into your pocket easily. The iPad meant you could get onto the internet wherever you were, easily. Steve Jobs said that Apple rejects hundreds of good and great ideas because it wants to focus solely on making one product the best it can be.

How do you choose which business to start or product to develop when you've got so many great ideas? Take a leaf out of Apple's book and keep it simple. Don't try to start up three different companies or product ranges because you think they'll be a success. They won't. Starting something new needs your full attention: you can't divide it between however many things you choose. Pick the idea you're most passionate and knowledgeable about, and focus solely on that.

Be a specialist! It doesn't matter if you can 'probably' include something in your product that might be helpful. Unless you're an expert, don't do it. You don't have to change the world, just make your business stand out from others.

3.   Simple marketing techniques

Apple is a company that understands the importance of simplicity in advertising campaigns. The first television ads for the iPod consisted solely of people dancing along with music. Nothing was said about the features or technology of the product, because that's not what Apple wanted its audience to think about. Apple wanted its customers to buy the iPod because it solved a problem: "What's a better way to listen to my music?"

Good marketing is one of the most important drivers of business success. Your product could be the best of its type, but it won't sell if no one knows about it. Who exactly will buy your product? What will make them want to? Focus your advertising on answering these questions.

Marketing doesn't have to involve adverts on television or in newspapers - there are many techniques that can be accomplished on a shoe string budget. Read our guide on low cost marketing for more advice and ideas.

4.   Get people excited

Apple is great at getting people excited about their products. Through TV commercials, teaser campaigns, and press releases, Apple builds anticipation. This not only brings in new customers, but also makes existing ones even keener to get the latest version of a gadget they already own.

It doesn't matter how great your product is, if you can't get people excited about it, they won't buy it or refer you to others. Referrals are key to success: you want your customers to recommend you to all of their friends.

Again, this rests on customer service, and on their ability to talk about and with you more easily. Read our advice on social media for more tips on that.

5.   Don't be afraid to charge more

Compared to similar products, Apple's are often between two and five times more expensive! But price doesn't deter millions of people from buying Macs or iPhones. In fact, the higher price tag suggests to the customer that Apple's products are better quality and more desirable than rival brands'.

It's important when running a small business to provide competitive prices, but don't undercut yourself. If you think you offer a better quality service, don't be afraid to ask for a higher price. As long as you can communicate to prospective customers that you're providing great value for a superior service, you may find you get more business!

Find other competitive advantages in our article 37 ways to beat your competitors.

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