5 Business Lessons You Can Learn From Apple

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I realize you have better things to do than watch share prices but a monumental event occurred this week. Apple became the world’s most valuable company. Ever. Its share price reached almost $665 which propelled the company’s worth to $621 billion.

Apple overtook Microsoft’s record of $621 billion in 1999. Admittedly, that would equate to $850 billion today, but Apple’s valuation remains impressive.

Those of you under the age of 30 possibly don’t remember that Apple almost went bankrupt 20 years ago. The company’s focus on expensive all-in-one machines didn’t always match the market’s desire for cheaper and faster computing devices. Microsoft dominated and, even today, Windows is used on 90% of home and office PCs. This, combined with doomed forays into early digital photography, CD players, interactive TVs and games consoles (does anyone remember the Bandai Pippin?) pushed Apple to its knees.

Apple’s rebirth started in 1997. Steve Jobs returned as CEO, re-evaluated the product line, and launched the Jonathan Ive-designed iMac. The machine wasn’t technically better than any other PC but it was different, looked great and appealed to a mass market. Over 800,000 units sold within five months.

Apple never looked back and, while some of their business ethics would make Gordon Gekko wince, there are some great lessons we can follow…

1. Imitation Over Innovation

Apple didn’t invent the PC, MP3 player, smartphone or tablet. They enter a market, take existing concepts and apply a different approach or extra polish to make them desirable.

Consider the iPad. Microsoft and other companies dabbled in the tablet market for many years but cut-down hardware combined with desktop software was never successful. Apple made their tablet a larger, more powerful smartphone. They enhanced rather than reduced an existing technology.

2. Attention to Detail

It’s the small details which make Apple’s products shine. There are few iPhone features which excel over other products on the market, but there’s no one product which beats the iPhone.

Those who buy Apple devices rarely question the company’s design expertise. If anything, those customers begin to doubt their own knowledge if they want a feature Apple don’t provide. Wouldn’t it be great if your clients held you in such high esteem?

3. Offer a Complete Package

Where do iPod, iPhone and iPad users buy their apps, music and movies? I suspect Apple’s after-sales business is more profitable than their branded product line. Why invest in your own research and development when you can claim a 30% cut of another company’s revenue?

While I’m not suggesting you can apply sales ‘taxes’ to your client websites, you can certainly up-sell hosting, support, maintenance, updates, training and consultancy services.

4. Charge a Premium

Apple do not compete on price. There are thousands of IT suppliers jostling for business at the lower end of the market but none are as successful.

Apple make a healthy profits on every sale. Some prices veer toward extortionate, but people pay because of the perceived value. A cheap smartphone may offer the same facilities as an iPhone but it lacks the brand appeal.

In addition, when the iPhone 5 is released there will inevitably be stories about lack of availability. Do Apple always fail to appreciate demand? Or do these stories make the iPhone appear more “exclusive”? There’s one guaranteed way to make people desire your product: tell them they can’t have one!

5. Achieve Cult Status

Apple has a passionate, quasi-religious following. Many devotees buy every one of their products regardless of need or reviews.

While few of us can hope to achieve cult status, it’s worth remembering that clients approach you for your expertise. They want solutions to problems — not excuses, technical restrictions or in-depth explanations.

If you can get a job completed effectively on time and on budget with the minimum of effort from the client, they won’t hesitate to use your services again.

Do Apple deserve their valuation? Are they a shining example of good business practices? Can we learn more from their rise, fall and subsequent comeback?

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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