Photo of a giftI run a business that aims to help charities and small business. One of the founding tenets of my business, and something that I go on and on about all the time, is value. But I’ve been wondering lately just how much value people expect, and whether some element of “feel-good-factor” is good for business, even if it can be expensive.

What is value?

Value, to me, is a simple equation: benefit / cost. Yes, I confess, calculating benefit isn’t always easy, but this is generally what’s in my head when I talk about value.

Benefit, in my mind, is all about the quality of the service that people get from me and the products that I use or provide them with.

Questioning Benefit

The other week, after a big strategy day with my close friends at Hands Up, I’d been thinking a bit about value, when I saw a Tweet from designer/developer Matt Kersley

Gifts? Welcome packs?  Gosh, is this something I should be doing? Is the “feel good” factor that a client gets from something like this part of the benefit that they get from a supplier?

Then, I’ve been keeping up with BBC3’s series “Be Your Own Boss”, which is like Dragons Den but slightly less informal.  Each week the guy who founded Innocent Drinks invests in 3 businesses chosen from hundreds at a big exhibition.  It’s not actually that good, but I like seeing other people trying to do business.

In the last episode, two of the three businesses – both of which I’d describe as “struggling startups” – had quite plush offices. And by plush I mean with custom signage, toys, nice furniture, and located on a business park somewhere.

And offices aren’t cheap.

So I wondered – and asked on Twitter – do people think an office is needed to make your business credible?  Is there benefit in having somewhere nice to work and to have people come and visit regularly?

No Simple Answers

The truth is that every business is different. I can clearly see that a business that does lots of client interaction, like a firm of solicitors, can benefit from a nice office. I just wasn’t convinced that the two startups on Be Your Own Boss – one that sold stuff on the internet, and one pair of freelance guys who develop apps – fell into that category.

And the gifts question also isn’t simple. I quite often take cakes to client meetings. Mostly because I like cake, but also because they’re not too expensive, I get hungry in long meetings, and food is actually a good social thing too.

But if I was handing out USB sticks with my logo on, or sending big boxes of expensive chocolates, would that be seen by the client as good value? After all, it is, ultimately, the client that is paying for the gift.

My Aims

I want great value for my clients, and so every business purchase is carefully weighed: will this benefit my clients? I work from home. I use a Dell PC, not an Apple Mac. I use as much free software and tools as possible. I try to keep stationery and consumable costs to a minimum.

I’ve considered having an office or a desk in some shared space a few times. I do think there is some potential value in this and will keep exploring the idea looking for the right thing, but I don’t think I’ll ever have an Oikos-branded permanent home all to myself on a business park.

But these are all restrictions; things that I don’t do.  I’m challenged by Matt and ‘Be Your Own Boss’: where might I look to bring value, or the feel-good factor to clients?

Over To You

I’m interested in others’ views and experiences. Where have you had a freebie or exceptional service that will have cost but ultimately was good? Where have you felt a company spent too much or tried too hard to make you feel good?

(Photo credit asenat29)