Business Pain Points, and How Design Can Help

What are the typical pain points of business growth that can be solved through design?

Running a business is hard. Let’s not sugar-coat it. It just is. But, where there is no risk, there is no reward, right? If you are a business owner and find yourself reading this, I bet you woke up one day and had an epiphany. A switch flicked in your head. You broke down the self-limiting beliefs. There and then, you were hell bent on setting up your business. (Am I painting a rosy enough picture?)

I know, I did, when I said to my business partner, “shall we have a go setting up an agency?” This is the mantra I pedal out to colleagues and friends: “running a business is like having children. You have good days, and you have bad days. The good days are life affirming, but the bad days are a living hell.” Thankfully, there aren’t many of those bad days, but life, and business, does throw a few curveballs.

So bravo, you took the step. Along the way, I am sure, however you have encountered a few growing pains.

Not to over simplify, there are two or three key milestones in a business’ life-cycle. What this article aims to look at is the typical pain points of business growth through a design lens. Design can’t help you if your business partner is dysfunctional, or you suspect one of your employees is a drug addict. Design can help you though if you want to differentiate yourselves from your competitors. Or, if you are gunning for growth, help you attract new customers, or scale your team. (Those by the way, tend to come hand in hand.)

Let’s go back to the beginning though.

(Just to be clear, when I say design, I mean the whole shebang: branding, messaging, tone of voice, websites, the lot! Remember to keep it joined up though, yeah?)

Start up

Exciting times. You are in start up mode. You’ve got your seed funding. Game on! That, or you are self-funding and bootstrapping your business for as little as possible.

As a side note, if you are in bootstrap mode, talk to a freelancer. You won’t be able to afford an agency. They have overheads, and the promise of more work won’t pay the rent.

It’s no secret however, that 50% of new businesses will go under within three years, and 20% will close their doors within their first year. There are a myriad of reasons. Some simply run out of money, while others have a leadership breakdown, but if you fail to communicate your value proposition in a clear and concise way, how are you going to get customers through your door in the first place?

This boils down to really knowing who your customers are, being clear and succinct about what problem you solve, and making your proposition so compelling your customers want to start a conversation with you. (Read ‘From positioning statements, right down to micro-copy, why both matter’ if this doesn’t make sense to you.)

Striking a balancing act

In my experience, most new businesses are created by those with a track record, and have thought “I can do this for myself, and do it differently.” This is where positioning a new business is what you and I might call a ‘balancing act’.

It has to come across with a certain amount of gravitas (read experience) but a willingness to buck the status quo, stand out and a make a land grab for an incumbent’s territory.

These might be mis-read as opposing forces, and sometimes they are, but buying from an unknown entity is, in the eyes of your buyer, a risk. Internally, be that risk taker, but in the eyes of your customer, be genuine, solve a problem, put a stake in the ground to say we are different, but exude confidence and be a safe pair of hands.

Yes, good design and branding can get you off the ground through differentiation, but don’t over promise what you can’t deliver. Break brand trust and you will join one of the 50% quite quickly, for brand is reputation, and reputation is the life blood of your business.

Start ups are on a mission and their key goal will be to acquire customers rapidly to get stability.

Growth mode

In growth mode you are looking to scale the business. You have proven it has worked, you have happy customers (well, I hope you do) and you have just acquired your next round of funding! Let’s do this!

You have also begun to hone your internal and external processes. You know what you stand for, and a ‘culture’ has emerged, either through your own invention, or organically.

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to work on a long term basis with my clients — sometimes creating their second, or, even, third website.

Through each growth phase, I have been witness to a few pain points.

Moving at pace

Your business is moving at pace and has evolved so much that your brand communications no longer represent your product or service. Your customers are confused, or blissfully unaware of the value you can bring.

Basically, your website has fallen behind your business.


You are in the doldrums. You have stagnated and need fresh impetus to help kick-start the next phase of growth. This is a different type of growth catalyst. You have recognised that you have plateaued and you need to re-position or become another statistic.

This is particularly relevant if you have been pigeon-holed for a single type of product or service, and your customers don’t know you have a different offer. Or, they perceive your price isn’t right for them, even though they never even asked. You might call this pivoting your business to tap into new markets.

Either way, each problem is easily solved by deep interrogation of your business and growth plans. Believe me when I say I know how hard it is to figure out what label to put on the outside of the tin when you are on the inside. I have tried this for myself, and ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ springs to mind here. Always get an outside consultant, designer, or whatever you want to call them these days. (Although, avoid anyone who calls themselves a Ninja or Guru. Run a country mile.)

Your designer will seek to understand your past, your present and your future. Every business has a story to tell, and it takes an outsider to help make sense of it and frame it in a way that makes a compelling case to your customers.

Acquiring customers, employees and funding

In growth mode, you will be likely to be talking to two or more audiences. At the very least, you will be looking to acquire more customers, seek employees to fulfil increased demand, and possibly even go through another round of funding to stoke the furnace.

When talking to more than one audience, you will need to understand each of their needs, as well as fears. Remember, no one who buys your product or service wants to look bad at making ‘that’ decision in the eyes of their superiors. (Sorry, that does also mean you need to keep up your end of the bargain too.)

Acquiring further customers boils down to creating a value proposition again, but this time, this isn’t about then or now, it’s about the future. Don’t make the mistake of aiming for the now, position yourself as though you have arrived. This round of growth is, from your audience’s perspective, all about having arrived there. Not wondering if you have arrived or not. This is planned. Let’s execute!

Clarifying your offer, again

Again, this is about creating clarity. Have you created new products or services for your customers, that make sense to you, but no one else? Or, has your offer fragmented because you spotted opportunities and took off in different directions?

Now is the time to look at your product or service eco-system and make sense of it through your customer’s eyes. This may mean tearing down walls, but this isn’t about you, this about your customer. And, what does clarity mean? Better revenues! (We got so close to ‘points mean prizes’ there.)

Attracting employees

With increased demand, comes increased need for supply, and so your employee head count has to grow. (Or, you can burn everyone out, and make a lot of enemies.)

So in growth mode, you aren’t just attracting customers, you are attracting employees. This is where your company culture and values need to come to the fore.

It’s the 21st century now, and has been for a while now, so, to the millennial workforce, employment is a two way street. Your company has to have a reason for why a candidate would want to work for you, not the other way round. If your company has a high turnover of staff, you might want to look inward.

Anyway, back to the point. Your business is vetted by a potential candidate, as much as you vet candidates yourself. If you don’t communicate your company culture, values, and what it is like to work at your company, you miss out on hiring your next ‘star’.

This growth phase, can and usually goes in cycles every three to four years, and if you, dear designer, are lucky enough to be working on your client’s second or third incarnation of a website, the usual pain points apply: the website fell behind the business, or the business pivoted.

Where do you sit on the growth curve?

In summary, regardless of where your business sits on the growth curve, the same rules apply. It is the deep interrogation and immersion in your business that leads to your success. Yes, each pain point is unique, and each business is unique. That’s the fun part though. Look for an agency that can tease that out, because you have a unique story to tell.

What’s your business pain point? While I hope your business partner is slightly less dysfunctional and you supported your staff member through re-hab, I would love to hear what your business pain point is. Maybe someone out there can provide the neccessary band-aid.

Design agency owner/founder, Taylor Thomas, based in London. I write about design, the design process, and becoming a better human being. A buzz word free zone.

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