How to turn the FT to your advantage

There are more than 3000 companies on the Stock Exchange and any number of them may need the services of a designer. Roy Fleming explains how to use the FT to identify potential clients

In business, as in all things, we seem to be ruled by events. Is there nothing that we can do to control or at least take advantage of them instead? Well, it might not always be particularly easy to control events, but taking advantage of them is another matter.

Successful businesses have always put the greatest effort into trying to foresee where their opportunities and the demand for their services lie. So it’s strange that design, which prides itself so much on imagination, rarely shows the foresight to be pro-active in spotting business opportunities.

You should take the Financial Times. Really. Not necessarily every day, but at least make it compulsory reading for the weekend. It could be the first real step in helping to positively shape your consultancy’s future.

Putting aside some undoubted inverted snobbery about being seen with a businessman’s paper when we creatives are all so fascinating, there is the important issue that many designers, not always familiar with the business world, shrink in fear at the idea of trying to understand what lies between the pink pages of the FT.

You should accept that you won’t understand it all. Few people do. Remember that though we loosely talk of “the economy” there are actually many almost entirely separate areas of activity that go to make up that collective concept. These small economies all interweave and yes, some need a lifetime of training and experience if you are to understand them properly. Futures, derivatives, put options, call options – there are hundreds of activities like these, but for the most part they have little direct bearing on your consultancy.

The one thing that everyone is affected by is what is loosely called macro economics. Even nuns and monks are affected by the price of basic foodstuffs. And as a designer you are in business, and you are up to your neck in all this, like it or not.

So what can you get from the FT and how can you use it to help put you in front of events?

Don’t think of it as a normal paper. If you take the FT, learn how to apply it and treat it as a tool that you can shape for your own use. Working in design, you are not an investor or commodity trader, and your task is to find out about business trends.

Initially, you should use the FT as a source of information in the broadest sense. Read everything. You will quickly learn to gloss over the areas that are really of no use to you. But, equally, you will build up a picture of what is happening to the economy. You’ll soon be able to spot movements in sectors that you never gave much thought to but which could contain future clients. This is the first step in getting ahead of the game.

Special mention must be made of the London Share Service (see the inside back pages of the

Companies & Markets section), which is packed with columns that might seem to be written in a foreign language. It is actually all very logical and will eventually fall into place. All you need to know about the Share Service to start with is summarised here.

The first column gives the company name.

The next column is headed “Notes”, and the symbols used here are explained in the bottom right-hand corner of the FT page.

The “Price” column, just as you would expect, gives the price of the share at the close of trading the previous day.

The “+ or -” column indicates how much the value of the share rose or fell during the day.

The “1995 high/low” columns show the price of the share at its highest and lowest over the present accounting year.

In the next column, “MktCap m” stands for market capitalisation and is expressed in millions of pounds. This is essentially the market value of the company.

The individual figures need not worry you – they detail shares in specific companies and you are looking for the overall picture.

Looking through a sector – Support Services or Diversified Industrials, say – you might see an upwards movement for most of the shares in that sector. Make a note of it. If the drift up continues for a few weeks it may be worth contacting some of the companies. Likewise, if you look up a share price, then at its high and low, and notice that the present value is at or near its best, you may have seen an up-and-coming company with good growth that could well need your services.

It can take time to get the hang of the FT, but it is worth the effort. After all, wouldn’t you just love to be in control?

Roy Fleming is design director of Design Strategies and an advisor to various consultancies

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