A few years ago, I started in business not at all clear about what I was going to do. I was clear about why I wanted to be in business. My business why has never changed, even though several people have told me it’s no good! I’m convinced why you do business is crucial for success.
I looked back to my time as a development worker and realised something true for me and many other development workers. Most of our projects no longer exist. Some were successful at the time. Now they are no more and the communities we sought to change are unchanged or worse off.
I concluded the reason for this was not quality of the work so much as funding. Grant aid is not sustainable. Thriving communities form around businesses that serve local residents. My vision is of business as a means to local transformation. I aim to coach in local marketing, businesses mindful of their impact on the lives of those around them.
I found when I spoke of this aim, audiences were always inspired. My challenge was to turn this why into business activities.
In an earlier post, I suggested you need three aims for your business: your business, financial and lifestyle aims. In this post I return to the first of these.
Why versus What
It is worth reading Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why. He explains why knowing the reason your business exists is important for success. People buy why you do your business, not what you sell.
Look at it this way. You offer something similar to many other businesses. Even if you come up with something completely new, you will be copied. Assume your competitors are as good as you are or even better! What does this mean?
You could argue it’s best to hand your customers over to someone who is better than you because the public always chooses the best offer on the market. You could compete on price – I may not be as good as the others but I charge less!
Let’s say you’re one of three people equally good at what you do. Each is invited to pitch their business. How will your audience choose? Telling them what you do won’t help them decide.
Telling them why you do it, offers them a choice. They won’t all choose you. Whatever turns one person on, switches someone else off. But that’s OK, you’ve helped them decide.
And who says the other business is better than yours? When you help the people who choose you, they and you are happy.
Forgetting Why You Started
What you do is seductive. You spend years honing your skills and you are proud of your achievements You know you help people but somehow you can’t reach them. They show no interest.
You spend a lot of time designing better products and services. This is productive, if part of routine housekeeping. But don’t lose sight of your reason for being in business. It should drive design of products and services and inform marketing.
Don’t lose sight of why you started. Maybe you need to persist with the packages you started with. It is tempting to move on and abandon old ideas. But if you chop and change, it makes it difficult for your market to remember you. People need to hear your message many times before they take it on board.
Stay with your why. Eventually people remember you and so turn to you.
Failing Through Success
Which just about says it all except …
Success can undermine your why. Most small businesses make a living from early adopters. Their niche market makes enough money and they enjoy the work.
Some businesses make the breakthrough to the big time. They grow into premises and staff and loads of customers. It is possible to lose sight of your why when this happens. But remember it is still the reason people choose to become your customers. If you lose track of your why, your customers will move on.
One business that has maintained clarity about its why is John Lewis. Think of its Christmas commercials. Do they lead to more customers? There’s no way of knowing. What they do is remind staff, customers and shareholders of their why. They use their marketing to build their business.
It’s tempting is allow your what to overwhelm your why. Many people don’t make the distinction, they don’t understand why your why is important. In time, this means your why does not hold your business together and multiple whats polarise your stakeholders. Conflict creates enormous problems and so it is the topic for next time.
Do you know why you are in business? How does it help you market and sell your products and services? Leave a comment below.