Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about the need for every business owner to take time at least once a year to re-examine their business and marketing strategies. I have suggested the easiest way to do this is to utilise six questions as springboards for self-enquiry:
In Part 1, we asked things like: Who are you and your company? Who are your customers and clients? Who are your partners, collaborators and support network? If you missed that article (or you’d like to refresh your memory), you can find Part 1 by clicking here.
In Part 2, we asked: What do you WANT? What do you OFFER? And what ELSE could you offer? We also looked at the ‘what’ of money, and how it’s often a difficult subject for business owners to think about. You can click here if you’d like to read Part 2.
Today, I’m going to take a DETOUR and leap down to question #5:
Defining the ‘Why?’ of Your Business
The reason I’m skipping over ‘When?’ and ‘Where?’ for now is that they really need to be explored in conjunction with ‘How?’ (I’ll be looking at all three of these in the fourth and final part of this series). Discussing the ‘When?’ ‘Where?’ and ‘How?’ is moot if we have not yet determined why we’re doing what we’re doing.
So let’s be blunt and start by asking what really needs to be asked:
WHY #1: Why bother doing what you do?
Back in Part 2, I asked you, ‘What do you WANT?’ You might think the answer you gave to that question also answers the question, ‘Why bother?’ But it doesn’t. Let me tell you a story that illustrates the difference between the two.
Back in the late 1970s when I was in my early 20s, I was working on a Master’s degree in ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology is one of those strange disciplines that straddle academic departments; some consider it part of musical study, while others place it in social anthropology or folklore. As a result, when I was studying, my colleagues were from many different backgrounds. Most came by way of folklore studies or social anthropology; few were trained in classical music, as I had been.
One day, one of my classmates – a PhD candidate in folklore – was delivering a presentation called something like ‘The Ritual Structure of the Saturday Night Chicano Dance’. In a nutshell, what he basically said was that when Mexican American youth get together to have a party, the night is slow to start, then it reaches a peak, and it gradually fizzles out and they go home. He used just enough anthropological jargon to baffle the musicians, and just enough musical jargon to impress the anthropologists. Our professor leaned back in his chair, puffed on his pipe (yes, some teachers actually smoked in class back then) and said, ‘Yes, yes, this is very important. You should present your findings at this year’s conference.’
I sat in my chair in disbelief. Why is this important? I fumed (silently). Kids go out and have a party. That’s fine. Like any party, it has a beginning, middle and end. Like any party, it brings people together. But is this so important that we should spend time analysing it at academic conferences (and give hefty study grants to doctoral candidates)?
Most of all, I thought, Does this kind of study do anything whatsoever for the people you’re analysing?
I think not.
The emotions I felt percolated within me until I needed to say something. But the classroom didn’t seem the right place, so I went to see my professor in his office later that day. I candidly told him what I had thought and felt about the presentation and his comments about it. Then I asked him:
‘Why do you DO what you do? I mean, how can you justify it? Because right now, I’m having trouble figuring out why I’m doing any of this.’
My professor said, ‘I do it because I love it. It makes me happy.’
‘But is that enough?’ I asked. ‘Is it enough to do something because we enjoy it, if we’re not giving something back? We study cultures because they are fascinating, but how is it helping anyone if we’re only talking amongst ourselves about it? How can presenting a paper on a Saturday night dance in the barrio be important when we’re doing nothing to help the kids living in urban ganglands? How can my own study of Indian music be important if I’m not doing anything to help those who are living in poverty in that country?’
Admittedly, I was getting a bit agitated. These questions had already been brewing within me for several months, and this incident was simply the catalyst that sent me over the edge. I had even been speaking with the Peace Corps, and was contemplating ditching everything to go teach or dig trenches in some third-world country.
A bit more sternly, but not angrily, my professor replied, ‘The fact that I enjoy it is justification enough for me.’ There was an unspoken ‘and that’s that’ at the end of his sentence.
I looked up at him, with gravity in my heart, and replied, ‘Well, it’s enough not for me.’
After that, I completed all my courses and exams for my MA, but I never finished my thesis (I did another MA in adult education when I was in my late 40s). I could never regain the motivation for it after that incident; it seemed pointless.
(Oh, I didn’t join the Peace Corps. I got married and had a child instead. But I digress….)
The point of my sharing this story is to take you beyond the ‘What do you want?’ question and dive more deeply into the fundamental reasons why you bother to do what you do:
While loving what you do is essential, loving what your work does for others is what makes yours a new paradigm business .
Your answers to ‘Why bother?’ should reflect the emotion, belief, value or vision you have that fuels your motivation. This statement is most powerful if you can get it down to one line. For example:
- Because I am grief-stricken by all the poverty in the world and what to help end it
- Because I believe supporting independent businesses is good for the whole world
- Because I love animals and want to stop the cruelty being done to them
- Because I care that people suffering with cancer should be supported
- Because I believe people can heal by studying their personal ancestry
- Because I am angry that civil liberties are being violated and want to change this
- Because I am frustrated with big pharma and want people to have a natural option
Assess the validity of your ‘Why bother?’ statement
Once you’ve come up with an answer to ‘Why bother?’ write it down on a piece of paper. Read it over many times. Ask yourself whether this is actually your current ‘Why bother?’ or if it’s something you’ve believed or assumed for many years. Has your ‘Why bother?’ changed over the past year? Are you actually working toward a different purpose?
It can be difficult (and even sad) to admit that our ‘Why bother?’ statement may have changed. But if we operate our business on out-dated visions or values that have since shifted, we will find ourselves losing steam, much as I did during my MA programme.
Be brave. Go back to the questions you answered in Part 1 to re-examine the ‘Who?’ of you and your business. See how this ‘Who?’ matches up to the ‘Why?’
Tweak your statement until it reflects where you are right now. Then, READ IT ALOUD. When you do, it should affect you physically. It might make you get choked up. You might feel it hit you in the gut like a bolt of lightning. When this happens, you know you’ve got it right.
WHY #2: Why does the WORLD need what your company does?
Our next (and final) ‘Why?’ question takes us beyond ourselves and into the wider world. Why does the world need us? What is the underlying social need for our work? What is happening in the world that needs our attention? How does what we do address that need?
This is your chance to go into more detail about your ‘Why?’ For example, here is how two contrasting hypothetical companies might answer this question in combination with their ‘Why bother?’ statements above:
HYPOTHETICAL BUSINESS A – CSR Company Working for Civil Liberties
Why bother? Because I am angry that civil liberties are being violated and want to change this.
Why does the WORLD need what your company does? Because many companies are unaware how civil liberties are being violated along the supply chain in their business. By doing a detailed supply chain analysis for them, showing them exactly where their products are coming from, they can make changes to make their company more ethical. This can also discourage the offenders from continuing their unethical behaviour, because it will no longer be profitable.
HYPOTHETICAL BUSINESS B – Genealogist Working with Private Clients
Why bother? Because I believe people can heal by studying their personal ancestry.
Why does the WORLD need what your company does? Because in the past, people always had a strong connection to their past – their families, their town of origin. These days, people have lost that due to emigration, ease of travel and changes in the family structure. As a result, many in the modern western world suffer with issues concerning personal and cultural identity. Lack of identity can cause emotional issues as well as social tensions. By helping people research their ancestral history and construct their family tree, we are opening the door to their being able to heal broken or missing parts within themselves, and become more tolerant, accepting of and respectful toward others.
Again, write your answer on a piece of paper and read it aloud. Compare what you’ve written to the ‘WHAT?’ questions you answered in Part 2 (What do you DO? What do you OFFER? What ELSE could you offer?). See how your ‘Why?’ matches up with the ‘What?’ Don’t be surprised if you find you want to make changes to your ‘What?’ answers. Just keep fine-tuning it.
Then, when it really sings to you, paste this piece of paper on your wall. Let it sit with you a few days and see if there’s anything else you want to change about it. DO NOT OVERTHINK IT. That’s when such statements tend to get flat and unnecessarily complicated.
Answering our ‘Why?’ questions brings us into the realm of ethics. Face it, if we’re only in it for the money, there’s no way we can answer ‘Why?’ with any kind of meaning.
And although in journalism ‘Why?’ is traditionally near the end of this list of questions, when it comes to our businesses, it needs to come either second or third in our self-enquiry. There’s no point in asking ‘What?’ ‘When?’ or ‘How?’ unless we already know the ‘Why?’
The reason I chose to ask ‘What?’ before ‘Why?’ in this article series is because I am assuming many of you reading this already have an active business offering products and services. It’s always my practice to look at what you have before you look at what you don’t have.
If you are a start-up business or are currently going through a majority shift or re-brand, I suggest you start with ‘Who?’ (Part 1) and then jump to ‘Why?’ (in this article) before looking at ‘What?’ (Part 2).
Hopefully, these exercises have given you some food for thought and focus for the next year of your business. Next time, we’ll be rounding off this series with a triple-whammy as we look at the last of our six questions: ‘Where?’ ‘When?’ and ‘How?’ I hope you’ll subscribe to this blog so you’ll be sure to receive it via your inbox.
The ideas I’ve been sharing are inspired by the work I do with my own clients. If you’re looking to create a comprehensive portrait of the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’ of your business, including how to define the WHY of your business and how to develop, price and market your business offers, please drop us a line via the Contact form on this site and enquire about our new 7 Graces Total Business Strategy Packages:
- Our 7-week Business Start-Up Package
- Our 13-week Business Shift/Rebrand Package
- Our 26-week (6 month) Comprehensive Strategy & Copywriting Package
We’ll be launching those officially in the last week of February 2015.
As always, don’t forget to leave a comment (and share with your network) before leaving!
19 February 2015
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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media . eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging: An Effective, Creative & Ethical Way of Marketing for Visionaries & New Paradigm Business Leaders. To receive an update when that book is available, just click here. As a thank-you gift for showing your interest, you’ll get instant access to an exclusive, free 5-page PDF revealing the exact same blogging template we use with our clients and we teach to participants on the ethical marketing training courses at the 7 Graces Project .
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketing strategist, social media expert, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.