Finding purpose in business
“The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain
Why do I write about purpose in business? I’m not a coach nor an expert by any means. But I do care about my business. I have big dreams, I am passionate about my work and I put a lot of effort in what I do. Over the past 1,5 years, I’ve connected with many people who have similar dreams and worries. That’s why I want to share what I’ve learnt through my journey, both researching (yes, I do research a lot, that’s one of the things I like doing and I do well) and from my experience. And I want to do that not from a level of an expert, but as a do-er.
I never studied business, I’m a regular employee as my day job and started with (almost) none experience as an entrepreneur. So as a small business owner I spend a lot of time wondering what I should do next, how do I keep my business afloat, what can I do to upscale. Seeing other people’s success makes me wonder if that was a lucky shot or if there’s a recipe for it? It’s very tempting and seems very easy to look for inspiration in the outside world.
But what I’ve learnt is, while we can find wonderful ideas online, the most important answer lies within ourselves. Because emotions do belong in business. We need an emotional connection with our work, especially when the work itself is very personal. So the best thing you can do for your business (and yourself) is to find your very own purpose to guide you.
And while finding a purpose won’t guarantee success, it’s impossible to be successful without it. So many small business owners, myself included, are struggling to define their goals on a big picture level. We don’t know how to start, we think we know what and why we are doing, but we never tried to put it in words. I’m not good with words myself, I tend to keep silent when I can. But I believe this is a crucial task you need to complete if you’re serious about your business. So there we start, at the core of it. It is said that good business should have a purpose in a few dimensions:
Purpose for yourself
What made you start in the first place? Everybody needs a reason to get up every morning. It is often working on your own terms, in the environment you enjoy, doing things that interest you. It’s the fun of experimenting, the thrill of putting yourself out there. If what you do makes you feel happy and inspires you, it means you found a purpose for yourself.
Purpose for your clients
How do you serve your customers, what do your do for them? Are you offering any value? Is your product special? Or is a story that comes with it unique? If you found your niche, you’re good to go.
Purpose for your community
People can vote with their dollars. And while most of the modern customers still just want to buy the cheapest products, things are starting to change. On a community level you can have a multiplied impact, not only as an economic engine but also setting trends and promoting what you believe in.
Building a business on those three foundations is a great start and you’re already on a right path if you managed to define them. But a meaningful business needs a fourth component to it: the greater purpose.
The greater purpose is different for everybody and it’s something you need to articulate yourself. It might be something small, like purpose for your family, or a bigger thing, like purpose for the environment. But it’s always very specific and personal. Whatever it is that thrives you, the most important step is to define it and then find the courage to live it.
To find the greater purpose that resonates with you and you alone, think about your life story. Most of the times the answer is already there, in the way you lived and things you did until now. All you have to do is uncover it. Look for repeating themes and common threads in your life. What are your lifelong strengths? What is your core ethics? At this point, it’s usually easier to use your friends to act as a mirror, to help you build an accurate image of yourself.
You can answer following questions that will help you articulate your underlying values.
Think of something you loved doing as a child - how did it make you feel?
What were two most challenging experiences of your life and how did they shape you?
What is this one thing you do that always makes your heart sing?
Now break it down to small phrases, single words, analyse it and try to put it all in just one sentence. It might seem impossible, but it’s not. You want to find words that will lead you. And once you do, they will reflect a mission you envisioned for yourself.
We start our businesses with a hope they’ll become our legacy. We all want our lives to be meaningful, we want to live what we stand for. If we are contributing to something important, we feel that the work becomes bigger than ourselves. And it’s a great feeling. So think about your greater purpose and envision long-term opportunities for living it. Once you define your mission, you can plan for few years ahead. You don’t need to look for recipes for success elsewhere. All you need to do is to work on the goal that is yours and only yours because that will make you happy.