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Judy Murdoch

Owner, Highly Contagious Marketing

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How can you create a successful WHY-based small business?

I really enjoyed the talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. I'd love to hear some specific examples of successful small businesses that reflect a WHY-centered business.

I define "successful" as profitable and enabling the owner(s) and employees to earn enough to meet the needs of the business as well as the owner's personal needs.

This doesn't require the business to be earning 6-figures but it does require the business to have attained some kind of sustainable momentum and is past the "struggle for survival" stage.


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  • Mar 20 2014: How do you define a "Why-based" small business?
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      Mar 20 2014: I define a "why-based small business" as one that puts it's core "why we're in business" as the starting point for decision-making and action. In the "Great Leaders" talk Sinek used Apple as an example.

      I'm paraphrasing here but Apple's big why is "designing tools that help people who think different make their dent in the universe." From their WHY flows HOW "beautifully designed, user-friendly information technology" and finally from their HOW flows their WHAT "computers, mobile phones, and mp3 players"

      This contrasts with most companies you might call "what-based companies" "We sell computers, phones, and mp3 players" HOW using cost-effective manufacturing processes and just in time inventory control processes, WHY We have strong relationships with component manufacturers and we can do this cheaper than our competitors.

      Obviously this is not an apples to apples comparison (no pun intended) but even if you were to substitute Apples How and Why into the what-based equation, most buyers are going to focus on value for the money. Not bad or unusual. But all things being equal, it's hard to compete on why.

      If your customers resonate with your why, you have a competitive advantage that is very difficult to replicate.

      It's easier for a small business to be WHY-based because there are fewer people who have to be in consensus about the Why. Still most small businesses I see emulate what large businesses do.

      I'd also guess most small businesses go the what-based route because it's the norm. It takes courage and a lot of conviction to put your values first assuming your values have to do with doing well by doing good which is the way in which I aspire to run my business.

      As a final point, what-based businesses tend to be fear and ego-based. It becomes about looking good to other people rather than feeling like you're in integrity with what's most important to you.

      Hope this answers your question, Robert. Let me know if you want more clarification.
      • Mar 21 2014: Judy-Thanks for the clarification. It was informative and interesting.

        Relative to your definition, i think you should add another criteria for a successful, that being the "why" needs to be purpose driven and in alignment with the values of employees and business owner. I think you would also need to enjoy the product or delivering the product to the customers in order to not seem insincere or fake. I think it might be very difficult to get customers to resonate with your 'why' unless you believe it that deeply. Since the purpose of a business is to make a profit, the value you select to turn into a business should have the potential to yield a profit. If you can tap into this and get employees that share the dream or value, then you can have a happy workforce that is driven by the passion of performing work they see as both meaningful, and a means to sustain a good quality of life. Seeking just the profit is great as long as the money is good and the employees driven by greed, but few businesses have this sort of constant high income flow.

        I think some one examples of 'why' type businesses are those where the answer is "Because it is fun". Things in this category include hobby or sports based businesses(hunting, fishing, golf, etc.). Such themes might be well suited to a small business model. Another might be "Because it is needed". Things in this category would include services, basic needs (food, shelter clothing), and perhaps businesses that do something that is related to some unique geographic feature or characteristic of an area that people wish to take advantage of (like the mountains or the beach) or exploit (like oil, coal or some strategic mineral). Services could be good small businesses and perhaps some of the beach shops, but small business might be better suited to support of large businesses involved in energy or mining.

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