Defining an authentic business identity is the starting point of a great business. Here are some great pointers to get you started.
As the owner of a small business your business is really an extension of you. Your goals and the goals of your business overlap to a great extent. Getting these goals wrong can be disastrous (see Can you be too goal oriented). That’s why asking What (does or will my business sell, make, etc.) is the wrong starting point.
Even those that are just in it for the money often discover that money isn’t the motivator they thought it was and struggle when they start from by asking What (or How – can I make money).
Why is far more effective starting point (as advocated by Simon Senek in his seminal book Start with Why). And your Business Identity contains that Why. It’s the Intention behind your business. Bringing Awareness to this intention brings with it more Choice in how you, as a business owner, Respond to market conditions, opportunities, and threats.
Defining your Business Identity, your Why, also helps with the common reasons stopping people starting their own businesses:
- Concerns about stress
- Fear of failure
- Feelings of inadequacy
The trouble is, it’s as problematic asking Why (do I want to run a business, will my business exist, etc.) as it is asking What. This is because people are generally not very good informants about the reasons or causes of their own behaviour. And, as research on individuals with split brains shows us, we also tend to irrationally rationalise a decision once made.
So, what is the answer. No, literally, I mean What is the answer! What do I mean, after all didn’t I just say that What is the wrong question? Let me explain. I mean that you should get to Why through asking the right What questions.
What are your values?
Values statements are not just virtue signals for big corporates. You’re going to spend a lot of time working on your business, and with your customers, staff and partners. What could be worse than spending this time in conflict with what you value most?
In their book Nine Lies About Work, authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall identify being surrounded by people that share your values as a key aspect for sustained performance. This is just as true for you as a business owner as it is for employees. In order to achieve this in your business you first need to be aware of what your values are. Then you can ensure that the values of your business are in alignment with them. In this way they act as an intention:
- For choosing your target market
- For choosing your business partners
- For choosing any employees you hire
One thing I want to address here is that in order for values to be more than just a list of aspirational nouns, they need to be actionable. Nouns like Collaboration, Fairness, Learning are static and provide little in the way of intention. Phrases like the below provide greater clarity and depth of meaning and intent:
- Developing collaborative relationships that elevate
- Sharing rewards fairly
- Continuously learning to constantly improve
What lifestyle do you want?
This is important, as Carrie Green’s story tells us. Our lifestyle should reflect our values, so it’s worth understanding this before we start a business.
If one of your highest values is spending time with your family, it’s no good creating a business where you need to do a lot of long distance travel, or where your customers expect you to be available on demand. If you value nature and being outdoors, then you don’t want to create a business where you spend much of your time inside.
I made this mistake when I went freelance. My focus was on earning money, not on my lifestyle. As a result, I took assignments that took me away from home for long periods, resulting in me missing out on time with my youngest as she was growing up. This is time I’ll never get back, and something I deeply regret.
Investing time working through the kind of lifestyle you’ll value means that you can make business decisions that are in line with that objective.
What is your purpose?
This is the most powerful part of your business identity. It’s the thing that provides the energy and motivation when things get tough. It’s the thing that allows you to pivot or diversify without appearing inauthentic and alarming your customers or investors. It’s the thing that is hardest for your competitors to emulate and is, therefore, the source of your USP.
Think about what you know about these companies and how this reflects their purpose:
IKEA – “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”
Google – “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
The United Nations – “The maintenance of international peace and security.”
How do these purpose statements drive what these organisations do, and how they do it? How do they allow the organisations to do things that perhaps you wouldn’t expect from them? In what ways do they make the organisations and what they do or sell unique?
Bringing clarity to what you are trying to achieve and why you are trying to achieve it by answering these three questions gives you the basis for a powerful business identity, your brand.
Combined with your unique skills and experience this allows you to develop a powerful product concept: What problem are you solving for what customer group and, most importantly, Why.
Having a strong and personally compelling Why, provides a source of energy and commitment which staves off stress allowing you to remain productive when the going gets tough. It’s a source of courage which overpowers fears of failure and inadequacy. And with it you will exude an authenticity that makes you believable to others. This increases your influence and ability to attract finance and other resources.
Whatever stage your business is at, getting your business identity right is key to success. However, getting this right is no easy matter because we aren’t usually self-aware enough to work this out without support. You can’t read the label of the jar you’re in!
If you’d like to find out how working with a developmental business coach can help you to read this label please get in touch or book a no-obligation discovery call.