The first step to starting your business may be the hardest, yet most rewarding step of the entire experience. It will be the foundation of every decision you make and give you the confidence to fight through adversity. You'll find that answering this one question will provide you with the answers to many others in your personal and professional life. However, as these separate lives change, your "why?" will also evolve and develop along with it. Finding your, "why?" will not only be your first step; it will also be a part of every step after that. It is your journey, your mission, and your foundation. It's crucial to figure out the answer now before you put in hundreds of hours of work and have to start over.
Consider this. You love to make chili and have finally perfected your recipe. Everyone who tries your secret recipe is blown away by the different flavors, and a few people even encouraged you to start selling it. This feedback gives you the idea to start your restaurant since you could pursue making chili full-time. You're not particularly happy with your day job and decide to make the jump.
Fast forward, and you've built an incredible restaurant with a great menu and atmosphere. You did everything right with your business plan, your marketing is great, and you're even getting local awards. But there's a problem. You don't care much about the financial success and the recognition, after all, you started this to make chili.
Even though everyone loves your chili, it's not your most popular menu item, and you're making other dishes more often. You also had to switch out a couple of your ingredients for cheaper options and make batches of chili in bulk. When you aren't cooking, you're helping manage the restaurant, cleaning, paying bills, and trying to keep up a home life. After a few calculations, you find that you're making chili less often than you were doing it as a hobby.
Not making your favorite chili recipe isn't the worst thing in the world until you realize that you quit your job to make less money and work more hours not to do what you love to do. This story gets even grimmer if we take the restaurant's success out of it, and you're breaking even or losing money.
If making chili sets your soul on fire more than the peppers you make it with, you don't make it a subplot of your story. Your "why" is the title, the author's note, the protagonist, every chapter, and the book's publisher. In the scenario above, you made the restaurant the foundation of your plan, not your passion. So what does keeping your, "why?" at the forefront of what you do look like in practice?
You start with chili, and you don't let it go. You begin selling your chili to friends and families and even cater to a few events. Eventually, you friend a couple of restaurant owners in town that pays you to make their chili every week. You have a couple of different recipes that are popular, and you invest in a food truck. You drive around to popular lunch spots in town, farmers' markets, and events with your Chili truck earning an income while doing what you love. You may be successful, or you may be breaking even and possibly losing money. But it doesn’t matter because you're motivated, you're doing what you love, and are figuring out how to make it work.
Identifying your "why?" may be a pretty straightforward answer, but this is where a lot of entrepreneurs fail. We learned early on that trying to fit a square block in a circular hole will leave us frustrated and looking for answers elsewhere. Don't try and change your "why" to match a narrative. The response to your "why" is going to be what you fall back on during the tough times, so it better be good.
When I was a kid, people would always ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had a hard time with this because I wanted to do so many things. I wanted to play guitar, I wanted to be a cowboy, I wanted to ride horses, and I wanted to be a singer. Eventually, my answer to the "what do you want to be when you grew up?" question melded together into one solution. I wanted to be a horseback riding, guitar playing, singer, who performed at the circus. I would, of course, be wearing a cowboy hat to finish things off. Silly as it may sound, I had my "why."
Be careful with this. Do you like to cook or do you love to make a particular dish? Do you enjoy helping people with their taxes or do you love working with spreadsheets? Do you like watching kids or are you just good at it? Be specific as possible, and don't be afraid to ask, "why?" more than once while creating this list. The more you ask yourself, "why?" the less likely you'll be too general and end up doing something you don't genuinely love.
I like to create content, particularly writing and video content.
I like developing marketing and business strategies.
I love helping others accomplish their dreams.
I love being active, running, and working out.
These are things that may be outside of your work but don't have to be. Making money, owning a home, starting a family, having flexibility, and being your own boss are all examples of things that are important to you. Again, be careful with how you think about this. Do you actually value something or are you modeling the values of those you are currently surrounded by? Sometimes we want a big fancy house because our neighbor has one, but deep down it isn’t as important to us as we thought.
Financial security is important to me.
The ability to be my boss and choose my hours is essential to me.
The flexibility to work remotely and travel is critical to me.
Not being in a "box" and the ability to continuously grow is vital to me.
Combining your lists is where we start connecting the dots. It helps if you start your story with "in an ideal world." We can debate over what is feasible and possible later, but putting ourselves in a creative box right now isn't helpful. You could write something like this, "I like making spreadsheets and helping others with their taxes. Being my own boss and having financial security is also important to me. Therefore in an ideal world, I'm using my love for spreadsheets to help others with their taxes, and I'm paid enough to be comfortable."
In an ideal world, I'm creating content that is helping others fulfill their dreams by helping them with marketing and business strategy. I'm making enough to be financially secure while also having the flexibility to work remotely and travel. I'd also like to grow and develop myself and my content continuously.
It could be possible there isn't a need for your "why" in the free market. It's possible that the chili you love isn't that popular, and it stays a hobby in your kitchen. Or maybe your interests aren't as developed, or you haven't determined what your interests are and what is important to you. It may make sense that your "why" fits better into a nonprofit than as a for-profit business. That's all okay. The point of this exercise is not to have all the answers. Your goal is to identify what you're passionate about, why you're passionate about it, and how you can fill your life with what you love.
If you decide that there may be an opportunity to start a small business or a nonprofit with your combined passions, it’s time to start brainstorming business models. However, if you decide that there isn’t a need for your combined passions in the world, don’t be discouraged. Find ways to incorporate your passions in your day job or find a new one that focuses on them more. Start a blog, or a club, or carve out time in your schedule to fulfill these passions as much as you can.
It will also be helpful to understand that your “why” and your passions can change over time. What you’re passionate about when you're 18 can be vastly different than what you’re passionate about when you’re 24. Do this exercise often and adjust accordingly. The great thing about being the boss of your own life is that you can change direction whenever you’d like.