I had a prof in Business School who said “The Sole Purpose of Any Business is to Earn Profit”. Nope. Sorry Teach – the sole purpose of a business is to be whatever the f**k you want it to be.
Profit. Yes. It needs to be high the list of many business owners. But we all feel a truth deep in the gut that there’s much more to running a business. For the entrepreneurial spirit – and the typical design professional – a profit only mantra is enough to scare most away. Profit is but one component. NOT THE SOLE PURPOSE. (if profit is your sole purpose…I hope I can convince you otherwise. Read about Utopia Here
I think what my well-intended, typical-1990’s-50’s-something-post-industrial-revolution professor of business strategy meant to say is: “without profit – the sole purpose of the business cannot be UNLEASHED”. OK – that makes a bit more sense. We have to accept this truth. Unfortunately in our world – a business that doesn’t generate profit leads to some real shit. Stress, anxiety, loss of self-worth, conflict, motivation loss, sleepless nights, etc. Profit is important…but it’s just the basement of a foundation of “Business Purpose”.
If you read business books, or books dedicated to help people discover their full potential (I’ve read a few good ones – see below) – you’ll be familiar with “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” a psychology theory of human motivation by Abraham Maslow. In this hierarchy, the basement of needs is “Physiological” – the basics – food, water, sex, sleep. Profit in a business is just that – the basement. You can’t be one (for long) without it – Just like you can’t be human for long without food, water and sleep.
When starting a design business you need to get into a profit position as fast as possible – likely in month # 1. Once there, you need to keep a close eye on performance – consistently calibrating your business model to make sure you’re healthy and efficient. Like your human physiological needs that don’t go away…the need to be profitable is consistent. Finding food/water to survive is the same as seeking profit to survive. It’s a major part of the puzzle. But once that profitable business model is dialed in – design entrepreneurs will quickly lose their motivation if it isn’t about something more.
So what’s the more? The purpose of a business beyond profit? Well…that’s up to you. But it tends to link up strongly with “Well Being” as defined by Martin Seligman author of Flourish. “Flourishing” has 5 components and I’ve included some typical utopia statements from past clients that might strike something in your gut that you may identify with.
Positive Emotion – “I want to love my work. Have fun. Enjoy my day to day. I want my team to enjoy work and feel good when they come to the office.”
Engagement – “I want to be fully engaged in my work projects. To feel the right balance of challenge without boredom or anxiety.”
Relationships – “I want to be surrounded by awesome people. To attract the best talent. I want to have the time to invest in my friends and family.”
Meaning – “I want my work to be about something greater than the project, client or myself. I want to do something beyond money – to pursue passion projects. I want my work to have an impact on the world.”
Accomplishment – “I want to be the best. To be recognized as best in class and a thought leader. To own a market and generate a fat bank balance. I want to feel freedom and travel more.”
When you read this (even if you’re the lost soul that was asked to stop reading above) I’m sure you feel these motivations in your gut. The true purpose: the reason you started this damn business in the first place. These components of flourishing are a compass to influence decision making. And once established, these statements should be revisited often. When faced with a decision, these elements help to guide the decision beyond basic profit need.
Note: if you’ve missed this step while running your studio – stop right now and craft the “why” of your business using this framework as a guideline. Or simply ask – “what is the best version of this business and in a Utopic world – how will it impact my lifestyle”. Write it down.
The generation of profit can be a beautiful thing. It can be a springboard for a better business, a better life. The business, founders and team all tend to walk with confidence when hitting profit goals; a sense of pride exists. It opens up the possibilities to further discover the best version of the business and head towards Utopia. But it’s just the basement. Once that goal has been met – a whole new world is unleashed. The fun part.
Generate Profit – but stay true to the true purpose of your business. Make it whatever the F**K you want it to be – your Utopia.
Make Good Money, Love your Business, Love your Life.
– Flourish: Martin Seligman
– Maximize Your Potential: 99U
– Musashi: Eiji Yoshikawa