Creating a Successful Business: Understanding your WHY

Last night I had the absolute privilege of presenting to a group of lovely ladies at Business in Heels - Brisbane CBD. The event was a great success and raised many thought-provoking conversations about what our WHY is, how it can change, but most importantly - how much it drives everything we do in our personal and professional lives.


After such great conversations on the night, I would like to share my presentation with you too - and challenge you to take up the WHY Challenge for yourself. Let me know your WHY in the comments below.

Creating a Successful Business: Understand your Why


When I first spoke with Suzanne about presenting at Business in Heels, I shared a little of my story with her – and I will do the same for you shortly; but there is one phrase that she mentioned that really resonated with me and has formed a really core part of this presentation.


“You have gotten off your butt and got rid of the but” – I love the phrase and everything it upholds and it really put me in a place of reflection as to how I have managed to do this when many others may well have put starting a business, with kids in tow, in the “too hard basket” or taken it as a sign from the universe that starting a business was not the right idea for them.


So at it’s basic level, this talk is really about “Overcoming Business Challenges”; but I am big on mindset and framing with a little bit of woo in the mix – so I did all of the above to the title of my talk and gave it a makeover. And because in reality – we ALL have challenges in our businesses, regardless of what stage we are at – either starting out, hitting the three year mark or heading closer to our first decade in business.


So what is it that keeps us going when things get tough, or even more so – when things seem impossible and all the indications are that we shouldn’t pursue our selected path whether we are as business owner or a professional with a clearly defined career path.


It’s our WHY! And through understanding our WHY, overcoming business challenges becomes worth the effort. And it isn’t restricted to our businesses either – it is something that drives every critical decision we make in our lives.


Who here has left conventional corporate to start their own businesses? 


There was a core reason that you, and I, did it – can you remember the reason that you gave your boss? I still remember mine…


“I have decided to pursue a new career and start my own business so that I can create a better work life balance”.


I am an engineer by degree – an electrical and electronics engineer to be precise; and I was a very successful in my profession, working my way to project and tender management roles. My challenge was the further up “the ladder” I attempted to go, the more difficult it became, because “I was a mother”. I am not one to lay down to a challenge and I kept working harder and harder to prove that I was ‘worthy’ of promotion – overcommitting and over-stressing myself to the point of breakdown which resulted in a brief period of hospitalisation with serious depression and anxiety.


During this time, I sought help and support from both the medical and personal development fields. As my recovery progressed, I made the decision to learn how to support myself and completed a comprehensive life-coaching course and loved every minute of the program.


While I had returned to work, and was creating the boundaries I had so desperately needed in the past; my work environment was not walking their talk in their agreed support. I persisted and held firm, but I began to loose the passion for my work. I showed up day-in-day out, putting in excellent work, with no heart. I am sure that you will agree that this isn’t something we desire to do in our lives, but I was great at my job and way too comfortable to make the change.


Until one simple “this isn’t necessary, but let’s tick all the boxes” ultrasound changed that. Within a couple of weeks of the ultrasound and subsequent CT scan I was in surgery, uncertain if the very large cyst in my body was Ovarian Cancer. Thankfully it was benign, and it was during my recovery that I had my biggest ‘ah-ha’ moment. My realisation was two fold – firstly – we only ever get one go at life.


Secondly, the realisation that I had to be the change I wanted to see in the world. I had grown and my workplace hadn’t. I had tried to effect workplace change that supported not only myself, but also others empathically. But it wasn’t supported, adopted or even viewed as important. Fundamentally, this was a struggle for me because I enjoyed my work and the majority of people I worked with; but there was a large piece of the puzzle missing for me when I walked through the front doors each day. Most importantly, I knew other women were struggling with similar issues, but had no support either.


It was at this point that I took that massive leap of faith and left corporate to pursue my passion of supporting professional women and mothers to create lives that are intentional and balanced.


So how does ‘WHY’ fit into all of this – as some of you know from your own business start up experience - there are so many times that it could be easier to head back to corporate world with the reliable salary and predictable days. But besides the fact that the idea doesn’t excite me or give me the fulfilment I seek through pursuing my aspirations. It doesn’t align with my why.


So what is my why?


Supporting women to thrive through change and create a life that is intentional and balanced.


This is at the heart of everything within my personal and professional life. So how did I get a grasp on the concept of ‘why’ and work out what mine was?


Firstly, I was introduced to the concept of ‘WHY’ though listening to “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”, a TEDx talk by Simon Sinek. So what is it? What’s a ‘WHY’?


Our WHY is:

  • Our purpose, cause or belief.
  •     It is the reason we do what we do.
  •      It is what we get out of bed FOR in the morning.


It is the ‘fuzzy’ piece at the centre of our businesses, or even professional roles, that we can find really hard to explain to others so we typically focus on the WHAT we do and HOW we do it when we talk about it with others.


If it is so fuzzy, then why is it important to understand and be able to articulate?


It is a key driver in our businesses; by understanding our why we are able to gain clarity about the clients we serve (irrespective of whether we are a product or services based business).


It enables us to determine our values in both our personal and professional lives. If you are a solo-preneur you will likely find a crossover between these to some extent. Regardless of how or who we work for – it is our values that determine our level of resonance with an organisation’s ethos.


It assists us to create and hold boundaries within our personal and professional lives. It is what helps us to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘I need more information’ when we need to make personal or professional decisions.


It helps us determine alignment with other businesses for joint ventures – where there is alignment of purpose, cause or belief – then the outcomes are often greater for both clients and providers because of the harmonies between the businesses.


It helps us overcome challenges, big and small, in our businesses, personal and professional lives.


And how does our WHY help us overcome business challenges?


When our WHY is clear enough, we will always find a way. We will work smarter and harder to find a solution, we find it easier to lose our excuses, then move forward and find a way to make it happen.


While my formal training, innate skills and personal experiences have shaped how I coach my clients and further the understanding and empathy that underlies all my processes. It has been the clarity of my WHY alongside the successes and challenges, which has grown me as a person – personally and professionally. Every step of the way, it has enabled me to not only call on, but reconfirm my why.


My transition from professional engineer working in corporate to business owner was far from smooth. In fact, I had to make some critical decisions in the start up of my business – almost from day one. Less than three months after I left corporate, I found out that I was pregnant with my beautiful miracle Harrison.


You can safely say that it wasn’t a part of my business plan.


So how did my WHY make this process a little easier to navigate?


Firstly, I had to completely embody my WHY. Not just hold it on face value. I was determined to walk my talk.


There was a really go-getter part of me that felt like I could tackle the world and then some, after all I told colleagues from work I was leaving to start my own business – but that was internal head talk and my ego that didn’t want to consider the reality of my situation.  But that’s not what I’m about. I’m about…


Supporting women thrive through change and create a life that is intentional and balanced.


My pregnancy wasn’t easy and I had no choice but to spend lots of time resting and looking after myself. I was very intentional and deliberate in what work I did in and on my business. I kept moving forward with my business, but very slowly finally picking up the pace this year when I felt comfortable in entrusting Harrison into someone else’s care a couple of days a week.


Out of this experience I gained greater clarity of the value and benefit that I can offer my clients and it reaffirmed my initial decisions to leave the corporate world so that I can pursue what lights me up, while living and breathing my WHY.


There is one more thing a WHY does for us:


People don’t buy what you do. They buy WHY you do it. ~Simon Sinek


Having loyal customers and clients is all about attracting the people who share your fundamental beliefs. While it sounds simple, in his research Simon Sinek found is that most companies do their marketing backwards. They start with their "what" and then move to "how" they do it. Most of these companies neglect to even mention why they do what they do. Jade Hedley has shared great insights into how we can enhance our HOW through our Unique Selling Propositions – that is what makes us different to businesses that may be similar to our own. Understanding and articulating our WHY attracts those with similar beliefs to engage with us, and then we are able to differentiate ourselves further with our USP.


The best example I have heard about how this fits into marketing our businesses and client attraction comes directly from Simon Sinek where he talks about Apple using their ‘WHY’ at the centre of their marketing strategy:

To help illustrate this point, let's image that Apple also started by creating their marketing message with their 'what'.

"We make great computers. They're user friendly, beautifully designed and easy to use. Want to buy one?

While this is all factually correct - it doesn't sell us on their computers - after all, there are plenty of them around to purchase, and far cheaper too. We instead want to know why they are great and user friendly. So it turns out that Apple had figured out this marketing message years prior and knows better than starting with 'what'. Here is what a real marketing message from Apple might actually look like:

"With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?"


Can you see how that feels different? Starting with 'WHY' makes apple more than just a computer company selling features, and that's why their products have flourished in the market while their competitors products with similar technology and capabilities have not been successful entering the market.


So what about the small business like us? It is exactly the same theory…


I decided to sit down and applied in my own business:

"I am passionate about supporting women to thrive through change and create a life that is intentional and balanced. Using coaching and mentoring-based solutions I support my clients to determine what a balanced life looks like for them, and then develop and implement the strategies and action plans that will help them in achieving this."


So, how do I work out my why? I sat down with a series of questions and journalled the answers – some questions took far longer than others and at times I needed to walk away and let things sit for a little while. I also recognised that there were times that I was not getting deep enough into the questions, because it can be hard to be completely open to the great things we hold deep inside ourselves. To overcome this I spent time working with my mentor coach to dig deeper into a few areas so that I could really get down to acknowledging my zone of genius and articulating my WHY.


Here are is a list of questions that I used to help determine my WHY:

  1. Why am I doing what I'm currently doing?
  2. What do I wish I spent more time doing?
  3. What do other people always thank me for?
  4. What completely absorbs my interest and attention?
  5. What do I need to do to truly enjoy my work?
  6. When did I feel like I was being completely authentic, that is completely 100% myself?
  7. When was the last time I lit myself up and turned my energy on?


There are many other questions that can be asked to help determine your WHY – these are just a short list. Regardless of the way the question is asked, the gold is in the answers. And like panning for gold, sometime we need to sift through them a few times to refine and dig deeper. So, if at first it doesn’t seem clear – keep going! And you can always do what I did, and bounce off someone else to help you keep questioning and refining until you get there.


Here are a few truths about ‘WHY’:

  • Everyone has one.

You don’t need to have your own business to have a WHY. We select jobs, volunteer for organisations and attend different networking events because of our WHY.

  • Not everyone knows what it is!

Sometimes we just do what we do – we don’t always know WHY. That isn’t a problem,  but it is really powerful to be able to articulate it when we want to use it to convey core messages about ourselves or our businesses and roles.

  • It drives us consciously and sub-consciously

There is a part of our WHY that is intrinsic for us. Believe it or not, it is biological – embedded in our limbic system – essentially where our feelings and emotions lie in our brain. Our why is driven by emotion, then we apply the rational HOW and WHAT over the top of it

  • Some WHYs are bigger than others

Some people are driven to make global changes to millions of people; others are driven to make a difference one person at a time in their local community; and others are driven to make differences for themselves.

  • They are not good or bad – they just are.

An altruistic WHY is not better or worse than a personally motivated WHY.

  • Some people may have the same WHY, but have completely different actions to fulfil it.

This is exactly why one mother will build a business from home so that she can always be present for her children and provide financially for her family. Yet another mother will be comfortable utilising long day care to build a career and provide for her family financially.


As you can see, our WHY’s are as varied as us as individuals and as businesses. By understanding our WHY we are able to create successful businesses through:

  • Gaining clarity about the clients we serve with our products and services
  • Determining our values (personally and professionally)
  • Supporting us to make decisions and hold boundaries
  • Determining alignment for joint business ventures
  • Work smarter and harder to resolve business challenges
  • And CONNECT with people – because people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.


So my WHY challenge for you…

Do you know your WHY?


If you aren’t sure, or want to refine it, the questions I shared earlier provide a good starting point for working it out. You can also work with someone who will push you deeper and help you articulate your WHY.


One final thing before I go – when you are chatting with the other ladies in the room tonight, take a moment during the evening to ask them what their WHY is? It’s a great way to start to practice articulating what your business is all about.


One final, and enormous, THANK YOU to Suzanne Butler from Business in Heels - Brisbane CBD for the opportunity to take the floor and  present to the lovely ladies at your event. I thoroughly enjoyed my night and connecting with other fantastic like-minded women.

If want to gain more clarity on your WHY and how start to integrate it into your business, personal or professional life; please contact Michelle using the 'Enquire Now' button below to schedule a time for an obligation-free consultation to find out more.

Image Credit: Suzanne Butler, Business in Heels - Brisbane CBD.    Instagram : @BrisbaneBIH