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Answering the ‘why’ question

While on an assignment to Milan, Italy last year, at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, a friend and I chatted for a few minutes and she said, “Ruth, I want to start a business. I want to do this entrepreneurship thing you keep talking about.” Sensing that she was serious about this, I asked her “why”? I went further to explain “I mean, why do you want to go into business? Why now?” After detailing her impressive reasons, I knew without a moment’s doubt why she was getting into business and why she thought the moment was right for her.

While relaying the conversation to our other friend, my friend in Milan told the story and concluded with, “can you believe my investor asked me why I was going into business at this time? Thank God Ruth had asked me. It wasn’t that I didn’t know, but she helped me articulate my thoughts and helped me see my vision clearly.” Needless to say, she got the investor to commit.

So, why am I telling this story this morning? I think it is important for those planning to start a business to first understand that one critical question (perhaps one of the most critical questions) to ask is “why?” Your “why?” answers the “how?” and “what?” questions and every other questions.

Your “why?” is your purpose. It is the foundation on which every success you will ever make is built. Your “why?” influences your customer loyalty and in a very big way, your business success. Your “why?” influences who you hire on your team, who you choose as your supplier, who you go into partnerships with, and a whole lot of business decisions you will ever make. Like I said, the “why?” plays a significant role in your business success.

Let me ask you this, why do you think 250,000 people walked thousands of miles to listen to Dr Luther Kings’ “I Have a Dream” speech on that day of August 28, 1963? Or why do you think that his speech, decades after his assassination, still resonates with us today? Was it because he was assassinated? Or does it go deeper than that? It wasn’t as if Dr King was the only one who fought for civil rights at the time; neither is it that no one has taken up the fight even after his death. I think it has something to do with his belief – his purpose if you will – and how he was able to project this to us. Dr King was not just fighting the oppression, he was fighting for a future he believed in and in some major ways, and he made the world to believe in him and in that future.

This is what influences customer loyalty. Customers don’t buy what you are sell, they buy why you sell. Your “why” influences your ad placements, it informs your vision and mission statements. Take a look at The Coca-Cola Company for instance. Do you know what its mission is? It is: “To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit. To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions.” Tell me any of Coca-Cola’s ads that have not truly inspired you.

Steve Jobs is another example. His vision of a “computer for the rest of us” sparked the PC revolution and made Apple an icon of American business. That explains why hundreds of people line up every year in the hot American sun (I know, I’ve been in the sun) to buy his technology.

As Volker Ballueder, sales director, author and digital consultant said, “if you want to be successful, and your purpose defines how you define YOUR success, then the way forward is to identify your purpose. Your WHY in life. The inner drive that puts you on the map and makes you tick.”