Does your business feel like it’s floundering? Do you feel like you lack direction or aren’t sure how to grow? Do you struggle just to articulate what you do, and for who, when you try to explain what your business does?
I did too before I got clear on my business values, what I believed about the work I did, and the philosophies I developed and live and work by today.
It took me a long time to understand that a business is much more than just a service offering to a specific group of people. (Duh, right?)
I struggled to understand why I was doing what I did. I didn’t have a clear direction or path forward, and I questioned the viability of my entire business.
It wasn’t because I didn’t have something of value to offer others. It wasn’t even because I wasn’t getting clients (at the time, I was turning them away or ending contracts because I was too busy!).
It was because I never developed my own philosophy that drove my business forward. I never created a set of values to guide me and help me grow.
The Importance of Business Values
Your business will crumble without values, standards, and philosophies that you and your team believe in.
You can build the whole thing from the ground up without them, but that’s about all you’ll be able to do — build something, then stand around wondering what to do next after realizing you’re incapable of going anywhere.
Unfortunately, a lot of us get stuck in this situation. We build something great that we intend to use to get us somewhere, only to find we never installed a system that allows us to move.
It’s almost impossible to make important decisions and choices without values to guide your business forward. A clear philosophy informs everything you do — and just as importantly, what you don’t do.
Your values are your business’ engine. Your philosophy gives you what you need to steer.
And yes, we’re talking about your philosophy here. When I realized I had a problem (i.e., I had a metaphorical ship sans rudder), I first tried to solve it by reading up on other people’s definitions and reasonings and beliefs around content.
This made things worse. I felt confused, lost, and even more ineffective. But little wonder: I was trying to hitch my business onto the caboose of someone else’s beliefs and tag along.
Then I read this in a Loyal.is newsletter:
The brands I most admire have a strong, personal answer to the question, “What does a life well-lived look like?” Their marketing embodies and romanticizes a clear and specific set of values; their products help customers go out and live them accordingly. Create your set of values, your philosophy, about how we can do business.
That was the aha moment I needed. I had to look inward and create, from the convergence of my knowledge, experience, understanding, ideas, and education, a set of business values from which to operate.
Once I developed my philosophy on content marketing, I was able to move forward and make progress — and grow exponentially — with ease.
What Clear Beliefs and Practices Create
Developing my values and then making decisions by them, along with practicing my craft by following my philosophy, felt great.
I could clearly articulate what I believed, why I offered my services and for who, and how my work helped others in a meaningful way.
People more immediately understood my work and its importance. They resonated with the philosophy by which my business operated, and that connection helped ensure that I was an excellent fit for the people I worked with.
This felt great not just for me, but my clients benefitted from my clearly defined set of values, too. The quality of my work went up. My deliverables were stronger, more decisive. My suggestions and solutions were no longer uncertain or wishy-washy, but clear, concrete, and authoritative.
When you develop your own business values and philosophies, you can do the same: give better advice to clients, speak with greater clarity and authority, and deliver higher-quality work.
Sounds nice and dreamy, right? It was for a few months. But then I ran into an issue that threw me for a loop.
What Are You Willing to Lose Business Over?
I had deliberately worked to develop a clear, strong, pointed belief system around the services I offered, the business I ran, and the industry I worked in.
I knew not everyone believed in my philosophy the way I did, and that was okay. But the first time someone directly challenged it? That was scary — because standing by my beliefs anyway meant losing tens of thousands of dollars in revenue.
I negotiated with a potential client for a month before finally succeeding in getting a signed contract. But as I began prepping to service their account, problems kept cropping up.
Despite outlining the specific deliverables and scope included in the relationship, they increasingly demanded that I complete the work their way, using their process.
And there was nothing wrong with their process if considered without context. But it conflicted with the way I believe in doing business. It would require me to deviate from my values, and it hindered my ability to deliver the absolute best quality work.
There were other issues, including the way the company’s leadership treated their own employees with blatant disrespect.
I had two choices. I could do the work the way they wanted, or stand firm by my values and say no.
I said no. I stood by what I believe for my business. And I lost the opportunity to earn over $20,000 over the year.
That client backed out a week before we were supposed to start working together, which was painful in the moment.
But in the long-term? I’m thrilled that I stuck to my guns.
It made room for an influx of other clients who strongly resonated with the philosophy I worked by — and who were much better fits for my business.
What Do You Believe as a Business?
You need to ask yourself this when you work to develop your own business values. What do you believe so strongly that you are willing to lose business over?
Because that’s what we’re talking about here: core values that are unshakable. Values so strong that they are worth more than a potential client.
If this sounds bratty, or foolish, let’s back up a moment and rephrase the conversation.
Your beliefs help you know yourself and your business and what you’re working toward in the future.
Caving into demands that don’t align with your values may provide you with a short-term win. Perhaps you retain that client instead of losing them.
But what about the long-term impact of deviating from what your business stands for and believes? In my opinion, that’s extremely detrimental over time.
If you’re not willing to lose a little bit of business today in order to stand by what you believe in, you sacrifice something greater: your business’ sustainability and ability to grow into the future. Even worse, you forfeit your authenticity.
Your business can falter and crumble, left to blow feebly in the wind after being acted upon by external forces.
Instead of that, with a strong set of values, you can march solidly onward in the face of whatever circumstances you face.
I know what kind of business I want to run. How about you?
Business values give you the ultimate tool with which to make confident decisions that you know are right for the longevity of your firm. You can work with clients who mean something to you, and who get the work you do and truly value it — and will be in it for the long-haul with you.
So what are you willing to draw a line in the sand for and stand by? What are you willing to risk being wrong for? What is essential to the way you do business? What is required for success at all times — but is also sustainable?
What do you believe in about your business, the way you operate, who you work with, and what you offer?
…And Then Ask Why
If you know me, you know I love to ask why. Asking why provides a powerful tool to dig deeply and reach true understanding.
You may come up with a lot of strong feelings and opinions. So don’t forget to consider what isn’t worth putting up a fight to defend. Why helps weed through your initial thoughts about what to believe and stand for as a business.
In other words, evaluate your beliefs with a critical eye. Not all of them are worth falling on a sword for.
Why do you like this idea? Why do you follow this practice? Why do you uphold this standard? Why do you feel so strongly about whatever this thing is that came up for you when you thought about business values?
The things you should maintain flexibility on are the things you don’t have specific, rational reasons for hanging on to. If you can’t clearly articulate why something is critically important to the fabric of your business, be willing to compromise if it comes into conflict.
Develop Your Own Business Values
The beliefs you want to incorporate as part of your business’ values and philosophy are the ones developed from research, study, education, and experience.
All these different roads should lead to evidence that shows your process, or your approach, or your beliefs generate some sort of better result or outcome.
And I do think it requires this combination of factors: time, trial and error, and tested hypothesis. You don’t have to keep a belief forever. You can develop one value and realize, after careful study, it wasn’t quite right.
So adjust, iterate, and move forward.
Eventually, you will strike upon ideas and beliefs that you want to incorporate into the foundations of the firm you run. And those ideas will likely span all areas of your business: from the service you offer to the process you use to the people you want to work with — all are influenced by a strong set of values and a clearly-defined business philosophy.
I think this is a very personal process that requires more of a meandering journey to fully develop (rather than just sitting down and writing out some ideas in a few minutes). That being said, these questions may help you start thinking about your own business values if you want to undertake the work of developing them:
- What is your definition of a great life, and how does your business help others achieve that?
- What principles do you stand for, and how do you stand by them?
- What is essential to your success — but also sustainable, forever?
- What matters most to you about the people you serve, and the way you serve them?
- What kind of behavior or actions will you not tolerate from other brands or individuals?
- What do you believe about your work, services, offerings, or processes that you will not deviate from (even if it means losing a potential client)?
- What kind of ethical standards do you hold yourself and your work to?
Don’t forget the all-important follow-up question to ask next, for every single one of your answers: why?
And I’ll leave you with a snippet of my own philosophy around my business. Specifically, this addresses the all-important why behind the work I do and why I want to provide services to others:
Content marketing gives business owners a chance to make a positive impact and put people first. It allows you to actually serve others and deliver value, regardless of whether they pay you for a product or service.
Content marketing means you can do business, increase revenue, and grow — but in a way that focuses on the needs of others and solves someone else’s problem and helps them live a better life.
This method takes our human need for telling — and hearing — stories and uses it to help others while also helping our own businesses and bottom lines. Content marketing is the professional way of sharing your story, knowledge, skills, and expertise in a way that touches those around you and inspires others to take action.
When we create and distribute content, we make and share more stories. People express themselves. They explore and see more. And life is better that way.
Creating compelling content that’s good, valuable, useful, and helpful starts a domino effect that results in people who are more empowered and better educated about solutions and opportunities in their lives.