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How to Work on Purpose and Why You Must

Marketing podcast with Tom Asacker

A few months ago I started a series of posts I’m calling Recover You. The series is focused on practices and habits that I believe lead to a healthier mind, body and spirit, a healthier business and ultimately a healthier economy. This is the final post in the series. You can catch the entire Recover You series here.

photo credit: JeremyMP via photopin cc

photo credit: JeremyMP via photopin cc

I have spent a great deal of time over the last decade or two trying to understand and sort out the role of purpose as it relates to work.

And you know what? – it’s a lot easier to consider in retrospect than to try to grasp by looking towards some far off horizon.

In this quest I think you can indeed consider what brings you joy the most, where your passion lies and even what legacy you want to leave behind, but until you succumb to the fact that what you are doing right now must be your life’s purpose you’ll always feel cheated somehow.

Now, this isn’t one of those you must live in the moment posts. What I’m saying is that I discovered my purpose in work when I finally realized that it’s the experience of what I’m doing and living my work with passion that defines my purpose. Giving in to that idea is how purpose finds you.

The struggle to find that perfect thing you were meant to be is what causes untold amounts of pressure while the very thing you were meant to do is experience what you’re actually doing more fully.

When you realize that one distinction you can start to change the world around you by building new beliefs. Every thing we do in business and in life is dictated by our beliefs and changing this one belief is how you change your existing reality.

I recently sat down with Tom Asacker author of several critically acclaimed books including his latest, The Business of Belief: How the World’s Best Marketers, Designers, Salespeople, Coaches, Fundraisers, Educators, Entrepreneurs and Other Leaders Get Us to Believe to talk about the subject of purpose and beliefs for an episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast.

Asacker first approaches how our beliefs dictate, right or wrong, every action we take. To me this notion also rules how we think about purpose and passion. Many people don’t find purpose in their work because they don’t think they can or should or that purpose must represent something much grander than what they are about today.

Asacker’s book also shows how marketers and others can use the power of belief for good and evil, but ultimately this short read is all about getting you to take charge of your beliefs so you can change your view of purpose and passion.

To me the missing piece in the struggle to bring purpose to the workplace lies in the words of Buckminster Fuller. “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

So, in order to work more fully on purpose you must make your existing model of work obsolete.

I think every business owner should carve that quote into something permanent and persistently visible!

Get Good at What You Love and the Money Will Follow

You’ve certainly heard all the talk about the need for passion in your work. There’s no doubt that doing what you love is essential, but getting really good at what you love is how you turn it into a profession. Passion alone isn’t always enough when it comes to creating a mutual exchange of value.

So here’s my love note to all the business owners, entrepreneurs and would be cubicle escapees. Never forget this in your search for work that feeds your passion! Happy Valentines Day.

Love Your Work

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The Single Greatest Factor of Success in Business

There are so many important ideas and concepts in business. Things like strategy, purpose, and passion are integral to success, but none of it really matters without one ingredient – and that’s clarity.

Image Derek Keats via Flickr CC

Clarity is that strong and unwavering sense that our daily choices are grounded in an authentic sense of purpose. Clarity is how we create a sketch of something worth asking others to complete. Clarity forces us to form the right questions.

Without clarity everything we do is either an attempt to gain it or a stab at the hope that we are moving in the right direction.

Almost every business I’ve ever worked with, including my own, struggles with this idea. But, until we are really clear and inspired by why we do what we do, whom we do it for and how to do it with complete and utter honesty – little else matters.

Clarity does not emerge by simply switching on some beacon in hopes of throwing a clear and guiding light. No, it comes when we discover a rusted but sturdy lamp in the basement of an old house. Then, only through careful tinkering and polishing this lamp begins to cast a flicker of light.

And, as we continue to polish and tinker, something truly brilliant begins to evolve.

With clarity comes control. With clarity comes grace. With clarity comes joy.

Finding and keeping clarity takes work. It takes an unbending willingness to see things for what they really are. To filter decisions based on what might be best for others. To understand how to create the products and services our customers really need.

Clarity is both a feeling and a direction. It can be experienced and seen. It is at the same time perfect simplicity and obvious complexity. Clarity inspires us and those around us.

But what is it exactly?

  • Clarity is turning purpose to profit
  • Clarity is leading with stories
  • Clarity is using $50 instead of $49.99
  • Clarity is asking what to leave out
  • Clarity is meeting the whole person
  • Clarity is amplifying without hype
  • Clarity is doing more with less
  • Clarity is embracing the truth
  • Clarity is anticipating needs
  • Clarity is measuring one perfect thing
  • Clarity is forming decisions out of beliefs
  • Clarity is a potent brand promise

Clarity is the most important idea in any business.

How to Be Present for Your Business

The ability, some might say attempt, to multitask is a curse of sorts. While working on ten things at once may seem efficient, each of those things gets roughly 10% of our greatness while we’re doing it.

That may actually be fine for, say, deleting emails, but is that enough for writing a note to a client, creating an action plan for a product launch or determining the fee you plan to charge for a project? Probably not.

Attention is one of our scarcest resources these days and guarding it in a way that allows us to work with intention requires the ability to remain present and mindful in the midst of the storm raging all around us. (Otherwise known as your business)

In fact, it not only requires us to be as present as possible for the daily tasks we tackle, it also requires us to be continually mindful of where we are going and why we are going there and that requires a process of its own.

Planned Mindfulness

It’s one thing to conduct annual strategic planning sessions and quite another to live the intention of those sessions after the white boards are erased.

I believe that you need to create a daily routine that involves revisiting your greatest goals and objectives and developing what I’ve come to call a passion mantra that upon seeing, hearing or reading energizes you and snaps you back into a state of mindfulness.

Creating your passion mantra may require time sitting and writing about what matters most to you, what drives you, what motivates you, what scares you and what excites you, but if you can create a simple statement that helps hold you accountable for what you intend to do, you’ll have a tool that consistently inspires right action and keeps you out of the act of wallowing in self-pity and doubt.

I’ve shared my own personal passion mantra before and I’ll share it here, but know that these are merely words and their real power if the feeling I attach to them.

My mantra is: My life is an amazing adventure; my business is an amazing adventure.

Witness Your Thoughts

Another habit that you may need to form in order to work steadily towards the intention of your business is to actually start to pay attention to your thoughts and reactions throughout the day.

Frankly, this can be exhausting work, but if you can begin to step back and analyze how your mind unconsciously processes everything that happens throughout the day, you might start to get a glimpse into some of the negative and limiting ways we view things as either good or bad.

The problem with most of reactions to things is they don’t always serve our overall objectives. If your intention is to be a business that provides incredible value by helping your customers achieve their goals, you’ll find that giving more than you take is the surest path to success. However, if your first thought in most relationships is what’s in it for me, or I’ve got to watch my back, you’ve got some powerful forces working against you.

How we view things is simply a choice, but that choice can become so ingrained that we no longer even make it, it simply occurs out of habit. When we start to slow down and observe these choices as they are happening, we gain the power to make or not make them in accordance with our driving intention.

Present Actfullness

Our intentions drive our thoughts and our thoughts form our actions. That’s what makes planning, goal setting and mindful thinking so powerful. However, there are armies lined up and waiting to derail you from your path to success – some come in the form of your own thoughts and others come in the form of an evil printer that won’t work as advertised.

In addition to witnessing how your thoughts create and form your reality, you must develop habits that help you change your physical state and bring it intentionally into being present along with your thoughts.

This is the easy part. Develop routines that require you to stop your work hourly and do ten pushups or take a lap around your office building. Fill up a jug of water and empty it hourly. Take a fifteen-minute afternoon nap. Write a handwritten thank you note several times a day.

What you do physically isn’t as important as the act of stopping and bringing your awareness back into the room by removing your attention from all the tasking at hand. I find that the simplest of planned physical mindfulness, even intentional breathing has the power to center me.

Present for Customers

So, really the point of all of this mindfulness is to help you build a better business that delivers value to world and less stress to you in the process, but the practical side is that it will allow you to be present for your customers and that will pay off immediately.

We all like to think we have our customers needs and desires in mind at all times, but quite often we get caught up in attempts to appear to have all the answers, in stating our case rather than listening, or in feigning care when our real motivation is the sale.

You can’t be fully present in every client interaction, but occasionally, maybe systematically, you need to look your clients in the eye, in a way that lets them feel you are listening, and ask them how you could help them more – and then shut up and listen without judgment. My guess is you will find this incredibly rewarding.

Present for Staff

In the midst of the day-to-day rush of projects, tasks, questions and actions the real development of the people that work all around you can get lost.

Meetings are scheduled and conducted with to dos and takeaways in mind and are often seen mostly as something in the way of getting your real work done.

Again, you can’t be fully mindful in every interaction with your staff, but in order to create an environment where your people can participate in the fulfillment of the organization’s objectives, you must provide a way for them to be heard as well.

Once a week, put 30 minutes on your calendar with everyone that reports to you and make them own the agenda. There may be times when several agenda items revolve around projects, but there will be times when you simply listen to what they really want out of life and how you can help them get there – and I believe that may be one of the most rewarding gifts you can participate in giving.

So, this being present stuff isn’t for the timid, but if you’ve ever come home and night and couldn’t really tell your spouse what you did all day that made you so busy, there’s a pretty good bet you need to dig into this a bit.

Image credit: SirPecanGum via Flickr CC

7 Reasons Why Your Business Is Stuck

Ever feel like you’re in a rut. Or worse, that you keep pushing that boulder up the hill, all Sisyphus like, only to watch it roll back down, feeling that you are destined to repeat this throughout eternity.

David Ensor via Flickr

Okay, citing Greek and Roman mythology may be a bit dramatic, but I see it every day and work with small business owners every day that tell me they desperately want to take their business to the next level, but can’t seem to get unstuck.

In working through this same phenomenon in my own business I offer these seven reasons why we struggle to move past where we are and hopefully some advice on breaking free.

You don’t have a compelling enough vision

The thing that moves people to act beyond what they are currently doing is a vision to do something so compelling that it forces them to change their behaviors in ways that would make it so.

The problem with most business owners is that they are only looking towards next week or next month. What if you looked at making your business and your life multiple times bigger and better than it is right now?

What would that force you to change? What would that force you to stop doing? Where would that compel you to take massive action first?

Your habits aren’t serving you

The fact is that most humans are simply the sum of their habits, good and bad. In order to create change, you don’t need to work harder or try to be more productive; you simply need to replace some of your habits with ones that better serve your vision.

That may mean adding exercise to your daily routine, learning how to say no once in a while, creating workflow that doesn’t include so much time checking email and conversing on Facebook. Maybe you need to start reading and writing. Maybe you need to learn programming or how to present to a large group of prospects from a stage.

Pick one habit that you know isn’t serving your vision and replace it with one that your know will move your forward and commit to practicing that new habit for at least a month. Then, do it again every month for the next twelve and you’ll transform your life.

Your relationships are Twitter thin

The age of friend, follow and fan has changed the dynamics of relationships. I’m not saying those tools are bad things, they have lots to offer, but I am saying it’s easy to sit back and conclude that since you’re chatting with someone on Twitter that you’re building the kinds of relationships you need in order to take your business to higher levels.

We can only manage so many relationships with any amount of depth. That number may vary from person to person to person, but I guarantee you it’s not 500 or 1000.

Pick three people this year that you believe could help you drastically improve your business and your life and focus on building a deep relationship with them. Here’s the catch however, do it by focusing all your attention on how you can help them.

You’re not focused on value

What if the stuff you gave away as part of your marketing was better than most people’s paid product or service? What if you spent as much time measuring the results your clients received as you did on trying to sell more stuff?

Your clients don’t really want your stuff; they want what they or you have convinced them they will get from your stuff. Simply look for ways to be a greater opportunity for them to get what they want and you’ll represent value in the best sense.

You’re worried about your weaknesses

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this phrase – I’m just no good at marketing – then of course it’s followed with, but I love to talk to people and help them get what they need, which of course may be one of the tidier explanations of what marketing really is.

Stop trying to get good at your weaknesses or shoring up areas that everyone says you need to get good at and start mastering the things you do really well, the things that bring you joy, the things that create value for you and for others and growth will flourish.

You’re filling your time

Ever feel like no matter how many hours there were in a day it wouldn’t be enough? Ever come to the end of a day and think, I don’t know what I did today, but I sure was busy?

The plague of work is that we are so completely capable of expanding it to fill whatever time we have available, whether that work is productive or not.

One of the things I truly believe you must embrace in order to take your business to the next level is to plan your time off first. I don’t mean vacation plans, I mean make a part of your compelling vision for the future the precise amount of time you will take to work on your vision and recharge your energy.

What if you planned backwards? What if, instead of taking a little time here and there when it occurred, you did something bold like decided to take every Friday away from the business or an entire week every quarter as a planned renewal period?

Now, you may not see how you could do that at this point, but unless you start to think bigger in this way, you’ll never get above where you are right now.

You’re managing the wrong things

Business is lot like soup. From the diner’s perspective it’s simply good or bad tasting. From the cook’s perspective it’s the precise compilation of broth, vegetables and seasoning that make it good or bad tasting.

I think we often approach our business more like the diner than the cook; we manage the soup rather than combination of the proper ingredients.

I’ve written about the three things we must manage before, but I believe one of the things that holds businesses back is a failure to view their business as a precise blend of purpose, projects and process – maintaining a focus on managing those three things at all times is how you take your business towards your vision.

Four Stories Every Business Must Build

Stories build commitment. They allow us to go on journeys in search of our best self. They entertain, simplify, and inspire. They are easy to share. Great leaders are often great storytellers.

Sugar Pond via Flickr

The power of story as a business building and marketing tool is undeniable. A simple story can draw upon our emotional desires in ways that reams and reams of logical data never will.

While an uplifting story or even a tragic story can capture the listener’s interest, the real power of storytelling in business is that it permits a business to illustrate values and beliefs in action.

It’s one thing to say we’re trustworthy and quite another to share a story about the day your employees went without a paycheck because they so believed in what you were building and trusted you would make things right when you recovered from this unforeseen challenge.

I believe that every business must find and tell their core stories over and over again and then they must invite their employees, customers and networks to help build these stories into journeys worth taking over and over again.

Below are four core stories that must live in every business

The Passion Story

The is often the owner’s story, a tale of why they started the business, how the business serves their own personal mission or purpose in life. Why they get up and go to work, why they love what they do or what happened in life that set them on their current path.

The interior of the Grand Jury hearing room was anything but grand. It consisted of a handful of plastic chairs arranged in a way that made the jurists feel more like an audience than a court appointed arm of the United States Justice Department. Although I distinctly remember the lights, maybe it was me, but they seemed awfully bright.

What could I possibly have to offer as a witness in a hearing determined to bring federal charges upon one of my clients? As it turned out I was very boring witness with nothing to offer the case, but it was a turning point in my business and perhaps my life.

In the effort to build my business I had taken on a client that I knew was doing things I couldn’t support, that were counter to my own values, and I knew also in that moment that I would never again do business with a customer I didn’t respect.
And that’s part of my passion story. (To get the rest you need to buy the tell all book. Well, not really.)

The Purpose Story

This is mostly the story about why you do what you do in business and not at all about what you do. For many people this can be a story about mission or higher calling, but it can also be about who you serve and why.

When I was just starting to dream up the concept of Duct Tape Marketing I was operating my business as a traditional local marketing agency and doing work for organizations large and small – although I had already determined that I loved working with small business owners the most.

I had completed a very small amount of work for a very large organization and sent them in invoice for $1,525.00. When they paid the invoice, 90 days later, I opened the envelope and found a check for $152,500.00.

While there was a moment of temptation, I knew I had to return the check. I called and was directed to the five forms I needed to complete in order to return the check if I was to have any hope of getting my original bill paid.

That was the day I determined I was going to work with small business owners exclusively and set out to figure out how I could do that. There’s something equal parts gratifying and terrifying about doing work directly for the person paying the bill.

And that’s part of my purpose story.

The Positioning Story

This is the story that illustrates how you want the market to perceive your brand. Of course, perception is partly a goal and partly a measurement because some things are out of your hands. A true positioning story, however, is one that authentically captures your purpose in action – it’s how purpose is packaged in a way that allows the intended market to connect.

And, the best positioning, the best positioning stories can usually be summed up in one word.

Early on in my marketing consulting business I was invited to be part of a pitch for a very large piece of business. It was a national firm that wanted to hire a national ad agency, but also include a local marketing support company for the local branch.

The New York ad agency sent five people, all clad in black head to toe and armed with a 100-page deck filled with research and recommendations.

When it came time for me to offer my two cents I said something like – I don’t know, why don’t we just talk to some of your current customers? The meeting ended and the next day the VP that was conducting the search called and said he wanted me to do the entire project without the New York ad agency. To this day I can hear him say why – “you were the only one that said anything that was practical.”

And that’s part of my positioning story.

The Personality Story

This is the story that gets at how people experience your purpose or brand. This is the story that illustrates the traits that are on display in every action, product, service, decision, hire, process or promotion.

There’s a story behind how I came up with the name Duct Tape Marketing, but the real reason this name has served my brand so well is the association that people already have with all things duct tape. This allows them to connect their own personal stories of simple, effective and affordable use of this cuddly gray sticky stuff. (Okay, cuddly might be over the top, but you get it.)

The name comes packaged with its own personality traits and the only trick is to make sure that people experience the brand and the business in that same way.

And now for where the name came from . . . with apologies to my daughters.

My wife I decided to take a little mini vacation and figured the two oldest girls (high school sophomore and junior) could act as babysitters. You probably know where this is going and you’re right.

The party peeked at about 100 people I’m told. One of the guests decided to take my car for spin as well and bumped it into something just hard enough to knock a piece of plastic bumper off. In an effort to hide the damage my daughters duct taped the piece masterfully back in place.

There is a chance they would have gotten away with it too, but they carelessly left the role of duct tape sitting on the car hood, creating immediate suspicion when we arrived home.

The thing is, that’s when I knew Duct Tape Marketing would be the perfect name. If a sixteen year old could recognize the simple, effective and affordable use, then it might just be universally true as well.

And that’s part of my personality story.

Every Business Must Manage Only These Three Things

While one business may be organized in departments, job titles and roles and another basically made up of only one person doing it all, every business that grows and thrives internally and externally figures out how to manage three things at all times: purpose, projects and process.

Lots of employees come into businesses hoping to rise to the ranks of management. The thing is every employee in a business is a manager of something. Lots of business owners start a business and quickly realize they must manage everything. The question is manage what?

As a customer, if you enjoyed a remarkable experience with a business there’s a very good chance that experience enjoyed the complete attention of management from three very distinct points of view – but what really made it remarkable was that it didn’t feel managed at all.

No matter how simple or complex a business may seem if it is to come to life it does so essentially orchestrating these three things – communicating purpose as strategy, delivering innovation, growth and positioning through the implementation of project after project and creating a remarkable culture and consistent customer experience through the operation of process after process.

Purpose by Mark Anderson

The cartoon above was done for me by Mark Anderson. Check out Mark’s custom cartoons and consider commissioning one for yourself.

No matter how many people actually go to work in a business, every business needs to fill the role of Purpose Manager, Project Manager and Process Manager even if all three of these roles are played by the same person.

The role of the Purpose Manager is to create and tell the story of why the business does what it does, create and keep the picture of where the business is headed and act as the filter for business decisions made in the name of the brand’s positioning.

The role of the Project Manager is to continually look to break every business innovation, question, challenge, initiative or campaign into logical projects complete with required action steps and resources.

The role of the Process Manager is to receive and implement the tasks and action steps that fall from each project plan and operate established processes that ensure trust is maintained through consistency.

No matter how complicated we want to make our businesses, this is what success comes down to.

But, this is what makes owning a business such a challenge, this is what makes managing people such a challenge, this is what makes doing a job such a challenge. Finding the places where these three roles divide and where they come back together again is the art of the business and it’s not always obvious or even natural

If you’re the sole employee you must spend some part of each day playing these distinct roles no matter that your innate talents may reside squarely in one or the other.

As you hire staff you must focus on first hiring for your weaknesses in performing or managing one or more of the three roles not on job titles or departments.

As you grow your business you must build purpose, project and process thinking into every new department, innovation and initiative.

You must also guide your entire team to approach their work in this manner and give them the tools that will allow them to embrace purpose, think in terms of projects and know when and how process that delivers purpose is the right path.

The 4Ps of a Fully Alive Business

Back in the early 1960’s the American Marketing Association coined the term the “Four ‘P’s” as a way to describe the essential elements of the marketing mix. Since that time every first year marketing student has been taught to think in terms of product, price, place and promotion as they analyze case studies of companies real and imagined.

Much has changed in the last 50 years, including what product really is, what place entails, how package plays a role and, well, pretty much everything about what promotion looks like.

In fact, the very definition of marketing has changed dramatically enough to render the original Four P’s somewhat useless as a foundational marketing and business strategy concept.

Today’s most important business and marketing directive is one of building trust. Engagement, connection and story are the new forms of promotional art. Price is a function of value and place has become bytes and ether more often than a shelf or an office.

There is a home for the Four P’s in today’s business but it’s in the very mortar of the business and the story of its people rather than in a department on an org chart.

The Four P’s are now more about how a business is experienced than what it sells. They reside in the expression of human characteristics that turn commitment into culture and culture into customer.

The following elements make up a redefinition of the Four P’s for the fully alive business and further make the case that marketing is everything you do and every business is really a marketing business.

The Four P's of Business

Passion

The first element of the Four P’s in a fully alive business is the passion for living that the owner of the business brings. When the founder of a business can serve their own personal passion and purpose by growing the business, good things can evolve.

The leader of a business must have a great sense of passion for the business, but they also must be able to connect that passion with purpose in order to bring out the desire to commit in others. Leading with passion is how you put yourself out there and do what you were meant to do.

“A ship in port is safe but that’s not what ships are built for.” ~ Grace Murray Hopper

Purpose

Purpose is how a business defines why it does what it does. It is the reason people are drawn to work in a business, it’s the reason they come to life inside the business and it’s the reason customers voluntarily become loyal ambassadors of the brand.

Purpose builds trust because it allows people to see their own values in action in support of something they strongly believe. A regular paycheck, important sounding title, or great deal on a cool product, probably doesn’t invoke much in the way of purpose.

Joining a business that is on an epic journey to create joy, change an age old industry, innovate under the nose of a Goliath, or just do a great deal more of the right thing – that’s purpose, that’s not simply a business it’s a cause and people will do some remarkable things inside and around the support of their cause.

Positioning

Organizations that understand the power of purpose also understand that purpose is what they need to package as their reason for being, core difference and position in the market. They lead with why and let those attracted to that why create their own definition of what.

In fact, brands that start with purpose over product can effectively enter most any market with the same positioning and compete with entrenched category leaders. I know it’s become cliché to cite Apple as an example, but this computer company routinely blows competitors away in any market they enter. Think mp3 players and mobile devices – two categories they entered and dominate even though they’re a computer company.

Apple’s sense of why is so prevalent in their positioning that it wouldn’t surprise me if they entered the coffee market and became the category darling.

Personality

The final P is how a business uses desirable human traits or personality characteristics as a vehicle to allow all that encounter the business to actually experience purpose.

It’s one thing to state your purpose on a plaque or marketing brochure, it’s another thing entirely to live by a tangible set of daily habits and processes that offer proof of purpose.

We are drawn to people and experience that are simple, inspirational, convenient, innovative, playful, community oriented and filled with surprise. These are the personality traits that a fully alive business uses as the everyday creative language of the business.

These traits act as the filter for every decision and make up how the business is run internally and the brand is experienced externally.

Imagine what would occur if every college student today were taught these Four P’s. Imagine if every business were started with this framework. Imagine if everyone could go to work for a company built with this way of thinking at its core. Imagine if we could experience these Four P’s by simply becoming a customer of your business? What would that be like?

I don’t know, I think it would be pretty great.