If you’re a small business owner and you operate in a really intense competitive environment, (and let’s face it, what small business owner doesn’t exist in a competitive environment), how do you get people’s attention? How do you involve them in your brand in a way that gets them buying from you instead of a competitor who might have much greater resources than you. Articulating your “Why” and making it a core part of your growth plan is critically important.

This whole notion of “Starting With Why” all started with a guy named Simon Sinek. He made a fabulous Ted talk a few years back (Google it and watch. It’s great.) He also wrote an excellent book called “Start With Why.”

In short, Sinek describes a “golden circle” that provides a framework for why some leaders and companies create huge influence and others don’t. The outermost circle is the “What?” of your Business. That’s pretty intuitive and straightforward. It’s what you do, the services you provide, all the features and benefits. The next circle in is the “How” of your business. How you go about doing what you do. And in a lot of cases you’ll talk about that if the way in which you deliver services is competitively differentiated.

And then there is the “Why”, right in the bullseye of that circle. This is the core of why you do what you do. What’s the motivating force in your business? Why did you start the business in the first place? And I don’t mean to make money. With the small business owners that I know and work with, there’s always a larger purpose to the business. There’s a reason why they got into this business.

What Sinek talks about is that most businesses operate from the outside in. They start with the “What”. Instead, you need to start with the “Why” and work out. You need to articulate that driving force of your business and make it part of everything you say about your business and then work out to the “How” and the “What” of your business.

The great example of a company working from the inside out is Apple. There are many competitors that, on the surface at least, make computers very similar to Apple’s. But those competitors work from the outside in when they sell their products: “My new computer has really fast processors, a terrific screen, really lightweight, lots of memory. Hey, you want to buy this computer? It’s pretty cool.” Very rational, very much focused on features and benefits.

In contrast, there is Apple. Their communication proclaims their “Why.” “We are in business to challenge the status quo. To put power in the hands of individuals, to have them do amazing things, really powerful things, express their individuality, change the world. And, yeah, we make great computers. Want to buy one?” We know that Steve Jobs was clearly a guy who wanted me to change the world and did change the world. And that ethos permeates everything that Apple does and says.

Sinek’s proposition (and I think it’s absolutely right), is a key reason why Apple is arguably the biggest brand in the universe is because of its extremely disciplined focus on their “Why” and then attracting people who want to be part of it.

If you’re a small brand, it’s even more important. For example, there’s a small company here in Seattle called Lugabug. They make a terrific product. It’s like a camp seat, but it’s straps onto the back of a rolling suitcase. Your young child sits in there and makes moving through airports so much simpler for parents with young kids.

Now there are two different ways that you could go about selling a product like that. You could focus on all the features and benefits. But they’re a small company. They have limited resources. How are they going to compete with all the much larger companies that provide strollers or other means of moving children? Small companies are at a big disadvantage that way.
How do they compete? Well, they compete by focusing on their Why. In Lugabug’s case their Why is something like: “We want families with young children to get out and explore and be adventurous and we want it to be fun for the kids. Not just the destination, but the whole process, from the moment you leave the house until you get home.” Lugabug is developing their own tribe and they’re attracting people who believe what they believe.

This is at the heart of what Sinek talks about. To me, his key quote is, “The goal of the business should not be to simply sell to anyone who wants what you have, but rather to find people who believe what you believe.”

To do that you’ve got to make your “Why” really powerful. That’s how a company like Lugabug competes with much larger competition. They find people who share their ethos of adventurous travel, keeping it lightweight, and not traveling all the time with what I call the “caravan of crap” that seems to be involved every time you want to leave the house with a couple of kids. And those people become loyal evangelists for their company.

The missing link here is you’ve got to really understand who your target is. You can’t skip that step. It isn’t just enough about discovering your why. You absolutely need to know who your best customers are so that you can communicate with them in the most efficient ways possible.

But the secret sauce is focusing on your “Why.”