The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.13

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

Why making meaning is more important than making money

How do you motivate yourself when times are tough? It turns out that making meaning is more important than making money - both to motivate yourself, and to build a business that is successful in the long run.

But first let's get one thing straight.

You have to make money

Every business has to make money to survive and thrive. In fact, the more money you make, the happier you and your clients will be.

But when you start making decisions in favour of money — to the detriment of other things — you're in trouble.

The best reason to start a business

I first heard the term “make meaning” in Guy Kawasaki’s TIECON talk back in 2006. To quote more fully from Guy’s talk (link below):

The best reason to start a business is to change the world - to make meaning.

At first I was a little cynical. Can we really change the world? It turns out we can, because purpose drives everything.

Purpose drives everything

Whether we like it or not, purpose drives how we (and our people) act.

If your motivation is just to make money, you're going to make decisions biased towards making money. Your clients are of lesser importance. Your people, colleagues and network are just tools to make more money.

If you’re motivated purely by making money, you’re literally saying “screw you, customer or colleague or friend - this is about me first”. You will leave a trail of regrettable choices behind you. And you will saddle yourself with things you could have done without. As Guy points out in his talk:

If you start out solely with the purpose of making money, you will attract the wrong kind of employees.

As I said above, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a boat load of money.

But when you set out to change the world, to make meaning, everything changes.

When your purpose is to change the world…

No matter how big or small you are, or at what stage of business you’re at, “making meaning” changes you, and eventually the world.

Your purpose is your “why”

At some point in building a business you’re going to ask yourself “why am I doing this again?”. And if your answer isn’t clear, unambiguous and inspiring, you’re going to question why you even started in the first place. You motivation will drop, and everything will seem like a drag.

But if there’s a compelling reason to do what you’re doing, motivating yourself to dive back in again becomes easy. It’s not just about you any more. There’s something you need to fix, someone that needs your help, and that’s a lot more motivating than just “make more money”.

Your purpose becomes your passion

In his talk, Guy Kawasaki said there are three ways to “make meaning”:

  • Increase the quality of life
  • Right a wrong
  • Prevent the end of something good

For me personally, it’s just plain wrong that so many entrepreneurs struggle with building a successful business. We’ve learnt so much about building businesses, and there’s so much advice around, a lot more of us should be successful.

But still too many of us struggle. This is just plain wrong, and I want to make it right, at least a little bit.

This is not just my passion because I think it’s wrong that we struggle so much. It’s because I experienced it myself. I know the heartache, struggles and sometimes even despair I felt while building my business, and I want to help others avoid at least some of those pains.

This passion drives me to do even the things I don’t like doing or I’m not particularly good at. It drives me to write articles like this every week. This is why I post on LinkedIn every day. And this is why I work with solopreneurs one on one (even when it’s not always the best financial decision for my business).

If I can help even a few entrepreneurs build a more successful business, and avoid some of the pains I experienced along the way, I will have done something worth doing. I will have made a difference in the world.

(Can you tell I’m passionate about this?)

You fall in love with the problem (not the solution)

I started my career as a software developer. In the early days, I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t fall in love with the stuff I created.

And that’s the trap:

There are hundreds of ways of solving almost any problem. When we fall in love with our solution, we forget to listen to our customers. We think our solution is the answer to everyone’s problems.

The best thing any business can do, especially in the early stages of their development, is to fall in love with the problem — not the solution. This will help you focus on solving the problem (however you choose to solve it). It will help you examine how you’re solving the problem, so it becomes easier to let go of things that don’t work.

Ultimately, it’s solving the problem that makes the difference in other peoples’ lives. How you solve it is less important.

Why are you in business (or thinking of starting one)?

Before you even start thinking about why you’re in business, watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk Start with why. This is one of the most-watched TED talks of all times, and is well worth the 18-minute investment of your time.

Then think about why you’re in business (or why you want to start one).

  • What wrong do you want to right?
  • What quality of life do you want to improve?
  • What do you want to see live on and not disappear?

In other words,

What is it that you’re passionate about that has meaning to others?

If you can get a firm grip on this question, your life (and your business) will fundamentally change for the better. And in the long term, making meaning is good business.

If you have about 40 minutes, watch Guy Kawasaki’s TIECON talk from 2006. It’s so good I’ve probably watched it 20 times. Highly recommended.

Then write it down. Put it up on the wall next to your computer. And go and change the world. Even if it’s just in a small way.