How Your Personal Priorities Shape The Way You Design Your Business

Our feeds are full of people trying to sell us goals.

More money. Passive income. Working far fewer hours. Building a community. Working 1-to-many. Charging more. Writing a book. Building a team.

These are all solid goals.

But are they your goals?

Marketers sell us goals because convincing you that X should be your goal means that Y is the path to get there.

And, by the way, I created the perfect formula for Y contained in this online course or coaching package or membership site.

Again, this makes sense. I want to make sure that you know your goal happens to be the one that I specialize in and can help you with. That’s good for you and it’s good for me.

But where this really breaks down is when marketing starts to break down our ability to discern what’s really ours and what’s being sold to us.

If you’ve really done the work, set your own goals, and practiced ignoring messages that aren’t meant for you, no problem. That marketing can fly in one ear and out the other.

But most of us are susceptible—to varying degrees—to the goals that marketers want us to have.

Maybe it’s having a fancy website, or a big social media audience, or an online course that makes you money in your sleep. Maybe it’s exotic vacations or glamorous photoshoots or expensive clothes.

It could be even smaller things—like the ring light you have for looking nicer & more confident on a conference call.

None of these things are problematic on their own.

It’s when we’re chasing after [fill in the blank] instead of what we really want from life and work that it becomes a problem.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a “woah, woah, woah” conversation with a business owner.

We’ll chat about their plans. And then, they drop some bombshell that lets me know they don’t really want what we’re talking about! That’s when I say, “Woah!” We pause and get back to what they really want before we talk any more about strategy or plans.

Now, I just skip to “Woah, but why?” as soon as someone tells me what they want to work on.

You want to build your audience. But why?

You want to create an online course. But why?

You want to craft a social media strategy and stop relying on referrals. But why?

The “why” answers might feel completely obvious to you. So you can probably see just how deep and pervasive the message of the goals we’re being sold can be.

I can give you many more reasons to not build an audience than I can reason to build one.

I can think of plenty of offers that are likely to make you more money faster than an online course.

And, frankly, referrals are where it’s at—and are far more predictable than selling via social media.

Every decision in the way you design your business starts with knowing what you’re really trying to do with it. And I don’t mean “change the world” (which is cool—just not the point of what we’re talking about today.)

I mean, as Kate Strathmann put it:

What are you really trying to do with your business?

What are your goals for how you want to construct your life and work? What are the most important things for you to prioritize?

Passive income and online courses be damned if they don’t make sense for the way you want to work or how you spend your time.

Now, you might be starting to think, “But how do I know if those tactics make sense for the way I want to work?”

Great question. Strap in.

I’ve got a little 8th-grade math for you today.

Wait, where are you going?! Don’t leave!

If you’re thinking about making changes to your business or consider what’s next for you or even feeling the tug to burn it all down and start over (been there, done that), I want to provide a “formula” you can use to make sense of how to design it.

And if you’ve been around these parts for very long, you know I don’t really do formulas. But that’s where the 8th-grade math comes in.

I’m not going to give you a magic formula that tells you exactly what to do (because yuck). I want to share the formula I use when I’m revisiting the design of my own business or that of a client’s business.

And this equation? It’s full of variables.

The design of a business is essentially a set of unknown variables.

Business model, offer, customer, price, team, marketing, sales, brand, etc…

Okay, there are those business components. But there are additional variables that are compromised of what’s most important to you as a business owner. Flexibility, health, values, financial needs, type of work, schedule, relationships, etc…

In the beginning (or anytime you’re starting a design from scratch), the equation is an unsolvable mess of variables.

It’s basically the shrug emoji in business form 🤷🏼‍♀️

To solve the equation, we need to start assigning values to some of the variables we’re most familiar with.

These are not the business variables. They’re the personal variables.

They’re the choices we prioritize because they directly impact the kind of life we want to live and the kind of business we want to build.

I like to start with 1 key variable and another 1 or 2 other variables.

For me, I’d choose the type of work, followed by values and financial needs.

Then, I would define the value of those variables.

  • Type of work: I want to be creating—writing, podcasting, designing—as much as possible.
  • Values: I want to build a business that’s non-dogmatic, intellectually rigorous, and progressive.
  • Financial Needs: I want the business to earn enough that my personal needs are easily taken care of and choices feel easeful—as well as paying people toward the same end.

Now, I can start to solve for other variables.

I’m going to take a look at my business model, for instance, and consider the options that allow me to do the type of work I want, align with my values, and meet my financial needs:

  • I could do high-end 1:1 business coaching (high profit margin makes room for the work I really love).
  • I could build digital products we sell at volume (financial model is directly tied to the type of work I love to do).
  • I could build a community with monthly recurring revenue (stability + engaged audience = getting to focus on the work I love).

To move forward, I set the value of the business model variable as one of those options. It’s not set in stone, of course! It just makes it easier to figure out the rest of the equation. If I don’t love what I come up with, I’ll circle back and assign a different value to that variable.

So let’s say I choose the 1:1 business coaching value.

Now I might want to look at the offer I want to build the business around.

When I’m designing a business, I’m always looking for just one offer to account for 80% or more of the revenue of the business. I’m not opposed to multiple revenue streams. But I want to make sure the business is anchored in something that matches what I really want instead of trying to piece it together.

At this phase, I avoid complications like the plague (or, like covid?).

So what can I sell in a 1:1 business coaching model that gives me the ability to do the work I really want to do, align with my values, and meet my financial needs?

Well, in order to do as much of the type of work that’s important to me, I’d need to keep business coaching clients to a minimum. Maybe 4? And let’s say that my financial need is somewhere around $20k per month. That would mean those 4 clients need to pay $5k per month. Now, I can look at how I would structure the offer to meet that price point, as well as the type of client who easily sees the value in investing $5k per month for coaching.

Cool! This is totally possible.

From there, I might consider the marketing and sales strategies I need to make that model happen.

And I would use my personal variable to filter through the options. For instance, networking would be a really great way to market & sell this kind of option. But that would take me away from the type of work I want to do most and so that wouldn’t be a good option for me.

Instead, I could look for ways to get the content I’m creating in front of more people who are similar to the kind of client I’m looking to work with. That might look like advertising, podcast interviews, or guest posting.

As I said, I’d go through this process several times, assigning different values to a variety of variables until I come up with an “equation” that I really love.

I might even decide to try starting with a different business variable as I look for creative ways to design my business. I might start with a particular form of marketing I really like (like podcasting or a newsletter) and then choose a business model & offer based on that. Or, I might start with a particular system we have nailed down and reimagine the business model through that lens.

Always, though, I’m returning to the personal variables as the main focal point for my choices.

If I miss the mark on what I really want for my business, I can’t make it up with any amount of trendy, profitable, seamless, or automated that makes up for missing the mark on what I really want from my business. And when I’m focused on what I truly want from my business, I can easily ignore the goals being sold to me that are not my own and embrace the outcomes I’m committed to achieving!

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

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