Ask WHY a lot more than HOW.
Here are six questions, in the order you should ask them, that will help you start, grow and build your business. The most important ones are the ones you ask least often.
90% of the answer is asking the right question. Are you asking the right questions? In the right order?
Successful business owners ask Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, much differently than reporters use them. TIMING (asking at the right stages) is very important, and the FOCUS of the question is, too.
Here’s the order in which you should ask them as you start, grow and build your business:
WHY – the most important, least asked question (in both the long and short term). Why are you doing this? What is the end game? If you don’t know why you are in business (it’s not the money, it’s never the money), or why you are buying that copier (“it’s shiny” is the wrong answer) you are done from the start. Everything starts and ends with WHY. Ask it EVERY TIME you ask one of the other questions if you want to be successful.
WHAT – the favorite question of the “craftsperson” – the easiest question to get lost in. We’re taught to ask this question first – “What am I selling?”. If you answer WHY first, you’re much more likely to come up with the right WHAT to sell. Know WHY, then ask WHAT.
WHO – Once you know WHY you are in business, and WHAT you are selling,
a) WHO is your target market (hint: it’s not everyone who can fog a mirror)?
b) WHO will work with you? (they don’t have to all be employees).
c) WHO will you buy supplies from?
The best answer to all of these is whoever will provide the lowest maintenance, highest profit culture for you. Ask WHO long before you actually need any of these people – it’s a culture question and if you don’t have a great grasp on WHO before you need them, you’ll hire for skills. Never hire for skills, only for culture.
WHERE – Has multiple long-term and short-term uses, but is rarely used well. Answer it after WHY, WHAT and WHO.
a) “Location” WHERE – used to get a lease
b) “Marketing” WHERE – Know WHO, than ask WHERE to find them? Make it about a) demographics, b) associations, c) strategic alliances, d) cohort groups (similar demographics). The best “Marketing WHERE”? – WHERE do most of your future clients come from? Invest there!
c) “Direction” WHERE – closely related to “WHY” (knowing WHY informs WHERE you are going. Knowing WHERE you are going only helps if you put a date on WHEN you will be there. WHERE ARE YOU GOING?? (WHY?) Extremely Important.
d) “Sane Assessment” WHERE – Do you know clearly where you are right now? a) Strengths/Challenges b) decision-making skills c) leadership style d) business strengths/challenges (market, product, revenue, profit, cashflow).
WHEN – one of the least asked, best questions. We don’t like WHEN because it holds us accountable to do something, which is why we should fall in love with it. Just like with WHY, ask WHEN every time you ask another question, and employ the Three-Step Decision-Making Process:
a) Make a decision (that is not a decision yet)
b) Put a date on it (when)
c) Go public – declare the date and ask someone to support you getting there.
HOW – the worst, most asked question in business planning. HOW is a buzz-kill; it focuses on the fear of the POSSIBLE, not the PROBABLE. It will uncover 127 things that COULD go wrong (possible) without telling you which four of the 127 WILL actually go wrong (probable). It also gets us involved in all kinds of nonsensical preventative planning for things that will never happen while we ignore the four things that are already a problem. HOW is paralyzing unless it is always used in conjunction with MOVEMENT and the other five questions. There are two uses of HOW, one bad, one good:
a) “Long-term HOW” – you should almost never use HOW to answer a long-term question, such as “How do we get all the way from where we are to where we want to be three years from now?” That’s fortune telling and voodoo. Business planners love this question, but no question is of lower value than “long-term HOW”.
b) “Short-term HOW” – this is actually a great question – “How do I get from where I am to the next step?”, because you are asking it about current realities that actually need a HOW to solve them. Use HOW for short-term implementation, not for long-range planning.
WHY, then WHEN; rarely HOW.
Ask WHY first. Always. Then get used to asking WHY and WHEN with every one of the other questions. Only ask HOW when addressing the next few steps. Never ask it about the distant future.
If you get in the habit of asking WHY and WHEN with every question, and asking HOW only about the next few steps, you’re much less likely to run into problems, and much more likely to build a great business.
Which one of these questions do you need to focus on right now in order to build your business? WHY? And WHEN will you act on it?