You have to understand what you do and who you are if you are going to be able to set your business apart from its competition. The exercise is something like looking at a mirror. Gather your team together, if you have a team ready, because this makes for a good discussion. Ask some of these questions: MIrror

  • What do we like to do? How are we different? What is there about us that sets us apart? What excites us? What are we good at?
  • What do we do that other people (or companies) want to have done? What do we like to do that people want to pay for? What do we like to do that we do better or differently from others who do it?
  • What value can we add? What’s missing? How can we do something better than what’s now available? What can we see about the future that others can’t see?
  • Where can we give value that isn’t there right now?

Presumably, in whatever business you have or whatever business you’re starting, you do something you want to do and believe in. Your team members have to want to do it and believe in it too. That restaurant that is somebody’s lifetime dream, or skiing equipment, or a newsletter … success isn’t based on the idea, it is based on how hard you’ve worked at it, how much value you deliver.

In the Art of the Start, Guy Kawasaki offers a list of ways to generate new business ideas. Kawasaki talks about getting going, about ideas being generated by impulses like “I want one” and “I can do this better” or “My employer wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do this.” There too, it doesn’t come out of the blue, it starts with you.

In Growing a Business, Paul Hawken shows how a business grows naturally out of the owners and founders doing something they want to do, filling a need they believe should be filled. I recommend reading that book also.

To be fair, there are exceptions. Franchise businesses, for example, when they work, are a business formula you pay for and implement, while being guided and taken by the hand every step of the way. Being a McDonald’s franchisee means you’re a millionaire; it doesn’t mean you like eating or preparing what McDonald’s restaurants serve. You buy a business to run. The franchisor tells you how to run it. If it isn’t a set formula and if the franchisor doesn’t give you all you need to know, then it’s a bad deal.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.