Steve Smallman, CEO and co-founder, challenges us with a unique question: “Are you in business to make money or are you making money to stay in business?” We all have the opportunity to engage in business for good. 

Say what???

Money is ok. Ok, it’s pretty nice. 100% of the time I would choose more money over less money, all other important factors being equal. But statistical research has revealed time and again that money is a poor motivator for performance and job satisfaction.

Sure, investors and shareholders need to see their value increasing. But we’ve gotten it wrong if we think that the only reason a business exists is to increase shareholder value, and that value equals profit. Businesses should exist to make people’s lives better.

Businesses should exist to make people’s lives better.

I learned this from a friend, Danny O’Brian, and it really freed me up.

Try this mantra on for size and see if it doesn’t ultimately improve profits as well.

We’re not in business to make money. We make money so we can stay in business – and keep doing the business of life: flourishing, loving, using our gifts, and enjoying the relationships that are built around the work we do.

As a small business owner, I’m more excited about creating the scenarios that allow life to flourish than I am about making money. That could prove to be the reason I never become super wealthy. (Cue the Jerry Maguire music–this is where I’ll lose some people). But here’s the rub: I understand that to be in business, change lives, build community–we must be profitable. If we’re not, everyone goes home and has to find something else to do. Duh. I get it. If we aren’t profitable–very profitable–we can’t sustain and multiply the goodness that we’ve been able to bring to both clients and employees. Add other stakeholders to the list, families and their networks, literal shareholders in larger businesses and it becomes clear that we have a responsibility to provide and multiply value to each of those constituencies.

So how do you define value? Perhaps this is where many businesses lose their way. If value is only defined as profit, larger life benefits lose out in a way that I would argue, eventually erode a business’s sustainability and profitability.

If value is only defined as profit, larger life benefits lose out in a way that I would argue, eventually erode a business’s sustainability and profitability.

So, in my case, getting to do exciting brand and creative work at Fifteen4 with people I love for clients we care deeply about, depends on our ability to operate a profitable business. It can be a fragile ecosystem where the intrinsic values that define our lives must do a dance with the very practical realities of charging the right kind of money for our services, delivering great work and customer experience, and then meeting payroll and other obligations so we can keep it all going.

Whether you’re a tenured entrepreneur or a bootstrapping startup; whether you’re a business owner or valued team player, ask yourself what you want to take away from your career or business.

Where is it going for you?

Don’t assume the future will turn out a whole lot better than what you’re practicing for right now. Meaning, while we all have to pay some dues to get somewhere, you should start living the life you hope for and building the relationships you want to keep, doing the work you love – right now.

Find what’s valuable to you and start doing it. Figure out the way you want to work and start working that way. Business owners, you’re making money, so you can be in business, so that you can provide your employees and your customers with something great – something that makes life better.

That’s why I’m in business.

In memoriam

This week many of us lost a man who showed us a life well lived. Pete Albert finally finished a courageous battle with cancer and we’ll celebrate his life on Friday. Pete’s life intersected mine at several key milestones which changed my trajectory. The first came when I was in high school. Decades later in 2004, Fifteen4’s first major contract came through my relationship with Pete and his willingness to connect me with a life-changing opportunity. He lived a life of generosity and mercy, but also crazy gusto and inspiration. Today as I remember him my heart is with Fran, Sam and Ben, along with Scot, Joan and a host of others who did life with Pete. What a treasure.

Steve Smallman

Steve Smallman

Founder & CEO

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