Question: I was asked recently to explain why my company does what it does. The answer I gave was somewhat superficial but got me to thinking about this question. How would you answer if asked, “why?”

Answer: A friend of mine loaned me a terrific book by Simon Sinek called Start With Why. Sinek’s premise is that the leaders of too many companies don’t have a real clear idea why their companies exist. Of course they’ll say that the WHY is to provide outstanding customer service or to deliver great value to their shareholders. But how inspiring is that? He cites companies like Apple and Southwest Airlines that built their business around the WHY.

Customers can be inspired to buy a product. Employees can be inspired to work for a company. In both cases the source of this inspiration is a genuine understanding of WHY. Many companies stress the WHAT or even the HOW, but not the WHY. An excellent example of a company that epitomizes the WHY is TOMS Shoes. TOMS is a phenomenal success story about Blake Mycoskie, a young entrepreneur who visited Argentina and liked the simple shoes he saw so much that he made a deal with local craftsmen to make a supply of them in a variety of colors and styles. Then he brought them to the United States and sold them. Sounds good, right? But the most important part of the story is the WHY. Mycoskie’s business plan from the start in 2006 was to donate a pair of shoes to a poor child in another country for every pair of shoes that was sold. Through 2012, TOMS has given away more than one million pairs of shoes.

People who buy shoes from TOMS like the design, simplicity and the reasonable cost. But there are many shoe companies that sell shoes that are attractively designed, simple and reasonably priced. The difference-maker for TOMS’ customers is the WHY – the fact that a for-profit company is actually willing to give away its product to children in need, and at the same ratio as what it sells.

Whether you own your own business, or are an aspiring entrepreneur working for someone else, see if you can answer the WHY question. Sinek says that the WHY is just a belief. The HOW is the action you take to realize that belief. And the WHAT is the result of those actions – everything you say and do; your products, services, marketing, PR, culture and whom you hire.

When we are able to answer the WHY question about our businesses and even ourselves; our customers, employees and everyone with whom we associate will be more inspired to become enthusiastic advocates for us.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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