As the co-founder of a public benefit corporation that uses its powers for good and has officially written giving back to the community into our corporate bylaws, you could say that I think about purpose a lot. I think about it in relation to our own company, ZenBusiness, and also in relation to the companies being founded by incredible entrepreneurs all across the country whose businesses we help start, run, and grow.
I believe that weaving a powerful and authentic purpose into your business is more important today than ever before, as the corporate world experiences revolutions in technology, accountability, and the workplace against a backdrop of pandemic and war. People are more and more concerned with what’s going on in the world and are increasingly putting their money behind their values, which makes aligning your business with a higher purpose a great way to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Having a clear north star will build trust in your brand and loyalty among your customers, who will equate buying your product or service as supporting something bigger than your company, giving them a greater sense of agency. It can also engage and motivate your employees, and improve retention and recruiting numbers.
Step One: Identify a purpose that flows from your values
So what’s the best way to go about it, especially for new entrepreneurs? First, you want to identify the values and goals your company cares about the most, and use those to define your overall company purpose. Keep it simple and avoid being wordy—everyone will need to be able to understand it quickly. Modern consumers and employees are savvy at sensing when you say you care about something that you only care about superficially, so your purpose must absolutely be authentic and avoid latching onto an idea simply because it may be popular at the time. In your discussions, be sure to include team members from across the company, preferably with diverse backgrounds, and even potential or current customers. Ground your discussion in data through surveys and research, and ask your potential customers about their pain points so that you know what you are trying to solve and why. Once that’s mapped out, you can figure out how to best service your customers and achieve your goals within your overall purpose.
Step Two: Integrate your purpose throughout the business
Once you’ve identified your reason for being, your next priority is to make sure everyone in your company lives and breathes it every day. As I mentioned earlier, our approach at ZenBusiness was to build our purpose—to change the world by helping entrepreneurs and small businesses grow—into our charter and become a public benefit corporation that works for the public good. By centering our purpose in our charter, our purpose naturally flows into everything we do. In fact, you could say that we are forced to think about our why on an ongoing basis. In this way, our purpose contributes to our culture and brings our values—empathy, innovation, impact, and self-care—to life. It’s a point of pride for us that job candidates consistently tell us that they are attracted to and energized by our do-good purpose.
Step Three: Build your purpose into your performance
Of course, ours is not the only approach, and there are several strategies for incorporating your purpose throughout your company. To start with, you will want to share your reason for being with all your employees and make sure they understand it—more than once. When employees are focused on one immediate task followed by another, it’s easy to forget the deeper why. So be sure to regularly remind everyone of your purpose and why it’s important. One failsafe way to do this is to set specific metrics to track how your company and employees are performing against your purpose, and to trickle those metrics into performance reviews. Practicing your purpose in your daily work keeps it alive and strong. At ZenBusiness, if a customer is experiencing a problem, our teams will gladly set aside however long it takes to help them, even if that means an impromptu two-hour phone call to come up with a solution.
As your company moves forward, be mindful not to drift away from your north star. Perform regular check-ins to make sure your purpose is still in alignment with what you’re doing as an organization. Before launching any new product, ask yourself whether or not it aligns to your purpose and do market research. Conduct customer surveys around existing products and use Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to see how likely customers are to recommend your services. Most importantly, be consistent in how you discuss your purpose both internally and externally to emphasize and inspire universal support.