More on Web Design and the Meaning of Life

John Tabita

In my previous post in this topic, I talked about author and speaker Simon Sinek’s philosophy on why leaders like Apple, the Wright Brothers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were able to inspire those around them. He says that truly inspirational leaders start with why they do it, not what they do. Uninspiring companies focus on “what” they do: I build websites … I help companies get top search engine results … I help businesses leverage social media. Blah, blah, blah …

Okay. But why do you do it?

If your answer was “to make money” or “to earn a living,” there’s nothing wrong with that. But making money is a result, not a reason.

This has got me thinking about my particular “why.” Why am I so compassionate about people who would risk all to start a business? Why don’t I buy into popular thinking that believes people who own businesses are mostly rich, greedy, and immoral?

When I was six years old, my dad and his brother went into business together. And I don’t mean they paid $60 to become Amway distributors. I’m talking about the “take-out-a-second-mortgage-on-your-house-and-send-your-wife-back-to-work” type of business. I witnessed first-hand how difficult starting and running a business can be. Although they were successful overall and eventually had more than 20 employees, we always seemed to struggle. So I vowed never to go into business for myself.

Anyway, that didn’t really work out, because later I decided to start a web development business of my own, with two partners. Over the years, I’ve met many small business owners like my dad and uncle who risked everything to build a dream, yet struggle with growing that business to its fullest potential.

Most small business owners fall on their face when it comes to marketing and advertising. That’s understandable. Most of them decided to start a business because they had a product or technical skill they thought was marketable, and not because they knew anything about marketing.

Author, speaker Guy Kawasaki, owner of venture capitalist firm Garage Technology Ventures, gives this advice to budding entrepreneurs: Before you can make money, you have to make meaning. He says there are three ways to do so:

Increase the Quality of Life

My dad went into business to increase the quality of his family’s life. (And he did.) I enjoy helping small business owners do the same, by helping them successfully market their business. It’s the same reason I enjoy training sales people.

Right a Wrong

As I write this, the U.S. economy struggles to pull itself out of a recession. Many businesses didn’t make it. I think that’s wrong—plain and simple. I want to help right that wrong, whenever I can.

Prevent the End of Something Good

When I meet men and women like my dad who have risked all to start a business, I cannot help but hold them in high regard. When I see them struggle, I want to prevent the collapse of their hopes, dreams and desires that caused them to start that business in the first place.

I read a great definition of capitalism:

A system in which there are winners and losers, in which someone with a brilliant idea gets rich, while most of us get by.

It’s not just about having “a brilliant idea.” Anyone willing to take the risk, work hard, and has the ingenuity and creatively to succeed despite the odds is entitled to the rewards of that success. That may mean more money, having the freedom to work when and where you like, or something completely different. You get to define “success” however you like.

Most of what I write is about marketing your business, earning more money, and gaining more freedom. But if there’s no meaning behind it, if you don’t know why you do it, then it’s mostly pointless, isn’t it?

So how are you going to make meaning?

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  • http://www.brothercake.com/ James Edwards

    “Anyone willing to take the risk, work hard, and has the ingenuity and creatively to succeed despite the odds is entitled to the rewards of that success.”

    Does that include drug dealers?

    • Ritesh Reddy

      Actually it does! Haven’t you notice that they seem to be the most successful entrepreneurs? For starters, they provide a product that is always in demand and the profits seem to outweigh the liabilities and risks. I’m in now way recommending the industry or the position but I am intrigued as to what it might be like to design a website for one such.

      • Sam Halcrow

        Drug dealers sell a product that is extremely addictive. It is in demand because people become hooked on the product!

        They are not entrepreneurs, they do not create new markets and products, they are the total opposite of what I consider an entrepreneur to be.

        Designing a website for such a product is simple. There would be no marketing and no design either! The name of the product, the price and a contact number. And the business would succeed if all legalities etc. were ignored.

    • Jen

      By drug dealers you mean ‘people who do bad things’. I’m yet to come across someone who is very successful in business who hasn’t screwed other people over on the way up.

      • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.blogspot.com/ John Tabita

        Growing up in a family business gave me a different perspective. I’ve seen employees “screw over” their employers just as often. Just off the top of my head, I can think of three occasions when we caught employees stealing.

        One employee came in on a Monday, claiming he’d gotten injured at work. But in the back, he bragged to his co-workers how he really got hurt playing football over the weekend, and that he was planning to file a worker’s comp claim against us and get a settlement (which he eventually did, to the tune of $40,000). But since he had supposed gang ties, no one would step forward to testify to what they’d heard him say.

        I have a hard time when I hear blanket statements like, “I’m yet to come across someone who is very successful in business who hasn’t screwed other people over on the way up,” because it stereotypes people. If you replaced “someone who is very successful in business” with any ethnic group, you’d be a labeled racist. So why is okay to do the same with another group of people?

      • AnilG

        Jen, that sounds like a sadly negative perspective you’ve got there. We all encounter situations where we can opt to benefit ourselves from unethical behaviour, but it the majority of businesses are successful because they do something useful. At least this is broadly true in the Christian democracies where corruption has not got a hold of the culture like it has across Africa and Asia.

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.blogspot.com/ John Tabita

      “Does that include drug dealers?”

      Absolutely! And the rewards of their success is generally a prison sentence or a violent death (or both).

      Like I tell my kids, everything we do has a consequence. Wise choices … good consequences. Poor choices … bad consequences.

  • Todor Grudev

    Well, if all people think like this there will be no employee :)

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.blogspot.com/ John Tabita

      On the contrary. If all people thought like this, then we’d align ourselves with companies and leaders who shared our values.

      • mew da vinci

        in the reality, smart people love the sureness, and bussinessman love the challenge. i don’t mean to said bussinessman is not smart at all. Usually, Grade A student works for Grade B student. Grade B student works for Grade C. Grade C student works for Grade D. Grade D student works for Grade E. And almost all of Grade E student is a bussinessman. :p
        that’s Bong Chandra said.

  • David

    This article is excellent. I’ve felt this way about web design and never realized it. I have always had a deep seeded need to help people and web design has become the best way I can. It’s kind of like watching your kids wake up on Christmas and open presents. It’s just as exciting to see a client light up when they are truly pleased with the results.

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.blogspot.com/ John Tabita

      “ It’s kind of like watching your kids wake up on Christmas and open presents.”

      I like your analogy. I spoke with someone recently who sells high-end heating and cooling appliances to homeowners. After talking about sales for about an hour, the bottom line was that he loves to serve people. He didn’t use your exact words, but his feeling of satisfaction comes from seeing that his customers are are truly pleased with the results.

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ James Edwards

    When I mention drug dealers, I am indeed making a parable with free enterprise and entrepreneurism. I don’t consider them bad people, but that’s not the point anyway.

    Drug dealers take huge risks in order to provide for a market demand. They do so because the potential profits are equally huge. The drug industry may be a corrupt and violent one, but that’s only because the product is illegal.

    If that were to change, and the products became legal, we’d end up with a market very much like the alcohol or tobacco market. Heavily regulated, but nonetheless governed by brand, advertising, product loyalty, company reputation — all of those things would come into play, even more so than they do now (and don’t think these things don’t exist in drug markets, because they totally do; you have to place exceptional trust in your supplier when dealing in an entirely unregulated market).

    But the point I was really trying to raise, in my own slapdash way, was that drug markets show us a side of capitalism without the bells and whistles. No rules, no regulation, no government control — it’s exactly what *all* markets would be like if there were no regulation. And it shows us just what a gulf there is between the notion of free-market economics, and the reality. We don’t really have free markets, nor could we ever have, because too many people are greedy and selfish.

    Adam Smith himself would, I’m sure, agree, that free-market forces can only work properly when markets are truly free. But markets can never be free.

    • Ritesh Reddy

      Well said!

    • Buj

      I think you’ll find Adam Smith took a step back after seeing what the results of a ‘free market’ looked like in Glasgow (on the back of slave trading and tobacco in the colonies), and ended up shocked to see what his theory led to in practical terms.

      Don’t quote me on it – I’m remembering this from a BBC doco I saw some months ago while in living in Scotland for a few months – as always, if you want the truth, don’t just trust what you read on a forum post, go and look it up for yourself!

  • http://ondabox.com ONDABOX

    You’re article was well put (we hope that it has enlightened many of those who want to “start a business”), because in reality it’s not all about the money. Money is nice to have, but you should also enjoy what you do. If you don’t how will you ever make it through all the tough times. Our company, ONDABOX, started off as a small partnership and now it has blossomed, we have clients all over the U.S. Times were hard at first but it took perseverance and determination to build this business. Being your own boss is great too!!!