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Based on the fact that the purpose of business is to provide value, I set out on an internet quest to find the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) posted by businesses. I wanted to ensure I understood and am addressing the critical concerns and not merely what I find interesting and important. I’ll continue that frustrating quest another day. Instead of finding a core set of questions, I found all manner of irrelevant FAQ lists as well as descriptions on how to create the ultimate FAQ list. Using variations of search terms such as “most common business concerns” I got closer to what I was looking for, by finding articles/papers/posts such as the following that promised the answer[1]:

  • The ‘8 Great’ Challenges Every Business Faces (And How To Master Them All), forbes.com.
    • Contents: Integrity; Cash, Borrowing, and Resource Management; Increased selection and competition; Marketing and Customer Loyalty; Uncertainty; Regulation; Problem Solving and Risk Management; Finding the right staff.
  • 8 Common Business Problems Every Business Faces (Solving Common Business Problems), TonyRobbins.com.
    • Contents: You don’t know your purpose; You don’t have a strong brand identity; You’re not providing value; You haven’t planned ahead; You don’t have an exit strategy; You won’t ask for help; You’re controlled by uncertainty and fear; You’re not harnessing the power of technology.
  • The 33 Biggest Business Challenges Growing Companies Face, Mario Peshev.
    • Contents: 1. Business Strategy – Designing Systems and Processes, Lack of Direction/Vision, Coping With Market Competition, Keeping Up With Market Transformations, Reducing Dependencies On The Founding Team, Balancing Quality And Growth, Leveraging Consultants and Business Advisors. 2. Marketing – Building Effective Marketing Strategies, Properly Allocating Marketing Resources, Measuring Marketing Initiatives, Building a Corporate Brand, Relying On Marketing For Lead Generation. 3. Recruitment – Hiring New Employees, Founding New Departments, Retaining Top Talent, Embracing Diversity At Work, Nurturing a Thriving Company Culture. 4. Management – Time Management, Working ON The Business, Communication, Motivating Employees, Strategic Leadership. 5. Sales – Landing New Business, Retaining Customers (Lifetime Value), Maximizing Word of Mouth, Identifying New Sales Channels, Handling Pricing Negotiations, Building Strategic Partnerships & Networking. 6. Technology – Solving Productivity Problems, Automating Business Processes, Deploying Technology For Innovation, Training Staff At Large, Keeping Up to Speed With Innovations.
  • 5 Biggest Challenges Facing Your Small Business, Investopedia.com.
    • Contents: Client Dependence, Money Management, Fatigue, Founder Dependence, Balancing Quality and Growth, The Bottom Line.
  • 6 Business Challenges Every Small Business Struggles With (And How to Fix Them), Hubspot.com.
    • Contents: Finding Customers, Hiring Talented People, Spreading Brand Awareness, Building an Email List, Lead Generation, Balancing Quality and Growth.

Except for Tony Robbins et al., with their third listed problem, You’re not providing value, and Hubspot, with their first listed problem, Finding Customers, none of the other providers came close to the principle purpose of business, and the subsequent theme for this post. But even those two instances did not discuss the topic adequately.

Let me be completely blunt because rain-dancing around the topic for answers without asking the right questions like the papers above isn’t acceptable. The purpose of business is to provide value in the form of a solution (product, service, and experiences). It is to provide a solution of value to prospective customers who want the benefits that the solution offers. For businesses, that means providing solutions to customers who recognise, appreciate, and who are prepared to pay for that value. The solution you are offering to prospective customers must be so valuable, that they are prepared to exchange their money for that solution, something that at the time of the transaction, they value less than your solution. A point to be aware of here is that it is the customer who defines what is valuable to them, not the business.

The word value appeared many times in that last paragraph, as I want to etch the point into your brain. The purpose of businesses and customers is not to engage in reciprocal favour-giving and back-slapping. Businesses provide value in the form of solutions, customers exchange money for those solutions, and then customers derive value from those solutions. Defining and developing a valuable solution worth paying for is a component of developing a viable, sustainable, and scalable Business Model – a system to exchange value between a business and its customers.

The titles of the above papers either explicitly state or infer that they have provided the definitive list. I accept that each provides an interesting if not valuable contribution to the field of business problems, but none come close to delivering such a list, and each list is different. How can there possibly be different authoritative lists? What is the motivation behind providing seemingly random lists? Is it negligence, idiosyncratic focus, publish or perish incentives, or is it deliberate obfuscation in an attempt to create interest, panic, and then dependency? The all too common phenomena of contradictory authoritative lists is the reason I stopped the list above at five.

I claim that in any communication, the assumptions, or as I prefer, the dependencies on which the communication is based, must be made explicit, something all the papers above have omitted. For communication to be efficient and effective,  baseline conditions and dependencies cannot be left implicit and or assumed. With many topics of concern, such as business, there is too much at stake to leave the dependencies unstated. Purpose, strategy, and integrity from above have little relevance if a business is not creating and offering solutions that prospective customers find valuable and for which they will pay.

Once a business has developed a solution, then I accept that the papers above and many others begin to become relevant and valuable. But then, as previously indicated, I have an issue with the definitive list tactic.

I make another claim – it is possible to create a single list that will apply to all businesses, but it won’t have five, six, eight, or even 33 items; it will likely have a millionty-one. But each item will vary in importance for any specific business on a continuum ranging from zero (not applicable) to ten (critically important). Ranking the items in this way would mercifully reduce the number to something more useful and manageable. In contrast, words almost fail me when I find lists such as those above with attention-grabbing ‘solve all your problems in n-steps’ headlines. Such headlines are brain-candy. We can’t help but be attracted to and distracted by them. It is natural to be enticed and then hooked by simplistic and ubiquitous answers to tough questions. And that is another point, the authors of papers such as the above are counting on your vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities such as ignorance, gullibility, desperation, as well as the unrealistic expectation of finding single and simple answers to what at times are intractable complex problems. I apologise for using the same technique to get you to read this post, but I was being flippant to make a point. In contrast and in my defence, I did, however, provide a real and valuable nugget of wisdom and made that nugget available in the title.

The rapid, some say accelerating, rate of change, both economic and technological, can not only leave us bewildered, confused, and grasping for simplistic answers, but it also likely puts an expiry date on the advice provided. Or at least that should be our working concern – was the advice ever valid and if so in which context, is the advice offered past its use-by date, is it mostly valid, or is it timeless? My approach is to start with the invariant fundamentals, and then contemplate contextual and temporal factors when needed. The papers above don’t address the fundamentals, the foundations of business. All the integrity (forbes.com) and belief (TonyRobbins.com) you can muster isn’t going to help you if you haven’t got a solution prospective customers value and for which they are prepared to pay.

In summary, valuable is the one word that describes the foundational requirement of every business. You need to provide a solution that is valuable to your prospective customers. To learn more about solutions, read this post regarding what is valuable to customers – Jobs To Be Done. And to help you develop your Business Model, see this post – The 1-Page Business Model.

There’s a great deal to take on board when starting, scaling, and running a business. The above rant doesn’t even scratch the surface of all that you need to learn (sorry, but that’s an inconvenient fact), but it does lay out the invariant foundation on which to build everything else.

If you think you need some advice or help, then please, reach out for a no-obligation conversation to discuss if there’s anything I can do and if a fair exchange of value is achievable.


9 July 2020

[1] Please note, the selection are the first five, in the order they appeared on 8 July 2020 using Google.