One of the most important steps in designing a differentiated business is tightly clarifying your what, your how, and your why. And, in my 25 years as a serial entrepreneur and my last 5 years building, launching, and scaling 60+ consumer brands, I can tell you that it's a step that gets missed all the time.
(Heck, it gets skipped over by 8-9 figure brands regularly as well, so don't feel like you're behind the 8 ball if you're early stage and don't have this situation super clear in your head yet.)
So here's the challenge. I want you to tell me in a single sentence:
Let's get into the process on how we do this.
- Planning a mini business design workshop
- Doing a mini business design workshop
- Consolidating the learnings from your mini business design workshop
Planning a Mini Business Design Workshop
One of the simplest ways to start designing this critical piece of the business is to put together a workshop. This won't be a full business design workshop, but it'll get you to the heart of what you need.
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Now, I get it. You're early stage: who the heck is going to do this with you? Here's the thing:
- It's talk time. You should be sharing your business idea with others. Unless you have some insanely secret IP that hasn't been protected yet (and even then I'd argue that hiding your idea makes it smaller), there is literally no need for the gatekeep. I cannot state this enough: Sharing your ideas makes them bigger. (Bonus: It also creates an immediate source of accountability.)
- Starting is fun. The people in your life aren't just vaguely interested in you - they like LIKE like you. Whether you're talking former colleagues, friends and family, people in your target audience, or potential investors, chances are the people in your life will be excited to be a part of getting something off the ground - even if it's not their own thing.
- You can workshop solo. In an ideal world, you're getting more heads into the mix on the front end, even simply to clarify the new business project in your own head, you're gonna need to workshop it. So if you have to play multiple roles in your own workshop, so be it. Put on your creative helmet, your ops helmet, your customer helmet, your vendor helmet, your finance helmet, your retail helmet, your marketing helmet... you hear where I'm going.
Once you've put together the troop you'd like to lead the charge in helping to stage out your single statement, it's time to choose a location.
Personally, I like to do these kinds of things in an open space with big walls ready for post-its. You're going to book probably 3 hours. You need an area for what, how, and why (obvi), but also allow space for your who and your competitive set, as these will certainly come up as well, and will act as inputs to each area.
Doing a Mini Business Design Workshop
When we talk about the what, we want to know the functional benefit. Sometimes we call it a product message.
When workshopping the What segment of your what/how/why, here are some of the questions you can ask your crew and yourself. (Go nuts, expand away! This is just a starting point.)
- What exactly am I selling, on a pure product basis?
- How would I describe my product in the shortest possible number of words (target: 1-2)?
- Am I selling a single product in a few variants, or a variety of products?
- What's the frequency at which I add new products to the mix?
- What's the frequency at which I add new variants to the mix?
- Is there a way to bundle SKUs or SKU variants as packages?
- Are there upsell opportunities in terms of smaller products that I could easily add that I don't currently sell?
- Is there seasonality to my product assortment?
- What other products might fall into my SKU portfolio in the next couple of years?
- Can I think about the product mix I have right now as collections?
- Are there different ways to assort the collections of product that might cause a customer to think about them differently?
- What functional products are other companies in my general category selling?
- How are other companies in my general category assorting their products?
- Is there a higher level category that I play within that I'm a subcategory of?
- What other products do those higher level category companies sell?
When we talk about the how, we want to know about the differentiators - whether operational or functional. Ultimately, what is the innovation you're bringing to market? I like to review a litany of questions here in a matrix format - typically I'm referencing against all of my whats, as well as considering them against a competitive map for both the direct competition as well as the higher category-level competitors.
You want to go deep here, because differentiation is paramount to effective selling. Get going with these questions.
- Looking at the wide range of whats that I defined, how am I doing each of these differently than my competitors?
- Am I fundamentally creating a product differently, such as in materials or ingredients?
- Am I delivering the product differently, such as same day turnaround?
- Am I operationally different than my competitors, such as hand-making components or having a patented technology?
- Does my business target a different type of customer than most of my competitors, such as targeting boomers with something typically directed at GenZ?
- Am I pricing my product differently than most in my category, such as delivering a luxury solution in a category that is highly commoditized?
- Do I have a unique revenue model that you don't typically see in my category?
- Am I delivering into sales channels that are relatively unique for my category?
- Do I have partnerships or ambassadors that have designed deep credibility into my business that my competitors don't necessarily have?
When we talk about the why, we want to know about the value prop, the ultimate benefit - the reason your customer cares. To do this, I really look at the board of post-it differentiators we were able to map out, and consider why on earth a customer would care about that.
By the time you get to this component of your workshop, you've probably had a lot of additional thoughts about your who come up. Connect to your empathetic side and try to get into the head of the person you've imagined, to get you started. Speak from their voice, not yours.
- Does it save me time? What does that mean to me?
- Does it save me money? What does that mean to me?
- Does it save me hassle? What does that mean to me?
- Does it deliver convenience? What does that mean to me?
- Is it a superior product experience? What does that mean to me?
- Does it align with my values? What does that mean to me?
- Is it easier to use? What does that mean to me?
- Is it giving me something I've never had access to? What does that mean to me?
Consolidating Your Mini Business Design Workshop Learnings
When you complete the workshop, you're going to want to synthesize your ideas into a deck. I like to take a bajillion post its home with me and get all my whats on one page, all my hows on another, and my whys on a third. The process of synthesizing all the intel you've gathered can be tricky - but that's the strategic thinking of it!
Your goal is to come up first with three single short statements that encapsulate the business: a what statement, a how statement, and a why statement. Once you feel good about those, the hardest part comes: consolidating the most critical words in those three statements into one.
I personally like to colour code them in 3 colours (one each for what, how, and why). You can see in this example, we have the what in yellow, the how in blue, and the why in pink. This is the level of concise we're talking.
All of this to say: it isn't easy designing out a clear, differentiated what // how // why - and it's rare that what you land on early stage is where you end up years down the road. But doing this work will help you stage out a refined way of thinking about the business - and get you closer to a well thought out launch and scale.
Do a Business Design Workshop With Us