Change Catalyst with Shanna Mann: Strategy & Support for Sane Self-Employment

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3 Times When You Don’t Have To Answer The Four Questions (and 1 Where You Do)

  1. Your Emotions Have Something to Tell You
  2. My Art Is My Business– And Now Both Are Stuck!
  3. Advice for First-Time Entrepreneurs
  4. Q&A: How Much is Too Much for Professional Development?
  5. Advice for People ‘Living the Dream’
  6. How Do I Make Good Decisions about Investing In My Business?
  7. The Non-Skeevy Way For Introverts To Make “Friends” Online
  8. “How do I get to know people without feeling competitive?”
  9. “I need to charge more. Is this a valid reason to raise my prices?”
  10. Q&A: The Fundamentals of Growing Your List
  11. Where Do I Spend Money on My Microbiz Until It’s Successful?
  12. Q&A: How Do I Know When I’m Making Enough Money To Hire Help?
  13. Q&A: When Will It All Hang Together?
  14. 3 Times When You Don’t Have To Answer The Four Questions (and 1 Where You Do)
  15. Help! A Client Called My Bluff! What Do I Do Now?

Last week, Abigail posted about the four questions you need to have an answer to in order for your business to succeed.

The post struck a nerve. I got a lot of comments and mail from people who were distressed that they didn’t know the answers and worried that they were doomed.


But there’s a difference between not knowing the answers, and being in the wrong business. It isn’t that you’re necessarily wrong. It’s that you can’t know if you’re wrong. You’re putting a lot of effort into something, and being able to answer the four question will help ensure that you’ll get the outcome you want.

On the other hand, not answering the four questions is not exactly a stake in the heart of your business. To that end, let me describe for you three situations where you have a reprieve to answer the four questions.


#1. You Just Started.

Back in the day, before you started a business, you were supposed to do a bunch of market research to ascertain there was a need for your Thing. You were supposed to figure out the four questions, and put them into a business plan.

That’s because businesses used to be expensive to start, and you had to get some capital from the bank to get rolling.

You can still write a business plan. But the fastest way to figure out if your Thing is valuable is to get out there and sell it. Real life market research. And eventually, you’ll be able to answer your four questions.

#2. You Didn’t Just Start, But Things Are Working Out Pretty Well.

It’s surprisingly hard to learn when things just work. You see things working out, and you can kind of hazard a guess as to why they’re working out, but until you can try a bunch of things, you can’t actually know. (This, in case you haven’t guessed, is why I take a laissez-faire attitude to the idea of failure. You learn WAY MORE when you’re failing.)

#3. You Have Another Form of Income And It’s Not Imperative That This Venture Succeed.

This is a variation of #2, actually. Some forms of business have a long lead time before you can know whether or not they’re going to grow to the point of sustainability. Art. Coaching. Podcasting. Writing books. These are what I think of as “long tail” business models. You’re looking at years of work before the effort pays off.

Because you’ve got to put in your years, I think that it’s more important that you get started than it is to answer your four questions. (The answers to the four questions aren’t static, by the way. They’re going to change over time.) Get started putting in your time, and you’ll figure out the answers by and by.

But Will I Fail?

Well, the current iteration of your business will most likely fail. It’s just a probability thing– the chance that you picked a sustainable business model on your first try is about as likely as picking the correct number of jelly beans in the jelly bean jar.

Abby’s post was right. If you’re not careful about building your business at the intersection of “what people want and need” and “what makes your heart sing,” sooner or later, you’re going to have to relocate.

And she phrased it in terms of failure and doom.

And the reason that I’m putting my spin on the same topic alongside of hers is to illustrate the reason that business advice differs.

Your Paradigm Is Subtly Expressed In How You Do Business

Abby and I agree on business matters about as much as is humanly possible. Our values and ethics sync to the letter. But Abby is divorced with three kids. Her lifestyle– her existence— is tenuously dependent upon her ability to succeed.

Abby can’t afford to fuck around. She either makes money, or she doesn’t. Therefore Abby is totally ruthless about making sure she sells things people are reliably willing to pay for. Yes, she wants to do her soul-work as much as the next person– but that comes after making sure the rent is paid.

That tenuousness is baked in to her experience of the world. And because it’s served her so well from a survival and success standpoint it will almost certainly persist until long after she’s broken six figures.

And that’s a good part of why I chose her for the #insidemymicrobiz experiment— because she’s hungry. Not desperate– desperate is hard to work with. But she’s hungry because there’s a chance it’s within her ability to provide security for her family, and dammit, that’s what she’s going to do. And yet she’s still aiming to do that soul-satisfying work.

I find that there’s very little advice targeted to the center of that Venn diagram between “Soul-Satisfying” and “Reliable Money.” That’s why the tagline of Change Catalyst is “Fulfillment. Security. Success… On Your Terms.”

We start with fulfillment, because that’s where you’ve almost got to start. If you’re not at least somewhat fulfilled by your work, you won’t have the staying power to see it succeed. Then we work on security. Building the foundation of a stable business, brick by brick. And if we got the ingredients right– that is, the four questions– after all this work, we see success.

Everyone wants security, fulfillment, and success. Maybe they don’t want it in that order, but they do want it. But the hungry people– they want it bad.

So the time you REALLY need to answer those four questions?

When Failure Is Not An Option.

Otherwise, you’ve got some leeway. I once read a quote from Steve Blank, entrepreneur and venture capitalist who was in the U.S. Air Force during Vietnam. I can’t find it, but to paraphrase, he said, “The best thing about business is that when you fail, no one dies.”

As a business owner, the ability to shift your perspective on failure and risk is the most powerful tool in your arsenal.