Today we have an in-depth, practical post for any of you pursuing a creative career or even a personal project or hobby, but need some focus and guidance. Marketing coach Kayte Ferris delves into the importance of purpose in your work, how to discover that purpose and then how to use it to your advantage. Pour yourself a cuppa and let's get started....
In my work as a marketing coach for small creative businesses, one of the very first things I tackle with clients is their purpose – the reason their business exists and why they get up and work on it every day. Think about the brands you love or the last few non-necessities you bought. I’m willing to bet that you love those businesses because you buy into what they believe, and that their own views on life match up with yours. That’s the power of having a strong purpose at the core of your business; you build an audience of advocates who believe what you believe, and will support you through transitions and pivots in your products.
But I’m not just here to talk about business, because purpose is exceptionally important for our passion projects too. Whether you’re starting a new business, side hustling, or have a creative project you’re doing just for you, having a strong purpose is vital for keeping you on track, motivating you, and overcoming those guilty feelings of doing something just for you. It’s similar to how it’s easier to lose weight when you have an event coming up that you want to feel confident for – when you’re clear on why you’re doing something, everything else just flows.
In this post, I’m going to talk about why that purpose is so important and how it can help you in your creative project, as well as give you my tips for finding your purpose, the very same ones I talk through with my client’s at the beginning of their journeys.
Why is purpose important?
- It’s an anchor - As creatives, we have a tendency to be pretty magpie-ish when it comes to opportunities and ideas. While this leads us to exciting, and at times life-changing things, it can also cause us to stray off our path and into something that isn’t particularly on brand or right for us as people. Whether it’s a sponsored brand collaboration that leaves you feeling icky, or coverage in a publication that doesn’t sit well, we all know the feeling when we’ve done something that didn’t feel right.
What a strong purpose does is anchor you in these situations. It gives you a standard to hold all opportunities and ideas up to and see if they directly serve that purpose. In this way, it helps you to be more objectively yes/no about new ideas, but it also ensures that every single thing you do is on brand and purposeful.
- It’s a motivator - We all have days where we sit at our desk or walk into our studio and are just not feeling it. When the deadline is fast approaching but you’d rather walk across hot coals than tackle the thing that needs doing. Our motivation and energy naturally ebbs and flows, and we need to accept and work with that rather than fight against it.
A strong purpose, however, will make sure that you spend more time in flow than in ebb. Particularly with passion projects, when life more easily gets in the way and it becomes harder to justify the time and energy you’re spending, having a core purpose you can continue to come back to is a way of giving yourself accountability and justifying the project to yourself.
Let’s say, for example, you’ve started a blog whose purpose is to make you practice your writing so you can take on more fulfilling tasks at work. Having that purpose statement on a post-it stuck to your laptop, or simply remembering it every time you dread sitting at a desk will put the fire in your belly to carry on.
- It builds community - This one is particularly important if you are working on your business, but community can also be extremely powerful for your creative projects too. Your purpose is a big neon sign to your target customers and other like-minded souls that you are for them, and it gives them a reason to jump on board with you.
With all the noise on the internet we are all in a constant state of sifting for what’s relevant to us. It’s like we’re panning for gold, and the internet is constantly pouring a deluge of silt into our sieves, so we have to continually shake through the dirt keeping a beady eye out for the nuggets that are useful to us. What we have to do as businesses, or the gold in this analogy, is make sure that we are so shiny and bright that our people can see us clearly in the mud.
Now everyone is looking for slightly different gold – some people want great big chunks, others want smaller pieces that are just perfect for what they need. What our purpose does is highlight to our people that we are the nugget they’re looking for. It’s not about standing out to everyone; it’s about making sure your people see you and recognise you.
How do you find your purpose?
Ok, so hopefully by now I’ve convinced you, but now you have a bigger nagging worry of ‘what even is my purpose?’. The first thing to do is not panic: the vast majority of people I work with haven’t got as far as thinking about their purpose, sometimes even years into their business. It also takes time to think about your purpose – this is a meaningful mantra and not something you’ll come up with in five minutes. It’s a good idea to sit with these exercises, go for some mulling-over-walks and let your purpose develop organically.
One thing to be aware of is that people will often fall into the trap of confusing their ‘what’ or their ‘how’ with their ‘why’. For example, you may think “I love making homewares” – that’s your ‘what’. Building on that you may say “I’m passionate about using recycled materials” – great, that’s your ‘how’. “I am working to make the smallest footprint I can on the planet, and want to provide others with ways to lessen their impact too” – now that’s your why. Do you see how much of a difference that last statement will have move on anchoring and motivating you, but also helping others to get on board with that purpose and form a community around it?
So how do we start to draw out your why? Below are a few of my favourite exercises.
- What do you want to be known for?
Two friends are having a conversation. One says, “I really need X”, and the other friend excitedly recommends you as the guru for all things X. In this situation, what is X? What do you want your name to be synonymous with? What do you want to be known for?
Using this as a nucleus, you can begin to build your purpose out of and around it. Is the answer you came up with more of a ‘what’ or a ‘how’? If so, track backwards to the ‘why’. If it’s already closer to a ‘why’, flesh that out – what about your story inspired that ‘why’? Make it real and tangible in order for it to be truly meaningful.
- Ask why five times
This exercise can be difficult and frustrating, but in spite of that it’s annoyingly effective. If you’re struggling to get to the nub of your purpose, this exercise is about challenging your statements and deepening your thinking by continually asking you to go one step further.
Here’s an example of what this exercise might look like:
· “I make homewares” – Why?
· …”because I couldn’t find anything I wanted for my home on the market” – Why was that?
· “…because it tended to be mass-produced and poorly made” – Why is that important?
· “…because I wanted a home that felt cosy and organic, unique to me” – Why?
· “…because we moved a lot when I was a kid and nowhere ever felt comforting like that” – Why is that important?
· “…because I believe that your home should be the place you feel most comforted, safe and at peace”
By challenging each answer you get closer to what is actually driving you, and what will therefore inspire others to join you.
- What good do you do in the world?
This is an especially good exercise for those who struggle to see the value in their project, or who can’t put a finger on why it’s important they continue doing what they do. It’s also great for thinking about those passion projects and continuing to be inspired by them.
I’ve worked with graphic designers who feel like they provide ‘just a logo’, or shop owners who say ‘it’s only a cushion’. That is not a very motivating or inspiring way of thinking! While none of us creating online are quite at the ‘solving world hunger’ end of spectrum, we are still doing good in the world. By creating a logo that graphic designer has given their client the confidence to hand out their business card without shame and grow their business – so perhaps that can be their why. The shop owner is selling cushions by young designers just starting out and giving them a chance to pursue their creative dreams – maybe that’s what motivates them.
Even if your passion project means that you are calmer and shout at the kids less often, that’s still doing good in the world. Thinking about the value that comes from your work from a different viewpoint is a great way of pinpointing what is motivating you.
Like I said earlier, your purpose won’t necessarily come to you in five minutes, or even five hours. Even if it feels weird thinking so deeply like this, at the other end you have a totally invaluable guiding light to help you out on ebb days and inspire you to ever greater things in the future. With a purpose, everything else becomes easier – everything that you talk about in your marketing will flow from here, what you post on social media, even which channels your on in the first place come from that purpose. As you and your business change over time, so too will your purpose flex and adapt – treat it as a living thing you continue to nurture and work on and you’ll have a very happy creative life together.
Kayte is running Out Of The Woods workshops in Bristol and London exploring business purpose and using it to grow this April - Find out more here. She blogs about growing a soulful business and has lots of free resources you can download and work through to explore this concept further. Thank you Kayte for this insightful post!