When we first started talking about making the Usual Error Project a big part of our lives, we felt conflicted between our goal of helping people and our goal of making money. Not only did we argue about the priorities of these goals, we argued about whether it was ethical to charge money for it at all!
Our situation reminded me of what I’d read about conscious capitalism — I thought it sounded pretty skeezy. It sounded like commoditizing spirituality; selling things that really “ought” to be given away for free. Commoditizing helpfulness and goodwill felt like the same sort of thing to me.
This is the story of why I changed my mind.
After many discussions, some arguments, and at least one drastic life change, we finally agreed on our goals for the Usual Error Project. Here they are, from highest priority to lowest.
- Help people
- Enjoy the journey
- Make money, so we can do more of #1 and #2
When we run our business according to these goals, when we live our lives according to these priorities, amazing things happen. We feel wholeheartedly awesome about making more money (no longer ambivalent or skeezy!), because every dollar feeds our highest priority goal of helping more people. It creates a positive feedback effect, an upward spiral of positive energy and awesomeness!
We’ve found that this upward spiral only manifests if it’s put into action, not just words. If you talk about helping people later, or enjoying the journey later (the deferred life plan), you’ll end up making money later, too. Run your business at the beginning like an itty bitty version of what you envision it being in the future.
Putting this into action has been really fun and rewarding! We took the majority of our startup capital and gave it to a friend to help him achieve his dreams. When another friend generously loaned us some additional money, we agreed on a fun interest rate and he decided to do “something awesome” with the money so gained. We’re rearranging our personal budget (which, in a small business, has a big impact on our business budget) so we can help out a couple of our family members in what we hope will be a win/win situation.
It feels really good, and it makes our priorities concrete. Before we’ve even made a single dollar in profit (in this incarnation), we’re helping people. And now we know, concretely, that when we make more money, we will help more people.
Knowing this — feeling it in your gut — changes everything. I no longer have twinges of guilt when telling potentially interested people about the Usual Error Project. I used to worry about bothering people or being perceived as a spammer. I’m still just as strongly against annoying people and just as strongly against spamming and other forms of interruption marketing, but I no longer feel any twinges when I talk about the Usual Error Project (or our blog) with potentially interested people, for example on a relevant mailing list. Because I’m not doing anything bad, I’m not trying to sucker people out of a buck, I’m not acting selfishly. I’m trying to help people, first and foremost.
What are your goals and priorities in your business? Are you making them real? Are you living according to them? Or are they just words on a piece of paper labeled “Mission Statement” or “To-Do”?