Do Your Customers Buy the What or the Why?


Photography Business Institute
Photography Business Institute


A small business owner friend of mine shared the concept in Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. The premise: your customers don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Sinek defines this as your purpose, cause or belief. It’s why your business exists and anyone should care.

Sinek says those businesses who have a compelling ‘why’ are more successful. He encourages you NOT to sell the what (features) or the how (advantages of how your product is better than the others on the market), but rather why you do what you do. The what does nothing but prove your why. The what is just the output.

For some brands with a strong social mission, like Toms, that donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes purchased, this is definitely true.

But for most of us who are in small business because it’s how we choose to make our living, does Sinek’s theory hold true?

I think his theory is a good one to a certain degree. I know we do business with people we like. So if a customer likes you as a business owner, whether it be because you have a similar style, kids the same age, a funny sense of humor or a great reason for being in business…why you do it becomes more important if they are already in the market for what you do.

If you have a compelling story about your reason for being in business (which you may or may not) then it will help you stand our from the competition.

With Toms, you want or need new shoes so you decice to buy Tom’s shoes because you agree with why Blake Mycoskie founded the company and his mission. Yet his mission is very unique and most small business owners I’ve met don’t have as grand of a vision for their company.

I think how small business owners can take the most from Sinek is to clearly define why your business exists….the story behind why you’re in business. It’s not just to put food on your table. Why are you passionate? And how is that different from what everyone else is doing?

Then, find customers, vendors, suppliers and supporters who believe what you believe. And do business with them. Don’t worry about the others…find the believers in your why.

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