Feb 1 • 7M

Are You Building Your Business by Design or Default?

Inquiring minds want to know...

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Different and out-of-the-way ideas for increasing your wealth, building your business, and freeing your mind.
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Business by Design Definition: Intentionally building the business you love—at every level.

When you build a business by design it feels weightless. You can’t wait to get up in the morning and start the day. It doesn’t mean everything’s easy. It means even when you go through the valleys, you’re still energized by the solutions you’re creating.

But when you build a business by default it can feel like getting sucked into a black hole. It changes or morphs or grows without your input or consent. So many people’s fates riding on your shoulders.

While I want you to build your business by design, we have to start by diagnosing the problem first. So watch out. Here are some warning signs you’re building a business by default instead of by design.

Warning Sign #1: You’ve Gone Vision Blind

When I used to own a digital agency we were always getting huge wins…followed by massive losses. It felt like I could never get ahead!

Sign a massive new contract? Have fun hiring two new account managers to keep up.

Client gets a huge win? Oops! They ran out of VC money and can’t pay you.

Systematize major portions of your business? Well, look at that! An employee’s been swiping all your intellectual property and set up shop as your competitor.

(And all these are—rather unfortunately—real-life examples!)

Let’s pause for a minute and acknowledge:

  • part of this was due to bad management (mine) and naiveté

  • bad things happen in business all the time—expected and unavoidable

  • building by default doesn’t happen at once—it’s a series of small deferred decisions that pile up over time

But for our agency the loss of vision came down to a disconnect between me and the vision. My WHY had vanished. It had become about making money. And making money is never a good long-term motivator.

Now, pause for a minute.

Is this you?

Has money become your sole motivating factor for running your business? Keep in mind, this doesn’t have to be selfish in nature. It’s not (and usually isn’t) all about greed. Sometimes we lose sight of our vision because we:

  • have payroll to make

  • have vendors to pay

  • have dreams to fulfill

This is, without a doubt, the fastest way to build a business by default. Forget why you’re doing what you’re doing and everything else goes on autopilot—all in search of the next dollar.

Warning Sign #2: You Suffer From Warm Body Syndrome

This syndrome affects business owners who need “warm bodies” in two specific areas:

  1. Clients

  2. Employees

Like, you’re so desperate to fill your client roster or your team that you’ll take on anyone so long as they have a pulse. It’s like the entrepreneurial version of beer goggles—well, the bar’s closing and I don’t see anyone else around and you look halfway decent… soooo I guess you’ll do.


A.) Let’s look at clients first.

Have you ever taken on a client you know you shouldn’t, but you do, because you know you have bills to pay?

I have.

And it never ends well.

At one point, my ideal client criteria boiled down to answering:

  • do they have a pulse?

  • do they have a credit card?

  • did the charge clear when we ran the card?

If the answer to all three questions was “yes,” we had ourselves a new client.

Let me tell you a secret: choosing clients this way sucks. It’s a nightmare. It will put you on the fast track to building your business by default for one reason…

…99% of the time when you take on a “warm body” client you ignore your gut instinct.

And your gut has evolved to help you make decisions even when the words to explain your decision evade you.

Choosing to work with clients needs to be that: a conscious choice. The best business owners I’ve learned from have perfected this way of thinking:

  • they’re never begging for clients

  • they’re never worried about if the next client is going to show up

  • they’re willing to say ‘no’ to the good so they can say ‘yes’ to the great

Are you?

B.) “Warm bodies” as team members (aka employees).

This one’s short-and-sweet: don’t hire someone because they’ve applied for the job. You may need to hire someone, like, yesterday. Your existing team might be pushing it to the max. You might feel pressured to make a decision before you’re ready.

But DO NOT—under any circumstances—hire someone because they have a pulse. Every single time I’ve done this it has ended in disaster for the company. And for the team member. Without exception.

You know the person is the right fit and you want to hire them. Great. Wait at least three days to give yourself some breathing room and then hire them. If they’re the right fit, they won’t be going anywhere. (And if they do, they weren’t the right fit!)

Warning Sign #3: You’re Ignoring Your Other Passions

If you don’t enjoy the core offering your business provides, you’ll lose. It may not happen tomorrow. Or next month. Or next year. But an engaged business owner will always beat out a disengaged one—eventually.

So how can you avoid this perilous fate? Play more. That’s right…play.

I started doing small offer experiments a few years ago. These are creative offers that relate to our core offer but pique my curiosity somehow. (For instance, let's say your core offer is selling popsicles. An experimental offer would be hiring a group of grandmas to knit custom-made mittens customers wear while they eat.)

Like Google’s “X” program, the rules are super simple:

  1. Spend no more than 20% of your time on it

  2. Don’t put any money behind it until it works

  3. 80% of your experimental offers will fail

  4. That’s completely okay

The point was (and is) to stay engaged. My interests as a business owner change and morph as I go along. Yours do too. If you continue to stuff those interests, you’ll lose conviction for your business. Seen it happen a million times.

So let yourself play. Roam free within the safety of your business and engage your creative side.