Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, came to my attention quite a few years ago, after I saw his “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action” Ted Talk:
Sinek’s premise is that your WHAT (product or service) builds on your HOW (process, technology), because of your WHY (passion and purpose) at the core. Without the WHY being clearly communicated from the leader, employees, customers, the business may fall flat or even fail.
For me, hearing Sinek articulate the concept of “starting with why” felt like the bridge I didn’t know was there between my education, curiosity in human behavior, business and technical skills, and my ever-persistent tendency to ask a million questions. Ever since I started my design career, my first, second, and third questions (and most of the ones thereafter) are always centered around “Why?”
Why do I ask so many questions? It’s not to annoy my family and friends, although that probably does happen sometimes. When beginning a new project, or adding new features to a client’s website, my goal is to make sure that we both understand what problem we are solving. The clients I work with are typically nonprofit organizations and owner-run businesses who do have money to invest, but definitely don’t have money to waste on
adding bells and whistles for the heck of it. And frankly, it’s way more gratifying to me to help fix a problem than to simply do as I’m told (or asked).
So in day to day terms what that means is I typically go digging a bit when clients ask for my help, and I encourage them to do the same. I start with why, why, and more why. Here are a couple examples:
Example 1: “I do not think you need what you think you need.”
This is the first example of how asking a lot of questions can help a client get what they need, even if it’s not what they thought they wanted.
CLIENT: Can we add blog to our website?
ME: Yes, that is fairly straightforward. The bigger question is where is the content going to come from. What are you trying to achieve?
CLIENT: Well, I attended a conference and they said everyone should have a blog to get more visitors to their website.
ME: There is definitely some benefit to having a blog, but visitors don’t just magically show up. Do you already have content you’d like to share, or would that need to be written?
CLIENT: I’m not sure yet. We just need to be reaching more people.
ME: Reaching more people for what purpose? To attend an event, get more donations, find volunteers, or…?
CLIENT: We have this big fundraising event coming up in the fall and I thought a blog would be a great way to promote it.
ME: Ok, if we add a blog, we could definitely use it for supporting that purpose, but you’d also want a page on your website devoted to the event, and make sure it’s on your home page to make it really easy to find, as well as a link to use on e-news and social media. What other marketing like ads, mailed invites, etc. are you doing to promote it? Will people be buying tickets online?
CLIENT: Oh yeah, we have invites and a big print ad going out next week. If it were on the website can we put the auction items and ticket link on there?
ME: Yes, and we should make sure to the website link is on your print ad, too. We can give it a custom URL like yourwebsite.com/2019event so it’s easy to find and share.
CLIENT: Ok yeah that sounds great! I was stressed out about having to write up a bunch of blog posts while I’m trying to organize this event, so this works much better.
In the end, we’d create an optimized landing page and digital artwork for this big event with a custom domain name, making sure the link is shared on everything from their enews to social media to the printed posters and invites. We’d discuss online ticket options, emailing lists, and other event-related promotional tools. Whether or not we’d take this opportunity to create a blog would a later discussions, but our immediate priority would be to get this event featured on their website.
Yes, I could have just added a blog, sent a bill, and called it a day, but that would cause my client more work and would not have helped the specific problem she was *really* trying to solve. All by asking “Why?”
Example 2: “This is a critical issue. We can do more than just the thing you’re asking.”
In this second example, the client has a simple request. Sure, we can just do it and be done, but by asking “Why” we find out how critical the real problem is, and can help offer more solutions that with minimal effort could have a huge impact on the life of the organization.
CLIENT: Can we add a contact form to our website?
ME: Yep, we sure can. What information would you like people to share and why?
CLIENT: Just the basic stuff, name, email, comments. We want people to be able to email us rather than call us.
ME: What are people calling you about?
CLIENT: Oh, just every day stuff. It’s always the same questions. Our staff is getting interrupted 20x during the day answering the phone.
ME: Yeah, that’s a lot of calls in an 8 hour day for one or two people. Is this causing problems?
CLIENT: Yes, we can’t get our get their work done.
ME: I can relate to that. It’s hard to get back “in the zone” when you’re interrupted too. What kind of work are they trying to get done during the day?
CLIENT: The staff is supposed to be organizing the client files and it’s not getting done. It’s all due at the end of the month and we are falling behind.
ME: Why is organizing files on a deadline? Are you moving? .
CLIENT: No, we’re not moving. We have a grant deadline to meet. We need to follow up with folks who have used our services so we can close their files, and they all need to be sorted by which services they used. Without that date, we can’t file the grant report we need to file.
ME: What happens if the grant report is filed late?
CLIENT: This grant covers a huge portion of our operating budget, and if we don’t file the report on time, we won’t be eligible to receive funding again next year. So yeah, whatever we can do to help streamline things for staff, the better.
BINGO. From there, knowing that the WHY for this contact form is actually critical to the health of the organization and providing key funding, I would further investigate about the kinds of questions staff is answering all day long. Perhaps their service hours or location needs to be more prominent to cut out the “how late are you open?” questions. If people are calling for another reason, maybe the website needs an FAQ page. Maybe the Google listing of the organization is wrong, or the Facebook page is outdated, and that is where visitors are not getting their questions asked. Perhaps we could set up automation for some basic info. Maybe people are asking about how to volunteer or whether they are hiring, and we need to make that info more readily available. Would volunteers be needed to take up some every day tasks, etc. Perhaps we could add some blog posts or additional content on the site with information people are often looking for.
So yes, I could have just added the form and been done. But by asking “Why?” we uncovered a bigger issue. Once I understood that the funding for the entire organization is at risk because the staff can’t get reports done, I shift gears from the 10 minute task of adding a form, to being on the lookout for ALL the ways to use the website and related technology to solve the MUCH bigger problem.
Find Your Own Why
If you are considering a website redesign, or adding new features to your website, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- What am I trying to accomplish? Not “I want a slider on my website,” but rather, “I want to show photos of the inside of our store so potential customers will be enticed to come visit.”
- At the end of the day, what is the outcome I really want to see? (e.g., people visit the store, donors join mailing list, reduce the number of interruptions, make it easy for clients to contact us, share more resources with the community, engagement on our blog)
- How much do I have to spend on this, and will it pay for itself? (e.g., through donations, sales, more productivity, time to write more grants, generate new leads, etc.?) For example, “I have $10,000 for this redesign, and if it helps attract one silver level donor, it will have paid for itself.” Or “I have $4000 for this feature, and will save 40 hours of staff time per month which will save us over $7000 in a year”
- One year from now, what will make me consider this a success? Imagine yourself looking back and saying “Wow, I’m sure glad I did ____ because ____.” For example, “Wow, I’m sure glad we added that Donate button. We have received 5x more donations than the year before.” or “Wow, I’m sure glad we added that FAQ page. My staff rarely has to give people instructions over the phone during an average week, and we’ve gotten all our reports done in time!”
- After every single answer, ask yourself one more “Why?” til you get to the heart of the matter. It’s harder than it sounds, but very much worth the effort.
So, next time you are considering making a big or small change to your website, try starting with WHY. Or just tell me about it and I’ll ask you a million questions. :)