Insights and Opinions

Finding Your Driver

The Death Cycle. Day in and day out, you get up before dawn to make a grueling commute to a green-light-tinged building, where you spend eight, nine, or ten hours a day working at a job that doesn't fulfill you, doesn't exhibit your personal talents, and makes you dread each moment you have to spend thinking about it. By the time you get home to your family, you are too drained to enjoy their company and too tired from thinking of the day of drudgery ahead to make the most of your free time. The Death Cycle.

How do you break out of it?

The first step to consider, once you've determined that you have nothing to lose by taking a shot at entrepreneurial thinking, is to figure out what motivates you. You know the drill. In any crime show, the detective characters always ask these questions, What was the motive? What drove the person to act? Obviously, we're talking about something far better than a criminal mindset here, but I think it's essential to recognize how motivation truly surrounds us in every aspect of our lives—from personal choices to human interactions with one another, and within society at large.

Motivation can steer both our short-term and long-term decision making. It can affect our personality, temperament, and interests. It is one of the most powerful forces in our lives—and it is often subconscious. We rarely stop to question exactly what our motivation is in each circumstance, but I believe that by simply taking stock of the motives behind our professional decisions, each subsequent move will be more deliberate, directed, and effective.

In fact, the very first step in creating your business is rooted in motivation. You need to determine honestly what your motivation is—what drives you to want to become an entrepreneur? "I lost my job and I need something to do" isn't going to cut it as an answer here, because that mindset allows something external to be in control and allows your circumstances to define you. That can be hugely detrimental to your business plan. There has to be something deeper than that. Why do you want to step out on your own? Something must be driving this decision, and it's something inside you. What is the bug biting you to act? Without a clear answer to this question, it will be nearly impossible to build a viable business. But once you determine your driver, it becomes the jumping-off point for everything that follows as you become an entrepreneur.

In my experience, there are four main drivers that urge an individual toward becoming an entrepreneur: independence, wealth, recognition/ fame, and contribution.

Which is your driver? Which of these reasons is the primary one dictating your decision to consider beginning a business? You will likely find that you have a mixture of all of these, but it is important that you pinpoint your main driver by considering how far you would be willing to go and how much you would be willing to sacrifice to obtain each one. When you discover which of the four you would pursue with more vigor, intensity, and determination than you would the others, you've found your primary driver.

Independence is a driving factor for many entrepreneurs. They are motivated by the day when they can fire their boss and walk out of the office with the confidence that they possess the market knowledge and a quality product that will allow them to manage a business effectively, honestly, and profitably.

If you are seeking an opportunity to set your own terms of employment and to work by your own standards toward your own goals, then independence is probably your main driver—and that's one of the most exciting things about entrepreneurship. Excitement and thrills come with knowing that you are your own boss, president, CEO, supervisor, manager—whatever title you want to use. It is incredibly empowering, but more than that, it is incredibly freeing.

The fulfillment that comes with being one's own director, creatively and productively crafting and shaping a business, is a tremendous motivator for many people. A thriving, free-market capitalist system in which anyone can try to succeed by doing what he or she loves is one of the aspects of the American tradition that makes this country great; independence is an integral part of that tradition.

Wealth is also a great motivator. Unless you were lucky enough to be born as a trust-fund baby, chances are good that you have to work for a living. There is more to being driven by wealth than simply wanting a fat paycheck; however, if that's all you're after, there are far more secure means of achieving that goal.

If the desire to accrue wealth is your driver, it is probably because you have a business idea that you know has tremendous earning potential because it will meet a need or fill a niche better than anything else on the market right now. There is no need to be ashamed if wealth is your driver. It has been the driver of nearly every great advancement that's ever been made—from the sixteenth- century explorers who circled the globe looking for gold, spices, and land to the ongoing competition between Microsoft, Apple, and the other computing giants who want to hold on to a significant corner of the market.

Some people act as if "profit" is a dirty word, as if the pursuit of making money as a small-business owner somehow makes you greedy, or that concern with the bottom line means you're a Scrooge. Nothing could be further from the truth. By generating wealth, you are providing for your own needs, for your family's needs, and—moving beyond your own immediate considerations—you are probably creating jobs in your community, as well.

Recognition and fame are reasons some enter the entrepreneurial life. If you have a solid product or service, you should take pride in that, and having your name associated with what you do demonstrates to your customers (and your employees) that you have confidence in your company.

Fame can be a tremendous motivator for someone who is tired of being counted as only a number in a company or as an average Joe without any real zeal for achievement. The desire to have your skills noticed can be a strong motivation, especially if you have felt underappreciated in your previous work. Recognition can bring a kind of validation in proving to the world that you are smart, savvy, and tough enough to succeed as a business owner.

The person driven in this way is also often seeking fulfillment—satisfaction from a job that exercises his or her unique talents and abilities in a manner that can bring respect. If this is what drives you, your competitive nature is going to love the thrill of the development, marketing, and service required to make it in the world of business ownership.

As long as you make sure that your self-worth is not dependent upon how well your company does, I would argue that it is actually healthy to foster a desire for recognition. Fame can bring respect and can open doors for opportunities to grow your business, expand your brand, or even start an entirely new venture.

Contribution is also an important driver. People who desire a sense of contribution feel compelled to give back to their community or to meet a basic need for people, animals, or the environment—any cause that promises to enrich lives or leave the world a better place.

Often, entrepreneurial-minded individuals who find themselves driven by a desire to contribute are drawn to the service industry or nonprofits. If this is you, you may find yourself in a bit of a quandary: Is it possible to operate a for-profit business like a nonprofit one, or vice versa? Absolutely. True nonprofits depend largely upon grants, donations, and public funding to operate. You can create a business model that meets the same needs as a traditional nonprofit, but you can operate in such a way that it is not dependent on external funding. For example, a business that works with local governments to help place people in jobs or develop work skills can be self-supporting through the city's or county's payment for services. Likewise, it is entirely possible to run a profitable business dedicated to helping other local businesses go green.

Do not let the drive to be a social contributor scare you away from the prospect of starting your own business. The two certainly can coexist. Just recognize that your ultimate goals are probably going to be different from those of many of the other business owners in your area. That's simply because you have different drivers, and the drive to contribute can be the foundation of a financially suc- cessful business whose profits can be further invested in the community, doing even more good work.

Did any of these four drivers strike a chord with you? Keep in mind that your primary driver might change with time and circumstance. Personally, I've felt each one become my primary motivation at different points in my life. The key is recognizing where you are right now as you get ready to start building your busi- ness plan and making sure that you are honest in your assessment of yourself. Otherwise, your business and your life will arrive in the wrong place because the goal you pursued the most aggressively wasn't the one you really wanted.

If you are driven by fame, you may find that the desire to amass personal wealth has to become secondary as you take on gratis projects to get your name out there. If you are driven by independence, you may have to wait until you have a slightly higher bank account balance before you begin investing in chari- table or socially conscious causes, simply because you are pursuing security first. But later, when your business is firmly established and you're ready to move to a new challenge, you might find your primary driver moving, too.

By determining the driver that best fits your current situation and mindset, you will be articulating authority over your circumstances. You are giving a label to the personal force that is bringing about this change in your life. That feeling of control over your decisions is a major factor in the success or failure of a business because it empowers you to call the shots and make the right business moves.

To boil it all down to one simple sentence, you have to look at what gives you gratification, and you have to figure out why. Those two elements make up the foundation of your business plan, and your business plan must be in place before you can take the next step to truly becoming an entrepreneur. Figure out what’s gotten you to this point and what’s keeping you going. Find your driver and find your passion. Together, they will be the bedrock of all else that follows.

Ryan Blair is the author of Nothing to Lose: How to Find Your Passion, Fire Your Boss, and Become an Entrepreneur (">"> This article is an extract of the book, and was used with permission. Blair was previously co-founder of Los Angeles-based SkyPipeline, which he merged with NextWeb in 2004, was Chairman of Los Angeles-based PathConnect which was acquired by SolutionX in mid-2008, and continues to serve as CEO of Los Angeles-based Visalus, which was recently acquired by Blyth. Blair has given hundreds of motivational speeches and regularly appears on CNBC's The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, MSNBC's Your Business and Fox Business.