Why are you building a business, in the first place?
Do you want to make the world a better place, or just pay your bills?
Do you want to build financial wealth for your family? Or have more free time to offer them?
What is the “right reason” to build a business, at the end of the day? The "right reason" is what is right for you, right here and now.
There are plenty of people who will tell you that your business should make the world a better place (myself included) but sounds a bit crazy if you're just trying to pay the bills.
In a previous article, we looked at Abraham Maslow's Theory of Human Motivation as a framework for understanding what your customer is feeling, to identify their most painful problem that you can solve.
That perspective is useful, but it’s actually secondary. The primary purpose of Maslow’s theory (also called the Hiearchy of Needs) is to clarify and understand your own motivation.
You must meet your foundational needs at each level before you can move onto the next.
The 5 Levels of Motivation in Your Business
Level 1: Physiological Needs. This is where your natural priority is meeting your needs for food, water, and other primary (even primal) needs. If you're worried about how your going to pay for groceries this week, this is where you're at.
This is the scariest level for anyone to be at, whether employee or entrepreneur. Your natural focus will be on short-term opportunities, so most long-term thinking is exhausting and a waste of time.
If this is you, focus on finding reliable income sources through service-based income as a freelancer or consultant, or work a job to feed yourself and your family while you build your business on the side.
Level 2: Safety Needs. This is where your immediate physiological needs are met, but you start focusing on a slightly bigger picture of your safety & security beyond what's directly in front of you.
For some people, this is where the desire to buy a house dominates over renting, and it's where your emergency fund and insurance plans become more important too.
In your business, this is a natural time to graduate from selling services to building a repeatable process for generating income through retainer agreements, your first products, or a steady stream of potential clients to replace any previous clients who don't stick around.
Level 3: Love & Belonging. Once your physiological needs are met, and you feel safe & secure that you have a buffer plan to absorb bumps along the way, you will naturally refocus your energy on your emotional needs by cultivating the most important relationships around you.
This may start with your love life, either searching for a life partner or nurturing the relationship with the spouse that you already have. From there, you will naturally invest in your familial relationships and key friendships, perhaps developing hobbies or habits that help you build new relationships or nurture the ones that you have.
In your business, this is when you get to groom a team of business partners, collaborators, and key employees where the phrase "your network is your net worth" begins to come true.
Level 4: Esteem Needs. This is where your primary focus becomes accomplishment, awards, or accolades that showcase your success among your peers.
Sure, praise was always nice along the climb but now it's a key motivation for building a business that's the “best” or most well known for what you do.
When you're here, this is a natural phase to focus on streamlining your internal operations or upgrading your branding and marketing strategy to reach a broader audience and become known beyond your customer base.
Level 5: Self-Actualization. This is the peak of human motivation, to have every need met along the way so that you naturally focus your energy on achieving your full potential by leading others, giving back, and establishing your legacy for after you're gone.
By this point, your company should be a well-oiled machine—truly, an asset that generates wealth for you without your day-to-day involvement. At this stage, many entrepreneurs focus on mentoring, or start non-profit foundations to make an impact with their influence and wealth.
This is where many entrepreneurs choose to sell their company or create a transition plan to give company ownership to their children, a key business partner, or even staff in an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan).
Which Level Motivates You?
As you consider the five levels, you’re likely drawn to the motivations within one level—even if you’ve been spending energy on the needs of other levels as well.
That answer can and should also change throughout your entrepreneurial journey, so it's important to take stock of where you're currently at, right here and now.
I know personally, I'm at the bridge between Safety & Security and Love & Belonging. Most days I feel very safe & secure, and I want to spend more time cheering on other entrepreneurs, building my team, and spending time with my lovely wife and kids.
When I'm tired, or especially stressed, I feel stuck in the Safety & Security zone wondering where payroll is coming from or how I'm going to save up enough money to buy the house we really want.
The key here is not to drool over other levels, or pretend to be motivated by needs you don’t truly yet feel.
It's good to aspire to something greater than you have now, but it’s more important to recognize where you are so you can spend your energy meeting your current needs, and level up.