How Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs can help you design a stronger business niche
Are you a small or home-based business owner? Then you have a definite edge over the corporate giants when the economy falters. In this tutorial, you'll learn ways to re-focus your business quickly so you are offering what people want, need - and are willing to pay for - during recessionary times. Prompt action of this type could save your business, in other words.
The idea for a tutorial called Recession-Proofing Your Business grew out of an article I wrote for my newsletter a couple of months after 9/11/01. You'll remember the financial backlash that happened in the months following September 11, when fear was gripping the country and people canceled vacation plans and cut down on all kinds of non-essential spending. Big businesses cut thousands of jobs and the economic talk was generally negative.
It occurred to me that as small and home-based business owners, we could turn our own businesses around more quickly than the multi-nationals could. After all, a committee of one doesn't get much argument.
Enter Abraham Maslow... and his Hierarchy of Needs
You've probably heard of Abraham Maslow. He was a psychologist who suggested that we each have what he called a "needs hierarchy" which essentially tracks our life cycle from birth to maturity.
In my article, I used the example of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a way to find ways we could re-position our home business in order to fill needs people were having RIGHT THEN. When fear and money were big issues. When people stopped spending on discretionary items and stuck with the essentials.
General, philosophic, feel-good topics were not speaking to people's desperation. Survival and a sense of belonging were more to the point. You remember seeing Congress singing "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol? THAT's the kind of belonging we're talking about. And a back-to-basics, meat and potatoes kind of economy.
When people are struggling with fear and wondering how they're going to feed their family next month, they're not in a mindset to be learning new things, especially when what they really want is help with a specific problem they have right now - like the price of gas.
In times of economic uncertainty, such as now, and after 9/11, it makes sense to focus on essentials, rather than on the esoteric. On the other hand, people who are not bothered by the economy and do have the luxury of time and cash - may be the ideal clients for what you are offering.
It's all in how you present your offer.
So here are a few ideas to try on - and see how they could be re-worked for your own business.
In the next section, you'll find a graphic for the ladder analogy I'll be using throughout this tutorial. It helps us picture this hierarchy more easily. Also, it's important to remember that we're not motivated by the "higher" needs until the basic ones at the bottom of the ladder have been filled. On the other hand, all of the needs keep recurring, so we're up and down the needs ladder quite a bit.
Survival (Food, Clothing, Shelter, Water)
Here's How to Kick a "Survival" Business Up a Notch
The first need Maslow identified, which I'm calling the "bottom rung" are Survival needs... food, water, clothing and shelter. Things you absolutely have to have to function.
So here's my question:
How could you reposition your business to represent a survival need that people have right now? Without pandering to their fears, I mean.
If you're in a health-related business, one way is to become an expert on toxin-free, organic foods or clothing. I'm also pretty sure people would come to your workshops and teleclasses on organic gardening, now that the price of food is going through the roof. (Do-it-ourselves food production.) Or you could get on your soapbox about green buildings and building materials. We're still talking about survival needs, but just kicking them up a notch.
Have you ever seen those community garden plots here and there, where people stake out their little section of vegetables? If you have enough space and parking, you could charge a fee and teach people how to grow their own organic stuff, right on the spot. Or start a local vegan or vegetarian cooking club. Teach what you know, make it easy to learn and sell the videos afterward... or upload them to YouTube to promote your vegetarian recipes e-book.
What about water? There are many opportunities in the water business - selling filtration systems, energized water, ionized water and such.
If you have these on a website, you can join Amazon.com's associate program (it's free) and offer Dr. Emoto's books at the same time. It's kind of a neat tie-in. We need water to survive..... again, we're kicking it up a notch.
The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto
This is how a need gets kicked up a notch. We need water to drink, but here's a lesson on how to give your water a higher vibration.
If you saw the movie "What the Bleep," you'll know how our thoughts and words can influence the molecules in water... both positively and negatively.
Can you teach people to infuse their water with positive energy? How could you improve the water we use to sprinkle on our gardens? Lots of potential here for a very interesting business.
Homesteading... The Ultimate Rung 1 Survival Method
Homesteading has become the new way to live... especially if you want to survive in comfort, with fresh fruits and veggies... not to mention your own eggs and milk. And it doesn't matter whether you live in city or country anymore, either.
What can you teach folks about organic gardening, selling eggs, making clothes from alpaca yarn?
I bought a book called The Weekend Homesteader for myself because I'm in my late 60s now and not quite up to planting acres of food. But I can learn to implement a project a week and become relatively self-sufficient within a year. (I hope!) I haven't had the book very long and I'll need to adapt some of the lessons to the hot, semi-tropical climate of Florida. Not sure how well drying food on the front seat of my car will work when the inside temperature is probably 120 degrees and the air is muggy. I'll write a review on this book when I get further into it.
Comfort and Security
Okay, let's take a look at Rung Two on Maslow's ladder - the need for Comfort and Security.
If you're a coach who currently offers the more general "life coaching," you might now want to specialize in something people are more desperate for - and also willing to pay for. Career coaching comes to mind. I know a coach, Sue Koch, who specializes in helping clients get out of the rat race and into their own business. She calls it designing exit strategies for corporate rats (www.corporaterats.com). She's helping her clients stay secure financially with a plan that doesn't let them run out of money before their business is established.
Healers are in the comfort and security business.
Reiki Masters can teach ways for parents to keep their kids secure health-wise. Massage therapists are definitely in the comfort business, but to my way of thinking, they're also in the security business, because they help people maintain good health at a reasonable price, saving potentially thousands of dollars in medical bills. A relaxed body heals faster than a tense body. Massage therapists can also sell themselves as the key health professionals for people with no health insurance... for this same reason. Relaxation is great preventive medicine.
Let's look at prosperity coaches, and prosperity teachers and authors. After our basic needs are met, most of us don't want to be scrambling paycheck to paycheck to replace our food, shelter, water and clothing. So learning money multiplication skills is a necessity for our security - whether it's done through savings plans, investing groups, visualization courses, or Law of Attraction lessons. If you want to see how securing finances can be done with high vibration tools, check out Carole Dore's The Emergency Handbook for Getting Money Fast. Carole is the best I've come across in this field.
Now what about spiritual teachers? They don't just talk about Universal laws or personal development or some technique or other that they've learned. They are teaching people to be secure within themselves so they don't give way to fear or even to mental enslavement to the status quo, to other people's ideas, to jobs they hate, or to whatever else isn't working in their life.
The language you use to market this service at this 2nd rung level of need must speak of "security" and not self-realization, which is a different need altogether. It depends where the person is on the ladder of needs at the particular point in their life.
Giving and Receiving Love, Community, Making Friends, A Sense of Belonging
Now we're at the third rung of our needs ladder - giving and receiving love, making friends, community, a sense of belonging.
You know all the social networking sites - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Squidoo, MySpace and so on... these are all catering to third rung needs. You can see how urgent a need this is right now, too, from the immense popularity of these sites.
My understanding is that a fellow named Tim O'Reilly coined the phrase Web 2.0 to describe - and lump - all of these interactive, joining-type internet media into a category. And the rate at which new ones keep popping up tells a pretty powerful story about our need to belong, our need to be seen, to be heard and to feel a part of something. Look at YouTube. Anyone, absolutely anyone, can be visible on YouTube. All you need is a video camera and a computer. And a little knowledge of uploading.
But, how do you turn this into a repositioned business for yourself? If you have the ways and means of helping people figure out how to belong in these networking places... or how to make themselves "presentable" on these sites, you have a business in the making. Maybe you can figure out how to make and upload YouTube videos with an iPhone or with one of the easy and cheap video cameras readily available. Then you teach this in language that people can understand, with lots of visual clues.
If you're a speaker and workshop presenter, you could also be teaching presentation skills in your class on making YouTube videos. If you're an energy worker, you could be teaching people how to project their energy in these videos... which chakras to clear and which ones to energize. If you're a writer, you can help people write their scripts. The whole idea is helping people not feel like a fish out of water - out of their element - insecure - while they're learning the ropes of these new media. You don't want them to drop down to rung two while you're teaching them something related to rung three, in other words.
Before the advent of Facebook, Yahoo Groups offered another type of belonging. They still do, but with Facebook groups now more prevalent, you'll find most of what you are looking for there. If you have a following... or want to attract a larger following for your business, nowadays you have to have a Facebook fan page or group.
Respect, Reputation, Status in the Community
We're now at the 4th rung where we want respect, and where we're concerned about our reputation and status in the community.
One of the ways you could help people with this need is to help them create a social networking profile that doesn't look like your adolescent kid's.
Here's another 4th rung idea. If you teach folks how to be confident speaking in public, you'll find people who need your service. And by confident, I mean, so they don't look and feel stupid or unprepared. One of the best courses I've taken is one called "platform decorum." It's all about how to project your ideas in front of a group of people. I'm essentially an introvert, a writer, not a speaker. Had I not taken that class, I probably wouldn't have started teaching teleclasses.
So, if you have those types of skills that you can teach, then you'll want to speak to the needs for status and reputation. Again, for business people who want to gain publicity through YouTube, you could be a valuable resource, to help them with poise and naturalness.
Are you a writer? Can you edit other people's writing? Article writing is a major way to get known on the internet. But a lot of people balk, because their level of writing may detract somewhat from the expertise of their "real" work. So here's where a talented editor can make a good living... polishing the articles of a business owner who wants to build his or her stature as an expert in their field.
Can you teach Neurolinguistic Programming? It seems to me this is an underused tool for helping people to polish their language and communication skills - and gain more respect in their field.
Self Actualization, Inner Meaning, Self Fulfillment
We've finally reached the top rung of Maslow's ladder of needs. Again, the other needs have to be more or less filled before you can tackle this 5th rung. But if you choose a target audience that is financially stable, that has solved their belonging needs and that is pretty secure in their reputation and standing in their field, then you can help them with the bigger picture.
Self-actualization, inner meaning and self-fulfillment.
One caveat... if you try to teach or facilitate this stuff before they're ready, they'll say it doesn't work... or that you're a lousy teacher - in which case YOUR reputation and standing will be lowered. So use this language and speak to these needs only to an audience that is primed for it.
But when you find that group of people, you help elevate them to the stars.
For example, can you help people picture their soul mission? People who have a need for inner meaning have probably had a good life materially, but may now be at that empty nest stage when they are ready to explore their inner self. They may have had an inkling about it earlier in life, but with jobs, kids, aging parents - what have you - their own self fulfillment always took a back seat. If you teach something they're looking for and can find these folks in enough numbers, what a glorious business you can make for yourself.
Do you teach self-empowerment that goes farther than survival, security, a sense of belonging and being respected by others? This is spiritual power, a tricky concept, but the ultimate one. Do you help people connect with their Higher Self? At this level, you'll find not only people who know what you're talking about, you'll also come across others who have reached the 5th rung... but don't have the metaphysical or spiritual education to understand what a higher self is, never mind connect with it. They may have just got there naturally. Again, you need to know your audience. Who do you want to work with? These are not people desperate for money. They've got that figured out. But they are desperate to feel that their life has meaning.
We all know (maybe we all are) people who "get" the concepts of inner meaning and self-realization, but we haven't secured our money rung yet. What do you do then, if you want to teach about self-fulfillment? It's not going to be internalized if we're worried about putting food on the table or buying gas. Fear, anxiety, and other emotions that lower vibration are going to inhibit that clear sense of God-consciousness that we're aiming for. So this is one instance where you might have to work on two levels - or rungs - at the same time. I know some teachers - and students - in this situation. Struggling with rung two - security - while trying to live at number 5 - inner meaning. What could you do to solve this dilemma? If you can figure it out... you've got a humdinger business solution for recessionary times.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs "Ladder" - On which rung does your business best fit?
Now, to really capitalize on these ideas I've mentioned, I feel it's important to pick one area - or rung - of the needs ladder and get well known for solving a problem or issue associated with it. This can get you word-of-mouth buzz and it will be easier to create a more solid-feeling presence because you're not all over the map. People will know what you stand for and they can order your products and services when they're ready for them.
The other thing to remember is that people with desperate needs are the people who are ready to buy your products and services. Until you're pushed to the wall, especially when finances are tight, you tend to not open your wallet.
Philosophically and practically speaking, getting from rung one to two leads you past rung one and a half, which is where you can establish higher-level food/clothing/shelter and water businesses - such as the vegetarian cooking classes I mentioned. We're still dealing with survival issues, but on a higher level. Here survival is not so much about finding food, but about staying alive longer by keeping toxins and fats out of our bodies, rather than scrambling for our next meal.
At the other end of the spectrum, people don't usually begin an intensive search for meaning - or God - until some crisis strikes or they feel so out of sorts - one of my teachers called it divine discontent - that they feel they have no choice but to venture inward for their answers. You probably know tons of people like this. Again, it's the need that spurred them to take classes, devour books, watch "The Secret" and so on.
People have built successful businesses helping others move from crisis to inner peace. And it's not to say anyone is being taken advantage of in a bad - or needy - situation. It's just that at a certain point in our lives, we have these needs and we look for answers. If you're Johnny-on-the-spot with an answer for their need, you're hired!