Jump-start your career with a personal business model

In columns past, Get Rich Slowly has showed you how to improve your financial situation by thinking of yourself as a business. In short, the lessons of business often apply to personal life. I recently discovered this while editing a book about business models that turned into an international bestseller. (Who knew business models could be so popular?) The lesson I learned — that business model thinking can apply to individuals as well as to organizations — could help you jump-start your career.

The term “business model” may seem like jargon used by high-priced consultants and business-school professors. That's too bad, because understanding and analyzing business models remains a rare and valuable skill — yet one anybody can learn.

What does “business model” mean, anyhow? There's little agreement on a precise definition, but two common explanations are “a blueprint for a business” and “how a firm makes money.” These definitions are general and don't mean exactly the same thing. Still, both suggest that business models play a key role in business success.

Why is this important?

Because most of us care greatly about our employers' survival. And if that's the case, then it follows that we should be keen to understand how business models apply to and help sustain the organizations we work for — as well as why new models have wreaked havoc in the telecommunications, publishing, music, and advertising industries, among others.

Among its many exciting features — such as its title — the book I edited, Business Model Generation, details a more complete definition of “business model”:

A business model describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value.

In other words, a business model explains how an enterprise provides value to customers — and gets paid for doing so. Specifically, “providing value” means helping customers with a job that needs doing.

The Business Model Canvas

This logic can be expressed in the Business Model Canvas, a simple diagram that shows a business model's nine key “building blocks.” These building blocks include Customers, Value Provided to Customers, and Channels, among others:

Business Model Canvas

Let's see how the Canvas works by diagramming the business model of Jiffy Lube, a drive-in, quick oil change service company.

Jiffy Lube helps car owners accomplish a crucial but messy, hassle-laden job: maintaining their vehicles. Jiffy Lube helps customers with this job by quickly and expertly changing oil — and saving them from dirtying their clothes or having to recycle used oil. Customers, in turn, pay Jiffy Lube for the value it provides in keeping their cars running trouble-free.

Here's a Canvas that shows Jiffy Lube's business model. It includes Customers (car owners), Value Provided to Customers (keeping cars running trouble-free), and Channels (how value is delivered — in Jiffy Lube's case, on-site at Jiffy Lube locations):

Business Model Canvas for Jiffy Lube

Seems simple enough, right?

Here's the key point: Though it embodies crucial organizational logic, a business model is also invisible — an undefined, intangible asset that resides…well, nowhere. Few organizations bother to formally describe their models in the form you see above. Doesn't it seem odd that something so important so often remains invisible?

That's the beauty and value of the Business Model Canvas. Drawing the model on paper makes typically unspoken assumptions explicit. And clarifying those assumptions makes them available for others to understand, challenge — and build upon.

Business Models Go Personal

Now, here's some good news for us as individuals: By getting a better understanding of how our organizations work, business model thinking helps us perform more effectively at our own jobs. But more than that, once we become familiar with the Business Model Canvas, we can apply the same ideas to our own careers.

How?

Simply by thinking of ourselves as single-person enterprises with “personal business models.”

For example, we all work for others (Customers), helping them complete the jobs they need to have done (Provide Value) — and we do so through various mediums (Channels). Of course, we don't usually use business terms to discuss our work. (Not if we want anyone to listen to us, anyhow!) But that's where the Canvas proves useful. When we use its structure and language to help us describe what we do, we open the door to personal and professional innovation.

Last year, for instance, my friend Chris developed a side business copy-editing scholarly papers for university professors. After listening to me prattle on about business models, she decided to analyze her new job by drawing a Business Model Canvas. In the “Value Provided to Customers” building block, she wrote, “improve article readability and style.”

Business Model Canvas for personal use

But after pondering Value Provided, Chris realized the job she was doing was something far more valuable: helping professors get articles published in leading scholarly journals. For university professors living in a “publish or perish” world, this was a mission-critical job indeed. Chris raised her rates significantly — and attracted more, not fewer, customers.

Clarifying your personal business model can be an eye-opening experience — or even the first step toward reinventing your career.

Interested in using these ideas to improve your own life? Here are three simple takeaways:

  • Learn to use the Business Model Canvas — it's a simple but powerful tool for both organizations and individuals.
  • Like Chris, put your personal business model down on paper to clarify the value you provide to customers.
  • Use sticky notes to change the content of different building blocks and imagine new ways to add customers, serve them through different channels, or boost your “value provided.”

Be Part of a Bestseller Business Model

Chris's story isn't unique. Anyone can profit from defining a personal business model. With this in mind, I'm now working with the authors of Business Model Generation to create a new book about applying business model ideas to personal career development.

The work is tentatively titled Business Model You. We figured a book about business models should itself adopt a non-traditional model, so that's what we've done. We're inviting readers to co-create the book by critiquing draft chapters, voting on design elements, or simply supporting the effort through online forum membership. In exchange for pre-purchasing one copy, each member will be credited within the final work as a contributing co-author. (This is a traditional paper book, not an e-book.)

Nearly 500 contributing co-authors from 45 countries joined us in the production of Business Model Generation. Now we'd like to invite GRS readers with strong interests in career development and/or writing to join us at Business Model You! While we can't guarantee that the new book will also become a bestseller, if you join us, the odds are in our favor — and yours.

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Joan Concilio Otto
Joan Concilio Otto
9 years ago

How do I volunteer?! I’m a full-time newspaper editor and boy, I’d really rather read this. 😉

Tim Clark
Tim Clark
9 years ago

Thanks for all these terrific comments. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t see this post until today (how did I miss that GRS mail?? J.D., you’ve got to cut down on the number of posts :-). Working on Business Model Generation literally changed my life, not just because of the book’s terrific content — which made me rethink my own Personal Business Model — but because of the amazing collaborative experience I had working with four terrific principals (Alex, Yves, Alan, and Patrick) and 469 contributing co-authors. I became a big fan of Alex and Yves’s work in 2007… Read more »

Tim Clark
Tim Clark
9 years ago
Reply to  Tim Clark

Joan, terribly late getting back to you on this, but visit here to sign up:

http://businessmodelyou.com/

Tim

Pat S.
Pat S.
9 years ago

I like the idea of self as a business. It forces you to focus on the little things that can yield big changes. As a person, it is easy to let things fall through the cracks, but viewing yourself as a profit making entity forces you to look at the bottom line.

SL
SL
9 years ago

So many people I know don’t place enough value in what they can do and end up being taken advantage of in low-paying jobs. These are people that are capable and could contribute immensely in a challenging and complex work environments. It always amazing me how seemingly unqualified people can get excellent jobs, but I think these people see themselves as a “Business Model” and are able to sell themselves. Hardworking and honest people need to be able to do the same in order to not sell themselves short. I think the recession really has made a major impact on… Read more »

Hunter
Hunter
9 years ago

Great concept WRT including editors/customers in the process. I see this as an application of an effective leadership strategy of getting your team to engage in a process, and therefore assume ownership of the results. Love it.

skeptical
skeptical
9 years ago

The concept of Business Model You sounds cool and interesting. The non-traditional method of creating it — some degree of crowdsourcing? — also is interesting. Some might say it is a bit opportunistic to profit from what others are contributing. However, I don’t mind this; I think creating the process and the forum is valuable. BUT “In exchange for pre-purchasing one copy, each member will be credited within the final work as a contributing co-author.” THAT sounds like a sketchy racket. Making substantial contributions to the book should make one a co-author, not pre-purchasing the book. I hope you re-think… Read more »

Kevin M
Kevin M
9 years ago

I like the idea of writing down the work-flow of how a business generates value for its customers. I’m reading a book specific to professional services (CPA, attorneys, etc) right now that talks a lot about value creation and communication and I think this exercise might be useful to do in conjunction with that. Thanks for the article.

Lucas
Lucas
9 years ago

I’m in business grad school right now, and it amazes me how many of my classmates can quote economic theory and best practices in management left and right, but completely fail to apply those same concepts to their own lives. I think this post is right on, and makes the connections clear. Maybe I’ll send a few of my more clueless classmates the link…

TF, Boston
TF, Boston
9 years ago

I love this idea! Think of your professional life as a business, with a special focus on customers, value delivered, and communications channels.

As an employee, your employer is the purchaser of your services (even if you are also responsible to your employer’s customers). Focus on both levels there.

If your employer is taking advantage of your value-created, consider your options for self-employment?