How to use ikigai to build a successful business

Over the last decade, the Japanese concept of ikigai has been embraced by those seeking to live a more meaningful life.

A theory loosely translated as “reason for being,” interest in ikigai surged thanks to National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner. 

Buettner asserted that the reason for the extraordinary good health and longevity of the inhabitants of Okinawa, an island in South-West Japan, was down to diet but also their longstanding tradition of ikigai, a kind of art of living linking together four key factors – passion, expertise, demand and value.

In other words, these East Asian old-timers used their skills and expertise to make money doing something they loved while providing their community with something it needed. This instilled in them not just a sense of purpose, but a bona fide reason to get up in the morning.

Looking at Buettner’s explanation, those at a loose end in their lives could see how ikagai provided a strategy to find fulfilment in life. While others, unhappy in their jobs, found ikagai coaching could help them get clear on their careers.

Ikagai Coaching for small businesses

But ikagai can also go beyond the individual. As a life and marketing coach helping people start new paths as entrepreneurs, I’ve found that small businesses have a great chance of survival – and success – if they’re built on a bedrock of ikagai.

After all, a business also has a “reason for being”.  And if you, as a small business owner or solopreneur, can align your businesses ikagai with your own values and aspirations, you’re much more likely to embark on an enterprise that is both fulfilling and fruitful.

The four ikagai factors

So, let’s have a look at how you can use the four factors of ikagai to build a successful business.

Those factors are:

  • What you love (passion)
  • What you’re good at (expertise)
  • What the world needs (demand)
  • What you can be paid for (value)

The intersection of where all those factors overlap is where your ikagai – and business success – lies. 

Ikagai factor: What you love

Creating a business from a passion is the dream that prompts most people to hang up their employee tag and become a solopreneur. But whatever passion project you pick, be sure it will motivate and move you even in the toughest of times.

Because those times will come.

There will be days when you feel down and depressed. Days when you feel completely overwhelmed, stressed, and sick of working solo.

In other words, there will be days when you hate doing what you love.  And unfortunately, them’s the breaks when you’re building a business.

Ikagai Coaching tips:

Tip #1 – There are gazillions of great business ideas out in the world. And often when we think of one, another fifteen come chugging through our minds. So, do this exercise here to ensure your business is based on a genuine personal passion – and not something you think you should do.

Tip #2 – When the going gets tough, go get a piece of paper. Then sit down and bullet point all the reasons you wanted to set up this business. Remind yourself of the specific activity, service or product your business provides which positively impacts you, your family, your customers, and the world at large.

Ikagai factor: What you’re good at

Creating a passion-led business takes courage and stamina. It also takes skills. If your dream job is unrelated to the work you’ve been doing for the last few years, you may need to retrain.

Ikagai is based on the notion that a meaningful life doesn’t just come from following your passion. It arises from fulfilling your purpose by doing something you love and that you’re good at too. 

That said, remember you don’t have to be good at EVERYTHING to make your business work. It may be that you concentrate on your specific strengths and seek out support for those tasks that “you just can’t even.”

Ikagai Coaching tips:

Tip #1 – Work out where your business weaknesses lie. You can do this easily by dividing your business into a two-roomed structure – front office and back office.

  • The front office is effectively everything that relates to your products’ or service’s interface with potential clients – sales, marketing, business strategy, etc.
  • The back office involves daily administration work alongside the development, design, and manufacturing of your offering.

Under each front and back office task, note where you excel and where you might need to brush up or hire out.

Tip #2 – Don’t hold back from getting help if you need it. Your business will be better off in the long run if you seek expert advice or assistance.

If funds are low, don’t make that the obstacle to building your business. For example, is it possible that you could start off hiring a VA for 60 minutes a week to handle at least one task that’s not within your zone of genius?

Ikagai factor: What the world needs

You may be wholly passionate about your business but if what you’re offering isn’t really needed in the world, you’ll end up putting a lot of time and energy into something that will likely not succeed. And here’s the ikagai punch – failed businesses rarely fulfil you.

So, if finding your ikagai involves giving the world something it desires then that’s a key point to remember when creating a passion-led business.

Sure, there are numerous niche businesses that have found success in an online and therefore global market. But they likely tested and tweaked the idea, service or product first, before rolling it out ready-made.

Ikagai Coaching tips:

Tip #1 – Whether your business is based on a service, a product or an experience, you can still build a prototype and offer it to people to get honest and critical feedback.

It’s best not to do this solely with the cheerleaders in your life such as family and BFFs. Instead, offer it for free to real customers, preferably a test group of target audience members.

Be upfront. Tell them this is a first example of the service or product that you want to offer, and that you need authentic feedback. And then, of course, make changes and tweaks based on what your target group says.

Tip #2 – The next step is finding out if people will pay for your product. Put together a small marketing campaign with various marketing tactics, a good landing page and online advertising. You can generally find free coupons for Facebook and Google Ads (just type in ‘free Google Ads coupons’ into your search engine subject line), so you don’t even have to spend money.

Then test it, and see how your product fares out in the real world. Make notes on the tactics that work and those that don’t, on who showed interest, who bought, and how you can make improvements.

Ikagai factor: What you get paid for

So you’ve launched a passion-led business. You’re in the zone utilising your skills, and you’ve discovered that there is a need in the world for what you’re selling.   

Great.  

But is the business you’ve created covering your costs? Or are you spending sleepless night wondering how to keep yourself afloat from a business that – if you’re being truthful – costs more money than it makes or is, at best, breaking even?

Look, here are the bald facts: It takes time to build up a clientele in any business and – yes – there’ll likely be a long period where you’re offering your services for free or at a discount rate. But at some stage, your business has to start generating revenue and – deep breath – actual profit. If it’s not, then it’s also not fulfilling the fourth factor that will seal the deal on creating a successful enterprise.

Ikagai Coaching tips:

Tip #1 – Take an honest look at where you might be losing money in your business. Are your overheads too high? Are your prices too low? Does the market know you exist?

Do a detailed audit on where the cash is coming and going in your business. Look at where you’re spending money and where you could be saving some.  

Make sure you identify exactly what the problem is before you throw more pennies and pounds at it.

Tip #2: You may have found a niche audience for your well-priced product or service. But are you engaging with them regularly, keeping your business front and centre in their minds? Or is your marketing strategy pretty inconsistent?

For example, if you have social platforms but don’t have a social media strategy in place or if you only book ads whenever you get a sale you’re not building consistent awareness of your business.

Creating a business you love, serving the world with the skills that you have, will only work if the world knows you’re out there.

And like ikagai for an individual, ikagai for a business isn’t a static thing.

You have to maintain and monitoring its ikagai roots, and make necessary changes to help it grow and evolve in step with your specific market and the world at large.

Do that, and not only will you build a business that has a solid “reason for being” but you’ll build a life that has genuine impact and meaning.

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Gabrielle Collard
Verified Coach
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I’m a certified coach from London, Marketing Consultant and founder of The Coach Space. For enquiries email gabrielle@thecoachspace.com or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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