Building A Business Is Not Like Baking A Cake

When you bake a cake, it’s best to adhere closely to the recipe. Building a business isn’t like baking a cake. Building a business or a brand is a work of inspired creation. There is no one right way, no recipe or formula to follow, and no prepackaged solutions. Many people are prepared to say there are such things and they’ll gladly sell them to you too. The allure of ease is always there, knocking on the door, but it’s not real. To build a business that lasts from the ground up takes a well of ingenuity, stamina, luck, and capital.

When you have something unique to provide people and you’re building a business, there are case studies, best practices, and lessons learned. It’s up to you to apply all the learning and find a way that only you can find. While you’re busy doing that, you will undoubtedly encounter charlatans with megaphones. “Follow this formula and you too will be rich and famous,” they will sing.

Do you believe in ‘one-size-fits-all’? If not, why apply the concept to building a business or a brand? Here is one possible reason…Fast Company, Wired, Forbes, and many other publications are relentless promoters of digitally enabled pipe dreams. The pubs like to lead with the one-in-a-hundred exception to the rule while leaving the other 99 who did not win big out of the story. Their hero is an ‘everywoman’ or ‘everyman’. It could be you. In fact, it must be you — and you must focus on inventing the brand called you. Should you fail to do that, you’ll let yourself down and the attention economy too.

For their part, the formula makers and formula followers have much invested in the rules of the entrepreneurial road. Whether it’s the time-honored sales funnel or some other formula, the challenge is to recognize which parts are real and valuable, while letting go of the parts that do not make sense any longer. For instance, the sales funnel assumes that people can be channeled like cattle towards a purchase. The reality is people ‘ping’ from site to site seeking value from wherever they can find it. Their loyalty is to their pocketbook and their own individual tastes, needs, and desires, not to any particular brand or store.

Another common formula today is the “publish, and they will come” myth. This formula neatly aligns with the digital funnel formula, and it also makes it possible for content makers to make a living. What goes mostly unsaid is “less is more” when it comes to content marketing. People are overwhelmed with information, with work, with parenting and caregiving, and more. So, when you do post, make it mean something for the people in the audience. Think of it as helpful information for your future and existing customers.

How does one do that? It requires a tight process. Locating and leveraging true insights about your product or service is a process, but it’s not patented. And a process is not a formula. Formulas are flat and therefore easy to package and preach. Your process, on the other hand, needn’t be unique to work, and you don’t need to make it your own. Your process is like yoga or a workout routine — the results come from consistent dedication to the practice.

When you find a process that produces results and you hone it and practice it, you will create the right atmosphere for generating big ideas at a rapid pace on demand. To me this is gold, and it’s why I am invested in process, not formula.


David Burn is a writer, strategist, and leader of creative teams in Austin, Texas. He’s helped many of America’s top consumer and business-to-business brands shape and share their best brand stories. Learn more about David at



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