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Jump-Start Your Career With a Personal Business Model

Apr 25, 2011

by Tim


This post previously appeared on Get Rich Slowly in a slightly different form.

Work life. The business world. So often, jobs and the businesses that provide them are framed as an opposition of sorts — as adversaries compelling us to be someone other than ourselves. That representation is true to a degree: Many people strongly feel that their work and personal pursuits, while both essential to survival, are fundamentally incompatible. Perhaps you do!

Despite this common notion, there’s a place for business lessons in our personal lives. This point was brought home to me last year while editing a now-bestselling book about business models. The book was created to help organizations become more successful — but I was struck by the notion that business model thinking can help individuals succeed, too.

Business Models and Organizations

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.

Among its many exciting features — such as its title! — the book I edited, Business Model Generation, provides 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 is expressed in a 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:

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 important 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):

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. That’s the beauty and value of the Business Model Canvas. Drawing the model on paper makes typically unspoken assumptions explicit. And this can help organizations clarify their goals, adjust them to fit changing economic climates, and even provides a method for reinventing themselves to deal with changing needs or to pursue new customers or opportunities.

Business Models Go Personal

Now, here’s some good news for individuals: Just as business model thinking helps organizations transform the status quo into something new and successful, you too can employ the same tools to improve your current career.

Of course, by better understanding how your organization operates, business model thinking can help you perform more effectively at your current job. But more than that, once you’re familiar with the Business Model Canvas, you can use it to adjust or even reinvent your work life.


Simply by thinking of yourself as a single-person enterprise with a “personal business model.”

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.”

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 work life.

Interested in using these ideas to improve your career? 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 Post-it 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 benefit from defining a personal business model. With this in mind, together with the authors of Business Model Generation, I’m now working on 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).

This is the same model that made Business Model Generation an international bestseller — you can read about this rule-busting approach in an essay by Jeffrey Krames, the agent who represents us.

Nearly 500 contributing co-authors from 45 countries joined us in the production of Business Model Generation. Now we’d like to invite people 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.

Most important, try drawing your own personal business model. You may find that it helps you jumpstart your career.

3 Comments to Jump-Start Your Career With a Personal Business Model

On Apr 25, 2011, John Bardos - IdeaEconomy commented:

Hi Tim,

I am a huge believer of business model innovation for creating business value. I love your shift to Business Model You.

Inviting readers to participate is also a fantastic idea. I am really interested to see how this develops.I wish you great success!

On Apr 26, 2011, by Tim commented:

John, good to hear from you! So far more than 100 contributors have joined, so cheer us on :-)

Where did your travels take you? IdeaEconomy looks great – –

On Jan 4, 2012, gospodarka niemiecka commented:

I’ve been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this site. Thank you, I will try and check back more often. How frequently you update your web site?

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