Ask The Expert, Design, Studio, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized

January 25, 2018

The Business Hierarchy of Needs

The Business Hierarchy of Needs


Hierarchy of Business Needs


How do you know what your business needs to survive? I’ve been mulling over that question myself since I officially started Sablewood three years ago, and after much trial and error, I think I’ve found the answer. This isn’t a guide to marketing yourself (that will come later), but this IS the first step to understanding your business, what it takes to run it, how you have the same needs as your business, and how you AND your business have to work together to achieve your long-term goals.

If you’ve taken even a little bit of psychology, you might recall Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs (you know, that pyramid thing). If you’re unfamiliar with it, I have a calligra-fied version of it above.

Here’s a basic overview of what this dude Abraham Maslow said about human psychology and growth, and how fulfilling these needs leads to a fully actualized and healthy individual. Basically, we need (starting with the most basic to the most complex):

  • Physiological needs
  • Safety needs
  • Social belonging and love needs
  • Esteem needs
  • Self-actualization

In all of the stationery groups I’m part of on Facebook, on Instagram posts, and on blogs, there’s one theme I see running fairly consistently: we all have days that we just don’t have the strength to pretend that our lives are as perfectly styled as the last wedding we designed pieces for. And that’s okay! We all know that the Instagram life is an urban myth, but that doesn’t stop us from falling into the comparison trap on a regular basis. I also hear a lot of talk about achieving the perfect work-life balance (if you have attained it, please share that with the group!) and how to nurture and grow their business.

After hearing all of this for so long, I couldn’t help but wonder (cue the Carrie Bradshaw voice-over): how can we keep our business healthy? When you strip away the jargon and get to the core of it, how is running a business any different from living a life? And if they’re similar, couldn’t we apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to our business, too?

(No, I’m not going to go deep into psychology in this post, but I think it’s important to consider how each of these categories can be translated into our business needs!)

What needs of the business are requirements for its survival?

Physiological Needs

According to Maslow, “Physiological needs are the physical requirements for human survival.” So, what needs of the business are requirements for its survival? That depends a little bit on the type of business you are (a cruise line could not physically operate without ships, after all!), so let’s focus on the physiological needs of a purely calligraphy-based business:

  • Supplies such as nibs, ink, and paper
  • An able-bodied person to Do The Work
  • A place with four walls and a roof under which to Do The Work
  • A method of communication with clients (be that email, phone calls, coffee dates, etc.)

Safety Needs

First, let’s talk about what that means for the traditional “Hierarchy of Needs”, as put forth by Mr. Maslow. Basic human safety needs are defined as personal security, financial security, health and well-being, and safety against accidents or illness. How do those translate into

  • Money in the bank (as in, getting paid client work to support you…you know, the whole reason you start a business).
  • Licenses (tax reseller’s certificate, city and/or state business licenses, corporation/LLC/sole proprietorship designations, etc.)
  • Health and business insurance.
  • Some form of banking (or several forms!)
  • A safe place with four walls and a roof under which to Do The Work (also where you don’t fear your work being stolen/vandalized/vanishing).
  • Safe relationships within which you can express your fears and struggles and successes.

Social Belonging Needs

Think groups of like-minded professionals meeting for coffee, chatting about their experiences with clients and social media and business taxes. If you’ve been to meetings or been part of groups like these, then you know how important they can be to your success. Not only do you develop professional and personal relationships with people, you can create support and referral systems with each other…which fulfills one of the Safety Needs of your business! If you need to nurture this aspect of your business, here’s a list of activities that will satisfy this business need (if you’re a solo-preneur, you might need to get out of the house more!):

  • Attend Rising Tide Society Tuesdays Together meetings (held once a month on the second Tuesday…but you’ll have to find a meeting close to you!)
  • Get a group of like-minded creatives together for bi-weekly meet-ups at coffee shops or at happy hour.
  • Join an Instagram pod or Facebook group.
  • Meet up with wedding industry professionals outside your discipline (not stationers or calligraphers – branch out!)
  • Bonus points: connect with groups of professionals that have nothing to do with weddings, calligraphy, or stationery (this one is a challenge, I know…but you never know what could come from it!)

Esteem Needs

You do incredible things. You have serious potential. You are strong. Your hard work will pay off. You’ve come so far, don’t quit now. I believe in you.

We need to hear these things on a consistent basis to feel appreciated, fulfilled, and socially accepted. You might not need to hear these words exactly, but something along these lines. This is just as important to our personal lives as it is for our business…and this is why reviews were created (it’s called validation and we all love to receive it).

Another aspect is esteem for yourself and your business. This is the freedom to be and the empowerment to create. It’s just as important as verbal appreciation for your work.

If you need some validation or a business-esteem boost, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues. Chances are, they’ve been there, too. But there is another way to boost your esteem, and that’s by boosting someone else’s!

  • Take to social media and tell a handful of people why you like their most recent post, and be genuine! Smile while you write!
  • Write a letter to a colleague, a vendor you worked with on a styled shoot, or a thank you note to someone who you met with recently. Don’t have their address? Just ask them. The anticipation will put a smile on their face and give them something to look forward to!
  • Offer advice to a friend in need. One of the best ways to learn is by teaching, and the best way to lift your spirits is to lift someone else’s.


This does not mean that you are beyond improvement or that you’re unabashedly happy with your business and brand and everything is perfect. This is a step that can only be truly achieved once all other needs are fulfilled – physiological (the basics needed to run a business), safety (paychecks and protecting your business legal/insurance-wise), social belonging (community and one-on-one coffee dates), and esteem (validation) – and once you’ve fully embraced the desire to become more. In Maslow’s words, you now are capable of the desire “to become everything one is capable of becoming”.

Um, what? Isn’t that the whole point of business – to grow and become something great?

Sure, but the theory behind Self-Actualization is that without fulfilling all of those other needs, we don’t even have the capacity to grow. If you think about it:

  • Without the supplies you need (physiological needs), how would you create any products to sell?
  • Without a bank account of some kind (safety needs), how would you accept credit card payments?
  • Without someone to share your journey with (social belonging needs), how would you grow beyond your own experience?
  • Without the freedom to create or the validation from others (esteem needs), which can come in the form of purchase or words, how would you know if your products were successful?

So, basically…

Think of your business as a living, breathing entity.

In theory, once all of these needs have been met, then your business has achieved some level of fulfillment and you’re some kind of all-powerful guru, but we know that’s not the case. Your business is constantly evolving and changing, and chances are that your needs will also shift over time. And as a working member of your business, you have the ability to keep it on track (if your personal needs have been satisfied) or pull it off track.

What needs do you often find your business lacking? Are there any needs that you can think of that are different from the list here? (Did any of that post even make you think?!) Let me know in the comments below!

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