There’s no shortage of cheerleaders giving advice to business people. One of the most common mantras they offer these days is “pursue your passion.” If you love doing something, they say that’s what you should build your business around.
This always sounded a bit off-target to me, because it doesn’t fit my experience. To make a business work, you spend your time on the business, not on your passion. The success of your business has to become your passion – you love how well you do it, the challenges, and the people. It replaces whatever you were passionate about before.
- For example, you may love sewing and home décor, but when you start a business on these, you stop spending time sewing and decorating. Your focus is the business: selecting fabrics, choosing designs, exhibiting at trade shows, networking for customers, social media marketing, and financing. You hire people to sew.
- You may love riding and tinkering with motorcycles. When you start a motorcycle repair business, you don’t have time to ride anymore! What happened to the passion?
Take my own experience after I retired from a corporate career in telecom. I was looking for a business to enter, and followed the advice to pursue my passion. My passion was golf, so I decided to start a golf travel company. Fortunately, I did a business plan first, and soon discovered that people would pay me a lot more for advising them how to manage a telecom company than for setting up golf trips. So I dropped that idea, and started a consulting firm instead.
I was good at consulting on management, and people paid me for the value I offered. In contrast, I may have been a good golfer, but I had no particular skill or edge in setting up golf trips. People would not get much more value from my arrangements than they would from using someone else or doing their own, so the margins were low. My passion for golf did not translate to a golf travel business.
Recently I came across a short article that makes this same point so well that it’s worth quoting in full. The article was by Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist, in the Wall Street Journal (10/19/2013).
“When I was a commercial loan officer for a large bank, my boss taught us…the best loan customer is someone who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet. Maybe the loan customer wants to start a dry-cleaning store or invest in a fast-food franchise – boring stuff. That’s the person you bet on. You want to grinder, not the guy who loves his job.
“For most people, it’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion…Dilbert started out as just one of many get-rich schemes I was willing to try. When it started to look as if it might be a success, my passion for cartooning increased because I realized it could be my golden ticket. In hindsight, it looks as if the projects I was most passionate about were also the ones that worked. But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.
“So forget about passion.”
When I was asked to be the interim CEO for Mooney Airplane Company, I found another group of people who agreed with this analysis. The Mooney is a single engine plane for private pilots, but the company’s owners wanted a CEO who was not a pilot. They said they wanted to avoid the passion of the devotee because it could cause bad business decisions, influenced by the emotional love of flying. They were afraid that passion would make success impossible.
So when you consider your idea for a new business, look first at what you do well, not what you think you love. You won’t have time to do what you love when you’re building a business about it. It will lose its charm, and you may lose your love of it. But most importantly, you have a better chance of success working at something you know you do well. That success will breed its own passion, and then you’ll have two loves rather than none: the one you didn’t build a business around, and the business you built.
Contrary to cheerleader advice, work at something that looks good on a spreadsheet, and that you know how to do. Passion will come as you succeed. You’ll love being a successful entrepreneur!
Tom Gray helps owners save and grow their companies. He is a management consultant focused on small business, certified as a Turnaround Professional (CTP), Business Development Advisor, and SCORE Mentor. He can be reached at 630-512-0406 or email@example.com. See www.tom-gray.com. For Tom’s new book Business Techniques for Growth: More Tools for Small Business Success, and its predecessor Business Techniques in Troubled Times: A Toolbox for Small Business Success, see http://www.businesstechniquesbooks.com/