Passion. It’s one of the many hot topics when it comes to entrepreneurship. From Richard Branson to Oprah Winfrey to Steve Jobs – all have repeatedly stressed how important it is to be passionate about what you do in order to succeed. In fact, many motivational and small business experts encourage people to figure out what they are most passionate about and build a business around that.
I agree wholeheartedly about passion being a crucial factor when it comes to succeeding as an entrepreneur. What I don’t agree with are the major ideas regarding passion and entrepreneurship.
The 3 Major Theories Around Passion and Entrepreneurship and Why They Are Flawed
1. Figure out what you are most passionate about and build a business around that.
I think this one thing has been responsible for many people closing up shop and for many others never getting started.
Many clients I’ve worked with have struggled with growing their income in their business because they feel less than enthusiastic about whatever it is they are in business to do. Perhaps the enthusiasm was there at one point but it wore off. They get the idea in their head that in order to succeed, they need to have passion and somehow or other they end up self-sabotaging their own business growth.
Almost daily, I have someone come to me who tells me they want to start a business but have no idea what to do because they don’t really know how to translate what they are passionate about into a business. It is something that stops them from even getting started. When I suggest they don’t need to be passionate about what they do, it’s almost like telling a devout Christian God doesn’t exist.
2. Build a business around a product or service idea that you love and are passionate about and the money will follow
Passion doesn’t always translate directly to a specific product or service that the market wants and is willing to pay for. Business, first and foremost, is about being able to generate a profit. Even most tax authorities, such as the IRS, have requirements as to how many years a business must show a profit otherwise it is deemed a hobby.
3. If you don’t love what you are doing in business, then you should find something that you do love
The problem with this is something I mentioned in the first point: too many entrepreneurs who are doing well in business, or could be doing well, don’t reach their potential because they think they can’t be really happy without being passionate about their product or service.
I started out by sharing that I believe it’s important for entrepreneurs to be passionate but then dispelled the myths associated with passion and entrepreneurship. What gives? What is the truth about passion and entrepreneurship? What should passion look like for entrepreneurs?
The Sources of Passion for Entrepreneurs
1. You can be passionate about the product/service/market your business serves
This is where you have a personal interest in the area your business is in and it’s how most people typically look at passion.
2. You can be passionate about how your business can service a market better in some way over competitors
I’ve seen countless businesses start up and succeed because the business owner saw that there was a ready market for a product or service and that current companies serving that market were deficient in some way. The business owner wasn’t necessarily excited or passionate about the actual product or service but about how something could be improved. It was passion for opportunity.
3. You can be passionate about what your business does for you on a personal level
Perhaps you aren’t passionate about a product or service but you recognize there is an opportunity in the market for it. It could generate a solid income stream so that you can live the lifestyle you want.
One of my friends has been in the real estate business for 15 years. She is not a real estate agent or broker. She buys properties that can generate rental income. She started out with $20,000. Over the years, she’s gotten several others to invest and has now built up a company that owns over $20 million of rental properties. Her primary role is finding new properties to acquire and managing her small staff that keep operations running on a day to day basis. Talking to her about her business – she is definitely not passionate about the headaches of managing rental property. Her real passion? She gets to spend most of her time at home with her children and has been homeschooling.
Passion on a personal level can also be about ego-stroking. Building the number one brand in an industry can be enticing.
Some of My Personal Story
In the mid-90’s I started to publish an email newsletter on personal finance. I went to business school in finance. I knew my material well. At the time, online resources devoted to personal finance were directed to 2 groups: 1. those who were hardcore investors (think penny stocks, day trading, etc) and 2. the coupon cutters and bargain hunters. At the time, this meant that there wasn’t really a lot of information out there for the other 80% of people – those who just wanted to know how to improve their financial situation. I covered topics like retirement planning, reducing debt, tax issues, etc.
I was one of the first people to get into publishing in a big way like this. Within a few months, I had grown my subscriber base to over 65,000 readers. At its peak, I was making over $20,000 a week from advertisers who sponsored specific topics or who paid me per action. I think I did well was in part because of my knowledge on the topic and marketing but it was more about timing. I honestly wasn’t passionate about the topic. I didn’t jump out of bed every day wanting to share my financial know-how with people. I did get out of bed passionate about taking advantage of an opportunity – the timing – and being the leader in an area before competitors moved into it.
As I continued to grow the newsletter, two things happened: 1. I became known as an “expert” in this area – receiving interview requests, consulting gigs, speaking opportunities, etc. and 2. I discovered an even larger opportunity looming.
You see, at this time, service providers for handling the distribution of email newsletters were few and far between. At one end of the scale were the free or inexpensive services using software like Majordomo and at the other end were premium services who charged several thousand dollars a month for service. The problem with the former is that they would start to have issues with larger lists. After around 10,000 subscribers, bad things could start to happen.
I knew a lot of other people who were publishing email newsletters in various niches and recognized there was an opportunity. I got a server online, purchased software and suddenly found myself no longer publishing an email newsletter but providing delivery and consulting services to email publishers. I then added on services like the promotion, design and even creating content for email newsletters.
As companies started to move into email marketing, I was in a prime position. I locked up a lot of deals with major traditional advertising agencies who had little or no experience with email marketing but wanted to provide this service for clients. I was fortunate to get clients like Porsche, American Standard, Tom Peters and many other known brands/individuals as they moved into this area.
About 18 months after creating my first start-up in the email marketing space, I sold off most of my client base for delivery services to a company who had massive funding. I then rebuilt and did it all over again.
I think the biggest opportunities for the entrepreneur without aspirations to run an 8, 9 or 10+ figure company are in sweet spots like I’ve found – where there are no “big players” and money hasn’t entered an area or when a major change can be made in how a product or service are delivered. Huge, huge opportunities. This is where my own passion has been. The product and service don’t really matter.
One of my existing businesses is totally unsexy. I don’t think anyone could be passionate about it. But since 1998, when I first started it, it’s continued to grow at a nice clip. A little niche business has generated over 25 million dollars in quotes over the past 3 years. Yes, million dollars. It’s a tidy operation that does quite well. I’m not passionate about the service this business provides. But I am passionate about providing the best possible service in this niche area. That passion and dedication have resulted in over 20 companies who provide related services to tens of thousands of clients sending us a lot of business – and without any compensation for the referrals. I am also passionate about a sizable revenue stream.
Finding Your Passion
As I’ve shared, there are many different ways that you can be passionate about a business. It doesn’t have to be about the product, service or industry. Passion can come from a variety of places. What I think is most important is to figure out a way to get passion in the mix.
What are you passionate about? What is your driving force?