Do not lead with your heart. Make sure your head is in charge of your passion.
A much-loved, but sometimes not entirely on-target, family member once told me, ―The rule is to find your passion and then build your business around that. What? Unless your passion also includes making the mortgage payment and keeping groceries on the table, passion should not be the determining factor for your business. It is not the Rule.
I have a wonderfully intelligent aunt who advised me that―enjoying what you do is great. Recognition is personally satisfying. But neither of those pays for the rigatoni. Since she shared that wisdom with me, that tenet has been my qualifying question: Will this pay for the rigatoni? That‘s what this LeaderSnip addresses—making sure that your passion pays for the rigatoni.
Caring intensely and passionately and being excited and energized because you are engaged in what you love are all good things. The highest order of success may be when passion and profitability come together. However, before you trip merrily down a pure heart path and find yourself pulled into a bramble-filled forest, let‘s explore some considerations.
Please know before we go into this likely uncomfortable questioning that not one of the questions— not even a combination—should be considered a show-stopper for you. The most critical activity for you right now is to carefully and logically consider all these implications to make the most well-informed decisions you can about your future business and life.
Dissecting Your Passion
How will you make money by following your heart?
I’m sorry to be so materialistic, but this is real business we’re talking here. For example, if your passion is helping people to achieve their highest potential in business, what will you provide for them? Would your package be workshops, seminars, classes, face-to-face consulting? If so, are the people you want to provide service for in your immediate or able-to-reach-without-killing-yourself geographical area? Can you get to them, or they to you, without wasting excessive time that doesn’t bring in revenue? Maybe you’ll offer books, DVD’s, videos, or webinars to get past the in-person logistics? Do you have the skill, experience, and money to produce those, or do you have a partner who can? Do you have sufficient credibility in your chosen market space to make people want to buy from you?
How does ―helping people to achieve their highest potential translate into saleable goods or services?
Think in tangible terms. Consider the outcomes for your customers from your business, but immediately consider what real things will get them to the desired results. Get specific as early as possible without locking yourself into hard-and-fast conclusions. (Remember, this is the start of your critical analysis. You will be revisiting these questions.)
How many others share your passion?
How large is the pool of future customers who share your interests enough to want to pay actual money to buy…whatever, or contract with you for…something? How big is your niche? Many years ago, a budding entrepreneur asked me for help in starting a swimming pool installation business because he was very passionate about swimming pools. He knew a lot about building pools, had an unusually large cash reserve from an inheritance, and had already identified qualified potential employees to work in the business. The significant challenge was that he lived in northern Minnesota, in a small town surrounded by other small towns, populated by people without much disposable income. He believed that his market was ―wide open because there were almost no in-ground pools in his area. (He willed himself to overlook winter for eight months a year and frozen ground six feet deep.) My support consisted of trying to talk him out of the venture, yet I was unsuccessful. He wanted to follow his passion. He put in one pool at cost as a ―calling card and sold one other pool job. There just weren’t enough people in his geographic space that shared the passion, or enjoyed the climate, for what he wanted to offer. (Mini-lesson: make sure your passion fits where you are, or move. Please do not try to offer scuba-diving training or snow skiing in southeast Missouri. I’ve heard those ideas also. They were tried, but didn’t work out.)
Another ―too small niche challenge may be related to the product or services that you identify in support of your passion.
For example, you may be passionate about dogs. You don’t intend to breed dogs, or groom or board them, or provide pet supplies. You’ve done your research and identified an ―open spot in the canine field: determining a dog’s breed and lineage by DNA testing. You are not geographically constrained because your customers can mail in the required materials in containers, which you will supply, and you will email or mail the results. Nice and easy. Here’s the question. Are there enough people who are so passionate about finding out what kind of mixed breed pet they have that they are willing to pay up to $100 for the answer? Maybe so. How many tests per year will you have to sell to recover your start-up and test kit costs? Are there enough people to support those required sales or is the market already very filled with options? This may be a viable extension of your passion, but you still need to research, analyze, and react to the consideration of, ―Are there enough people who share your passion in the way you intend to sell it?
Are there so many people in your “passion space” that the market may be flooded with buying options?
For example, you want to provide leadership training to companies and individuals through workshops, webinars, and printed or electronic products. A Google search on leadership training identifies 137,000,000 sites. I’m not sure how big an ark would need to be to weather that flood, but certainly it would be multi-storied and seriously well equipped!
But still…you could enter and penetrate the market and be successful in your venture. You could follow your passion. You would need to be very precise and cold-heartedly objective about your place in the market. This includes differentiation, reputation, marketability, and pricing, at the least. The need to brand yourself visibly and with laser focus on the buyer’s needs in a super-flooded market is long term, complex, and sometimes expensive in marketing and networking requirements. However, it can still be done successfully as long as your head is in complete control of your heart.
Sometimes the market flooding is localized and you have to decide whether you’ll stay in the flood zone or find drier ground, or even another passion.
You may be passionate about providing massage therapy and/or full spa services. However, you live in Las Vegas. There are more spas than casinos in Las Vegas, and if you linked massage therapists arm-in-arm, they would likely stretch up and down the Strip 5,000 times. Add the inordinately expensive licensing requirement to get into that business in Vegas to the cost of training and establishing and equipping a location, to the cost of massive quantities of marketing materials and effort to stand out from the crowd, and you may need to charge $10.00 a massage-minute to be successful. That difficult-to-attain requirement may smother your passion to nothing more than a gasping, faded memory.
Is your passion larger than you can or should include in your business?
Do you want to be the next low-cost, accessible-to-everyone, jack-rabbit-fast mobile communications provider? How about inventing the better-than-an-iPad technology tool? Maybe you‘d like to start a large ship-building company? How about opening up a chain of restaurants that feature Asian fusion cuisine? All these options could be attainable with the right amount of capital investment, the right people, and the right knowledge and ability. (Throw some good timing and a little luck into some of those, actually. But still…they could happen.) If you have the funding, the people, and the ability, then you may want to move forward. If not, you’d be well advised to find a passion that is closer in size and scope to what you’re prepared to risk.
Risk. A truth is that all businesses carry risk.
Risk comes in many categories and money is certainly the most visible and immediate. The monetary spread is huge and very dependent on the size of the venture. (I’ve personally risked from $3.00 on my first business to buy treats for my customers, up to $300k in an initial funding round for trucks, starting inventory, and first employees for my construction company.) Although it‘s not true for every venture, the size of the risk often aligns to the size of the potential reward, and the predictability of potential failure.
I have a special understanding of risk and reward because I have lived in Vegas for 16 years. You learn quickly here that you must gamble a lot to win a lot in most cases. The problem is in Vegas, you will probably lose your investment eventually. That’s how they built those incredible casinos. In business, making the big gamble does not mean that eventually you will lose it. Carefully, objectively analyzing the head versus heart priority in the beginning will serve you very well in avoiding a risk that is too great for the potential or likelihood of the reward.
In some situations, for some people, passion doesn’t make good business sense.
The passion belongs somewhere else, in a different place or time. Years ago, I worked with the Chief Financial Officer for a large seafood company. After some time of working with him to provide strategy and direction for several of his company’s major initiatives, he shared that his great passion was literacy. The CFO never believed that he could adequately support his family by working in literacy programs or by teaching school, but he was unwilling to ignore what his heart called him to do. Twice a month, he drove to a local penitentiary to teach illiterate prisoners. He was quick and proud to tell me the number of people who could read because of his work. Once a year, he would use two weeks of his vacation time to work in a literacy camp for disadvantaged teenagers. He said that all the day-to-day problems and the tedium of corporate life became more tolerable because of his work in teaching others to read.
I’m sharing another personal perspective that might be helpful to you in approaching, dissecting, and evaluating the head versus heart conundrum. As you know, entrepreneurship is one of my great passions. Since my first business venture when I was nine years old, I’ve always had several businesses in operation simultaneously. You’d think that should satisfy me, but it has not. So, in addition to my own businesses, I have chosen to partner with another strong entrepreneur and offer SmartStart, which supports new or established entrepreneurs in starting or expanding their businesses. I’m most comfortable (and my passion is somewhat sated) if I’m working with at least six different entrepreneurs simultaneously.
In the mix of six, there are always a few that are ―emotional selections, and they pay very little for my help. (I can’t in good conscience charge my normal rate because I don’t believe they will recover my fees adequately with their business plans.) They are the lost souls of the business world. They want it so passionately, and somehow I’ve gotten so (too) attached to them, that I will try to support them, although I believe that their success will be elusive or minimal. When I engage with one of these clients, I‘m careful to set realistic expectations with them. I say right up front, ―We’ll try together, but it doesn’t look great. I repeat that often.
I know where they’re coming from. I’ve been there myself.
When I started in earnest to build my own building businesses, I really wanted to succeed. I really believed I could. I just needed someone to take a chance on me—someone to help me. Because of those experiences, I have a hard time saying no today. But when I say yes, and engage in what appears to be a somewhat futile effort, it has to be a well-considered, conscious decision on my part. I have to carefully take into consideration the amount of time the lost soul will require versus the time I need to reserve for my higher potential clients. This means that sometimes I need to be cold-hearted and tell some bright, enthusiastic, passionate, wanna-be entrepreneur that I cannot help. I really don’t like their disappointment. But I have to make those choices. I must also lead with my head.
Among my passions is a brilliantly-colored, fully-blinged-out desire to make the mortgage payment and put groceries, including much rigatoni, on the table. That’s my wish for you. Find your passion, lead with your head, determine if your passion fits your business or if it belongs in your ―extra time every day after your work is done.
Don‘t give up your passion. Work with it, enjoy it, and put it where it belongs.