"Follow your passion!" "Follow your dreams!" "If you do what you are passionate about, you will be successful!" These are the catchcries from today's successful leaders and mentors. I agree with their uplifting sentiment; to a point.
There is another side to the "passion" coin that few, particularly in the first flush of business love and success, want to hear. It applies to every entrepreneur, traditional start-up, profession, trade, artist, musician and writer of all genres and ages and in every industry, bar none. I hope you are listening.
Firstly, and most importantly, owning operating and growing a business is not the same as following your passion. Secondly, behind every door there is a potential wealth of treasures that rarely see the light of day. If you are in business, I suspect you will be thinking now that I've made a ridiculous assertion, that you and only you really know the ins and outs of your business! Due respect, but let me explain the foundation of my thinking.
Boorama has restructured and repositioned tens of businesses whose founders started with a passion for the concept, product, skill, ideal, opportunity or talent. Their business may have been anywhere along its life cycle, from start-up to mature; have been in business for 25 or 5 years and have 75, 5 or just 1 employee. Their business may have had some strength in one or two areas and ready for the next phase; but more typically and sadly, on the brink of collapse.
Their reasons for seeking Boorama's advice varied but included the long list of usual suspects (aka problems): customers, behaviours, staff turnover, (dis)engagement, shareholder expectations, succession, exit, structures, cash flow, profitability, investors, technological, legal, quality, product, price, distribution, supply, markets, loyalty, marketing, competitors, competition, assets, regulatory, - exhausting isn’t it and that's part of my point - economic, governments, R&D, new ideas, innovation, the business model, the vision and the list goes on. All business is complex.
Their reasons were valid enough, but there is also almost always a deeper underlying issue such as a sense of loss, loneliness and struggle to rekindle the passion. These are just a few of the feelings owners and managers have shared.
“I can’t remember the last time I actually did what I love to do. All I’ve done for decades is deal with problems in so many things I couldn't care less about: finance, legal, people, data, technology, reporting... They are not my passion”
"We were the only operators in this game and area for decades, then a big corporate syndicate appeared and stripped our customers from under our feet. Now other players, as well as online operators, are popping up all over the country. We can't compete with that! We just don't see a way out of this, what do we do now?"
“I've got great ideas I just never get time to develop them. I’m always dealing with the boring business stuff that does my head in. I’ve had enough and just want to get out! I know the business isn’t ready. What do we need to do?”
“I’m not half stupid. We think we know; we convince ourselves running a business is common sense. Hah! No-one really talks about all the mundane stuff in business. We walk in with great big rose-coloured glasses dreaming of our passion and then reality lands: pow right between the eyeballs! I’m ok but I’m coasting and so is the business. I need that fire in my belly back before it’s too late.”
“I thought I had a pretty good grip of business, but I feel like I’ve had a frontal lobotomy. Things seemed to be going so well and we were riding high. I should have seen; we all should have seen that big wall coming but everyone kept on banging the same drum and refused to look. Then it smacked me in the face! Can we save it?”
“We had no idea how to set up or run let alone grow a business. It just happened and grew into this raging success in spite of us, we think! All we know we have no idea where to go from here or how to get there except we do know we can’t stand still. But we can’t take this any further without help. It’d be chaos.”
“We’re all educated bright and capable and we think we keep up with developments. But it’s a Rumsfeld thing, you know, we know our business in so much as we know what we know but what we don’t know is exactly that! What we do know now, without a doubt, there is a whole lot about business that we have no idea about: we think because we’re educated in something over there that business is just common sense, so we just wing it most of the time. We’re growing too fast and it’s just too risky these days. So where do we start?”
“We’re really fired up with these new ideas but my shareholders, including my wife, are pulling my reins in. They reckon every time I get some hair brained idea, I’m off like a mad rocket and they have to deal with the fallout. The ideas are the things that make me get up every day, not the boring stuff. Anyway, now that I’m cobbled, I have to be good, so let’s get started.”
“We trusted her. Such fools! We were so relieved to let go of all the things we didn’t want to know about and to focus on the things we love to do, the product design and development, the creative, that we believed and trusted her. But we did try to maintain governance. We asked repeatedly for some information that we still don’t have. What should we have asked for? We haven’t got a clue! If we’d met you a year or six months ago, could we have saved this?"
“All the senior management team hears is “NO”. We have many ideas, see many problems looming and at least think we have solutions, but the owners won’t listen. This isn’t just their business that’s at stake here, their future doesn’t depend on it the way ours do. We want to contribute; we want to be respected for what we have to offer, and we want to grow with the business. They won’t tell us anything useful or let us see information that we believe could be really useful in day to day efficiencies and in putting forward our ideas. We don’t have anyone onboard who can do that for us anyway. It’s frustrating and disappointing; and not surprising that staff turnover could be better. How do we turn this around?”
These genuine anecdotes are shared, not to dishearten or frighten, but to shine the first of many lights. If you are or aim to earn your living by following your passion, your probabilities of success will increase when you embrace and integrate business knowledge and practices with your passionate pursuit.
If you have lost the passion and the dream and you are coasting, your investment is at high risk.
If you still have the dream but business indicators are not as you want, your investment is also at risk.
Whether you have lost the passion or not, if you do not know your business indicators you are at greater risk.
If you believe the means by which you self-generate income is too small to worry about all this business ‘stuff’, you are at the greatest risk.
Sometimes we just need another view to help us see the forest from the trees.
The biggest mistake may be to not act when the opportunity presents itself. Now is the best time to make an enquiry. What's to lose?