“Follow your passion!”
It’s a popular rallying cry for career counselors and self-help gurus. But how do you actually do it? If you’re fortunate enough to have a passion for telling other people to follow their passion, the business model is pretty clear.
But what if you have a passion for something less easy to monetize, like:
In that case, it might be a lot harder for you to create a business out of your passion. But it’s not impossible. People do it all the time. You just have to do some work to figure out how to identify a market you can serve profitably.
In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to do that. We’ll start by looking at what passion even means in a business context, why it’s important, and how you can identify it if you’re not sure. Then we’ll go through some of the nuts and bolts of converting that passion into a viable business model.
1. What Is Passion?
You hear the word "passion" a lot, but what does it really mean in a business context?
What if you’re passionate about something that’s not easy to make profitable? Or what if, on the other hand, you're in an industry that's difficult to get passionate about, like manufacturing some small component of an industrial process?
Some of the confusion around the concept of passion comes from its multiple definitions. In my dictionary, the first definition of “passion” is:
Strong and barely controllable emotion
That’s not what we’re talking about here. The dictionary then goes on to talk about romance, and that’s definitely not what we’re talking about here.
The type of passion we’re talking about in business is in the next definition:
A thing arousing great enthusiasm
That’s what you’re looking for: something you feel enthusiastic about.
Passion for Different Areas of the Business
Keep in mind that your business or product doesn’t necessarily have to be something you love in and of itself—although that helps. It could simply be about seeing an opportunity to do something and being enthusiastic and determined to do it well.
For example, Richard Branson said about launching Virgin Money:
"Our team saw a great opportunity for revamping customer service in banking. While I wasn’t passionate about banking, customer service is something that interests me."
So your passion can be for an element of the business or a particular way of doing business, not necessarily the product itself.
2. Why Is Passion Important?
So why does the term “passion” crop up so much in business advice? Isn’t it enough just to find a good business idea?
Well, maybe. You could create a business in an area you don’t really care about, and make it a success by sheer hard work and force of will. But having a passion for what you do will make it a lot easier. Here’s why:
Running a Small Business Is Hard Work
If you want an easy life, don’t start a small business.
It’s possible, of course, that you’ll be a huge success, sell your business for a few billion, and be able to retire to Monte Carlo. But that doesn't happen too often.
What’s much more likely is that, especially in the early days, you’ll be short of money, investing your every waking hour in the business, worrying about it during your sleeping hours too, and having a work-life balance that’s constantly weighted towards the work side of the scale.
Among other things, you’ll probably need to:
- raise money
- design products
- research the market
- create a brand
- create a website
- design the website
- troubleshoot the website
- redesign the website
- do the boring accounting stuff
- handle reams of red tape
- and much more
Try doing all of that without feeling passionate about what you’re doing, and see how far you get. Most successful entrepreneurs have gone through hard times, times when nothing seemed to be working and success seemed always out of reach. Passion can help you keep going when others would quit.
The Need to Inspire Others
Being successful in business is not just about motivating yourself: you’ll also need to motivate and inspire others.
When your business grows and you hire your first employees, you'll need to inspire them with your passion and vision for the business. And when you deal with everyone from customers to suppliers, your passion for what you do needs to come across.
If you’re in doubt about how important this is, take a look at a speech by a successful entrepreneur, like the Apple presentations by Steve Jobs, or pretty much any TED talk.
What you’ll notice immediately is that these people are passionate about what they do. They believe in it 100%. They think it’s incredibly important, and they want to convince you to believe that too.
It’s pretty hard to fake that kind of passion. If you want to be successful in a competitive marketplace, you’ll need to be an evangelist for your business. You can’t expect others to believe in the importance of your idea if you don’t strongly believe in it yourself.
In short, passion can not only keep you going through the hard times, but it can also convince others to join you and help you on the journey.
3. How to Find Your Passion
If you already have a passion and know exactly what type of business you want to start, you can skip straight to Section 4. But if you’re not sure, then read on.
After all, for many of us, finding our passion can be the hard part. Maybe you want to start a new venture, but you don’t feel a particular passion for anything. Some of us have spent so long subverting our desires that it can be hard to unearth them again. And some of us may feel that our true passion is “impractical” and have given up on it.
So here are some exercises to help you identify what it is that you feel enthusiastic about. This can also help you if you're already in business but lacking passion—maybe you can refocus yourself or even redirect the business towards something you do really care about.
Questions to Ask Yourself
If simply asking yourself what you’re passionate about doesn’t produce a clear answer, try some of these other questions to help you brainstorm.
- What did you enjoy doing as a kid?
- What did you secretly dream of doing when you grew up?
- What aspects of your current job or life give you the most pleasure?
- What would you do if you didn’t have to be so responsible all the time?
- What advice would you give your 18-year-old self? What path would you take if you were that age again?
- When you’re 80 years old and looking back on your life, what would you like to be able to say about it?
- Congratulations! You’ve just won the lottery, and you never have to worry about money again. What would you do with your life in this scenario?
- What makes you angry?
- What would you change if you had the power to do anything you wanted?
- Is there anything that frustrates you as a customer of other businesses? Is there anything you think you could do better, or a problem you could solve?
- What are some activities that you don’t do often but always enjoy?
- List five crazy things you’d like to try doing one day.
- What do you think you’d have done with your life if you’d had the perfect childhood, the perfect start in life?
- What’s your biggest regret?
- What do you tend to daydream, dream, or fantasize about?
- What would you like to try if it didn’t sound so crazy?
- What would you do if you didn’t have to do it perfectly?
- Who do you feel jealous of and why?
Take a journal or notebook and write answers to all these questions. You may have lots of different answers, but try to spot some overlap or some general themes that can point you in the right direction. It’s about discovering what you like doing or secretly dream of doing.
Multiple Passions or No Passions?
It’s worth noting that not everyone has a single over-riding passion. You may be passionate about several things, and if that’s the case, you don’t necessarily have to reduce them down to just one. In fact, it’s quite possible for you to combine different passions in the business you create.
If, on the other hand, you’re still not coming up with any passions at all, it’s possible that you’re being too restrictive. Remember, you don’t have to feel uncontrollable emotions here; it’s more about feelings of enthusiasm or strong interest.
4. Turning Your Passion Into a Profitable Business
So you understand what passion is and why it’s important, and you’ve identified your passion in life. Now how do you turn it into a business?
Refine Your Idea
Start by creating a business idea. Identifying your passion doesn’t mean you have an idea for a business yet.
Maybe you have a passion for colorful textiles, for example. That’s great, but it’s not a business. But setting up a website to allow customers around the world to buy hand-woven rugs directly from artisans in North Africa would be a solid business idea.
What you’re looking for here is something specific, perhaps a problem you can solve, or something you can do better than the companies currently in the market. For more on refining your idea, see the following tutorials:
- How to Come Up With Startup Ideas Worth PursuingEddie Earnest16 Apr 2021
- How to Simplify Your Business IdeasCeline (CX) Roque26 May 2022
Build Out the Detail
After you’ve refined the idea, you need to do a lot more research to make sure it’s viable. Ask questions like:
- Who are the target customers for your business?
- How are these customers currently being served?
- How can you serve them better?
- How much investment will you need to get started, and where will you get it?
- What products or services will you offer?
- What’s your strategy for reaching customers and selling to them?
This is a huge area, and you can find much more help and advice in these tutorials on planning and creating a business model:
- How to Write a Business PlanAndrew Blackman08 Feb 2016
- From Idea to Break-Even: How to Create a Financial Model for Your BusinessAndrew Blackman03 May 2022
Create a Brand, Raise Funds, and Prepare for Launch
In my tutorial on How to Start a Business, I take you through more of the nuts and bolts of moving from an idea through to a functioning company.
You’ll learn about creating a brand, choosing a legal structure, raising funds, building and testing your first product, setting up your financial accounts, getting the word out, and more. Read the full guide here:
5. Is Passion Enough?
So you’ve seen in this tutorial that passion is important in starting a small business. But is it enough?
Other Skills You’ll Need
In short, passion goes a long way, but you'll need other skills too—or you'll need to hire people or outsource the work to someone else who has those skills. For example:
- You’ll need to understand accounting and bookkeeping, or hire someone who does.
- You’ll need discipline and some sort of productivity system to keep you organized and on track.
- You’ll need to be able to plan effectively, and to hold yourself accountable to those plans.
- You’ll need an understanding of the market, a flair for sales and marketing, good presentation skills, and much more.
What If You Don’t Have All Those Skills?
Of course, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It’s fine if some of those things I’ve listed just aren’t your strong points. The important thing is to know what you’re good at and what you’re not, and to seek help in the areas where you’re weaker.
For example, if numbers give you a headache, you’ll probably want to consider hiring an accountant. Or if technical stuff frustrates you, maybe you need to find someone to design your website.
In summary, passion is a huge help when starting a business, but passion alone is not enough to make you successful. You’ll need other skills, and it’s crucial to know what you can do and what you can’t, so that you can hire either freelancers or permanent employees to fill in the skill gaps.
For more help on analyzing yourself and finding out what you need to do to run a business successfully, see these two tutorials:
- Is It Time to Start Your Own Business? 25 Revealing QuestionsMarc Schenker04 Feb 2021
- How to Become a Successful Small Business OwnerAndrew Blackman01 Aug 2016
We started out with a simple saying: “Follow your passion.”
As you’ve seen in this tutorial, starting a profitable small business is far from simple. However, if you take things step by step and are thorough in your planning, you can certainly be successful. And starting that business based on a true passion will make it easier for you to feel enthusiastic and motivated about what you do, and to inspire others to follow you and support you.
You’re now in a much better position to be able to identify your passion and take the steps necessary to convert it into a solid business idea and finally into a successful business. You've seen what passion is, why it's important, and how you can find your own passion. And you've got some guidance on the nuts and bolts of turning your passion into a profitable business venture.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in January of 2017. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.