Advice for business owners “pursuing their passion” from a bleeding heart veteran

I see a lot of Facebook posts, inspirational word-illustrations and other types of one-thought memes that encourage people to “pursue their passion” in business. This is for those of you who already have taken the jump and are starting to see the cracks and for those of thinking about starting.

It’s a noble pursuit and yes, it feels great when you take that first leap, but it’s going to take a whole lot more than passion to develop a thriving, profitable business that makes an impact. It’s going to take confidence, difficult decisions, learning to deal with major failure, and a whole bunch of other stuff. And you might even figure out that to keep your soul intact that passion might need to stay a hobby.

I started my business 10 years ago, when all I had a was a G4, one client, some great friends, and a serious amount of passion, hope, and activist-y spirit. I knew what I wanted to do, what I wanted to become, and who I wanted to serve. It came from the heart.

What I didn’t know? Here’s a list:

  • How to run a business
  • What my end-game was
  • A solid business strategy
  • How to manage people
  • How to keep my passion alive and not burn out

Probably not the best way to start a business!

Think about it long and hard, my friend, before you jump ship and start. It will (could) be the best thing you do, but it will be hard. There’s help out there that goes deeper than one of those internet memes or marketing-y list headline articles. This is my attempt to share what I’ve learned along the way.

There’s not a whole lot of preparation you can do until you get to a place of perspective, but knowing is a good start.

1. Your heart will break over and over

When you love what you do, you will put your heart, soul, and dreams on the line almost every day. And many times those dreams will get trampled on. Sometimes not just trampled, either; sometimes they will be chewed, mashed up with rusty nails and spoonfed back to you.

After a while, you’ll get burned out. It will happen. My best advice here is to find something else that you love to do and do that as a serious hobby. Whatever you do, don’t turn that hobby into a business. So if you like to knit, or brew beer, or run, or whatever, build your business into the thing that provides revenue so you can go out and do what you like. If your work is the only thing that defines you, it’s going to get messy, especially as you grow.

2. Someone will not take you seriously or will try to game you

So get prepared for it. Some people will see you as young, a woman, a person of color, gay — whatever that thing is about you that you can’t hide — and will try to take advantage of you. Remember: it’s a game and you don’t have to play. Plus, you don’t have time for that crap.

Solutions:

  • Have a set of standards to vet new clients and vendors
  • Stick to those standards
  • When you break your standards, remind yourself of why you wrote them in the first place

Not everyone will like you. And if you’re doing something meaningful, you’re going to piss someone off. It’s totally allowed. The only person you have to answer to, ultimately, is yourself. When you become the boss, keep trying to make the boss happy.

So put on some Queen, remember why you’re the only person who can do this work, forgive yourself, and go kick some ass.

3. There will be feasts and famines

You might have a few good years, a bad quarter, and regular ups and downs. This is normal. People will love you when you’re meeting your mission and making money. Some of the same people might flee or break you down when you have a crappy quarter. That’s how it works.

Over time, I’ve developed a group of professional peers who I trust completely. It’s a very small group, mostly other women business owners, and I couldn’t get through those tough times without their support. Develop those networks. It might be hard to trust someone else so much, but you’re going to have to. Or, get yourself a good business partner.

4. You will work harder than you ever have

I started my business when I was 26. It’s now been 10 years, almost 11. When I started I was a practitioner; a designer. I knew about marketing and writing and a little about the Internet. I was awesome at Photoshop. My business was founded on me doing great design work for do-gooder clients. My current job description has almost no resemblance to that first one. In 10 years, I’ve learned a totally new set of skills: management, financials, sales, networking, public speaking, and leading a company. Now I’m awesome at Quickbooks and I love it.

I have no formal education in business. Here’s how I learned:

  • Developing groups of other owners into a support system
  • Hiring consultants who know more than I do
  • Taking huge calculated risks
  • Failing and learning
  • Trying almost everything and measuring what works
  • Asking for help

That last one was the hardest for me. There will be times in your entrepreneurial career when you get stuck and think you have no one to to talk to. Maybe you think your situation is too complex, maybe you want give up and don’t want to tell anyone, maybe you have to make a tough decision and have all of your feelings wrapped up in it.

I’ve been there. If you need help, call me.

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