Is Passion Enough?

is passion enough?

By Cynthia Good 

“Follow your heart, do work you’re passionate about and everything else will fall into place” – right? Maybe not.

Especially recently, women have been encouraged to identify their dreams and pursue them with abandon. Women are leaving corporate jobs in droves, starting businesses at twice the rate of men, often putting all their energy and assets on the line in the name of doing what they love. The problem is that, while passion is great, it’s not enough to run a sustainable, profitable business. Less than 40 percent of business school applicants are women, meaning many of them may lack the crucial training required to run a business. Here, educators and women owners who learned the hard way share what they want other women to know – before it’s too late.

“When I left Corporate America I started a holistic wellness center in my town.  It was a true passion and I got it going and kept it going for almost 10 years.  It never did move into profit and I had to move on. I learned that some of the skills that made me a successful corporate executive were not the same ones that made for a successful entrepreneur.  I invested too early in staff and administrative capabilities that were not needed in a start-up and drained my finances.  I’ve learned to start small and grow with a careful plan.  Since I was always a visionary, I went too big too soon.

“I also forgot the old rule to ‘Pay Yourself First.’  It’s a metaphor for all areas of life and how we need to own our empowerment and to be open to receptivity.”

– Cathleen O’Connor
Career Coach, The Balance Whisperer
Leading the Movement from Frenzy to Freedom

“That ‘follow your dreams and you will be richly rewarded’ stuff can lead to very sad outcomes if people don’t realize that some basic economics have to fall into place for them to live on a business. One of the problems I see over and over again is that people focus on the mechanics and processes of operating the business – they will sweat the logo, the desk chairs, the lighting, the press kits, you name it!  They fall into the trap of thinking that the mechanics of operating an establishment are what a business is all about, and that isn’t it.  A business – as Peter Drucker once aptly put it – only exists if it can create a customer.  And all too often, people with a passion indulge the passion without recognizing that unless the passion is shared by a member of the buying public who is prepared to pay for them to follow their passion, that it isn’t a business.  It’s a hobby at best, an indulgence at worst.

“That happened to me in my first business. What I loved was the strategizing, the political gamesmanship and the development of marketing appeals.  What were political campaigns willing to pay for?  Primary voter lists, maps of supporters by district area, poster-runs, small print runs, fundraising address lists, and that sort of thing. The stuff I liked to do?  Guess what?  They liked to do it too, and so didn’t need to pay someone else to manage it for them.

“A second problem that I see entrepreneurs fall into is being very precise and detailed about the things that they can measure (how much do we think we’ll spend on coffee?  Cleaning the office?  Making photocopies?) and being very vague about the stuff that will make or break the business (Who will my first five customers be? What will they pay? How will I reach them?).  The problem is often that they shy away from the matter of actually selling stuff to someone and focus instead on what they feel is within their control.

“Of course, the ABC’s of entrepreneurship that apply to any new business also apply to a passion-inspired one.  Don’t take on fixed costs if you can avoid it.  Don’t take on things you can’t deliver.  Build a pipeline of sales before you build a pipeline of costs.  Devote enough time to marketing and business development, not just to management.  Be cautious about giving away equity for desperately needed cash. Test your assumptions!

“Finally, one technique I use a lot with entrepreneurs is to put them through the development of what I call a ‘discovery driven’ plan.  It’s similar to a business plan but with more consideration for the level of uncertainty a typical new business faces.  The technique is described in my book with respect to a toy store entrepreneur with an experimental concept.”

– Rita Gunther McGrath
Associate Professor, Columbia Business School

“When I talk to women and men who are interested in the Executive MBA Program at Georgia State, I often ask: ‘What is your passion?’ It’s rare to find someone who can’t answer that question. It takes a lot of passion to commit to and finish an MBA program, especially when you are working full time. It’s true that passion doesn’t pay the bills, but passion does fuel the hard work that leads to success.

“More than 25 percent of our EMBA students are women. Each one juggles many different roles: supervisor, employee, expert, sister, partner, wife, mother, daughter, grandmother and friend. The one trait they all share is passion. The women who embark on an Executive MBA program are passionate about their careers, and not merely as a source of a paycheck. Whatever their industry or area of expertise, they feel like creative, growing individuals who are ready to learn and contribute even more. These are mid-career professionals who value what they’ve accomplished and are eager for what comes next. These women might ask: ‘If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, why bother?”

– Laura Crawley, Ph. D.
Director, Executive MBA Program

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