We’ve all heard the refrain, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s especially popular in small business and entrepreneurship circles because it encourages people to leave their dreary day jobs behind and exchange them for a career full of passion and fulfillment in entrepreneurship. I absolutely believe that many people can find much greater happiness and fulfillment if they build their own business and I’m not saying that entrepreneurship is a bad thing at all. My experience as a business owner has been amazing and has allowed me to find a level of satisfaction in life that was elusive to me before. I am saying, however, that entrepreneurship isn’t all smiles and sunshine so you should be aware of what you’re in for before you begin the journey. Too many people don’t anticipate the struggles of entrepreneurship and allow their businesses to ruin their passions.
There are two reasons why, despite what the famous quote would lead you to believe, you’re going to work, and work will feel like work, no matter what you choose to do:
- The first is that bringing an extrinsic reward into the equation for an activity that you used to be intrinsically motivated to do because you simply enjoyed it actually ruins that enjoyment and intrinsic motivation. This is called the overjustification effect and has been shown in a number of experiments. (Have at it on Wikipedia here, if you’d like.) That means that even if you used to love to paint, once you start being paid to paint, painting will begin to feel like something you have to do instead of something you want to do. You’ll lose a bit of your love for painting if you get popular enough that people regularly commission paintings.
- The second reason is that, in the real world, there a whole ton of things that need to be done to run a business that have absolutely nothing to do with the original thing you’re passionate about but are essential to keeping the business alive. Stuff like marketing and sales, tracking your finances, ordering supplies, and managing your staff will suck up huge amounts of your time. Basically, you might open a gym because you love training people but then spend so much time running the gym you never actually get to train anyone.
Let’s take a look at how both of these issues may work together to ruin your passion a bit, and then we’ll talk about how you can build a business that doesn’t make you hate your hobby once you turn it into a company.
Assume you love to bake. Right now you spend 9 to 5 Monday through Friday at the office but whenever you have time in the evenings and every single weekend you’re mixing batter, baking cookies, experimenting with pie crusts, and frosting cakes. The act of baking relaxes you and makes you feel accomplished. You enjoy your time in the kitchen and those around you enjoy the fruits of your hobby. In fact, they enjoy your treats so much that they encourage you to open a bakery and you finally take the plunge.
Now you have to get up at 3AM in order to have fresh bread ready to go at 6AM when your store opens. Now you worry that honey’s gotten really expensive and you might have to change the recipe for your famous glaze so you can improve your margins. Now you’ve gotten carpel tunnel from mixing so much batter and your arms are covered with burns because you haven’t gotten used to your industrial oven yet. Now you’re stressed about making payroll because one of the sandwich shops you sell bread to is behind on their payment to you. Now you need to worry about following health codes whenever you bake anything. Now when you go home after work the last place you want to be is the kitchen and you need to find another hobby to help you chill out.
Well that sounds pretty sucky and depressing. Unfortunately, this is what happens to a lot of entrepreneurs who open a business because they want to make a living through their passion. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Here are some tips to help you avoid the fate of our imaginary baker:
- Firstly, think long and hard about whether or not you really want to build a business out of your passion. I’m willing to bet there are a number of things that you enjoy and are good at that could be turned into businesses. There’s no reason to pick you absolute favorite activity of all time and turn it into a business. It may be the better decision to keep your passion hobby a passion hobby and build a business around something else that you like, but that isn’t such a big part of your leisure time. That way, you can still enjoy the work you do and you don’t run the risk of ruining your passion. You’ll want to still have that outlet available to you for the times when the stress of entrepreneurship is really hitting you.
- Secondly, be realistic and have a plan before you launch your business. There are tons of resources available out there that can help you plan for business ownership, many of them right here on this site. Before you launch, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Dealing with the credit card processor and balancing your books won’t seem as terrible to you if you’ve been planning for these activities all along. It’s when you imagine a day filled with blissful baking and then are surprised by these other business tasks that you’ll feel overwhelmed and disappointed. Having them on the schedule makes them less painful.
- Thirdly, outsource what you can. Depending on the financial situation you’re in, this may be more or less of a reality to you, but you should always do what you can to focus your energies on the parts of your business that you are good at and enjoy and outsource the rest. If you think 2+2=7, perhaps you should hire a bookkeeper or accountant to track your finances. That will free up your time to spend on the fun stuff.
In the end, turning a passion into a business will steal a little bit of your love away. You can make sure it’s just a little of that love though, and not end up hating your business like you used to hate your boss, if you follow some of these strategies.