There is an interesting discussion going on at Unicorn Free. In the article, Don’t follow your passion, Amy says,
So. You’re in love with a thing. Let’s say it’s coffee, books, design, code or solving interesting problems. You decide to open up a café to follow your passion for coffee. Or a used book shop, because you’re passionate about books. Or, because you’re passionate about solving interesting problems through code or visuals, you hang out your shingle as a freelance developer or designer.
Six months to a year later, and guess what?
Turns out that you hate running a café (or book store, or…). Turns out that running a café is as much about the coffee as raising a child is about snuggles. Yes, the coffee happens — and so do snuggles — but what really makes up the typical day is very little sleep and lots and lots of poop.
Sounds indigestible for start-ups right? Afterall, if not for passion (and millions of $s), what else would motivate us to go thru the risk and separation?!?
If I was writing this post 2 years ago, I would have totally gone against Amy’s point. But after running a mildly successful start-up for 2 years, now I can see the point about poop.
In year 2009, I would have definitely said, “follow your passion”. After 2 years, I now say, “yes, follow your passion, but manage poop too.”
Let me tell you the most satisfying parts of my business:
- I enjoy teaching MS Excel: I enjoyed the process of teaching MS Excel using blog posts, tutorials, short videos and products thru my sites. I can do the same for next 8-10 years.
- I enjoy helping people: I felt great pleasure helping a commenter about a question she was struggling with or a person who emailed me his problem.
- Running a website is fun: Running a reasonably popular website and connecting to world-wide community of Excel users & experts is so much fun.
- I enjoy making money: I like the challenge of making a living out of my business. I enjoy the process behind successfully marketing my products, testing variations, learning from my mistakes and keeping my costs low.
Lets talk about the poop, which is a lot:
- I hate manual steps in sales process: No matter how much automation I do, there are still a few things that must be done manually – like enrollment of students, setting news-letters, discount codes, product campaigns etc. etc. They seemed pretty exciting at the beginning, but after a while, I feel bored setting up or doing same things.
- I hate email overlaod: As my site and business grew, so did the email and phone volume. These days, I get at least 40 emails from customers, prospects, strangers and fans. While reading and replying to the emails is fun, it also means I never get a break. Thankfully, I have learned to cut my email time and effectively manage the email load. But I have no idea what to do when the volume goes up 10x or 100x.
- I hate legal / administrative procedures: Just as an example, I am in the process of setting up a payment gateway to accept credit / debit card payments from my Indian customers. This process is so ridiculous that if I start explaining it, it would be Christmas by the time I am done. For eg. They want me to read, agree, sign and legally notarize agreements on at least 20 different documents.
The process is same whenever I deal with government approvals or documentation.
You get the drift. In simple words, running a business is not just about what you are passionate about, but also 1000 little things that can annoy you or reduce your attention.
Thankfully there is a workaround:
Just like everything else in life, in business too, you should optimize the portions that you enjoy most and minimize or avoid the ones you hate.
Remove things that are not necessary for your business
This is the most effective but very difficult part. Whenever you hate a particular aspect of your business, ask yourself if that task is really required to run your business.
For eg. I used to have search filters on Twitter for certain keywords (like excel formula) and then I would monitor these results once or twice a day and see if there is a question that someone is asking that I can answer or replying. While this worked quite well to acquire new members to my site, I figured that this is not really necessary. So I just stopped doing it. There are many other examples like this.
Your next best option should be automate all the activities that you do not enjoy doing. Once you automate by installing some software or setting up a process, you will have more free time to focus on things that you enjoy.
Outsource poop work
This is the simplest way to get rid of poop. Just outsource it to someone who is efficient at this. The only downside: it will cost you money. [related: my experience outsourcing work using oDesk]
Batch together poop work
There are some things that you can neither automate nor outsource. The best way to tackle them is to batch them. Just let the poop accumulate and do the cleanup work once a day or week. For eg. I must manually withdraw money from my payment processor to bank account. Instead of doing this every day I just let the money accumulate and when the balance reaches $3000 (usually once a week), I give the withdrawal instructions by logging in to their site.
This is important. Many of you might get in to business under the illusion that passion can help you coast thru all the boring tasks. That is never the case. No matter how much we love our kids, there is a point when you start hating the nappy changing routine. Instead, learn to appreciate all the little things that go in your business. Try to make them fun and always look for opportunities to remove or automate tasks.
What is your experience with following passion
I think passion is very much over-rated. While passion is a must have ingredient to run a fulfilling business, you also need to have doses of reality. Any meaningful business must deal with lots of little things and not all of them will be enjoyable.
I want to know what your experience has been in running a small business. How much do you agree with the views presented by Amy or myself?
Please share your views using comments.