This is a good visual of what having a home-based business fells like much of the time.
For an in-depth look at a home-based entrepreneur’s life consider this three-minute video.
You’ve been bamboozled. You’ve been hoodwinked, mesmerized and bewitched. Everyone tells you to go after your passion. “Do what you love and you never have to work a day in your life,” they say. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s a lovely dream as you stare at the walls of your cubicle or the car bumper you follow on your daily commute.
Warning: if you know in your heart you’re never going to act on your dream to be an entrepreneur, stop reading now!
You may need a dream to hold on to. Hopes and dreams help you cope with a job you hate. So I don’t want to crush your dream if you’re going to just continue wish and dream.
But you need someone to tell you the truth if you’re serious about being an entrepreneur. The truth is this: passion is overrated. Following your passion isn’t always a good idea when you’re an entrepreneur. Here are two reasons why.
Remember the movie Hope Floats?. Yes, I watch chick flicks, sometimes. I still remember Harry Connick, Jr. talking about how the business of being an architect killed his love of doing the work of an architect. Here’s the quote: “You find something you love and you twist it and torture it and try to make money at it. And at the end, you can’t find a trace of what you started out loving.”
I found this out when I tried to be an auto mechanic. I grew up working on bicycles and then cars, when I started driving. I enjoyed the work. But I wasn’t fast at it. You have to be fast to be a successful mechanic. And I didn’t like the work once I had to do it.. I didn’t last long as a mechanic.
Of course, you might be an exception. You might be able to keep loving what you do and make money at it as well. So you’re thinking, cool for me. I’ll follow my passion.
Not so fast. The second reason you’ll be disappointed as a passion-chasing entrepreneur is that you’ll have to do all sorts of other non-fun stuff to make your business go.
You have lots of grunt work when you run a business, especially a home-based business. You’ll probably detest some of it. But you end up doing it because it has to be done.
You soon discover the passion-filled days of doing what you love was only a pipe-dream. You only get to work in the sweet-spot of your passion part-time. And sometimes the stress of doing the grunt work spills over and tarnishes the joy you used to have in doing that thing you’re passionate about.
People often comment to The Artist something along these lines: “You must enjoy being able to do artistic work all the time.” They’re usually surprised when she says, “I don’t love to paint.” She’s quick to explain that she was never passionate about faux finishes. She became a faux finisher because she discovered she had talent for it. And she’s worked hard to perfect her talent. But painting is work — grueling, muscle-cramping work. She doesn’t love doing the work.
What The Artist loves is creating a space people love to live in. The design consultation, the planning, the dreaming, these things light her fire. And these things we do for free.
Also, she loves the reaction of our clients when they see their finished space, the result of our work. The planning and the client’s reaction fuel her passion. What lies between the two are days of a hard grind, and sore muscles.
And don’t forget the grunt work: the bookkeeping, marketing, accounting, planning, and all of the other back-end work that goes along with running a business. All of these have to be done after the long days of painting.
So don’t believe the line about following your passion. It’s not true. You’re better off following your talent. Don’t get me wrong. Let your passion come along for the ride. Just don’t put passion in the driver’s seat.
So the next time you encounter someone spouting that same old line about following your passion you will know better than to fall for it. I hope you’ll be so caught up in pursuing your talents that you can just knowingly smile and keep walking.
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I think it’s a conspiracy. People want me to think in straight lines. Did you struggle, as I did, when your teachers forced you to use THE OUTLINE for planning research papers? You know, THE OUTLINE: It starts with Roman numeral “I” and marches on with capital letters, numbers and lower-case letters. THE OUTLINE is made for linear thinkers by linear thinkers.
Linear thinkers rule in our society. They are logical, and they’re great at getting stuff done. They start at the beginning and knock of tasks one by one. They instinctively know the right order to do things. It’s as natural as breathing to them. I admire linear thinkers. The Artist is a linear thinker.
We non-linear thinkers scramble to keep up in the world created by the “linears.” I wrestled with THE OUTLINE from sixth grade and into college. The “logical” order of steps from start to finish are about as clear as mud to me. “Linears” are uncooked spaghetti, straight lines. My brain works more like a bowl of cooked spaghetti. Every thought intersects with hundreds of others. I’m likely to start a project on “step D” and then realize I need to include A through C. If you’re a non-linear thinker you can identify with my frustration with THE OUTLINE. Linear types think I’m nuts.
Perhaps my first spark of entrepreneurial rebellion was when I scrapped THE OUTLINE in college and created a system to cope with the “linear education machine.” Instead of a list I made circles. I recently learned my method is called “Mind Mapping.” To plan my college assignments I filled a blank page with circles and a spider web of arrows connecting them. The Artist just shakes her head and walks away.
“Linears” don’t understand the way we “non-linears” think. Non-linear thinking is great for coming up with creative ideas. But it usually sucks for executing your ideas. “Linears” get stuff done. We “non-linears” get lost in the spaghetti bowl of possibilities. One thought leads to another, and another, and so it goes. I can sit and think about stuff for hours and never get anything done. The Artist says, “Just do it already!”
My spaghetti bowl process and her straight lines are a good combination, when we’re not arguing over which method is better. We still can drive each other crazy, but twenty years of working in business together has knocked off some of our rough spots. One of the organizational tools we discovered is something we call a Sticky Note Project. The Sticky Note Project is like mind mapping in that you don’t have to think of each step in order. You break your project down and write the steps on sticky notes.
Here is the sticky note process I use shown in bullet points:
I like the sticky note system because it saves me from starting in the middle of a big project and having to undo and redo my work. The Artist uses it to make sure she hasn’t overlooked an important step. The beauty of using sticky notes like this is it works for both linear and non-linear thinking.
We often use sticky note projects to plan our home rehab projects. I have several of these projects on my still-to-be-written Toleration List. But you can use sticky notes to plan almost any project. It’s ideal for entrepreneurs working to start a home-based business.
As a last word, I’ll give my opinion that using real sticky notes is better than using virtual ones. You can find organizing and planning software. Sticky notes on a poster board don’t vanish when you power down. The visual reminder remains. You can often complete a step on your project when you find yourself with 15 minutes to spare. And real sticky notes won’t suck you into the social media temporal vortex lurking behind your virtual planner.
I’d love to hear your feedback. Can you think of a good project you can organize with sticky notes? I’d love to hear about it.
Your strong self-esteem may undermine your success. Yes, I know your teachers and pee-wee sports directors worked hard to protect your self-esteem. Do you have a shelf of “participation trophies” saying that “everyone is a winner” just for trying? You’re not a kid any more.
I read a blog this week from an entrepreneur who spent good money on a personality profile. It could have been an opportunity for growth and insight. But his blog was a long justification for his sloppy and disorganized approach to business. “I’m creative. Why worry about details?” He droned on and one about how his “creative” approach worked so well in his small business.
His self-esteem blinded him. He justified his weakness, and he missed an opportunity to improve both himself and his business.
I used to be like that guy. I was like Popeye the Sailor saying, “I ‘yam what I ‘yam.” I’d say things like, “I’ll just go with the flow. Why bother setting goals or planning . . . That’s just the way I am.” Things always worked out, so it seemed. But I was too self-absorbed to see that the reason I didn’t have a spectacular failure was that there were others around me scrambling to hold it all together. If you lurch from one near disaster to the next, sooner or later one of them is going to bite you. There comes a time when popping open a can of spinach won’t bail you out.
You can learn from success. But the lessons won’t help you much. Success feeds your ego. You don’t argue with success. Why would you? Success feels great. And don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of success.
But the lessons you learn from failure are the ones to cherish. Failure and criticism are the mirror showing you that piece of spinach in your teeth. You know, when you think to check your teeth after an important dinner date. Failure makes you grow. It shows you the places where you’re not as good as you think you are. But you’ve got to pay attention. You might as well be running in a hamster wheel if you make excuses for your failure instead of learning from it.
Failure eventually gave me a wake-up call. I quit justifying my weakness and started paying attention. Yes, I lost thousands of dollars.Yes, it was bad. I decided I better scrape every last bit I could from the experience since this lesson was so costly.
Looking back, I see I could have learned the same lessons without such a big failure. The steps I’ve listed below could have kept me failing small and failing forward. I’m sharing them here so you can learn from my mistakes.
Take these steps once you’ve taken a good, honest look at yourself.
Are you disorganized? Make lists. Are you rigid and driven? Make time for fun. Easily distracted? Control your environment so you can focus. You can create systems to compensate for almost any area you need help with.
You can outsource a lot of tasks you’re not good at. Online services like oDesk and Elance connect you to freelance talent for every kind of job you can imagine. The do-it-yourself mindset can hurt your success if you remain stubborn about it.
You need honest people around you. Your friends aren’t being kind when they fail to point out the spinach in your teeth or the toilet paper stuck to your heel. Don’t hang out with jerks. But be with people who will help you to grow. You need honest criticism.
Celebrate success. Find what you’re good at and set goals that will stretch you. Remember, you will fail. But fail small. Fail fast, and fail forward. (That’s a good Tweet right there.) Fail forward means learning from your loss and improving your game. You need real victories. You also need real losses. Victory and loss keeps your self-esteem truly healthy and grounded in the truth of who you are. When you’re grounded in truth you won’t need Popeye’s can of spinach to get out of trouble.
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What does your A-game look like? You know. When you’re kicking butt and taking names in your business. That place where you don’t even think about your competition. They can’t touch you. Your customers are ecstatic. They’re lining up to be part of your raving fans’ club.
Sure, you get a lot of credit for just showing up. You get a bonus for being on time. But you’ve still got to deliver the goods. Punctuality will get your customer’s attention. Now that they are watching you step into the batter’s box and show your stuff. You’ve got to bring your A-game if you hope to succeed as an entrepreneur in a small business.
I hope your customers have high expectations. I hope your own expectations are even higher. Here’s the secret to impressing the socks of your customers. Set their expectations high. Then give them even more.
The common expression is “under-promise and over-deliver.” The thing is, “under-promise” sounds like a cop-out. It sounds like you’re giving yourself a wide margin of safety. You need to think high expectations and higher performance if you’re truly bringing your A-game.
I devote a chapter of my book explaining why bringing your A-game is vital as an entrepreneur. The following is an excerpt from that chapter:
I buy spices from our local farmer’s market. Tables overflow with bags full of every spice imaginable. Each bag contains a small scoop, planted deep, handle up. My mouth waters as I wait. The mingled fragrances bring to mind hearty plates of savory food. The spice monger charges anywhere from one to two dollars per scoop, depending on the spice.
But when you place your order, he puts a scoop and a half in your bag. Understand that the posted price is a fantastic deal: less than half the price of buying from the grocery store. But he still gives more than he promises.
That extra half-scoop is what draws me back to his table instead of visiting the other spice monger down the aisle. Now I’m sure his price covers the scoop-and-a-half I get. But the price per scoop sets an expectation for me. So I always feel as if I’m getting extra, even though it’s his standard procedure.
Do it on Purpose
This is important. Bringing your A-game isn’t something you want to do by accident. Think about how you interact with your customers, from their first contact with you clear up until you’ve delivered the goods. Be like the spice monger. Create a plan and a system to set your customer’s level of expectation and then deliver more than you promise.
When I say, “create a plan,” I don’t mean to just think about it and keep it in your head. Get a piece of paper, or go to your stack of napkins. Write your ideas down. Getting your ideas out of your head and onto something else will bring out stuff you never knew was in there.
Make an outline or draw circles, lines and arrows, whatever works best for you. Just make the time to put together a concrete plan for how you can serve your customers with excellence. This should be part of your business plan.
Use the example of the spice monger. Your customer will come with set expectations – I need spices. You set up additional expectations – the price is posted. You deliver more than I expect – an extra half-scoop.
How does this translate into your business? That’s your challenge. Yes, it seems like a simple thing you can just work out as you go. But don’t leave it to chance. Sit down and develop your A-game strategy on purpose. Your A-game won’t happen by accident.
Oh, by the way, this isn’t a one-and-done exercise. Keep tweaking and look for ways to make your A-game better.
Make a point to dazzle your customers. Ecstatic customers talk about you. Satisfied customers don’t.
Please consider sharing this article with your friends who might need encouragement to keep their A-game sharp.