One of the pieces of entrepreneurial advice that I hear the most often is to start a business based on something you are passionate about. Pick a niche based on something you enjoy doing and turn it into a business.
Whenever I hear this advice, I start to roll my eyes because it’s not that simple. Sure, passion is important, but passion comes with the territory once you starting kicking butt. Passion comes naturally once you start seeing some traction and progress. The problem with picking a business idea based on what you enjoy doing during your leisure time is that you may not enjoy doing it anymore once you start charging for it.
Something fundamentally changes when you get paid and you have to cater to customers. All of a sudden, you are not acting on your own terms anymore. You must listen to what your customer has to say. You must change the way you do things based on what your customers want and are willing to pay for.
Separating Business From Pleasure
The main problem associated with starting a business based on what you enjoy doing is that you have to abstract out the fun part with what actually makes money. And more often than not, the two don’t fully coincide. Sure, you can run your business based on just the fun parts but more than half of the time, the fun part has this way of interfering with profits.
And if you have personal biases towards the way your business should be run with respect to your hobby, it makes it that much more difficult to achieve profitability. Even worse, if you go too far just for the money, your business could turn into just another job.
A Personal Story
My wife and I started the personalized linens portion of our online store because my wife was passionate about embroidery. We owned an embroidery machine (a birthday gift from me to her) and she loved stitching our initials on practically everything we owned, towels, pillowcases, bibs…you name it.
Some of her embroidery designs were extremely intricate as they used many different thread colors and fancy stitching patterns. And because of this, producing a single personalized item would often take over an hour. But the end result was always beautiful so we thought it would be a good idea to sell some of these designs embroidered on our own products. After all, people would definitely pay extra to have their products personalized.
What ended up happening was a complete disaster. Once we started offering personalization and custom embroidery, customers wanted designs that were all over the place. Some customers had really tacky taste and wanted my wife to create some truly heinous designs and some customers were extremely anal and picky.
Most orders required several iterations of back and forth correspondence and all of this customer interaction took a toll on my wife’s psyche. What was once fun for her became a chore. She wasn’t creating designs for herself anymore. Instead, she was catering to customers for a couple of extra bucks. While she did get pleasant customers every now and then, during this short period my wife was constantly complaining about the picky and unreasonable demands her customers were making.
What was worse was that nobody could help her out in this department because she had all of the expertise. Her skill set was not easily transferable in a short period of time. And because her time was so valuable, the money wasn’t worth it and there was no way the business could grow in this way.
Ultimately, we decided to cut out as much customer interaction as possible and started offering canned embroidery designs that customers could configure themselves online on our website. While this wasn’t as fun for my wife and didn’t take advantage of her creative skills, it was a heck of a lot easier and far more scalable as a business. Essentially, we were offering a dumbed down version of her hobby, a compromise in order to cater to the masses.
Unfortunately however, we made these changes too late and my wife had already become jaded with her once relaxing hobby. Today, she doesn’t deal with our personalized linen offerings at all and we now contract out our large orders to local embroiderists or have someone else fulfill the orders.
Don’t Make A Business Out Of Something You Do For Fun
I’m sure you can probably come up with many examples of entrepreneurs who make money doing things they enjoy, but keep in mind that there are many tradeoffs involved as soon as you start accepting your first dollar. Because customers are paying for something, they will feel entitled to give you their opinion. And acting on their feedback may lead to greater profits for your business at the expense of your free will.
Everyone needs a hobby and a relaxing activity to unwind. Do you really want to sacrifice your enjoyment by turning it into business? If so, be prepared to make some concessions because your hobby may not scale with your business. A better way to approach finding a good niche for your business is to research what is profitable, easy to sell and go on from there.
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