Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ is Bad Business Advice

Columnist and entrepreneur Felicia Joy tells small business owners to take heed

(Image: Thinkstock)

Instead of becoming a professional model or basketball player, which were certainly her first passions, my mother proudly joined the United States Army and rose to the rank of E8, Master Sergeant, by the time she retired 27 years later.

You can do the same in business. The passion that drives you to succeed as an entrepreneur needs to be built based on your goals and what is in demand by the market, even if it isn’t your top pick based solely on what you love to do the most. If what you love to do is also in demand—or you can create demand for what you love to do—that’s a winner. If not, do what you love as a hobby; do what the market loves as a business.

Could you imagine the chief executives of SC Johnson, the makers of Raid, spraying their pest-killing concoctions saying, “Hmm, I just love the smell of this stuff, it’s great.” Or, could you imagine them loving any other aspect of the chemicals they use to get the job done? Probably not. But there is multi-billion dollar market demand for chemicals that do away with creepy crawlers, so they went into that business.

Passion gets you up out of the bed and keeps you from sitting in front of the television for hours in the evening when you have work to get done in your business. It is necessary, but not necessarily in the way that you have always thought or heard.

Another great example of someone using their passion as energy and a philosophy for a business, but not the product of the business is Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”). He is the former CEO of Zappos.com, a leading online retailer of shoes — and now a retailer of lots of other items since Hsieh and his team sold the business to Amazon in July 2009.

Hsieh joined Zappos as an investor and advisor in 1999 a few months after it launched as ShoeShite.com. He eventually became CEO and led Zappos to sell more than $250 million in shoes every year even though he didn’t care about shoes at all. This is a guy who cared so little about shoes and clothes that he and his brother literally shared one suit for special occasions.

He recognized the opportunity that existed with a $40 billion per year retail shoe market and a product already in demand. But money wasn’t his passion either. Tony had just made $265 million by selling his own company to Microsoft so financially he was set for life. His passion in building Zappos.com was to ensure a great experience for customers and employees. He wasn’t passionate about the company’s product, he was passionate about service — and that passion could have applied to any profitable business.

His lack of interest in shoes didn’t hurt the company in the end because he was totally focused on his customer’s desires. Amazon bought Zappos from Tony and his team for $1.2 billion: A very nice pay day for focusing on what his customers liked.

Whether your passion is the energy that fuels you in business or the product or service of your business, turn it into an enterprise that makes plenty of dollars and sense.

Felicia Joy is a nationally recognized entrepreneur who created $50 million in value for the various organizations and companies she served in corporate America before launching her business enterprise. She is the author of Hybrid Entrepreneurship: How the Middle Class Can Beat the Slow Economy, Earn Extra Income and Reclaim the American Dream and has appeared on CNN, FOX and in other national press. Felicia operates Ms. CEO Inc., a company that helps women entrepreneurs achieve more success, faster—as well as Joy Group International, LLC, a business development and consulting firm. Follow her on Twitter @feliciajoy and see her entrepreneurship columns each week on BlackEnterprise.com.

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  • Michele

    Great article! I have always struggled with the saying “Do what you love and the money will follow.” When I think about people who are doing things what they love for a living, and obviously not making alot of money, it just never made sense to me. I do feel that doing what you love and not making a lot of money is fine, if it’s a lifestyle choice. This is one of the reasons that I am choosing to start my business as a side gig, to see if I can actually make money at it first. Thanks for putting my feelings into (incredible) words!

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