It’s a funny thing, passion. A quick Google search will unearth hundreds of quotes exhorting the reader to focus on doing what they love or have passion for, from Steve Jobs’ “…the only way to do great work is to love what you do”, to Marc Anthony’s “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”. Admirable sentiments, particularly for those stuck in the rut of working to live, rather than living to work.
So who am I to disagree with this concept? If you love training, go out there and be a great trainer. If you cannot wait to get out of bed in the morning to undertake another recruitment assignment, go ahead and be a recruiter. If you have an undying passion for numbers, accounting calls. You get my drift.
Where the challenge starts is when people who love what they do attract other like-minded people to them and start businesses. They grow teams, teach people how to do things the way they see best to do them, even name the businesses after themselves. And because they are so passionate about delivering the best possible service to the clients, they are “on the tools” every day making sure that it’s all going according to plan. These would-be entrepreneurs imprint their own DNA onto the company and never let themselves be anything but vital to its success. I say “would-be” for good reason, as a true entrepreneur is focused on building a great business that does not rely on them and is therefore an asset they can more readily sell at a profit down the track.
It is this single-minded passion for their customers that causes the biggest issue when the time comes to sell or pass the business on. You see, the passionate owner/operator is typically far more concerned about their customers than the business itself and its many stakeholders, so they neglect to view the business through the lens of the true entrepreneur. Margins get squeezed, underperforming staff are allowed to stay on longer than necessary, undesirable clients or those representing the lion’s share of sales remain unchecked. Good staff, those who have the potential to really drive the business forward, leave due to the owner-centric nature of the operations. Their ideas are stifled, avenues to real challenge and growth remain closed, and they feel as though they are not trusted.
Take this scenario out to market when the owner decides it is time to sell and buyers walk away after the most cursory due diligence, disenfranchised with the clear over-reliance the business has on its owner. They worry, sensibly, that the DNA of the business and that of the founder are so deeply intertwined that by removing the latter, the former will shrivel up and die.
So what am I saying? Don’t be passionate about what you do?
Passion for work truly is a joy and makes getting up every day exciting. But to be a true entrepreneur, this passion must be channelled towards creating a great business, not just great customer outcomes. By focusing on the myriad elements of the business, putting in place systems, being more objective about the day to day operations and working towards building a saleable asset, the customer outcomes will be taken care of. Business owners must extricate themselves from the trenches as early as possible and allow others who share a similar passion for what they do to just get on with it.
So be passionate. Be passionate about building a great business. Everybody will thank you for it: your staff, customers, suppliers and (down the track) acquirers.