People like simple explanations to difficult problems. We know that relationships are complicated but we like to believe that "love conquers all." We understand that starting a business requires passion, discipline, value creation and luck, but it's so much more pleasant to believe that if you "do what you love the money will follow."
The problem is that half-truths are often more destructive than lies. They wrap our desires in a warm blanket of believability and prevent us from making rational choices. Nowhere is this truer than in the myth of the successful hobby-business.
After spending years working for other people, many people in their 50s and 60s feel that they should be able to do something based on their passions. But, when we dig below the surface, we discover that "doing what you love" is only one of several components of startup success. It is an important component, to be sure, but, not for the reasons that most people assume.
The Real Importance of Doing What You Love
Starting a business is hard. Whether you are setting out as a freelancer, opening a franchise, or building an information product, the road ahead is longer than you can imagine. Contrary to what you might read in books like "The Four Hour Workweek," the vast majority of new businesses are anything but quick and easy to set up.
As the founder of Sixty and Me, a community of over 50,000 baby boomer women, and Boomerly, a website that will help to address the issue of loneliness among people over 50, I know first-hand how important it is to love what you do. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you don't have a natural interest in your work you will almost certainly fail.
That's not the same as saying that you should expect to be paid for doing your hobby (more on this later). But, having a genuine interest in your work will improve your chances of success.
The second reason that doing what you love is important is more practical. Setting up a successful business requires an understanding of your market. Some of the best business ideas have come from people who wanted to do something that wasn't yet possible. So, they built the solution themselves.
Does Doing What You Love Give Someone Else What they Need?
As many struggling artists and writers will attest, being good at what you do doesn't necessarily lead to financial success. People only pay for things that they feel that they want or know that they need. My passion might be for building one-of-a-kind walking toasters, but, I wouldn't expect to sell many of them.
The trick is to find the place where your passions and others' desires meet. This may require you to think of your passions more broadly. Here are a few of the many questions that you can ask yourself as you think about how to turn what you love to do into a profitable business.
- What products are people already paying for that relate to what you love to do?
- What frustrates you about your hobby or passion?
- How could you solve these problems?
- What skills have you developed in the pursuit of your passion?
- Could you apply these skills in a different, but, closely related field?
- Who do you know that is making money from activities related to your passion?
- Do you have specific skills related to your passion that others might want to learn?
In my case, I decided to build Boomerly after asking the women in the Sixty and Me community about the challenges that they faced on a daily basis. I knew that I wanted to help them to live better lives, but, it wasn't until I asked them about the challenges they were facing that I knew exactly where to direct my energy.
If You Want to Know What People Want, Ask them!
One of the biggest mistakes people make when planning a new business is to keep everything to themselves. Many people over 50 have had disappointments in their lives and, as a result, have trust issues. Some worry that their "unique" idea will be stolen. Hint: if you truly are doing something that no-one has ever done before, you're either going to make it big or fail completely (most likely the later). Others worry, even if they won't admit it, that people will criticize their idea.
If you're over 50, you almost certainly know what you are passionate about. You also probably have a network of people who have similar passions or skills. Don't be afraid to reach out to people that you trust. Ask them what marketable skills they think you have. If they share your passions, ask them about what frustrates them and what products or services they would be willing to buy.
If you have a blog related to your passion, ask your readers a similar set of questions. Where do they go to acquire new skills? What problems do they encounter? What do they wish someone would fix?
When in Doubt, Get Started and Make Adjustments Along the Way
No amount of planning will guarantee that your business idea will be successful. The important thing to remember is that value creation is a process. Get started now. Every interaction you have with your potential customers will teach you something new - and help you bounce back when you fail. Just remember, if you do what you love, while giving people what they want, you will eventually succeed.
Have you built a business around one of your passions? What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in their 50s or 60s? Please add your thoughts and questions in the comments below.