Sustained small business success requires two kinds of passion

Jim Blasingame

Over the years, when I’ve counseled budding entrepreneurs about their startup plans, the exuding passion would often seem to override the imperative of knowing how to operate and sustain their baby. Indeed, they often act as if they must get their business started right now or they would just pop.

Of course, that kind of impatience and lack of discipline is dangerous, and I would do my best to talk these starry-eyed startups down off the ledge. The trick is to walk the fine line between slowing them down to the speed of prudence without dousing the fire of their entrepreneurial passion with a bucket of tough love.

Yes, passion is important.

When would-be small business owners get that far away look in their eyes at the impetuous startup stage, they have plenty of what I call market passion: passion for what the business does. They can’t wait to sell suits, manufacture motors, bake bagels, or (your dream here). But without full devotion to what I call “operating passion” – aka, business fundamentals – market passion will find itself with a dangerous critical mass deficit. Or as they say in Texas, “All hat and no cattle.”

This will be on the test: Success as a small business owner requires evidence and application of both market and operating passion.

Market passion – devotion to what your business does – is like a mother’s love for her newborn. It’s the easy kind. Unfortunately, in business it can be too easy. Especially in the U.S., where starting a business doesn’t require that you prove any ownership qualifications. No one starts a business because they want to make payroll or comply with regulations.

Operating passion is less adorable but is arguably – fundamentally – more important. It’s the diaper-changing part of business ownership: you don’t do it because you like it, you do it because you love your baby and want it to grow up safe and strong.

Operating passion is dedicated to consistently executing management fundamentals while accepting a return-on-investment projection that – especially for a small business – pushes the deferred gratification envelope. It’s very similar to how parents love their teenagers even when they don’t like them very much. See, I told you it was less adorable.

Every starry-eyed startup must make the distinction between, and be devoted to, both market and operating passion. Because passion for what you sell won’t be enough when sales fall below projections; payables exceed receivables; it’s time to cover another payroll (“Is it Friday again? Already?!”); you lose a good customer; or an employee quits or has to be fired. And buckle up for this rude reality, because sometimes these Operating Uglies travel in packs and show up the same day. If you lack operating passion, you may not come back tomorrow.

It isn’t possible to list all the challenges the marketplace will throw at your business. But regardless of what and when, sustainable success requires you to manage both market and operating passion so proficiently that you become a high-performing, professional small business CEO – not just someone who dreamed of being one.

Write this on a rock ... Small business success requires two kinds of passion: market and operating.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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