Three keys to building a business you will love

Polar bears are superbly adapted for a life in the cold. So well, in fact, that they overheat in temperatures above 10 °C (50 °F). Insulated by up to 10 cm (4 in) of fat, they're also protected by their fur which consists of a layer of dense underfur and an outer layer of guard hairs. They're so well insulated they barely show up in infrared photography. Just like polar bears have found their sweet spot - the place where they are superbly adapted to their environment - we have to find the sweet spot for our businesses. That sweet spot where we're best adapted to deliver a service our clients find valuable, and we love so much we look forward to it every day.

Building a business you love

To build a business you will love, you have to love what you do. You have to like the people you're working with - your team and your clients - and you have to be good at what you do. At the heart of it, you have to have compassion for your clients and the problem you're helping them solve - and that means that you have to have a passion for what you do.

There are always parts of a business we don't like doing much. I'm not that fond of administrative work but I know that I need to keep my admin in order, so I do it. I get my real kicks from seeing my clients succeed in their businesses; seeing their eyes light up when they get insight into a particular problem or issue and move their businesses ahead.

In short, I get my kicks from situations where my skill and passion meet their need. This is called the sweet spot, and this is where you deliver the most value and get the most enjoyment.

Let's look at how this works.

Your skill

The first key to a business you will love is your skill.

Over the last few years we did a lot of renovations to our house. One of the alterations included closing up a window on one wall, and in the process the stucco on the outside of the house needed to be repaired. Because the stucco had originally been done when the house was built (over 50 years ago) the style and pattern were quite unique - and we wanted to have the repairs match the original style.

We had to hunt around quite a bit, but we eventually found a craftsman who could re-finish the stucco in the original style. He was an older gentleman with a broken command of English, but the work he did was superb - today you can't see where the repairs were made. He was a master at his craft - a specialty that not many people need, but enough need it for him to make a good living from his skill.

The point of this story is that your skill does not need to be esoteric or high-tech or even in high demand. It just needs to be something that you are really good at, and something that enough people need so you can make a living.

If your skill is commonly available - like web designers - you have to stand out from the competition. One way to stand out is with your portfolio of work - there's nothing like showcasing the work you've done in the past to prove that you're good at what you do. Of course you will have to do marketing and learn to sell, but it starts with your skill.

Your passion

The second key to a business you will love is passion.

You should know by now that building a business is tough. It takes time, dedication and hard work - and although the journey can (and should) be fun, it is also going to be exhausting and disheartening at times. To get through those tough times, you're going to need passion.

I'm a great fan of Cal Newport's books. In So Good They Can't Ignore You, he debunks the old belief that "follow your passion" is good advice. Not only is the cliche flawed - preexisting passions are rare and have little to do with how most people end up loving their work - but it can also be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping.

Instead, as Newport discovered from his research: "Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it."

Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable. Not before.

So to build a business you will love, you will need skill. And in the process of developing that skill you're developing a passion for what you do. And that passion is what will hold you up through tough times.

Their need

The third key to a business you will love is a need for what you're offering.

It sounds so obvious. To build a business - one that is successful and you will love - you have to provide something people need. But as obvious as it is, the most common reason startups fail (or businesses fail to get off the ground) is because they build stuff people don't want.

But there are some subtleties around this.

Even with a finely honed skill, a passion for what you do and a well-known need in the market, you can fail to build a successful business if you cannot present what you do in terms your clients understand. I've worked with many early-stage businesses, and inevitably there is a pivot - a change in what the business does or how it presents that to the market. Most often, that pivot is a result of insufficient market traction - an inability to get the sales you want. And with some tweaks, these businesses often turn a lacklustre venture into a successful business.

So I've extended the most common reason startups fail:

  • they build stuff people don't want; or
  • they fail to present it in terms their clients can understand.

To build a business you will love there has to be a need for what you have, and you have to present it in terms your clients will understand and learn to love.

The intersection of skill, passion and need

The business you will love is most likely to happen where these three things intersect:

  • your skill;
  • your passion; and
  • their need.

This is called the sweet spot. This is where you provide a product or service your clients need, and your skills or expertise make you better than your competitors. And in the long run, your passion helps you stay the course, improving what you have and sticking with it through thick and thin.

I would like to add a sweetener to the sweet spot:

You're more likely to succeed where your skill and passion meet high need supported by high money.

This is another way of saying that your chances of success will be better if what you're providing is needed really badly and your clients have ample means to pay for it. Your work will be more highly valued and the value will be reflect in the prices you can charge and the revenue your business generates.

Adapt like a polar bear

Polar bears are bears (obviously), but they're classified as marine mammals because they get most of their food from the sea. They spend a lot of their time on ice or in the water but they're so well adapted they thrive when it is cold enough and their sources of food are abundant.

You need to adapt to your world just like polar bears have evolved to thrive in theirs. You will need skill and passion - and provide a service or product that your clients need. And your chances of success are going to be higher if they (your clients) have a high need and ample means to pay you.

What you can do now

In my article How much do you need to know about business to build one I introduced a business skills rating system to help you discover how good you need to be at the 11 elements that go into building a successful business. The only area where you need to be "skilled" or better is in the Delivery element - this is where you apply your particular skill to solve a problem for your clients.

Read the article here to rate yourself on the other 10 elements.

And good luck with building a business you will love.

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