Can you grow your business on passion alone?

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Not everyone is as lucky as Dries Buytaert.  Buytaert invented the open source content management platform called “Drupal”.  Lots of universities and government websites are built using Drupal; it’s a bit like WordPress only more complex and arguably, more powerful.

I’m not suggesting that Dries is lucky to be successful: he’s a brilliant computer scientist and an even better businessman, having leveraged his opensource platform into a multi million dollar business called Acquia.  This wasn’t the lucky part.  He is lucky because he stared out by simply doing what he loved, and what he was good at: writing computer code.  Dries Buytaert invented Drupal when he was a student, living in Antwerp in a dorm.  He wanted to build a message board to exchange messages and meetups with dorm mates, and he couldn’t find anything that met his needs, in 2000, when there really wasn’t such a thing as social media. This is eerily similar to the Facebook story: sometimes genius consists of building the thing you need, because no one has built it yet, and then it turns out that millions of others need it too.

Buytaert is lucky because he was able to follow a relatively simple path as an entrepreneur, the kind of “dream” path that any entrepreneur would strive to follow: he built something that he wanted, and it turned out to be something that lots of other people wanted.  He did what he loved, and it turned out that other people are willing to pay for it (or, in the case of open source, are willing to contribute to its success in a way that allows him to monetise it).

The perfect business formula

It’s not easy to find that perfect formula in business: we often go into business for ourselves because we just want to do what we love, until the reality of buying groceries hits home and, often at some point in the first year, we have to take a step back and ask ourselves some tough questions.  Questions like: who is my ideal client?  What is my niche?  How can I best make money and grow my business?

There was a saying that I heard often when I was promoted into management during my relatively short time working inside a medium-sized organisation and it is “what got you here won’t get you there”.  What that saying means is, everything that I might have done to rise through the ranks to a get a management position, wouldn’t be any of the things that would make me a good manager.

I have been reflecting a lot on this saying lately, as it has been slowly dawning on me that everything I knew about making money as a freelancer – what I have been for most of my career – is not much good to me as a small business owner.  For example, one thing we tend to do as freelancers is say yes every job that comes along.  And that is no way to run a business!

Identifying your niche as a business

The question we need to ask ourselves, especially if we are consultants, coaches, or running a small shop that provides a service of some kind is: what are the jobs we should be taking?  Because there is a tendency when you start a service-or-expertise based business to start quite broad.  But you learn over time that you need to go much more narrow, and in fact you need to have the courage to say no to some clients.

I was recently reminded of the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  Collins talk a lot about change in the book, and what it takes for a company to grow from a good company into a great company.  He says there is no magic pill, but there is, in some sense, a magic formula, illustrated by one of the most useful Venn Diagrams I have ever seen, and here it is:

 GoodtoGreatVennDiagram

It shows so clearly where the magic formula lies: it shows what happens when, like Dries Buytaert, you can find that sweet spot where Passion (doing what you love) intersects with Ability (doing what you’re good at) and the Market (doing what people will pay for).  That middle part of the diagram is your niche as a business, where you uniquely can make a difference, and make money.

This is a great tool to map your business against, and it will become part of my annual ritual to make sure I list all of our passions as a business, all of our capabilities, and what I’m seeing the need for in the market, against this diagram to make sure that I’m narrowing down the field of the ideal job, and the ideal client, and having the courage to say no to the less than ideal clients.

And, of course, making sure that all of my marketing language reflects the needs of my ideal client: the more we think through this puzzle, the more targeted we can be in our language, blogs, and social media.  And this can only mean more of the right clients and less of the wrong.

For more resources and information on Content Strategy and to download a detailed description of what content strategy entails, go to analyticalengine.ca/resources or download a Content Strategy Info graphic at http://bit.ly/1qY9tYp.

Christine McGlade is a Business Analyst, Content Strategist, and Usability Consultant.  With over 25 years experience in the media business, Christine helps small business, social enterprise, and Not for Profits how to leverage the power of the Internet to grow their business.  Learn more about Christine at analyticalengine.ca

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