Many aspiring entrepreneurs end up in a business for the same reason that they end up in other relationships: They follow their passion. Whether it is an exciting idea, the lure of the be-your-own-boss myth or the often false pretense of doing more of what you love too often, creativity and passion are front-of-mind -- and end game is not even in your mind.
While I have extensively written about how following passion can lead you into a business no-man’s land, if you do want to make your passion-driven business work, you need to know where you are intending to go with it. That means that goal setting -- making tangible, definable goals with specific time frames attached -- is critical to get you on the path toward success.
To illustrate the importance of this, I wanted to tell you a bit about my mother, Sheri, and her adventures in entrepreneurship. I can only describe my mom as a cross between Martha Stewart and Cher -- meaning that she can create an elegant evening broach out of a brown paper grocery bag and free-hand pancakes in the shape of elephants (the Martha part). And she would often do just that wearing four-inch stiletto heels and purple contact lenses (the Cher part). Being talented and creative, once upon a time, led her towards entrepreneurship.
In the early 1980s, my mom was putting together some really unique holiday gifts for friends and family. One of our neighbors came over and asked my mom if she would make a few gift baskets for said neighbor to also give as gifts for the holidays. My mom agreed -- and as an aside, she didn’t charge the neighbor anything incremental to put the gifts together.
Proof of concept
News of the unique gift baskets my mom was making spread like wildfire throughout the neighborhood and kept my mom busy throughout the holiday season. She enlisted a friend to help her, who thankfully informed my mom that perhaps should charge something to make these baskets, and suddenly, a jobbie -- my term for a hobby disguised as a business -- was born.
When the orders continued after the holiday season for baby gifts, get-well gifts, birthday gifts and more, it occurred to my mom and her new partner that maybe this jobbie could be turned into a business.
The job business
Today, there are hundreds of gift basket companies. But 30-plus years ago, this concept didn’t exist. My mom and her partner really were pioneers in the niche. They started their business in our basement, which usually looked like a tornado had hit Party City. Inventory, cellophane, ribbons and balloons were everywhere. The business quickly took off -- they were working full time, taking orders, assembling and wrapping the gifts, packing, finding new business, purchasing inventory, invoicing, chasing down payments and creating marketing materials.
Eventually, the operation outgrew the basement, so they bought a warehouse and they continued to work hard. They had a steady stream of orders from corporate clients and end-consumers alike. And they were busy.
By 1991, nearly a decade after they had started the business, their circumstances changed. My mom was getting a divorce, and her partner’s family had some financial issues, so they had to take a hard look at the business and how much they were making. They realized, for the first time, that they were making around $10,000 each.
Yes, working an average of 50 hours a week and 50 weeks each year, they were pulling in a whopping… drum roll, please… $4 per hour. This was a job -- not a business -- and one that wasn’t even pulling in the minimum wage. This was not enough money to sustain either my mom or her partner when their circumstances changed, and they were just then realizing it, as they spent their time focused on the passion and creative elements of the business.
Needing a purpose
My mom went into her business, because she had a creative and unique idea. Even though she had some proof of concept, there was no goal, no purpose and no real strategy to how the business should grow and what it was meant to achieve. She received orders, she filled orders, she had increasing interest in her product, but ultimately, she never made enough profit for it to be worth her time or effort -- a fact ironically lost on her for a decade until her circumstances shifted.
If you are led by your creativity or passion, make sure to ask yourself what you want out of your business. If you don’t set goals, how will you know what direction to go in? Do you want to build something? Do you want to help even more people? Do you want to create jobs and growth in the economy? How much money is your time worth? Do you want recognition as a savvy businessperson? Are you looking for a hobby?
It is totally up to you what the mission, purpose and goals behind your business are, and there is no right answer -- only what’s right for you. However, you still need to make a conscious decision. You can’t keep score if you don’t know what game you are playing.
Why it matters
After my mom’s circumstances changed, she had to abandon her business to support herself, as did her partner. She swore she would revisit running a business and do it differently the next time.
However, there wasn’t time for a next time for her. Just a few years after leaving the business behind, my mom was diagnosed with leukemia. She passed away just after her 51st birthday. She was creative, she was bright and she had an entrepreneurial spirit, but she never had someone tell her how important having a goal was to get where she wanted to go. She never had an opportunity to hear that message, and she also never had an opportunity to be everything that she could be.
In her honor, I have vowed to help change that, and I hope that her story can be an extra motivator for you to be and achieve everything that you can. There are no right or wrong goals -- only the ones that matter to you. Set them so that you can make progress and achieve success, whatever that may mean to you.