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When Doing What You Love Doesn’t Pay

When Doing What You Love Doesn’t Pay

We’ve all heard the expression “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” True. But sometimes it also means you’ll never earn a nickel, either. What a horrible thought, but it happens. So, if what you love isn’t going to help you put food on the table and keep a roof over your head, then what? This is a complicated question. Most people are in the careers they chose in an industry they wanted to be in. The vast majority of stress caused by work is often due to leadership or interpersonal conflicts. These have simpler solutions (lots of books and articles exist on this topic) than for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are literally doing what they love in a multi-faceted way. This is true of your local shop owner, business consultant, accountant, personal trainer, the list goes on. We all know someone who is an entrepreneur, doing what he or she loves, and who is struggling. This is not always due to the economy, which does play some role. No, the bigger problem often comes from not being able change perspectives or adapt.

Rigidity, in this context, is in not adapting. Rigidity can be very destructive. Sure there are many successful entrepreneurs that kept it moving forward but flexibility is how it happened. Never compromising on the original idea but being flexible enough to find success where it is. I’m reminded of two stories. One was a client the other just an old friend, both had their own businesses. Both needed to adapt. One did.

The Rigid:

One of the most important elements to finding success as an entrepreneur or business owner is being clear on what you cannot do.

Many years ago I had friend and neighbor, we’ll call him “Carmine."  Carmine was a roofer and did other home improvement work. He did this as side jobs most often, but from time to time, when he found himself out of work, this became his full time employment. One day Carmine decided it was high time he made it a legal business and career. So, Carmine, along with a family member, got a contracting license. He’d been in the business quite a long time so he had plenty of contacts to ensure he always had jobs. So far, so good.

[Related: The Career Risk You Don't Know You're Taking]

Carmine, unfortunately, didn’t have a clue as to how to run a business administratively. He received offers from other family members and friends to help him out. I offered, as a friend, to help write his business plan to secure a small loan to cushion his expenses. He refused. He insisted he knew what he was doing. He did, to an extent. He knew how to make the right connections, close a deal, get tools and equipment, hire day labor, and complete a job. He believed that’s all he needed to know.

The Adaptable:

This client first and foremost had the sense to recognize that something in her business model needed to change. She was reasonably successful but would go through long dry periods with no or low cost clients. As a known photographer it seemed odd that her amazing talents were not in more demand. But that really wasn’t the problem. Let’s call my client “Martha” (she has not agreed to be profiled by name at this time).

Martha can photograph anything and tell stories with the images in amazing ways. Martha loved photographing families in natural environments - at the park, at home, at functions - as well a posed images. She could do the same for weddings. She often did photographs for two local news outlets and commercial photography as well. All by word of mouth. Yet somehow, her business was drying up. She did all the things she was “told” to do by other professionals. She blogged, she joined (costly) networking groups, she asked for referrals. Nothing seemed to be having an impact anymore. What was going on? Martha needed a serious diagnostic of her business.

What really happened:

Carmine’s story ends sadly. He refused help in managing his business and made the fatal mistake of hiring a friend to do a job with him. That friend cost him the whole job, he had to fix the problems and rework the job on his own dime. It was his undoing. He never wrote a business plan for a loan and so had no cushion. A few years later Carmine had a serious accident that resulted in a permanent disability. He has not worked since.

[Related: How To Create a Peripatetic Career You Love]

Martha’s story has a much brighter ending. Martha and I worked together to take a good hard look at her business model and marketing. Martha desperately wanted to do what she loved which was photographing families. But the world of family photography has changed and so Martha had to as well.  She was spread too thin anyhow and was all over the map. You were never quite sure what Martha was all about.  Since she’s always worked commercially the best choice for her business was to scale back her efforts and focus on commercial work.  We looked at her ROI with regard to paid networking and other groups and events and came up with a solution for that as well. She modified her website and sent a few emails to update her followers.  She immediately booked several gigs.  In addition, her commercial clients also wanted to hire her for personal events, family photographs, and the like. Things were looking up for Martha.

Martha was flexible and adapted to the realities of her business and the market. She still does what she loves, gets regular contracts, and gets paid for it.

Do what you love? Absolutely. But sometimes that means adapting to also do what you’re good at (and leaving the rest to someone else).

Dolores DeGiacomo is leadership and development consultant. Dolores focus’ on success behaviors and helping people get out of their own way. She works in corporate environments as well as with entrepreneurs.

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