Growth & Customers

How to turn your passion into a business

Starting a business is a pipe dream many of us have. Who hasn’t got a passion or interest that they’re sure could make an ongoing affair? And who hasn’t longed for the freedom of “going it alone” and becoming their own boss?

Our research with IDC found that over half of all small businesses are started because of a personal passion. The fact that nearly 80% of those spoken to in the research also say they very much enjoy working for their own business might indicate that the passion doesn’t easily die.

But how do you get started? You can find lots of guides and information explaining how to make things like a business plan but what are the immediate next steps when you realise that you too want to turn your passion into a business?  Here’s five steps to follow to turn your passion into a business.

The customer comes first

Start with your customer, always. At this early stage of thinking through your business plans, starting with your customer will allow your natural passion to flow and help you build sound ideas.

At Sage we’re passionate about customers and they’re everywhere you look within the business – from product development, to marketing, and even in areas like human resources, where our customers’ stories form a part of our recruitment.

We’re not alone, of course. Companies like Amazon have it baked into their corporate mission statement, where they claim to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.”

Visualise your customers or clients. You need to know who they are, of course, and you should already have an idea of their quantity. But more than this, you need to visualise how you can delight them. Visualise those little things you can do to bring a smile to their face, and make them recommend you to others.

And then you also need to visualise how you’ll deal with them in those rare instances where they might not be delighted despite your best efforts. One-to-one customer service is relatively easy, but what happens when you get further down the line and even sparing a few minutes for true customer service becomes nearly impossible?

Even better is to visualise how customers can help you in non-obvious ways. Could they help with your marketing, for example?

Examine your passion honestly

Sit down with a pen and paper or your laptop and try to identify what it is you actually love about your passion. Really dig down into it and look for that epiphany – that moment when you truly understand what it is that drives you.

What you’re actually doing here is asking yourself what aspects of your passion can be turned into a viable business. In particular, you’re making sure you don’t identify a job instead of a business.

For example, while you might identify programming as core to your passion for creating websites, if you create a business like a web design agency then that’ll be just one part of what it does. There’s also the processes of evaluating client briefs and maintaining sites that have been completed – and that’s before we get to other essential tasks like marketing and business development!

By examining your passion pragmatically you’ll also be essentially laying out the day-to-day existence of your business. You’ll be identifying the things you’re going to like doing, and the things that maybe you won’t like so much!

But here’s another reason why this is a good exercise to do. Let’s say your passion is cake making and you have the idea of opening a cakery. Some people love the actual act of baking. Some people like decorating. Others just like making cakes that people enjoy eating! But all of these approaches make for very different kinds of potential business, with very different requirements and expectations.

Don’t lose the passion that empowers and drives you but consider your passion to be a seed that you can grow into a business, rather than being the business itself. A little time spent working all this out at this stage can save a lot of heartache later on.


Visualise what you want to achieve

As I hinted earlier, all acts of creation start with visualisation. Painters have an idea of how their canvas will look when they finally put down the brush. Carpenters have an idea of how a table should look.

This is done for the simple reason that it’s much easier to create something that you’ve already imagined. If you don’t visualise first then you’re opening yourself to haphazard results at best, and blundering mistakes at worse.

So, visualise your business concept. This probably won’t be very hard, and is likely to be fun too! If you want to turn a passion for artistry into a graphic design consultancy then it will probably be easy to imagine yourself behind a drawing board in a pleasant airy office, with a client list just full enough to keep you busy.

However, when visualising you should try to add in the element of time – which is something people generally neglect. Visualise where you want the business to be a few months after it starts, and then a year, or two years, and so on. Assume success and growth, of course, but also visualise what will happen if things don’t take off like a rocket ship. It’s less about having a backup plan and more about being prepared for whatever might come your way because this is also the best way of guaranteeing success.

When starting a business, you’re also creating an institution that people will come to rely upon – whether that’s your customers and clients, or even staff you take on. It can be hard to walk away from a business, especially if you’ve poured years of your life into it. Being prepared for as many eventualities as possible puts you in the very best position to proceed.

Measure and evaluate

A lot of businesses really do start out as hobbies. For example, a cake made for a wedding might cause somebody else to request one with the proviso they’ll pay for it.

Not every business should or has to start this way, of course, but what such people gain is a chance to measure and evaluate their skills and abilities against the practical reality of things like deadlines and customer expectations.

So if you can spare the time, try giving things a dry run. This could be something as simple as timing how long it takes you do a core task in the business, but it could also be something like doing the task voluntarily for a while. For example, someone I know who wanted to turn his turn his love of computing into an IT consultancy started out first by setting-up the computers for his local Scout troop. Indeed, he still does this now despite the fact his business is hugely successful.

Speak to people too. It’s a truism that everybody has an opinion, and here’s a chance to make that work for you. Especially value the opinion of those who have been through what you’re about to go through, and treat them as teachers. One way to do this might be to seek out a local business club. Look online for things like forums or groups specialising in your area too. Evaluate what you hear as honestly as you can, and accept criticism along with any encouragement.

You might even find a business partner – ideally somebody who shares the same passion but who perhaps has strengths to match your weaknesses when it comes to running a business.

Seeking inspiration

Looking for some inspiration from those who have already made the leap? We’ve been sharing stories of businesses, from start-up to enterprise, that are driven by passion in our #SageStories campaign.

For example, here’s some incredibly inspiring words of encouragement from Andy Stephenson, who featured in the campaign: “People don’t just like our product. They love it! Whether it’s in the projects we innovate or the dreams we have for our business the imagination is the greatest joy for all.”

Andy turned his passion for creating fun play boxes for his nieces and nephew into a thriving business. The Weekend Box Club is a membership organisation that provides high-quality activities for parents and children to enjoy together.

Or how about these words of encouragement from Jacob Thundil, the founder and self-described Chief Nut at Cocofina: “When I was 30, after years in the corporate world, I decided I needed to refocus my energy. So I started Cocofina – The Coconut Experts. This allowed me to bring passion and balance back into my life.”

Take a look at the Weekend Box Club and Cocofina stories – Andy and Jacob really are inspiring people, as are all those whose stories we’re honoured to share.

Finding a home for your passion

If there’s a theme to the advice here then it’s one of evaluating your dreams and passions in the cold light of day. This can be difficult but effort at this stage will pay massive dividends moving forward when you’re clearer in your mind about what you want to achieve – and what you can expect.

Never forget your passion or what drives you, but ensure you make the best possible home for it in the real world.