Business Cliches are Sometimes True
We have all heard the business cliche “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” When it comes to deciding on the type of business you want to start, doing something you love and are passionate about will stack the odds in your favor. However, passion alone will not insure success. We need the tools and knowledge to make smart business decisions. We need to always remember that the motivation for going into business is to earn a profit. If you allow your passion to overrule your business sense, you can fail on an epic scale. I know from experience.
How I Failed in Business
For close to 30 years, I have earned my living as a Corporate Controller. Back in 2004, while working for a New York company, I had the opportunity to work exclusively from home. In addition to my work as a Controller, I was following my passion for horses and had a successful Riding Instruction business where I traveled around to students’ farms to give them riding lessons on their own horses. This side business, where I was charging $65 per hour, had extremely low overhead; the wear and tear and fuel for my vehicle, liability insurance and my time. As such, it was a very profitable business.
When the opportunity arose to be able to “work from home”, I decided to follow a long time dream and open my own riding school. I purchased a house and land (with a mortgage), and used most of my life’s savings to install the infrastructure and equipment that was needed: barn, fencing, riding arena, tractor and tack and equipment. I had 3 horses of my own which I converted to business assets, and purchased 3 more horses. I put up a website, and I was in business. It was immediately successful. Business was booming, until 2008.
When the bottom fell out of the economy, my business was effected, but not as much as one would expect. What really changed for me was my approach to riding and training horses. In my evolution as a horsewoman, I came to discover that most of the problems riders struggle with are their own, and not the horse (who is usually blamed). Lack of leadership and problem solving skills that are endemic in our society are multiplied when a rider is attempting to control a half ton animal whose instincts give them two choices: follow a leader or be the leader. I repeatedly witnessed horses that are happy and willing to work under a calm and assertive rider, turn into raving lunatics under a nervous or aggressive one. The result of this was that my product changed. I went from offering people solutions to their horse problems, to offering horse’s solutions to their people problems. The only problem was, most people did not want to buy this product. In our “take no responsibility” culture, telling clients that the problem (and therefore the solution) was within them, did not go over very well. It didn’t happen overnight, but I gradually began to lose clients. But I was on a mission, like an evangelist, I was passionate about what I was teaching (and I had small number of equally passionate students) and convinced that I could rebuild my dream around this new model.
I Made the Transition and So Can You
For the next four years, I struggled to make it work. I had the money (unfortunately) to float the losses from my salaried “work from home” job. And the losses were huge. I had gone from near zero overhead, to supporting 6 horses, a mortgage and all of the expenses of running a farm which was generating very little income. Now remember, I was a Corporate Controller with years of experience helping companies control costs, maximize profits and make smart business decisions. But in my own business, I ignored all the signs. I had the knowledge. I knew the numbers. I just simply did not listen to what they were telling me. I allowed my passion to overrule not only common sense, but my business sense as well. In late 2011, the company I had worked for for fourteen years closed its doors and I lost everything. It was failure on an epic scale, but I learned from it. This adversity forced me into an important realization; the numbers don’t lie. Upon this realization, I really only had one choice – to let go of the failure and move on. When you pay attention to the business side of your business, the numbers tell a story about the past, present and future of your business. That knowledge is power, as long as you use it.