This topic is inspired by something I see and hear a lot from clients I’ve worked with. They’ve already been working on building their business for at least several months, some even one year or more, but they’re at a point where they just don’t know if it’s gonna work anymore.
For many of them, they’re feeling like they’re on the brink of burn out or giving up altogether because they feel like they’re giving so much time to their business and aren’t seeing the results they want, and they’re also feeling discouraged.
Many entrepreneurs and business owners are judging their progress based on how ONE particular offer is selling.
For example, a lot of the clients I work with are selling coaching programs. Hence, it’s very natural for them to judge whether things are working, based on how many clients they’ve signed in a certain amount of time.
What if selling this one particular offer is not the only way to make money in your business?
What if the ultimate, overarching impact of what you do as an entrepreneur isn’t related to the amount of money you make or how many clients you worked with?
What if selling this specific offer is just one of many vehicles that let you create the longer term, bigger picture, overarching legacy and impact that you are here to make in your entire life?
We’re getting all deep and stuff, right?
That’s why one thing that has been brewing on my mind a lot lately is what can be possible if we see our business not just as a lifelong thing, but also, as a lifelong PASSION PROJECT?
WHAT? PASSION PROJECT??? I know that the word passion project has a bit of a negative reputation when it comes to entrepreneurs who run a BUSINESS.
I think many of us who consume content from business coaches or marketers may have heard people say, “Oh, your business is not a real business if it’s not making money. If it’s not making money, it’s just a hobby”. This, on the surface, totally makes sense, right?
A business is something that involves activities or services that are intended to generate some sort of profit. I didn’t go to business school but I also understand that concept, even as a regular person.
So it makes sense why a lot of us have this idea imprinted on us that if our business isn’t making money, it’s not legit. It’s not a real business. It’s just a hobby. A passion project. Some might even use the term side hustle.
Fun story! A coach friend and I just happened to chat about what I’m going to talk about in this particular podcast episode. I shared the title I had in mind, which is: your business is a lifelong passion project, not a one year goal.
Interestingly, their immediate response was “Hey, that’s a really great topic, but I would suggest changing the word passion project.”
I will admit that I didn’t hear my friend out and try to understand what was their impression or interpretation of the word passion project, and I immediately jumped to defense mode. I was like, “Nooooo this is a very intentional choice of word!”
And what this very particular instance suggests to me was that the term “passion project” indeed has some sort of connotation.
“It’s not strategic to say that you’re building a passion project, especially if you’re trying to make money. People won’t take you seriously if you yourself aren’t seeing it as a real business. It’s not going to grow if you’re not really giving it your 100% and going all in on it.”
I recognize that for perhaps up until January 2022, I also held that way of thinking when it came to my business. I also believed that I had to lead by example first.
I had to show up for my business and show up in front of others that demonstrate that I fully believe in what I was doing and in what I was selling. Because if we go first, others will eventually follow.
I also believe that our businesses can be very profitable, very impactful, and is a very legit career path. I do believe in those things, and I still do.
However, now in 2022, I am much more flexible with these beliefs or these ways of viewing our businesses. I’m much more flexible with when it is helpful and when it may not be helpful.
I’d like to share a new hypothesis I’ve recently developed.
You will be familiar with this if you have taken some sort of science course in school, whether it was in high school or maybe your entire career is in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or research or something that involves experimental design.
Or if you’re not familiar with experimental design or if you totally did learn this but you forgot, let me give a quick refresher.
When researchers and scientists are conducting an experiment, their goal is to carry out their research in an “objective” or “controlled” way so that the data you collect are as precise as possible. And therefore you can actually arrive at a more accurate or representative conclusion of your results or the data you collected.
For the purpose of this particular conversation, I just want to touch on three things: Controlled variables, independent variables, and dependent variables.
In an experiment, a controlled variable is something that is PURPOSELY kept constant aka it doesn’t change during the experiment. We keep these variables controlled because we don’t want them to influence the outcomes. And also, these variables are not related to the study’s main goal or objective.
Whereas the independent variable is what you’re going to CHANGE. You measure how changes to the independent variable will affect your dependent variable, which is your results.
Here’s how I see the application of this concept to our business and life.
If your goal is to grow your business and see BIG RESULTS and growth in your business , then hypothetically, the IDEAL scenario you want to be in, is to literally keep as many things in your LIFE as constant as possible so that you can only focus on the business.
MEANING: In an ideal world, aside from your actual business, all the other variables that can possibly affect your business, more specifically, your ability to take action on your business, should be kept controlled.
Because if you don’t keep those variables constant, they can probably influence your business. For example, you are stressed about your job or your cat is sick or there’s a situation in your family or you’re experiencing health issues, or anything else that’s not directly within the scope of your business, but it’s creating stress for you.
It’s very natural for those life things to affect your emotional capacity to work on your business or feel excited and motivated to show up for your business and hence create results for your business.
Or, you might find it harder to make time or have the physical energy to do the actions you know you need to do. In addition to the stress and mind drama that typically comes up in your business itself. Such as going back and forth on whether your messaging is clear enough or whether your price is too high or comparing yourself to other coaches and entrepreneurs, etc.
As you may have realized for yourself, our life is not perfectly controlled like a perfectly designed experiment. We always have things going on in our life that are not easy. That causes us stress. That feels really difficult.
If you’re currently building a business as well, you might have also found it even more difficult to find the energy to work on your business or make time for your business because, let’s be honest, you’re probably tired and drained from those other things, right?
So I want to take a moment to acknowledge that if you feel like everything in your life is super chaotic and there’s so many things you have to think about or worry about, in addition to building this thing called a business, it makes sense if right now, business feels hard.
If working on your business feels hard and feeling confident that your business WILL work out, is really, really hard. I really get it.
That’s something I have become much more cognizant about in 2022 and hence my own relationship with my business and my beliefs about “how to build a successful business” has changed and evolved in many ways.
I really want to hone in on the idea that unless most of the variables in your life are more or less constant, it may not be helpful to expect that your business will see results based on some sort of arbitrary timeline. Or even arbitrary expectations of what you think you could perhaps achieve in a certain amount of time, such as creating five figures in your first year or whatever that looks like.
And the reason is simple: it’s not that it’s impossible, but if you know that other variables of your life are moving very quickly and changing. And whether it’s changing in a way that you like or a way that you don’t like.
But I’m more so curious about whether such expectations or goals are helpful for YOU, as the person with emotions and a certain amount of capacity to work on your business.
Does putting this pressure on your business to work help you or does it actually make you feel more stressed and pressured to do even more things than you might actually have the time for?
Does it help you feel more creative and curious about how you can help people, or does it pressure you to focus more on needing to have very specific sales language and a very clear and specific CTA (call-to-action) so that people will book a call or apply to your coaching program?
The answer could be “Yes, it helps me.” or the answer could be “No, it doesn’t help me.” It depends.
But that’s exactly why I want to offer another way of thinking about your business, ESPECIALLY if you’re currently in a position where you’re just feeling discouraged about your business.
And so, what if, just what if we can think of our business as a lifelong passion project?
If we really think about it, there are many highly successful coaches, service-based entrepreneurs, and content creators who started their business off purely as a passion project.
Heck, for myself, I started all of this back in 2019 purely for fun.
Yes, there are definitely people who entered the online entrepreneurship space with the sole intention of making a profitable business that will let them create a certain lifestyle or quit their job.
For these individuals, the money making part of the business is the main focus, and it’s not inherently good or bad. There’s no need to attach any moral judgment to why someone starts their business or keeps going.
But something tells me that if you are listening to this podcast, I’m willing to bet that you are doing this maybe for the possibility of creating more options for yourself in the future or for having an additional stream of income or creating more time freedom in the future.
You also really want to build your business in a way that feels highly fulfilling and meaningful. You want to feel like you’re actually helping people and that what you do matters. I have a really, really strong feeling that if you’ve been a listener of this show for a while, that is something that resonates with you and how you want to build your business.
You also know what feels super fulfilling, meaningful and impactful. PASSION PROJECTS. HENCE THE NAME, PASSION PROJECT.
So I legit Googled the definition of passion project and inserted it into my Google Docs. According to Cambridge Dictionary, a passion project is “a piece of work, especially a film, that someone gets involved in because they love it or feel it is very good and important, not in order to make money:” (I don’t know where the film part came from but okay.)
I’d argue that’s why a lot of people I know, such as fellow peers in the coaching industry, mentors or coaches I’ve worked with, clients I’ve worked with, or those who are in my Internet bubble and follow along my content.
For many of us, our business actually started out as a passion project. There was a period of time, especially in the early days, where creating things just felt fun. Working on our business felt so exciting. We were just excited to put our work out there and were so excited about what’s possible.
For most people, that passion project’s energy starts to dim.
For some, it could be because they realize that they’re so far away from these totally arbitrary business income goals and expectations they set for themselves.
For others, it could be they started seeing monetary results in their business and think that they need to go all in to grow the business even more. Now, all of a sudden, their focus shifts from “This is really fun and I really like what I’m doing“ to “I gotta sign more clients and make more money because this is a legit business now”.
Here’s why I want to offer us the perspective of viewing our business like a lifelong passion project.
If your goal is to be an entrepreneur for the long haul, as an arbitrary example, let’s say that the long haul is more than 10 years. Then you’ve got to keep going.
For a lot of us, I think we were first introduced to the online coaching industry around 2019/2020/2021. Myself included, I’m still in the early, toddler stage of my life span as an entrepreneur.
Three years is truly just a blip on your timeline as a human being on this earth, and also a small segment on your timeline as an entrepreneur, especially for those of you who say you want to be your own boss, right?
I want us to be open to different tools, perspectives, and options that we can use in different seasons of our life and business. Different seasons of life and business will require different things from you.
Because my life in 2022 looks so different from 2021, as a result, the way I now operate my business is very different from 2021. Simply because I am in a different season of life.
To be very transparent, I’ve been so overwhelmed with the many moving pieces of my personal life. There have been many times this year where I wanted to stop the business and just rest and focus on my personal life.
But I know that the work I do as a coach and content creator is something I want to do for as long as I am able. That’s why I really had to adapt and work on accepting that business is not consistent. It will always ebb and flow. There will always be different seasons of life and business. It is normal, if not, expected.
And totally random, but not really. There was definitely a season in my business where I believed that consistent income is a very viable goal. It was in Episode 53: “100k in 12 months = 8.33k per month” (Consistent Results), where we talked specifically about consistent income months and to be very honest, there are several points in that podcast episodes that I no longer fully agree with.
Right now, I acknowledge that inconsistency is the norm. Unless most variables of your life are constant, and you can therefore experiment and really go “all in” on your business and grow that one variable.
I’m not sure if it’s helpful for us to expect some sort of linear or even exponential growth. Basically anything that’s upwards only growth. Especially when there’s many moving pieces and variables in your life.
I now acknowledge that there will be a lot of downs. Down, meaning, down in your business income, down in your emotional or time capacity to create things for your business, or other challenges that you just didn’t expect. Even if you feel like you’re doing all of the same action items or strategy that got you to where you are before the dip. Dips can still happen.
All that to say, I want to encourage all of us to be open to adapting to different seasons of life and business, and be open to inconsistencies in your “business results”.
What happens a lot is that people enter the entrepreneurial space with a lot of high hopes and expectations. Only to see that their expectations weren’t met. And as a result, they become super disappointed, frustrated, and make it mean all sorts of things about their potential or capability or likability as a coach or entrepreneur.
What if we simply didn’t have these expectations or goals, especially goals that we didn’t even make up or define?
Like 10k month goals, for example. Why is that even your goal? Is it because you need 10k a month to pay for all your living expenses, pay off debt, have a little bit extra for fun each month, etc? Or is it because all these other people are talking about 10k months?
Where are we following and subscribing to someone else’s definition of what a successful business looks like, rather than defining what that looks like for us? Then feeling absolutely terrible for not achieving some other person’s definition of success?
Again, if your goal is to be an entrepreneur for the long haul, you’ve got to keep going. You can’t “win the game” if you take yourself out of the game. Business truly is a long game.
When you view your business as a “I’ve got to make this work because I’ve already been doing this for nine months and I still haven’t made X amount of money yet”, it’s the seemingly slow seasons that will usually lead the entrepreneur to leave the game entirely. Because they think so much about how far they are from 0 to 100.
It’s like, they feel like they started from 0 and they’re so upset that they are still at level 10, and that’s so far away from 100.
But think about it. How are you going to get to level 100 if you don’t get to level 10 first?
Here’s a deeper question: If you don’t go through these seemingly frustrating or discouraging times in your business, how are you going to learn what you need to learn in order to get to the other side?
If you don’t learn how to stay resilient as a business owner, how will you get to [income goal] in your business?
If you don’t learn to manage expectations and release the ones that aren’t helpful, how will you stay in the game for the long term?
Everything is a tool or learning lesson that can help you get to what you really want.
I also want to add that yes, a lot of times business will feel absolutely shit. But, if you knew you had to go through this to get to where you want, are you still willing to keep going?
The answer could be yes or it could be no, and neither is right or wrong. But it is something you have to answer for yourself.
Now I want to loop back to the concept of passion project and tie the conversation all together.
If you are not feeling excited and proud about your business or you’re not excited or proudly showing up to talk about how you can help people via your offer, why would anyone have a reason to work with you?
If you’re not even looking forward to telling people this is your offer, why would anyone want to book a sales call with you?
If you don’t even like the content you’re putting out or the things you’re saying in your content, why would anyone want to keep consuming your content?
If you don’t even believe in what you’re doing or if you don’t even like what you’re doing, why should we expect others to want to work with you?
This is where I think a lot of people who have a passion project will thrive whereas business owners will struggle.
During times where it seems like there’s no evidence that people are interested in our work or that people care, the passion project peeps still keep going because they genuinely just really, really like what they do and are so proud of sharing their work.
It’s these seasons where passion projects will continue taking off, whereas the businesses might exit the game entirely.
I hope that this episode has been helpful for you, especially if you’re kinda in a place where you’re frustrated with your business and the results in your business.
I hope this conversation was able to help to reframe your relationship with your business.
If you want to create more “passion project vibes” in your business moving forward, here are some things I suggest, that are totally inspired by the concept of a passion project:
1) People who are creating a “passion project”, are really proud of their work. They continue to put out more of their work because they really believe in the value of it and want to get it out to more people who might also find value from it. Ultimately, they want to be recognized for what they do.
When it comes to your business, I would suggest thinking about what it is that you want to be known for?
More nuanced questions to think about could be:
2) When I personally think of someone who is building their passion project, my impression is that most of these individuals tend to feel more comfortable “being themselves”.
For example, when I think of some of my favorite YouTubers who started their YouTube channel purely for fun and to create value, their videos, especially the earlier ones, tend to be very reflective of their personality. You can get a feel of their values, character, story, etc.
Whereas when I think of entrepreneurs who start their channel with the primary intention of making sales for their business (and if I had to make a generalization), their video, especially the earlier ones, tend to feel more scripted and often feel formulaic.
Now, this is just a generalization I’m making based on the YouTube videos I’ve consumed. This is not a fact. I am just one data point.
But the point here is, if you’re building a business, one thing we can learn from the passion project peeps is to take away the pressure of feeling like you have to look or sound a certain way when showing up.
It’s a lot harder to truly build rapport with your audience and genuinely connect with your people when you’re using marketing or sales language that you wouldn’t normally use if you were meeting someone in person.
3) People who are building a passion project often have other things going on besides their passion project. That’s why knowing how to manage their passion project on top of everything else is a skill they need to master as well.
In the context of your business, knowing how to build your business in a way that doesn’t take over your whole life, doesn’t burn you out and doesn’t take away from your capacity to be there for the other parts of your life that is either a responsibility or something that matters to you, that’s a skill. And this skill will be very, very relevant and needed for your lifespan as an entrepreneur.
As you can see, there are several things we can definitely learn from passion projects!
All of this is what we will coach on inside our 1:1 program. Inside my coaching program, we coach a lot on:
1) Helping you stand out in your niche/industry and be seen as a thought leader in your space and be recognized for your own ideas, opinions, experiences, skills, etc.
2) Building a uniquely differentiated brand that is a genuine and honest reflection of you and what you want to be known for. And also exactly what your people will deeply resonate with and hence decide to work with you inside your paid programs or services.
3) Ultimately do the bare minimum number of things in your business, but do it really, really well so you can spend less time on your business and make more time for other parts of your life.
If any of this resonated with you and how you want to build your business moving forward, I’d love to invite you to send in an application for 1:1 coaching at cheryltheory.com/program, and we’ll go from there.
Remember, you have work to do. You got people to help. You have a vision that you’re here to execute on and make happen. You’ve got a message and story and ideas to share.
You can’t give up on your business now.
So, let’s keep going and stay in the game for the long haul.
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