“Do what you love” …vs… “Offer what they want” – Passion vs. Compassion in an Authentic Business
This is a common idea among solopreneurs:
“If I have a passion for something, then there must be enough other people with that passion, which means I can build a viable business.”
Building a business on passion alone can take much longer than you initially think it would. You might have to search far and wide for individuals with a passion like yours. Then, you have to build enough trust for them to buy.
Or instead of finding and reaching out to those people, you can build an online audience from scratch – people who generally like your energy – and then educate them until they really "get" why you're so passionate about your topic.
These are viable paths, but they take more time than most people want.
To create income sooner, consider a compassion-focused (or market-led) business.
Yes, there are two different focuses when building an Authentic Business:
Passion Focus — creating a product/service from what energizes you, from the philosophies, ideas, strategies that you love... your own background, knowledge, trainings you've received, peak experiences you’ve had, topics you enjoy talking about. In short, your passions. “Do what you love.” This requires a long-term effort to grow and nurture a large warm audience.
Compassion Focus — creating a product/service based on what energizes your existing audience/network. Actual problems, challenges, issues, frustrations, and yearnings that are facing the people you already know, and can therefore reach easily. “Offer what they want.” This creates a financially-viable business sooner.
“I think the world needs this.”
“I believe people need that.”
“What are people saying they want?”
“What problems are they trying to solve?”
If people aren’t eagerly buying what you’re selling, you might be leaning too much on your passion. In other words, ask yourself whether you're stuck in your own head.
On the other hand, a compassion focus comes from real individuals you have talked with. You know their names, you know enough about their life to know the actual problems they face, and you’ve talked with them enough to know how they describe those problems.
You know enough to design (or re-design) an offer that resonates with them.
Two Sources of Energy
Another way to put it is that there are 2 sources of energy that move your business:
- Internal – your own experiences, skills, intuitions, and passion.
- External – the struggles, yearnings, and buying patterns of the people you’re in touch with.
Those who lean too much on external energy, even though they might see more impact and income, are in danger of abandoning the soul of their business.
On the other hand, many heart-based people lean very much on their internal energy to try to build their business, and the danger is burnout because there’s often not enough energy to make the business viable. An important part of business energy is money, which comes from other people spending on your product or service.
Compassion (Com-Passion) = “To Suffer With”
Consider the last time you felt moved to help someone who was suffering.
Or think of a time when you got excited about someone’s dream/vision, and you felt inspired to help their journey.
You were energized by compassion. You were motivated by what someone else was wanting.
And that’s a wise thing to do in business too, because your income is derived from other people’s spending.
People spend on what they want, not necessarily what you are passionate about.
So when you build a business from a compassion focus, you tend to get clients sooner. Your marketing becomes about giving people what they want.
“Being a nice person” vs. Focused Empathy
“I’m such a nice person, I do so much for other people, but I’m still not making any money.”
This is an issue of focused compassion versus diffused. Maybe you spend time helping just about anyone who asks you, rather than practicing stronger boundaries, and focusing on helping just your ideal client type. (Outside of business hours you can do anything you want, but what makes business viable is spending time on helping the ideal type of client.)
Or maybe you haven’t turned your focused compassion into a product/service, so you’re just giving and giving without monetizing. That sounds like a hobby, or volunteering. If you want a viable business, you need to charge for some of your compassionate labor.
For better and worse, money is society’s allocation signal for what it considers “valuable” work. People are spending money where they want the work to be done. Therefore, notice where your ideal clients are spending the money, and design your offers accordingly.
Again, if you don’t need income, then you can develop your “business” (really, a hobby) from your own passions and ideas. That can lead to income, but much longer-term.
Eventually you may find a sweet spot: the combination of the two.
Passion + compassion creates a genuinely authentic business. It is being able to do what you love, and talk about it in a way that others understand and love to buy.
However, it usually starts with either passion (a long road to financial viability) or focused compassion (listening to the market.)
You can flavor your market-led work with your passion.
Even if you must make income now, and are “forced” to create a market-focused business, you can still bring elements of your Passion in order to flavor your paid work, to make it more meaningful, unique, enjoyable.
Even as I coach people on business/marketing, I enjoy talking & writing about spirituality and personal growth.
Even though my clients won’t pay me to talk about those personal topics :) they do enjoy it when I bring in spiritual values. It makes me a unique business coach for them.
Still, they are paying me for the business expertise… not for my philosophizing :)
I share my opinions and values to make work more meaningful for me, and more unique to them.
(2022 Update: I wrote the above several years ago. Since then, I’ve been gradually talking more about spiritual growth via my Soul Gym Page, and as a result, this year I’ve been able to successfully launch a book about spiritual growth: Soul Gym.)
A musician may have passion for a particular new song he wrote.
And yet, his audience wants to hear him play the old favorites.
If he wants to keep his audience coming back, he will play the old faves, hence the Compassion for the audience. He can flavor those performances with his own style.
And of course, once he has his audience’s interest, he can also introduce his passion for his own songs.
Finding Your Purpose through Compassion
A reader of this post wrote:
“Another point is that when you choose your audience first -- one that you care about -- your passion may find you. As you strive to help them succeed or overcome their obstacles you find purpose and fulfillment in the work you do.
I'm reminded of the story of the hospital janitor who was observed diligently -- and happily -- attending to a coma patient's room: cleaning, restocking medical supplies, and even placing flowers by the bed. When asked how he could be so happy about this apparently mundane job he enthusiastically replied, 'I'm helping the patient get better! Studies show that patients who wake up in a warm environment get better more quickly. Those who don’t often go downhill fast. I’m making sure that the doctor has everything he needs to provide the best care and that the patient is in the best environment to recover.'
The janitor linked his work to the patient's recovery, not his paycheck. He reframed his work into a purpose larger than himself and in doing so, found passion.”
Always Aim to Integrate
If your passion isn’t paying the bills yet, make it a hobby for now.
Make your paid work (focused compassion) more interesting by bringing aspects of your hobby (passion) to it, like how I bring spirituality into business coaching.
Experiment and play with it; bring your creativity to it!
The aim of Authentic Business is to gradually bring the two into perfect alignment: your passion + compassion.
Originally version was published June 6, 2018.