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The Secret Formula for Starting a Business Based on Your Passion

You might think you need help with marketing if you don't have enough clients. Here is the secret to what needs to happen first.
Written May 02, 2011, read 5057 times since then.


I get lots of calls from struggling small business owners who say they need help with marketing.  They assume this is the issue because they only have a trickle of clients and they want a waterfall!

They figure the problem is with their marketing, and once they solve that, more money will come their way. It is logical but not always the first problem.

Early on in my first business I used to think that same way. I assumed I was just not presenting my programs correctly, and  if I could figure that secret, more customers would come my way. I wasted  a lot of time, spent too much money and got nowhere.

I was like many people who started a business from my own passion. I wanted to do something meaningful to me and make a difference. I developed a system that I knew would help people. It was good, so I just couldn’t get it why they weren’t swarming to hire me.

I was approached by many savvy marketers who offered me great deals to put up advertising in cool places and they convinced me that thousands of people would see my ads. I got confused and side-tracked like many new entrepreneurs.

I am now aware that the very first thing you need to know is that there is a driving need in the world community that you will be addressing via your business. Without isolating that driving need first and foremost, you can’t build a marketing plan, you won’t be able to figure out your niche market or develop a business plan. You will be confused, overwhelmed and go around in circles.

Many inventions have seemed amazing while still on the workbench in the builder’s garage, and then once taken out into the world, fell flat because there was no driving need for it and no shared passion. It was important only in the eyes of the inventor.

People won’t invest their hard earned dollars for something they don’t feel a driving need and a passion for, and this is especially real in the service based business realm. This is true for coaching, therapy, graphics design, web development, copywriting and many other great services that require a person to invest over a hundred dollars and make a big commitment.

Here are three questions to ask to help you get clearer about this issue.

1. What is the driving need that you are addressing in your business?
 There needs to be a deep need that a strong group of people have, that is emotionally compelling to them.

2. What common passion do all these people have?
 It can’t be just one person, but a large community of shared stories.

3. What kind of action do these people want to do in order to have a positive, lasting change?
 There needs to be an impulse for taking action, for perceived benefit.

Once you can clearly articulate the burning need, marketing becomes much easier and the money steam will flow a lot stronger. If you are running a business from your own passion, this piece is essential!  It takes time to figure this out but unless you do it, you won’t have a business, you will only be your own best customer.

Listen to people, ask questions and you will know in your gut when you have figured out the driving need that your business will address. After that, a well strategized marketing plan will help you move forward and will bring you the waterfall you desire.


Learn more about the author, Kaya Singer.

Comment on this article

  • Internet Guru 
Portland, Oregon 
Aaron Yeagle
    Posted by Aaron Yeagle, Portland, Oregon | May 02, 2011

    This advice is great not only for "starting" a business but re-evaluating the one you have now and re-focusing your business.

  • Executive Strategist 
Portland, Oregon 
Michael Beck
    Posted by Michael Beck, Portland, Oregon | May 02, 2011

    Great observations, Kaya. And like you said, once a person knows what problem they're solving and how they solve it, their marketing message becomes explosive.

  • Business coaching services 
Portland, Oregon 
Kaya Singer
    Posted by Kaya Singer, Portland, Oregon | May 02, 2011

    Aaron- you are so right. I think this aspect is important throughout the life of y our business and whenever you are creating new programs. Especially is you are someone like me- who enjoys creating tools- you have to always ask - does this fulfill a real need?

  • spiritual intuitive, psychic medium, energy healer, angel channel 
San Diego, California 
Suzy Morgan
    Posted by Suzy Morgan, San Diego, California | May 02, 2011

    Kaya, as always you are right on the nose. I thought I knew my niche. I did, kind of. What you did was help me fine tune it. You also helped me see how I was not really addressing my niche's needs, I only thought I was. I didn't know what they needed because I was looking at them through my eyes and not theirs.

    The other even more amazing thing you did for me was help me see I didn't know who I was. I would of sworn I did, but the person my mind said I was was a leftover from my malfunctioning family.

    How could I define my niche without defining me first?

  • Blogger 
Marysville, Washington 
Kimberly Gauthier
    Posted by Kimberly Gauthier, Marysville, Washington | May 04, 2011

    What a fantastic article. I believed the same thing and was tempted to invest in several marketing plans and thank heavens I waited until I knew more.

    My issues was that I wanted to turn my hobby into a career. I love photography and I started out as a pet photographer. Today, 2 years later, I'm a photography blogger and I offer photography workshops to beginners. Can you see that my marketing plan has changed drastically?

    I love what Suzy had to say "how could I define my niche without definine me first?" That is what I finally came to realize.

  • Bellevue Graphic Designer/Illustrator/Toy & Book Creator 
Bellevue, Washington 
Susan Straub-Martin
    Posted by Susan Straub-Martin, Bellevue, Washington | May 04, 2011

    Kaya: Thank you for this well thought out article. I know that need is a driving factor. I am wondering though if want is an equally strong driving factor.

    Maybe the want is in a product where a need is in a service. I will play around with both these notions as one side of what I do is a service and one is a product.

    Thank you again for a great article.

  • Business coaching services 
Portland, Oregon 
Kaya Singer
    Posted by Kaya Singer, Portland, Oregon | May 04, 2011

    Suzy- As usual you made some excellent points. Many people who begin service based business face this same issue because your business is so much about you! Until you figure out yourself, you can't focus on your clients and what they need.

    Kimberly- Thanks for your comments too- you just reinforced my point above. The biggest difference between a hobby and business is that in a business it is about positive cash flow and you need to focus on what your clients need. Many artists still do their own work on the side.

    Susan- "Want," can be a driving need as well. It is the reason people want what they want. Whatever that it is, that can make it an important need. Hope that makes sense:)

  • Social & Organic Search Consultant 
Kirkland, Washington 
Tami Smith
    Posted by Tami Smith, Kirkland, Washington | May 05, 2011

    Great line: It can’t be just one person, but a large community of shared stories.

    Fantastic article. Love the depth of questioning Kaya. Getting clear on the core driving need of my clients is something I keep circling back to.

  • solution provider 
Mumbai, Maharashtra India 
Samir Tamhane
    Posted by Samir Tamhane, Mumbai, Maharashtra India | May 05, 2011

    Dear Kaya, Good article.. I have always been telling my teenage son who is on the verge to choose his career for higher studies which sd be based on his liking, inclination and capabilities to deliver. My advise to him is Identify you passion area which will give you enough money for your family, may be 10 years down the line and choose you higher education to fulfill those goals.

    So if you want to start you own business of passion, first one needs to evaluate one self, rather make SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunities & Threats) analysis .. ask one self are you really capable to handle complex competition , draw a complete road map for next 5 years or so and see where you will be….or its just your whims and fancy to carry on business of passion which may end up loosing valuable time and money experimenting your passion...

  • Web Developer aka Director 
Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh India 
Sai Bharadwaj
    Posted by Sai Bharadwaj, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh India | May 05, 2011

    As far as my experiences go, it just keeps going in the way that Samir is pointing out.

    I mean there is a crazy attitude to keep on going once you start your business and then, there is lack of business sources to spice it up.

    It is definitely wasting my time, money & energy through these experiments but, that is how am able to know in a better way and helping me to defend better the next time.

    There is always this practical experience that a small business owner gains which I think has to be valued & needs to be learnt in order to deal better with future situations.

    At this moment, am in a position where am hanging around & trying to turn things around. I think most businesses fail because they give up quickly.

  • Hypnosis Change Agent / NLP 
Lynnwood, Washington 
Alan Anderson, C Ht
    Posted by Alan Anderson, C Ht, Lynnwood, Washington | May 05, 2011

    Good Point Kaya. A lot of people start businesses without a real idea of where the clientele is going to come from. I am a Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, this discipline teaches us one important lesson that relates to your article. The main presupposition of NLP is; "what ever one person is doing successfully another can learn to do, if he or she can break their process down to learnable bits."

    That makes the important questions, "is anyone doing what you want to do successfully?" and "what is it, exactly, that they are doing to get the results that you want?". Figure that out and you are on your way to success.

  • consulting 
New York, New York 
Alexander Natiku
    Posted by Alexander Natiku, New York, New York | May 05, 2011

    Kaya, thanks for your clarity and focus. As a service based business, I often encounter what BNI (Business Network International) calls having difficulty getting my message across because we provide an "intangible service" not a product. I found that developing personal "referral clients" and word of mouth at the beginning helps to identify, not only what we are passionate about, but what resonates with customers. This helps sharpen the message and creates for a good template from which to develop our marketing plan.

  • Business Efficiency Consultant and Coordinator 
Nashville, Tennessee 
Derrick Strode
    Posted by Derrick Strode, Nashville, Tennessee | May 05, 2011

    Passion puts your purpose in drive. Daily I help people find what they've been looking for usually within themselves. Great points and plan of action.

  • Hotel Operator, business developer, designer, environmental consultant 
Spring Green, Wisconsin 
Carolina Dursina
    Posted by Carolina Dursina, Spring Green, Wisconsin | May 05, 2011

    This is great advice for entrepreneurs, starting a business or reviewing what you have going! Very helpful article for that matter!

  • Business coaching services 
Portland, Oregon 
Kaya Singer
    Posted by Kaya Singer, Portland, Oregon | May 05, 2011

    Tami- thanks for your comments. I think especially in your field it is so important to know what is the driving need of your clients as it will make you stand out from the hoards of others who say, "I can help you get to the top of Google." That statement is very superficial and yet I hear it everyday from sales people who contact me. It would be refreshing if someone asked me what my need is. I think this might be one of our shared stories:)

    Samir- Good points. I think part of being a teenager is searching and finding passion. Later if he wants to start a business, he needs to bring in the other part and know there is a need for what he wants to offer. When there is not a driving need, one can do their passion as a hobby and do something else for money. Entrepreneurs like when they overlap.

    Alan- I love NLP and it offers so much value in the world of business. People learned a lot from watching McDonalds and using their system approach and applied it to many different kinds of businesses. There are sound business practices that work and I see many, many service based business owners who focus on their passion and not on learning how to run a business. In fact, there can be a lot of passion in learning business skills and being successful! It took me awhile to discover that :)

    Alexander - I was in BNI for five years and by far the biggest value was having to stand up every Friday morning and say my little commercial. Many days I saw blank faces, because people just didn't get it. When I finally stopped talking about what I did, and instead talked about my clients driving need, people got it! Was a wonderful training venue.

  • Marketing and Promotional Consultant 
Burlington, Ontario Canada 
Scott Moore
    Posted by Scott Moore, Burlington, Ontario Canada | May 05, 2011

    Interesting and insightful. makes me step back and re assess my business. I can truly answer the questions and have had positive feedback on the business model and some success to date. my frustration is a positive response and lack of business-i have presented to many and felt positive about the opportunity to work with a potential client, yet nothing comes of it. how or what would you suggest I do to gain feedback from existing clients and non clients [especially the non] any insights or ideas would be appreciated.

  • Business coaching services 
Portland, Oregon 
Kaya Singer
    Posted by Kaya Singer, Portland, Oregon | May 05, 2011

    Scott- Thanks so much for sharing and being transparent as I know there are many people who feel just like you. Once you assess there is a driving need there could be many reasons why people are not signing up to work with you. There is a system to marketing ( I have a 7-step circle that shows this process.) I suspect that you many not be spending enough time focusing on the benefits they want. They need to see how it would be a return on investment for them. It could also be that you are skipping steps and jumping into selling too fast. I'm just guessing. I am happy to talk with you ( for free) and would be able to help you figure out where it is dropping off. Once you know that, it is easier to shift the process.

  • Small Business & Technology Advisor 
Battle Ground, Washington 
Rusty Lee
    Posted by Rusty Lee, Battle Ground, Washington | May 05, 2011

    Well said, Kaya! There's an old saying that goes: "We don't know what we don't know". When we have or start a business there are plenty of things like that. You have me thinking now!

    As you say the passion is important--but if we don't seek out the things "we don't know that we don't know"---then it will be a struggle to build or grow a business. Off I go to find the answers and more questions.

    Hope to see you again sometime soon.

    Have a Great Day, Rusty ~ For Your Success!

  • Marketing and Promotional Consultant 
Burlington, Ontario Canada 
Scott Moore
    Posted by Scott Moore, Burlington, Ontario Canada | May 05, 2011

    Kaya, thanks for quick response and offfering to speak with me to figure out where the holes are.

    When would be available to discuss?

    Monday May 9 would be the earliest that i could talk with you.

    Let me know and many thanks


  • Visual Goal  Setting Coach and Artist 
Seattle, Washington 
Brittany Faulkner
    Posted by Brittany Faulkner, Seattle, Washington | May 05, 2011

    Kaya, Great article. I've found that the sticky sweet spot is at that junction between vision and implementation. Finding a balance between a good strategy and a practical plan can be challenging ~ especially for creative types. Thanks for your contribution. Brittany

  • Advertising Agency Owner 
Friendswood, Texas 
Nancy Hall-Peck
    Posted by Nancy Hall-Peck, Friendswood, Texas | May 05, 2011


    As a fellow marketing guru, I couldn't agree with you more. I try to convey these same principles to my clients who may want help with their marketing and many have trouble seeing the "big" picture. I would love to post your article of course with your credentials if I have your permission to another Social Networking site that I am a member. I look forward to reading future posts from you as I believe all of these factors are extremely important to the success of any marketing campaign, regardless of the type of business one is in. Thank you so much!

    Nancy Hall-Peck, Hallway 2 Marketing

  • Professional Organizer 
Keller, Texas 
Valerie Simpson
    Posted by Valerie Simpson, Keller, Texas | May 05, 2011

    Kaya, what great information. Thank you for the wake-up call and guidance this article provided.

  • Business coaching services 
Portland, Oregon 
Kaya Singer
    Posted by Kaya Singer, Portland, Oregon | May 05, 2011

    Nancy- Thank you so much! I am glad you agree. Yes- feel free to re-post my article and please include my website address as well. Let me know which site as I am, of course, curious. For other articles I have written, you can scan through the list here on Biznik and also on my blog. I will also check out your website!

    Brittany - I am also a creative type so I have learned a lot of this the hard way. But what I know now is that it is very creative to do business development!

  • Interior Designer & Coach 
Kirkland, Washington 
Nancy Meadows
    Posted by Nancy Meadows, Kirkland, Washington | May 05, 2011

    Aah, Kaya. I think the hardest part is being crystal clear on what pospective clients want, not necessarily what they need. When you're just starting a business, esp. a service-based one, how do you really know what they crave or what keeps them up at night? I find that to be a challenge. Starting out one doesn't have a mailing list to do a survey nor do we always know where they hang out. It almost seems that you have to start with one client and see where that leads.

    A wonderful piece, Maya.

  • Bookkeeping 
Portland, Oregon 
Aleta Mekvold
    Posted by Aleta Mekvold, Portland, Oregon | May 05, 2011

    Kaya, Great article! It's got me thinking on each of those steps. I can think of answers for 1 & 3 but step 2 has me stumped!

  • Business coaching services 
Portland, Oregon 
Kaya Singer
    Posted by Kaya Singer, Portland, Oregon | May 05, 2011

    Hi Aleta- If you have question 1 and 3 figured out that's great. The common story is actually very important, because without that you will have a difficult time with your marketing message. An example of a common story would be small business serviced based owners who don't enjoy bookkeeping, avoid it, their books are a mess, and they know this is affecting their business, but don't how how to change it. They enjoy helping people and that's their passion. They want to grow a larger business but their poor management of money is keeping them small. That is a common story! I know that for a fact. So- you need to look at those people in question number one and see if there are many people with the same story and be able to articulate it. If you aren't sure, begin by asking them.

  • Photographer/Teacher/Media/Commercial/ 
Eugene, Oregon 
Sherrlyn Borkgren
    Posted by Sherrlyn Borkgren, Eugene, Oregon | May 05, 2011

    Thanks for these words. Because I work as a photojournalist for editorial, advertising and news then turn around and photograph weddings portraits and even boudoir it is so easy to get myself confused in business planning and what is the driving force for my clients. I've been a professional photographer for 14 years and these last few years with so many amateurs picking up cameras and bringing prices way way down has made it difficult for us who survive by our art. Thanks for writing this. I need to get back on track.

  • Business coaching services 
Portland, Oregon 
Kaya Singer
    Posted by Kaya Singer, Portland, Oregon | May 05, 2011

    Nancy- good question. When you are a starting a new business, the first thing you need to do is research! Talking with people is the best way to find out what they want and why. The need part is important because often people want things, but there also has to be a compelling need, or they won't spend the money or make an investment of energy to take action. You have to figure out where that need really is. Until you do that research and figure out that piece, it will be a struggle. People might spend $10 to buy a trinket without a lot of thought, but they won't spend hundreds of dollars on a service that requires their involvement unless they see the benefits.

  • Life & Professional Coach 
Riverside, California 
Rick Clemons
    Posted by Rick Clemons, Riverside, California | May 06, 2011

    @Kaya...great article. I love the three questions. And here is how I answered it for my "coming out coaching" business.

    1. Everyone has a closet door they need to come out of that's holding them back from what they really want in life. You don't have to be gay or lesbian.

    2. All people trying to come out want to do so with dignity, self-acceptance, self-love and confidence that the door their stepping out of will no longer hold them back.

    3. People stepping out of the closet door have to do so from their core beliefs and values so that they are aligned with where they are heading so that the change is personal and lasting!

    Again, thanks for a great article!

  • Business coaching services 
Portland, Oregon 
Kaya Singer
    Posted by Kaya Singer, Portland, Oregon | May 06, 2011

    Rick- Thanks so much for sharing and love your answers to the questions. I get it. I suggest you go one level deeper and make it more specific and bring more of the emotional part in- as that is what drives people to move and it will also allow people to identify and say, "Yes, that's me!" Again- thanks for sharing.

  • The ideas-to-action navigator on your road to results 
Carver, Minnesota 
Kathleen Watson
    Posted by Kathleen Watson, Carver, Minnesota | May 06, 2011

    Kaya, I so appreciate the way you're implicitly "giving permission" for people to find ways to earn money by following their passions.

    At the same time, you do us a huge service by reminding us to acknowledge that we'll only create wealth and value by connecting with other people who share our passion - because that shared passion gives us a fighting chance that we can provide a solution for their "driving need'.

    As usual, a delight to read!

  • Marketing Consultant 
Melbourne Australia 
Danielle MacInnis
    Posted by Danielle MacInnis, Melbourne Australia | May 07, 2011

    What I love about your approach Kaya is that is honest and based in experience.

    As a marketing coach, my approach has always been think like your ideal customer(not everyone!). What problem are you solving for him/ her? How do you do it better than everyone else. If you can't answer this then you don't have a business, well at least not a sustainable one.

    You are right in that you say many small businesses start as the expert and put out their shingle and feel that if they do good work then word of mouth will fuel their sales funnel. This passive approach gives them no control over the lead generation process really. I understand it, but it doesn't help them have a thriving business.

    Hopefully education like this article will help small businesses to think like a customer and bring out that inner marketer to take some control of the strategic direction of their businesses.

    Hey and my hot tip, if you have a list of existing customers, why not ask them why they decided to buy from you? Great way to understand your value proposition.

  • System Administrator 
mumbai, navimumbai, raigad, Maharashtra India 
Nishad virkud
    Posted by Nishad virkud, mumbai, navimumbai, raigad, Maharashtra India | May 10, 2011

    Thank you very much for very useful guidance

  • Business coaching services 
Portland, Oregon 
Kaya Singer
    Posted by Kaya Singer, Portland, Oregon | May 10, 2011

    Danielle - Thanks for sharing your hot tip. When I was first getting started and trying to make sense of all this, I did just that. I asked all my clients how I helped them and what was the key? I was astounded by what I heard and it helped me to understand myself as well and how I was unique. Great tip and thanks so much for your sharing.

    Kathleen- thanks for your comments too. Yes- we all need permission to follow our passion AND make money. I watched my father struggle for years in a job he didn't like. I would much rather work hard at a business I love!

  • marketing communications 
chicago, Illinois 
rickey gold
    Posted by rickey gold, chicago, Illinois | May 11, 2011

    You're right on target, Kaya. I've met far too many people who started a business simply because they fell in love with their product or service. They were more focused on what they wanted to DO rather than what the potential customer might want or need.

  • Writer/Life Coach/Sales Representative 
Somerset West, Western Cape South Africa 
Johann Niemand
    Posted by Johann Niemand, Somerset West, Western Cape South Africa | May 14, 2011

    Thank you for the article Kaya. It is not only true, it motivates my day. I am selling in an over full market and I have to find the one in a thousand who does not have the product yet or convert those who use other companies to our better service. Every sale are based on the value my customer gets because I cannot even give a price advantage.

  • Business coaching services 
Portland, Oregon 
Kaya Singer
    Posted by Kaya Singer, Portland, Oregon | May 14, 2011

    Johann Thanks so much for sharing. I looked and can't find your website or more about your business but if you are a life coach, that is one of the hardest businesses and what will make you successful is by finding your narrow but very strong niche. It is essential and once you do that it will be easier to focus on and find your clients. I notice you are also in sales and not sure what you are selling. I would enjoy hearing more ..

    Ricky- it always great to hear from you.

  • Writer/Life Coach/Sales Representative 
Somerset West, Western Cape South Africa 
Johann Niemand
    Posted by Johann Niemand, Somerset West, Western Cape South Africa | May 15, 2011

    Thanks Kaya. The coaching is more of a hobby. I am kept busy full time selling alarm systems. Something every house in this part of the world needs and most have. I am still building my profile here. My linkedin profile is more up to date.

  • Independent Online Media Professional 
Gladstone, Oregon 
Chas Wyatt
    Posted by Chas Wyatt, Gladstone, Oregon | May 15, 2011

    Great insights- the voice of wisdom. Your three questions nailed the article for me and I think I will place a copy of them below my monitor. Thank you for your thoughts.

  • President | Director of Production 
Minneapolis, Minnesota 
Jeff High
    Posted by Jeff High, Minneapolis, Minnesota | May 21, 2011

    Strong advice, thanks Kaya!

    Our company is primarily creative services, but there are dozens of tangent applications and we've tried to become closet experts in most of them over the years... especially marketing, since 95% of our business is B2B, supporting some form of it.

    You've picked up on a principle we normally need to teach our clients: that good marketing doesn't create something from nothing, it only amplifies something that already exists. It's an emotional loudspeaker.

    We encounter many businesses that try to separate their marketing program, even their brand, from their business plan, but really they're the same. People can recognize a facade. If your clients don't get excited about your M.O. they won't be excited about an ad for it, no matter how pretty or well placed it is.

    Your three questions, especially the first, are critical when a marketing program comes into the picture. We've used three words to help our teams stay focused, and they're very similar to your points -

    1. Differentiation
    2. Demographic
    3. Drive

    There are two others, Deployment and Dispersion, but they involve strategy and they don't work without the first three.