This is how to grow a business

 A pair of hands holding soil with a plant starting to grow with two leaves

You may have heard to follow your passions, but if your passions are not financially viable this could be a disaster when initiating a business. Money matters. How much money do you need? You have to satisfy needs. Not wants mind you, but needs. When you are passionate about something, you likely spend a lot of time working on that activity and success follows. Success breeds more success.


So how does this work?


What if instead of simply following your passions you decided to follow something you find interesting; something that you enjoy practicing and it is something you want to do. Can you make money doing it? Is it enough money to meet your needs? If so go. Be a demand-pull client-oriented provider. Do not be a supply push driver. That is, you may have a service or product you want to sell, but that really does not matter does it? You have to adapt to what clients are willing to pay. That may not be what you necessarily want to provide. You have to adapt. It is not about you. It’s about your customer base. If they are willing to pay you enough to continue, and it is something you want to provide, focus on this and grow your business.

Remember it is not about you. It is about listening to others. Really listening means to ask open ended questions and to explore what the real underlying concerns are for their perspective. Keep asking open ended questions and you may be surprised at what you might learn. Once you understand their pain, you can be there to help the other party with their pain. Avoid providing your solution or your product. If you build a connecting relationship, actively listen and then and only then begin to educate your client, you may surprise yourself on what may develop.


An example success story


At a session with foreign students off site next to the University of Minnesota we met at a restaurant that now incorporates what used to be four total restaurants. This restaurant took over the entire space of all four restaurants. They asked me what kind of food this was. I told them that this restaurant started as a Greek restaurant, but it adapted to the needs of their clientele. Today it has a menu from baklava to burritos and with typical American sandwiches and soups at a reasonable cost. The Greek restaurant adapted to their clients demands. They did not stick with Greek food though that was their specialty. They adapted to their customer’s demands.

If you are a budding entrepreneur you can grow your business (that will become your passion) as you realize that yes indeed your passions followed you as you become more successful. Then you will have arrived. You will be living the dream. You will be doing what you are passionate about. This is deeply satisfying. I would like to offer you a personal example.


A personal example




This is personal. Having had my father die in a car accident at age 15 changed my life forever. My older brother was in the Army in Vietnam, my two older sisters were in college and graduate school, my twin bother and I were in high school at home, and my mother had to return to the work force. Security and safety were and became very important for me. Fortunately, I had a solid foundation, a focus on education and I was fortunate enough to have good grades. From my view of the world engineers made good money. Off I went to an engineering program in college and then on to graduate school. However, after becoming an engineer, study manager and a project manager, I did not find the work particularly fulfilling.

I determined that no projects move forward without funding, so I went on and got an MBA in finance. That lead me to doing valuation work and analyzing research and developed at the Treasury Department. The work was interesting and fun, met my financial needs offered to me in government also met my security and safety needs. I found that I worked harder than most of my peers and I place a premium on continually learning and obtaining various credentials. This led to promotions including in management eventually leading to the executive level. When I was able to retire, I did. Now what? I wasn’t sure. Having built several programs while in government, I applied my entrepreneurial skills into the private sector.


Conflict resolution, mediation and facilitation


I realize over time that my personal passion had been around conflict resolution and collaborating with others. This came to me almost 20 years ago. Given that passion I took a course in mediation at Hamline University Law School. Following up on this I became a Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court. At work I applied what I had learned in class immediately and was given more assignments in this area. This was not my full-time job, but I found I could find applications in the Treasury Department related to labor management, equal employment opportunity, and other areas around my interests in conflict resolution and collaboration with taxpayers. Eventually we trained some 2,000 field specialists in conflict resolution and mediation.

I also began volunteering regularly through a local not for profit in the local court system, in public housing and with neighborhood disputes. When I retired from the federal government 8 years ago, I knew I wanted to do something with this skill set. In addition, I had over the course of my professional career and as a volunteer worked on nearly 2,000 mediations, negotiations and facilitations. That was a great foundation.


Foundational credibility


As an Accredited Senior Appraiser in business valuation and Certified Valuation Analyst, I had credibility in this area. This led me to focus on issues related to valuation, conflicts with the IRS and other related matters. Learning and furthering education were critical going forward related to organizational communication, professional skepticism, intellectual curiosity, entrepreneurial spirit and various intelligences (emotional, conversational etc.). These soft skills were the critical skills going forward beyond my technical expertise.


Finding mentors and mentoring


Reaching out to others and asking them for their help was critical. I asked them to mentor me and help me develop my skills for the private sector. I still do to this today. This is a never-ending pursuit. Volunteering and helping other entrepreneurs is very gratifying too. It is important to give back. Today I am helping almost a dozen others developing new businesses as sole proprietors or with only a few employees. In business I am working with four start ups with one going public in the first quarter next year. I find the business work and the volunteering to be very fulfilling for me. I think other entrepreneurs do too.


What’s the catch?


It took me a long time to have the guts to be an entrepreneur. In retrospect on the one hand I wish I had done it much sooner, but on the other hand I am also very happy with how my life has developed at all levels. What would I recommend for you if you want to be an entrepreneur and be successful in business? Again, don’t simply follow your passions. Rather let your interests drive your efforts. Enhance your skills related to your interests. This is never ending. Work hard. Ensure what you want to develop entrepreneurially is financially viable. If not, you are setting yourself up for failure I want to set you up for success.


Do your homework


Develop a business plan, reach out to mentors, explore and test the market. Feel the success of small victories and use these to propel your own motivation to keep going. This is how you build a business as you continually adapt to your client’s needs. Remember it is not about you. What gives you satisfaction now is growing business. Focus on the value added by your work and the differences you are making in the lives of others. Be a servant leader and manager. Be there to help.


Relationships, listening, collaborating


By building connecting relationships with others, actively listening and addressing the needs of paying clients, and by collaborating with stakeholders you want to do business with going forward, you will build a very satisfying business.

You will have built a business you love. Now you will be able to follow your passion because your passion will be the business. You will be getting paid to do what you want to do. Today my wife tells others, Mike no longer works for a living, he just has fun, and she is right. This took all of the items discussed in this article. Learn from these nutshell observations. If you have the desire and skill set heeding these tidbits of knowledge, perhaps you too will be a very successful entrepreneur. Jeff Haden in his article in Inc. stated:

“Doing work you love, over the long-term, requires getting paid to do what you love -- which means being good enough at something other people value enough to pay you for it.”

Passion without financial capabilities is a disaster waiting to happen. Finding an interest, practicing that interest, and applying that interest into a financially viable plan are the ingredients for success.


About the author


Mike is a business developer and professional speaker. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including Business Valuations and the IRS: Five Books in One, The Servant Manager and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]