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Is Passion Enough?

Is a passion for your idea enough to base a business on, or is solid business thinking more likely to produce success?

When it comes right down to it, business owners fall into two camps: People who follow their passions, and clear-eyed folks who look for great moneymaking opportunities. Each side says its approach works best.

On one hand, following a market opportunity has glittering allure: A great opportunity can make a lot of cash. On the other hand, following your passion has romantic appeal: All day long, you're around a product or service you love.

But what are the downsides? Are people who follow their passions more likely to fail? There's no hard research to support that claim. While the steady stream of bankrupt restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and golf companies does seem to suggest that the passionate approach is weak on results, reality is far more complex.

Beating the Odds

Miles Cook looked like a failure statistic waiting to happen: a 25-year-old guy who loved motorcycles and wanted his own motorcycle dealership. At first glance, he seemed to be headed for disaster. Even the banks thought so. "I was young, and a lot of banks didn't even want to talk to me," says Cook, now 32. After five banks declined his application, Cook read an Entrepreneur article listing the top banks for small businesses in each state. Sure enough, one of those banks agreed to loan him the money for his startup. Now Cook's Rochester Motorsports Inc. in Rochester, New Hampshire, does a brisk business selling the most popular brands of Japanese motorcycles, with nearly $10 million in annual sales.

"It all comes down to passion. Blind ambition is better than 20/20 indifference," says Cook. "If you're passionate about what you do, the sky is the limit."

Business consultant Karyn Greenstreet agrees. "You have to fall in love with the product or service," she explains. Her website, www.passionforbusiness.com, offers consulting and coaching services for entrepreneurs.

However, by some reckonings, Cook was committing a big no-no by being so emotionally involved with his product. "The problem is, when you fall in love with a product or service, you tend to focus on your product," says Terry Powell, CEO of The Entrepreneur's Source, a Southbury, Connecticut, franchise consulting firm. "You don't spend enough time managing, marketing and promoting the business."

Passion and Opportunity

So why do folks like Cook succeed while scores of other motorcycle-lovers lose their shirts? On closer examination, Cook, who worked on his MBA but never finished, had the golden mean: just the right mix of passion and business acumen.

Cook didn't just love his product; he followed four focused steps to lay a good foundation. First, he worked his way through college selling motorcycles at an independent shop and racked up high sales figures. Second, he called Honda to ask if there were any dealer opening points in the area--there were. Third, Cook did his own market research by poring through census data and seeking out county figures for affluent males aged 18 to 49. Fourth, he scouted out a location himself, he says, by "just talking to people at city hall, driving around and looking."

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This Is the Most Important Habit for Business Success

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