Building a business on your problems can be a problem

I have read, met, talked and listened to many wonderful people that had recovered from illness, addiction, accidents, traumas…and have been able to build a joyful and meaningful life. They had survived and thrived. They have healed and have learned important lessons. Most of these people, moved on and kept doing their things. Some others though, felt impelled to share their journey and to help other people in similar situations. Talking about their own challenges and helping others to navigate theirs is a well-known step of recovery, and for some people is truly healing. Mutual help groups, mentoring, sponsorship, hotlines run by volunteers…are based on that principle. The tricky bit comes when you think about building a business around it. Is that a good idea or a bad one? Let’s explore it.


In the news, in podcasts, in book stores, in the internet I constantly see businesses that package and sell programs and other services to help people suffering from the same they suffered. Addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, OCD, depression, weight loss, trauma, child abuse…Is not that they are public about their experience and write a book or a blog. Is that they actually sell services: coaching sessions, online programs,workshops, retreats…I don’t question the legitimacy of the service, nor the expertise. Most of these people have actually educated themselves in their own problems, getting degrees and specialization, and are really well versed in their own topic. But, when deciding to build a business and a personal brand around this issue, I think few other aspects need to be taken into consideration, for the founder and clients’ sake. Here are few questions it can be healthy to ask yourself :

  • You are more than your business, your business is more than you:  you and your story are one thing, but your business would be a completely different entity even if is based on you. You want to help people using what worked for you and your own learning, but ask yourself if that’s a business, or maybe just a project, such a blog or a community meeting. Ask yourself if monetizing your learning and healing is what you truly want in the short and long term. Why do you need to build a business? Why your need of an income needs to come from this issue, rather than from other skills and capabilities you have? Is this a business idea with a business model behind? It can be useful to look around to the competition and see how long they have been in business or how much their business has changedA business is also something complex and multi layered, that requires way more than a product or a service.  It requires a business model and a plan, a structure and a direction. Do you have those tools and the managerial skills to implement them? Do you even want to get those tools and those skills? If the answer is no, would the business you have envisioned survive without those?
  • You are not your customers: are you prepared to address a myriad of issues and challenges that are different or uncomfortably similar to your own? Are you prepared to take different approaches and perspectives, to be questioned and shacked in your own principles and beliefs? When your core business is based on a core problem you had and dealt with for years, things can become personal and tricky very quickly. But as a business owner, you have a responsibility with your clients’ safety and welfare, which can be difficult to maintain or guarantee at times. What mechanisms you’ll have in place to be aware of those issues and to address them? Are you able to step back, to take perspective, to grow or change your product line? Are you able to keep safe boundaries in place, to build on your personal experience but also to take a healthy distance from it?
  • Is your business sustainable or is just the last piece of your recovery? This is for me the most important question. What would happen to the business if you decide to move on? do you have an exit strategy? Would it be one day when you wake up and decide that you are in peace to whatever happened to you, that you are ready to turn that page and do other things? and how running a business based on that same thing you are trying to move away from would make things for you? If, for example, you have a coaching business to help women to recover from drug abuse, what would happen with those women you help? How long until you close down operations? How your well-being and health would be impacted from closing down the business or from not being able to? how long or how easy would be for you to find another job or another line of work that suits you best now?

The line between passion and work is very fragile, and most of the time tricky to figure it out. You want to do something close to your heart, and building a business out of your own recovery is a sensible option for a lot of people. My recommendation will be to make sure that there is more than passion to it. A strong business model will be the best way to protect yourself and your business, as it will serve you as a buffer, compass and boundary.


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