Every week, someone emails me asking how they can become a full-time writer, start an online business, or work for themselves in some capacity. It’s the dream that defines the 21st Century. But most people start in the wrong place.
We are living in an age when more people have the ability to work from home, pursue location-independent careers, and build a business around their own passions and skills instead of just doing what they need to do to get by. But the truth is this isn’t easy stuff.
The journey to your life’s work can be riddled with false starts. I thought about doing what I’m now doing for years and failed at it for a long time. What finally changed for me was when I got serious about the direction in which I was headed and started making significant changes.
In this post, I want to share with you the three things (because I like the number three) that I did differently in 2012, which was the year that changed my life.
And I want to point one very important lesson from all of this: Passion is not enough to make a living doing what you love. So if you want another rah-rah treatise on why you should just follow your bliss, stop reading now.
But if you’re willing to do the work to earn people’s attention and their money, then keep reading. Before I share that, though, here’s a little back story for you.
First things first: practice every day
In 2011, I got serious about blogging. I had launched an earlier version of Goinswriter.com in 2010 as a way to pick up some freelance writing, but it wasn’t anything special. Like a lot of people, I wrote in fits and starts, thinking I was better than I really was, and I got mad when nobody noticed.
But that got old after a while, and so I resolved to do something different.
What I decided to do was write and publish a new article on my blog every single day for a year. In retrospect, that sounds kind of crazy, but it didn’t seem that way at the time. Real writers write every day, and I wasn’t doing that.
So I launched a self-hosted blog and began investing in my craft.
Why every day?
The best accountability is a daily deadline. So if you aren’t doing your work, it’s immediately evident. That first year, if I missed a day, I would feel the pain of regret and want to get back to my work as quickly as possible.
This is an important lesson in habit formation: make your habit small and repeatable so if you miss it, you know right away. If you have to wait six months for feedback, then you’re doing it wrong.
So I started writing on my blog every day — not for the fame or publicity. I did it for me, for the practice, and it worked. Over time, I got better, and by the end of the year, my friend Mike told me, “You’ve found your voice.”
He was right. I had. And that part is so important. You can’t get paid until you get good, and as obvious as that may sound, most people in this world are looking for shortcuts. Don’t do that. Be different. Mastery comes with practice, and the last thing you want is to get paid for something you have no business doing. That’s a recipe for disaster.
So that was 2011, the year I wrote a lot, built a successful blog, and got a book contract. But it was also the year that I didn’t make any money writing. Which brings us back to those three things I mentioned.
How to make a living doing what you love
Not too long ago, I sat down with the team at Fizzle, a membership program that helps people build businesses online, and asked them a series of questions.
What does it take to do your own thing, to pursue your dream, make a living doing what you love, and have the freedom you dream of?
That’s what the gist of what we discussed. In that interview, which you can listen to on my podcast, we covered a few things that are worth paying attention to. But my takeaways were basically this: if you want to run your own business and work for yourself, you need three things:
1. Product: Something people want or need
You need to do something that other people can’t do or don’t know how to do, something that other people value. This is the must-have thing (sorry, I don’t have a better word for it) to start a business.
You don’t have to start a business, but if you want to make money doing something, you need more than passion. You need legitimate demand for that passion. And you need to be good at it.
In other words, don’t start with what you want. Start with what otehrs want, and then build something you can get excited about that meets that need.
2. Packaging: An attractive way to offer your product
Having a special skill is not enough to be able to charge for what you do or know. You have to package it in a way that is easy to access and understand. This is what we sometimes call a product, but really it’s the packaging.
The product is the the thing people want. The packaging is the way people interact with your offering. It may be a course or a book or a speech you deliver. It could be made out of wood or metal, or it could be an online community.
For example, Apple’s product is simple solutions to your daily technology needs. It just happens to be packaged in tools like iPhones and Macbooks. Their product is intangible, but without the tangible, people won’t buy it.
How it’s packaged is not what matters. What matters is that it’s packaged and in a way people get a hold of it and use it. Until you have this, you don’t have anything — nothing worth monetizing, anyway.
3. Platform: A way to make people aware of your product
Your thing needs to be visible. It needs to be in front of people. You can buy a bunch of advertising or get a bunch of celebrities to talk about it, but those are often expensive strategies. The best thing to do is to create a way to get your message out there to the people who already want it.
Keep in mind: this is different from finding a market for your product. You’ve already done that in Step 1 when you identified the market first, then found a product to suit their needs. Now, you just need a way to broadcast that to the world.
I call that a platform (credit belongs to Michael Hyatt who wrote the authoritative book on this). For writers, that’s often a blog or a website with an email list.But it can be anything at all that connects your product to those who need it is a platform.
The tools are less important than the fact that you have a way to communicate with people who want what you have to offer. If you serve them over time and earn their trust, they’ll want to repay you with both attention and money.
Where we go from here
So many people obsess over the wrong parts of this stuff. They focus too hard or too long on the idea, but the truth is the idea will change. Your passions will change. The market will change, too.
What you need to get is to get your thing out there, do it smartly and in a way that people will understand. And if you do that, it’s only a matter of time and tweaking before you succeed.
So, where does passion fit into all this? Shouldn’t that factor in somewhere, when it comes to making a living doing what you love?
Of course. But passion is the fuel, the driving force behind everything you do. If you find what people want and use your skills to serve that need, it just may be that passion follows you. Passion is important, but it’s one part of the recipe (read more about that here).
So that’s what I know. It’s not a ton, certainly not enough for you to found a billion-dollar startup or something like that. But few people I know want to do that. They just want to find a way to take their unique gifts, skills, and interests and turn them into income somehow.
And here’s the good news. Not only is that possible. It’s easier than it’s ever been. And what I’ve shared with you here just might be enough to get started, which is really all you need.