Some books deserve a closer read. One of these is The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.
I’m a writer. I’ve written screenplays, short stories and even several novels. Writing and (more recently) photography are my passions. I’ve followed my muse, as much as I could afford to.
But make a living at my passions? I had the dream of being a Hollywood screenwriter until I actually visited LA. And I’d love a book deal but the publishing world is in disarray these days. And the dream of being a professional photographer is undermined by countless photographers (including, at times, me) willing to work for free.
Besides, I really do like working on web sites. I love the immediacy and creativity of web publishing.
The idea that there must be some way to combine my writing, photography and web skills into some sort of coherent business is why I bought The $100 Startup.
In chapter three, Guillebeau addresses the artist within all of us, the countless people who have wanted to turn their hobbies into money-making operations.
The key is to find the overlap between your passion and the what people will pay for. He puts it in this somewhat clunky formula:
(Passion + skill) -> (problem + marketplace) = opportunity.
The best example comes from Guillebeau’s own life. I first started reading his blog during his quest to visit every country in the world. Did he get paid for this? No. He gets paid through related services, like his books and guides. As Guillebeau expains:
…you don’t get paid for your hobby itself; you get paid for helping other people pursue the hobby or something indirectly related to it.
Another example is Benny Lewis. He loved learning new languages and discovered that total immersion was key to picking up a new tongue. He learned seven languages in just two years. Pushed by his friends, he developed Speak from Day One (check out the insane video).
But how do you determine what the market will pay for? A tough question, but Guillebeau offers a checklist. You need a hobby that you’re passionate about. And have other people asked you for help with this hobby? Are they willing to pay for your expertise? These questions will be explored in greater detail in chapter six.
Remember, too, the admonition from chapter two that business success comes from helping people. So, how do you use your skills in a way that helps people?
This chapter has a lot of relevance for artists and other creative types. Not everyone wants to turn their art into a business, however. It’s one thing to take photos that you enjoy; quite another to try to sell them at a farmer’s market. Guillebeau underestimates the difficulties people may have in exposing their art to the cruelties of the marketplace.
If you decide to turn your passion into a business, choose wisely and have a thick skin.
I have a couple of inspiring examples of my own, people I know in Washington who have turned their passion into businesses.
- Jon Gann created the DC Shorts Film Festival, with a desire to put on a show. Now in its ninth year, it was named as “one of 25 festivals worth an entry fee” by Moviemaker Magazine. Jon created DC Shorts because he believed that filmmakers deserved to be treated better.
- Everyone loves stories about ex-lawyers doing something other than law, like Philippa Hughes of the Pink Line Project, a local web site covering the arts.
- Julianne Brienza has the occasionally impossible task of running the Capital Fringe Festival every year. This Montanan has successfully brought oddball theater to serious Washington.
Full disclosure: I’ve worked with all of these people and they’re all awesome.
Artists are at war with themselves. Creating art is making something imperfect, that’s not going to match the perfect vision in your head. On Writer’s Block is an excellent little book on overcoming this hurdle as is Do The Work.
Reading this chapter, I was reminded of Do What You Love and The Money Will Follow. Sounds like flippant advice in these dour economic times but the book’s message is that what you’re passionate about, you will do better than anyone else.
A nice companion to this chapter would be The Art of Possibility. It’s a beautiful little book about envisioning your future.