How I Started Getting Paid for My Passion

People often ask how I made the transition from full-time employee to full-time writer. Some want to know the steps I took to get paid for my passion, while others are interested in how I manage to make a living writing.

Picture of dollar bills
Photo Credit: cafemama via Compfight cc

But here’s the truth: I never intended to make money doing this. I didn’t think it was possible. But that doesn’t mean any of it “just happened,” either.

When I started this blog, I thought at most I’d be able to publish some books (if I was lucky) and collect a few meager royalties. All while holding down a day job for the rest of my life.

In less than two years, though, I found myself at a crossroads. My blog (which accounted for less than 10 hours per week) was now contributing more income than my full-time job (which took up at least 40 hours per week).

Within three months, I had not only replaced my wife’s salary but had surpassed both of our incomes combined. It was mind-blowing. And it meant that I had to make a decision.

Making the “leap”

This put us in a strange position. I wondered,

Should I keep my job and play it safe or make the leap into full-time self-employment?

I liked my job, but I’d felt for a while that it was time to move on. At the same time, my family was relying on me now. Was my dream worth the risk?

After some discussion and prayer, my wife and I concluded that the success of my side gig was God’s way of saying it was time to jump. So that’s what we did.

In a matter of just a few months, my wife and I went from two steady incomes to no steady incomes and a job description that was hard to describe (“Well, you see, he writes for a website and sells stuff that you can’t hold in your hands… and no, we’re not living in a cardboard box.”).

When people hear this story, they often tell me how “risky” it sounds. But the truth is it felt a lot more like building a bridge than making a leap. And the reason for that lies in how I made the transition to full-time self-employment.

I did it gradually. Perhaps, not as slowly as some, but certainly not as quickly, either. Two years is a long time to wait when you feel a strong tugging at your heart.

So when transition time came, there was a lot of security (both financially and emotionally) in that decision. We knew we would be okay. Because this was something I built gradually over time, the “leap” of faith felt more like taking the next step.

The practical parts (how I actually did it)

So that’s how I made the transition to full-time writing, but how did I even get to that point? How did I start getting paid for my passion in the first place? Here’s what I did:

  1. I built the audience first. I’d heard stories of people like Brian Clark who built their audiences long before they tried to sell , and I thought that sounded smart. For more than a year, I wrote a LOT of free, helpful content (i.e. eBooks, newsletters, blog posts, guest posts, webinars, and more) and shared it with my audience. The result was a tremendous amount of trust — to the point that people started begging me to sell them something.
  2. I asked my audience what they wanted. Sean Platt told me to do this, recommending a survey to ask people what they’d buy from me, even how much I should charge them. Over 1000 people responded, many indicating (to my utter shock) they would indeed pay for something I created. That gave me the confidence to try something.
  3. I experimented with an initial offering. My first product was a $2.99 eBook (which I seriously doubted people would buy). Based on the concept of a minimum viable product, I put together an offering that required minimal effort to create and then put it out there to see if people would buy it. The money I made from the first weekend it was released paid for my email marketing service for an entire year (about $1500). After that, everything changed. A hobby became a business.
  4. I learned how to launch things. After that first eBook, I released another eBook but with three different price points (based on Chris Guillebeau’s advice) and a few other tweaks. This generate ten times the sales that the first product did — in a matter of a few weeks. It also taught me how to harness the power of an online product launch (which I’ve since used on my book and online course). Learning how to launch was the golden nugget I was missing that led to sustainable, repeatable success in my business.

Dreams don’t just happen

It’s worth repeating: I didn’t plan for any of this to happen. But that doesn’t mean it was an accident. I saw an opportunity and took it. Which may be the biggest takeaway from the past two years.

Some of our biggest successes can’t be planned, but they can be anticipated. [Tweet that]

This means if you want to do something similar, you will need to be patient but also vigilant, paying attention to the opportunities that come. And when the right one presents itself, be ready to take it. You won’t be able to plan for it, but you will be able to recognize it (if you know what to look for).

Until then, the best course of action is to be generous and build trust like there’s no tomorrow.

Have you ever gotten paid to do what you love? What did you learn? If not, what would you do? Share in the comments.

99 thoughts on “How I Started Getting Paid for My Passion

  1. I appreciate that you share so openly what worked for you. It is helpful to read your story and feel encouraged to take steps towards scary goals!

    Really looking forward to having you speak at The Declare Conference this year!!
    Blessings, Kristin

  2. I’m actually working on a free launch ebook that will be available as soon as I launch my blog. I don’t know if it’s the best way to go, but I’m hoping it’ll attract some readers too!

  3. I love this post Jeff. This year my ‘One Word’ I decided on was ‘professional’ and it’s a steep curve, in all areas of life, including my writing. I think I’ve played victim a lot of the time, but I read this post with a different attitude, and especially now having made a clear plan for launching my next two books (one of which will be an updated, improved version of my previous one) and relaunching my blog, with dates and a clear strategy, things are lot more clear.

    Now I’ve got over my insecurities and poor motivations for writing, and am focussed on my vision, on sharing my heart, ironically it means I can actually have a more professional approach.

    My goal now isn’t to make money out of writing – though it would be awesome – my goal is to create great work, done professionally and marketed/promoted well. If I do that, then I’m happy whatever the outcome. Will definitely read this post again and take some valuable tips from it.

  4. Great post Jeff. I’m working to build my audience.Thanks for being an encouraging example! I’m looking forward to the webinar with Jonathan. God bless~

  5. I’ve tried being a career coach, but the mistake I made was not building an audience first. And not having my wife on board. Both are critical. Thanks, Jeff!

  6. Jeff, this is exactly where I’m at in one of my writing/creative endeavours right now. I am starting from the ground up, with trying to build my audience before I see if they want anything more from me.

    My problem is that I’m trying to do this as I hold a part-time job. I lost my FT job, was offered a contract position which I tried, and had to quit because it paid LESS than what I could earn doing freelance writing. Now that I’m freelance writing part-time, I’m struggling to use the remainder of my hours to not only be a wife and friend, but start making money from my other writing/creative endeavour!

    1. I hear you, Bree. That can be hard. I’m currently reading The 4-Hour Work Week and learning how ineffective I am with my time. I wonder if there’s a way you could figure out how to do more with less time. Speaking for myself, I’m realizing how much busywork I do just to stay busy.

      1. Jeff, I thought about this after you posted it, and I have already decided to avoid putting items for sale on Craigslist (barely pays off for my time/efforts). I’m also going to try to put my marketing efforts into locations/processes that will get me clients I REALLY want, and I will work more at the library which helps me focus far better than when I’m at home surrounded by nagging visuals that I could be doing housework instead.

  7. This sounds great, Jeff. Do you happen to have any plans for doing these in the future at different times of the day? I love the lunch hour idea, but I’m on the east coast.

  8. Hello Jeff.

    I started blogging 14 months ago. I can’t seem to attract a following.

    Here’s my blog:

    I must admit my writing wasn’t great at first, although I have a knack for it. I have come a long way since I started. I can’t seem to attract a following however.

    I’m on most social networks, I link to them with all my posts, I comment on blogs as well.

    What do you recommend to improve this?

  9. This post was super encouraging and helpful….thanks for making it seem doable — the balance between planning and taking advantage of the moment. Cool.

  10. I would really love to sign up for the workshop. I tried both yesterday and today to fill in the form but the fields keep resetting. (I sent an e-mail directly to you about the problem but it doesn’t seem to have gone through.)

    Is there some other way I can sign up?

    P.S. I really like the points you mention. They’re very practical and measurable which is so important when a family is relying on your income.

      1. Thank you so much! I’ve sent an e-mail off to them and hope to hear back soon.
        I’m not sure why my e-mail didn’t get through. A couple of weeks ago I sent you an e-mail regarding a guest post proposal. I’m guessing that one didn’t get through either?

  11. Great word Jeff. I think this is an issue most bloggers, including myself have dealt with at one point or another. Most bloggers I talk with write because they love it and hope that one day they might be able to make a few dollars doing it.

    Thanks for the words of wisdom as I am currently working on which direction I want to take both of my blogs. Keep up the good work!

  12. I get paid a little via Google adsense for writing on a topic I’m passionate about (leadership) But know my future looks bright when it comes to making enough money to write, coach, and speak full time.

  13. It’s been a long time, thankfully, since I worked at something I don’t love.

    2003 to be exact…when my dad fired me.

    That was when I realized I couldn’t do something I wasn’t passionate about.

    It would not be fair to me, my employer, or anyone who comes in contact with me.

      1. I’m guessing we’re approximately the same age. I believe that any American over 30 can do it. But it might be a hard 5-10 years before that.

        You paid the price and now you are reaping the rewards. Way to go!

  14. I teach and I love it. I write and I get paid a little.

    I’m working toward becoming more financially rewarded as a writer. I’m blogging, guest posting on sites like Matt McWilliams and Dan Black on Leadership. I’ve written two books about topics such as forgiveness, non-judement, love, and mercy.

    What I haven’t done is go the traditional blogging route relying on email marketing, ebooks, and seminars. It’s not really my style as more of a poet and fiction writer. I also am very slow at the tech end of things. I am thinking about writing a short story as an ebook in the future.

    Congrats and blessings to you continued success, Jeff. And I saw that your boy just turned one-year old. Lots of good times yet to come.

  15. Thanks for sharing your insight. This is a great example of why I love reading your blog as well as Michael Hyatt’s blog. Not only do you provide useful information, but you also give examples from your personal experiences, and that makes all the difference in the world.

    I have a leading and direction to do this very thing in my life. I already have a published book, but no audience to show it to. Now, with your help and others online, I am learning to build the audience first. I am currently working on my first self-pub ebook to give away, similar to your Writer’s Manifesto.

    Thanks for the inspiration and life experience!

  16. WOW! Thank you for the transparency and clarity! I think I can speak on behalf of most people looking to venture into personal brand/blogging, there are so many doubts of if/how to make it a full-time gig. This absolutely confirmed that I’m on the right path (one step at a time!) and I can do it too! Your insights are so valuable, I’m very excited to follow your journey, and someday soon have other’s that I don’t even know saying the same about me!

  17. I, too, very much appreciate your transparency and detail about how you built your tribe, and how it “took care of you” after you being very focused on taking care of “it”, with generosity and sincere care. Very inspirational. Thank you!

  18. I do get paid for my passion, but not on a level that could sustain me or replace my client work income.
    I signed up for the webinar because I want to do exactly what you shared…thanks for being so upfront and giving about your story.

  19. Jeff, I’m extremely encouraged by your posts and I’m very happy that I stumbled upon your blog. Rather than writing, my passion happens to be music so whenever I see the words “writing” or “blogging”, I just change the words accordingly. It helps to see things from your perspective–I feel like I’m in the bridge building stage. I’ve got a crazy story, along with some others that are working torwards making this a full time thing with me, but it’s too long to post on a single comment! Thanks for all you do.

  20. Hi Jeff, I tried to sign up for your webinar but it doesn’t seem to work. I really hope to find a way to attend because you are one of the most real people in this business.

    1. Hi Mary,
      I was able to sign up on the blog Jeff posted on May 22, “Live Workshop on Getting Paid for Your Passion.” You also get a free downloadable book that that person, Jonathan Mead, I never heard of him before, has written. It’s pretty good. Good luck!

  21. This is an amazing story and I’m always inspired seeing what you’re up to Jeff. I am blessed to get paid to do what I love. The thing that I’ve learned is you have to start listening to all your doubts and fears and just take action. You have to believe in yourself.

  22. Great tips that obviously work. Thanks for generously sharing. This is my first time to comment and your question is what prompted me to do so. I have worked two different careers in which I often felt guilty for taking pay to work in. Because I had passionately pursued them and felt such terrific satisfaction while doing them, they were never ever about the paycheck. Although it certainly came in handy while building a family and homes! I first worked in a private Christian school as the guidance counselor and each day was blessed to be surrounded by people I enjoyed being with and working with and at the same time I was in the place where my children spent their school days. For a dedicated mom – it was the dream job. My second career began when I turned fifty, returned to graduate school, earned a doctorate and started a counseling center in my home church. For over a dozen years I loved on, talked with, and did a lot of listening with hurting folks and families who I felt honored to walk with through struggles. I’m no longer earning a paycheck, but my rewards now are kisses from tiny mouths, sticky-fingered hugs, and contagious laughter as I am now spending my days doing my most passionate pursuit – caring for my grandbabies. God does, He truly does, give you the desires of your heart.

  23. OK, first time visitor. I enjoyed reading your blog post. I subscribed to the newsletter and got the Writer’s Manifesto. How do I get the Wrecked download?

  24. Love this post, Jeff. It’s inspiring for sure. Had a conversation about it the other night and this is just more pushing to follow dreams. Thank you for sharing your secrets man. I appreciate all you do. 🙂

  25. I remember being so excited about getting paid to be a youth pastor. I learned that as life changes, your financial needs change. People took advantage of that passion because I didnt value what I could do enough and so I wasnt always paid what I should have been.

  26. I’ve tried to keep making money as the secondary objective – with the first to be establishing myself as an expert in my field. I have had quite a bit of success (although slower than I’d like) in making real money by offering a service and then over delivering. You have to deliver a WOW (as Michael Hyatt says) and that is my goal in all I do.

  27. I started reading about you and this article after reading an article in the same blog welcome to my blog and about me. After reading this article I understood two thins

    1.Rome can not be built in a day
    2. Nothing is impossible if you have a strong wish.
    Let me drive myself to the ultimate in blogging

  28. Jeff, do you have any programs that focus specifically around how to launch? I’m in your Tribe Writers program (which is awesome BTW!), but it doesn’t seem to go into detail about how to launch. #4 really stuck out to me and since that’s where I’m at right now in my book writing process, I want to learn all that I can. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Bethany, no. I don’t. Not right now, but I will. In the meantime, one of the bonuses in Tribe Writers is a detailed account how I launched my last book. Check that out and see if it helps.

  29. Hi Jeff, thank you for starting this blog and sharing your story. I work in marketing and communications and was finding many marketing blogs out there, but not enough quality communications blogs, specifically on becoming a better writer. I would like to think that starting my own communications consultancy will be something that’s achievable for me too in the future. Can you please let me know if there are any other great writing blogs you would recommend? Thanks and keep up the great work.

  30. Hi, Jeff. This is great advice. I am pleased you suggest giving lots of stuff away for free, because a lot of writers (myself included to an extent) believe that writers should only work if they are getting paid for it. I don’t take such a ‘purist’ view, because I think there is something to be said for thinking of the long term. I’ve always thought that, and your experience has given me confidence in my views about this, so thank you.

  31. Great Post Jeff,
    I think what would be a fascinating blog post is the daily processes you did in order to build your audience in the first place. We hear a lot of success stories of people who become successful but very rarely hear about what they did to get there.

  32. Your story is very inspiring. I think writers need to hear words of encouragement more often. So many are dissuaded from pursuing a full time career in our profession. Thank you for your practical tips!

  33. Another solid post, @jeffgoins:disqus. I love my job as a Business Consultant and obviously get paid for it. But my craft and passion is inspiring others to live purposefully, and speaking and writing about doing so. While I get little income from selling my books, I’m currently between learning and mastering phase. I would love to write, speak and coach for a living one day. In meantime, I’m content adding value to lives and helping others (giving away) while I grow myself in the process.

  34. Building your audience first is key, I think. Without that trust and those numbers, you’re just launching a product or a book or whatever into the wild and then running around like crazy to find someone who’ll buy it.

  35. Loved the post. Came at a very “leap taking’ time in my own life. You confirmed that when specific things are in place, if it looks like a mountain is in front of you with God’s timing, He will move them. You did your homework and now have a well deserved career. Thank you for sharing your “how to” advice and being transparent.

  36. Thanks for sharing how “simple” it is mentioning the practical application. Too often we over-complicate things. Deliver great value consistently, be patient, and listen to your audience.

  37. Enjoyed reading this post. I am in the process of dipping my toe into the pool of blogging.
    I am always inspired by people that find “it” and can somehow monetize “it”. Goof luck with everything Jeff. I’ll be lurking around here from time to time.

  38. Thanks for this article. I’m in the process of trying to figure out how pursue a similar dream of how in the heck to be a writer who actually makes money and this was very encouraging. Seriously, this was just what I needed to hear today.

  39. Thanks for sharing your success story, its an inspiring story and people like us will learn from it. Most authors don’t share their steps of success. They mostly go through like a cloud and following those clouds is challenging for starters. Thank you, again.

  40. I read a lot of articles like this, and like one guy said below me I don’t hear too much how they built their intial audience. You start a blog, but that doesn’t mean traffic will magically appear. How did you get them to come?


  41. Great article! My work conflicts with all of the workshop times that are available. Any chance you will offer a video link of the workshop after the fact? Thanks!!

  42. I loved this! You started doing something that you loved that eventually lead you to money, not the other way around. As Seth Godin likes to point out, in the online world trust is everything and you build that first which allowed everything else to flow out of that. Congratulations for creating the life you wanted, in the way you wanted. An inspiration!

  43. It seems so obvious: Build an audience first, then ask them what they want. It takes some patience… What I loved doing and earned me some money: writing a research paper on self learning in Austrian companies, making some websites for small businesses, writing on business and politics for a small newspaper. The thing I am preparing now (after quitting to work as a freelance web designer): self publishing how-to computer books and short novels + doing freelance work as a copywriter. Your blog posts are very helpful.

  44. Jeff- of course I’ve been reading your stuff for years now and bought your products and books, etc., but this article was still so incredibly helpful. Thanks for writing it!

  45. Of course! You deserve to get paid because of your upfrontness & candor. We love your posts & learn a lot from them.

  46. This is a very helpful post, Jeff! I just started working as a Content Writer, but I’m hoping to monetize my own blog and maybe turn it into a business once I graduate from college.

  47. Simply great. You deserve to be paid. You have well built audience and reputation among passionate writers. We’d love to try your writing courses. You’ll surely succeed if you launch some contests and writing courses. Thanks for such a valuable article.

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