To start a business, you need more than passion. Getting paid to create really is about getting clear on what people want.
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Before we get into the super practical work of actually accepting money from other people, we need to get clear on what we have to offer. Many people will tell you to just jump into this work without thinking too much about it. And I think that’s good: to not unnecessarily hesitate when it comes to taking action. But there is something powerful about taking just a brief pause to consider the work that you want to do before going for it.
Because the truth is if you don’t get this right, it makes everything more difficult. Many people when they’re starting out in business—when they’re seeking to create work that they want others to buy—they believe a common myth, and the myth is this: Just follow your passion.
As a fan of Joseph Campbell, I can say that passion (or “bliss” as he called it) is an essential and integral part of the process of finding the work you love. But passion in itself is not enough, in my opinion.
The world does not owe you its attention or recompense simply because you’re enjoying what you’re doing. Put perhaps a little more crassly, nobody cares about your passion. Not really. What they care about is their passion: their needs and desires and problems.
Although it’s true that we may be inspired by another person’s deep yearning for a particular kind of project, that usually only happens when that person’s passion intersects with our own.
What it takes to create a product that will not only have a long lifespan but also be something you find personally fulfilling and that others are willing to pay you for, you need more than passion. In fact, you need to find the intersection of three important areas: passion, skill, and demand. Let’s unpack each one of those with a simple question you can ask yourself.
Passion: What do you love creating?
One way to think about this is, what do you do when you don’t have to motivate yourself to do something? Are you out golfing? Do you make an elaborate three-hour meal? Do you call up old friends and talk to them? What are the distractions in which you like to lose yourself?
What you love creating is an important clue as to the work you should be doing. As I mentioned before, it is not enough in itself, but it’s a good place to start. Without passion, we will ultimately burn out on our work or end up feeling like a sellout.
Skill: What are you good at?
Not only do we need to love the work we are doing. We need to be good at it. Skill is what attracts long-term fans and followers; it’s what gives your customers and clients the confidence to continue paying you.
In the famous words of the comedian Steve Martin, you need to “be so good that they can’t ignore you.” Skill is what keeps the light on in this operation you are trying to build or grow.
To do this, I recommend practicing in public, which means finding some low-stakes form of sharing your craft with the world in a way that allows you to get better. This could be a blog or a podcast or maybe a free concert series you stream online for would-be fans.
Give yourself permission to try a few different channels before committing to a single path. Throw a few things against the wall and then see what sticks. Once you’ve found something you enjoy practicing on a regular basis (because plenty of hobbies sound like a nice idea in theory but end up being much more of a hassle when it comes to doing the work), commit to it for at least thirty days straight before giving up to see how it feels. If at the end of a month you still have the stomach for it, you may be on to something.
Demand: What do people want?
Of course, if all you have is a skill that you enjoy, that’s just another word for a hobby. What it takes to turn an avocation into a vocation is demand: that is, other people must want this thing from you.
I have often loved quoting Derek Sivers, author and founder of CD Baby, who says that what’s obvious to you is amazing to others. This means that when you have something you enjoy and are good at, there may be other people out there who desperately want that thing.
I often encourage coaching clients to start at this place, with demand. Because, in a way, it drives everything else. There are certain things that I do that, when I see other people wanting them from me, in some ways drive my desire to do them. Having an audience changes the way you show up in the world.
When it comes to assessing demand, look around. What other products or services in your space are people currently offering? What does the competition look like? What are people already paying for? Could you do something like that but in your own unique way?
This is where we must begin and where our exercise starts today:
Instead of assuming you know what others want from you, go ask people:
What is something that I do that is helpful to you?
Don’t ask them what they’d be willing to pay you for, because they don’t know until you show them. But they know their problems. They know their struggles. They know what you do that feels easy to you but difficult for them. Become intimately aware of people’s problems, and you will never run out of ideas for making money again.
Once you get a list of these problems, find one that particularly resonates with your current passions.
You could ask lots of questions, like “what are you struggling with?” or “what would you pay me for?” But I find that this simple question of “what is something I do that is helpful to you?” is a great way to get clear on what you’re already doing that is obvious to you but amazing to others. Then from there, you can take the next step.