This is a guest post from

Chris Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startup, available from Amazon.com or your favorite local bookstore. You can also read his free blog at ChrisGuillebeau.com. Guillebeau is a long-time reader and supporter of GRS and one of J.D.’s good friends.

You’ve probably heard the line about following your passion to the bank. Just do something you love and cash in…right?

As an astute reader of Get Rich Slowly, chances are you also know that there’s more to it than that. Lots of people follow their passions and fail to make any money. Meanwhile, others are indeed able to craft a new life for themselves — and earn a lot of money — by pursuing something they love to do and finding a way to craft a business around it. What’s the difference between these two groups? What separates those who fail from those who succeed?

Well, it’s not about working less, manifesting riches, or waiting for wealth to arrive at your doorstep. It’s about making something that improves the state of the world — or at least the lives of a small group of people willing to pay for it. It’s about working more, but spending your time on the things you love to do.

In researching my new book, I discovered a not-so-secret formula. This formula isn’t found on the road to Bali or in the depths of a Mayan temple. Instead, it comes from the lessons of ordinary people who created a new future for themselves, using a small amount of money and the skills they already had.

Here’s the formula:

Passion + Usefulness = Value

You can be passionate about all kinds of things that won’t actually pay you anything. But when you combine your passion with something that’s useful to the world, that’s where you’ll find synergy. And that’s how you can make some money.

The $100 Startup Model
I recently completed a multi-year study of 1500 people who had built “freedom businesses” by using the skills they already had. For the study, we didn’t want to hear from self-described entrepreneurs, billionaires, or even anyone who had much of a business background. Instead, we had a few specific criteria that everyone had to meet to be part of the study:

  • At least $50,000/year in net income (many earned much more, but the average U.S. income of $50,000/year was the baseline)
  • Full financial disclosure (respondents had to agree to share their annual income)
  • Five employees or fewer (many of the studies in my book have no employees, by design)
  • Low startup costs (most spent less than $1000, and one-third spent $100 or less)
  • No special skills (or at least no skills that couldn’t be replicated by others)

From the initial group of 1500, we narrowed down to the top 70 stories. These stories appear in my new book, The $100 Startup. The goal was to craft a narrative around these “accidental entrepreneurs” to understand exactly how they did it, and to provide a blueprint that readers can follow as they pursue their own freedom.

A few of the stories include:

  • Heather Allard, the “Mogul Mom” who built a business after making a blanket for her daughter. She later sold the business and now teaches other moms how to be self-employed.
  • Gary Leff, who helps people book international plane tickets with their Frequent Flyer miles. Gary works full-time as a CFO, but this “side business” brings in more than $100,000 a year.
  • Susannah Conway, a former journalist from England who got the surprise of her life when she earned more than $140,000 last year teaching photography.
  • Sarah Young, who started a yarn shop in Portland, Oregon at the height at the recession. Two years later, business is booming and Sarah recently celebrated her first $10,000 day.
  • Jen Adrion and Omar Noory, two young design students who started a map-making business from their Columbus, Ohio apartment. Within six months they had quit their day jobs to focus full-time on the business.

Each of these people found a way to apply the formula — they did something they were passionate about, but they also made sure to translate their passion into a valuable skill. These and other stories from the book combine to form a common message: The skills and the money you already have are all you need.

Many of the people I talked with didn’t consider themselves to be “entrepreneurs”; they were ordinary people who made a few specific choices. Some had been laid off or otherwise experienced a painful transition, but then crafted a new life for themselves as they engaged with their first customers or clients. More than one said, “Being let go was painful at the time, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Making the Leap

We live in exciting times. At the touch of a button, we can go online and connect with thousands of people all over the world. No matter our interests, we can instantly find other people who share the same values and concerns.

Most of us who read this blog are very well off, at least in comparison to the rest of the world. We have the resources to choose how we spend our money and how to structure our free time. We have tremendous opportunities to create, connect, and yes—to earn a good living.

What’s exciting is the timing and scale of it all. If you want to take the leap to working for yourself — or even if you just want to earn a healthy side income — there’s no longer any need to wait.

But don’t take it from me; take it from 1500 people from all different backgrounds and from all over the world. They found personal freedom by improving the lives of others.