The Real Secret to Making Money by Following Your Passion

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 of 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.

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T. AKA Ricky Raw
T. AKA Ricky Raw
8 years ago

Great post, can’t wait to try this book Chris.

I read your last book and loved it.

John @ Married (with Debt)
John @ Married (with Debt)
8 years ago

Passion + Usefulness = Value

This is the convergence point that Chris talks about. It seems best found by accident, almost something too fleeting to invent.

Chris is one of the few who have given me that desire to chase this formula. Helping people get out of debt and change their lives is something that might fit the profile. I will just have to forge ahead and see.

Roy Marvelous
Roy Marvelous
8 years ago

Having just finished Chris book, I’m happy to say that I’m pumped. I’ve got a great idea I’m working on with combines my passion + usefulness.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

ROFL.

Katk
Katk
8 years ago

Ok but what if you don’t have a passion?!? I always hear, follow your passion, but i’m not all-consumed by one thing. I’m a scanner– bright, have talents but no one magnificent one, and I’m interested in loads of things for about five minutes each. It’s very frustrating– I’d love to follow my passion, but there just isn’t one.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Katk

Most people don’t have one. And that’s fine. A year or two ago there were a series of really awesome posts across the blogosphere talking about how this whole “passion” myth leads to angst, anxiety, etc. Possibly also related to mid-life crises. We don’t need to have some all-consuming passion to live good and productive lives. We don’t need some kind of all-consuming purpose to escape ennui. And even if we have a passion, we don’t need it to be a job. Sometimes it’s better as a hobby. (Not that there’s anything wrong with having a passion and working that… Read more »

Kay
Kay
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Thanks for mentioning this. There are, I think, a lot of us who would be happy doing any one of a number of things. Thus the term “passion” doesn’t apply quite the same way.

If nothing else I feel like we might have an advantage – we’ll be happy doing one thing now, and if conditions change or it doesn’t work out, there are other activities we could try that would be just as successful both from a personal as well as professional standpoint.

Christopher
Christopher
8 years ago
Reply to  Kay

Absolutely agree with this comment. Why does success in entrepreneurship need to be tied to “one all consuming passion”.

With multiple interests, you have an enormous advantage! Pick one you think might produce value and try building something small on the side. That doesn’t work? Try another! Or find a way to blend your interests. Or instead of pursuing one full-time, persue two or three part time (which is what I’m working towards doing at the moment).

You’re in a rather enviable position, actually.

Rhea
Rhea
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Hi Nicole, I really like what you had to say in your response. I myself have lots of passions and have often wished that I had just one that I could foucs on. I had never really thought about the passion myth before, but it makes sense. I think that it’s better to start doing something and that most times the “passion” will reveal itself.You need to be doing something, anything that will help you work out what that “passion” is.If you just sit there trying to pin down a passion that you can make money from then you could… Read more »

Jassen Bowman
Jassen Bowman
8 years ago
Reply to  Katk

I have to agree with what most others are saying, and I’m pretty much like you. My “passions” tend to be fleeting, at best. Basically, you have to spot an opportunity, and run with it. The magical thing is that opportunities are all around us, every day. I’m 34 years old, and in my 5th career (none of which are related to each other). The difference this time around is that I followed my own “$100 Startup” formula, and created a one-man operation that requires me to work about 20 minutes a DAY, and replaced my entire salary from my… Read more »

Naomi
Naomi
8 years ago

What was that post yesterday? “Your friends are marketing to you” or something like that?

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  Naomi

Wish I could like this 100x!

Jason
Jason
8 years ago
Reply to  Naomi

LMAO! No kidding!

barnetto
barnetto
8 years ago

Its one thing to point to a few to 1500 cases that support a theory, did you check that every failure was the result of no passion and/or no value?

I contend that the model presented here is still too simple.

Jim
Jim
8 years ago
Reply to  barnetto

Right, this is a great example of sampling on the dependent variable. 1,500 people may have built “freedom businesses,” but how many tried and failed? What is the likelihood that one can succeed with passion and usefulness? Several of the examples in the early part of the book are telling (e.g., chapter 1 opens with a guy who was a 25-year sales veteran whose freedom business – unsurprisingly – drew on his extensive sales experience). That said, Chris is a bright guy and I’m sure he’s not claiming these two factors alone are sufficient. So skepticism aside, I’ve started reading… Read more »

Victoralexon
Victoralexon
8 years ago

Awesome!

I love Chris and I was pleasantly surprised to see an article of his here.

Kind regards,

Victoralexon

SB @ One cent at a time
SB @ One cent at a time
8 years ago

Chris, can your book help me develop ideas of creating value? If not, the title is enough for me at the moment, isn’t it? I now know that I can start my own business for less than $100 and make it a success if I have passion. Thank you for that.

What extra I can get is not very clear to me.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago

Great, an ad.

elena
elena
8 years ago

Dear JD and GRS Blog people,

Why did you double post today? You post a timely and valuable article about women’s retirement which is getting a decent response in the morning and then you effectively bury it with a follow up article by an author whose book was reviewed in the past week or so by April.

I’m disappointed in your editorial posting schedule today.

Apologies to Chris, this page is my homepage and the new article is the first thing I saw.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  elena

Elena, some days I’m able to monitor the site closely; others days, I’m not. Today was one of the days I couldn’t. I was out exercising, doing volunteer work, and then running errands. I wasn’t paying close attention. I’ve had Chris’ post scheduled for a month now. It was always going to go up today at 2pm. I had no idea what Robert’s post was about until this morning when April posted it. If I’d been paying more attention, I might have shifted Chris’s post. But I wasn’t. Some days are like that. Not saying it’s right. Just saying I’m… Read more »

elena
elena
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Fair enough, JD.

PawPrint
PawPrint
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Another myth busted! 🙂

Jaime
Jaime
8 years ago

Take what works and leave what doesn’t. Look people he’s saying that you can find your own path instead of the one that society has set before you. If the advice doesn’t apply to you then just move on. Maybe it doesn’t apply to you now but it will in the future. You never know. Everyone has different ideas on jobs, career, and whether or not you should make a passion into a career. If it works for you then fine, if it doesn’t then you don’t need to spoil it for the ones who were able to find freedom… Read more »

Ms Life
Ms Life
8 years ago

I ordered the book last week after the first post about it and am still waiting for it. I will give it a while since I am based in Austria. I know what I am passionate and have been for close to 20 years as part of my community work, but I doubt if it would ever pay my bills. According to Chris’ formula I fit the bill as I have the “passion” and my community work is very “useful” (even saving prisoners’ lives by provision of ARVs through a ministry I started at my old Church) but I don’t… Read more »

Louise
Louise
8 years ago
Reply to  Ms Life

I think this post failed to mention that the value produced needs to be something that people are able and willing to pay for if you’re going to make a living from it. You could be providing tons of value but if it’s for those who can’t pay and you can’t get others who have money to sponsor/support you, then you’ll have to be content with doing volunteer work, which is still very worthwhile.

Rosalyn
Rosalyn
8 years ago
Reply to  Ms Life

@ Ms Life,

Maybe you could contract with the state and offer your program & services for a fee.

Trina
Trina
8 years ago

This is an advertisement. There is no take-away except “buy this book.” Very disappointing. I would have thought that a glowing review in the last week would have been enough promotion.

amber
amber
8 years ago
Reply to  Trina

I too am very confused why GRS would follow up the review of this exact same book with an article by the author himself. If what JD said is true and that this post has been scheduled for a month then why post the review at all? Seems shady advertising to me.

elena
elena
8 years ago
Reply to  amber

I took it as editorial enthusiasm for Chris’s ideas.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  amber

Yeah, it’s very clearly JD helping out his friend. Which, on the one hand, why not? It’s his blog, after all. (kind of)

On the other hand is the question of responsibility to readers. Is posting two articles that are basically ads for his friend a violation of that responsibility? Does it betray what we come here for, by wasting our time?

I don’t know the answer, I just think it’s an interesting question.

billie
billie
8 years ago

I did take my passion and made it into a business. I worked it profitably for 13 years and sold it last month. I was in love with the business for many years but burned out the last few. Life changes (including my father’s death) contributed to my decline in interest. I had originally planned on just closing the business but several people talked me into selling as they didn’t want the knowledge contained in the business to die. I was contacted by a few people who were interested in buying it. One person was a customer for many years,… Read more »

Trina
Trina
8 years ago
Reply to  billie

What did your business do?

Paul
Paul
8 years ago

Chris, I read articles like these and get so excited I feel like I could run through a brick wall. I have not read the book yet but intend to do so as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. I have two young children and this emerging passion to teach them so their lives can be better than mine (journaling it at shaferpower.com). Once I complete the book, I’m going to write a post about it and will share it with you. Thanks for the inspiration!

Paul
Paul
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul

ps – some crankypants on this site today, huh?

elena
elena
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Well, yeah. The particular sequence of postings was just weird. April’s review, the article about friends and marketing, then the next day a mid afternoon post from Chris about his book. It was incredibly distracting to many of us, I think, to read Chris’s column after that. I tend to miss things when GRS posts more than once a day–even with GRS as my homepage. Unless it’s a topic I want to read the comments on, like women and retirement yesterday, I rarely stop in again. I mention these criticisms, at the risk of sounding like a crankypants, because JD… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  elena

I don’t mind crankypants feedback, Elena. In fact, I welcome it as long as it’s constructive instead of destructive. 🙂

Stay tuned tomorrow when I actively ask people to give feedback about the site, both positive and negative.

Paul
Paul
8 years ago
Reply to  elena

Hi Elena, meant to put a smiley face after my crankypants comment. Lesson learned. 🙂

Marlon
Marlon
8 years ago

If you like this post, I think you ought to read Mark Cuban’s take on following your passion:

“Dont Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Effort”

http://blogmaverick.com/2012/03/18/dont-follow-your-passion-follow-your-effort/

Go read that now, and this post will make more sense.

Just my 2 cents.

🙂

Isela
Isela
8 years ago

I found this post very useful, as I am in the process of creating my personal business doing what I love and is at the same time useful for others.

Thank you very much!

Lindsay
Lindsay
8 years ago

Aw… I went to school with Omar and Jen. Now I feel like I should be much more accomplished than I currently am.

Stefan
Stefan
8 years ago

This is a great post and really helps show people that they can make money at home more easily than ever just because of the internet. I mean all you really need is internet, a website, and pay pal. After you have those getting money is a matter of what do you have to offer? Are you going to sell stuff? Are you going to offer people a service they can pay for? It’s a choice which is what I like about working at home.

Jim
Jim
8 years ago

I have been a business owner/operator for 38 years – I have nearly always made 6 figure income – and mostly worked from home – I have run my business while living in Mexico and in Europe – even though most people could never imagine running a pretty conventional service business from a remote location. So – yes – it can be done. My business is just a normal service business. My understanding of how this all works is more like this: don’t wait to find a passion that has value to others. Find a value to others and get… Read more »

Eric
Eric
8 years ago

This is a bunch if hype for suckers. I have tried many times to “follow my passion” – I wrote a book; I did fine art photography; I wrote computer programs; I wrote several business plans. NOTHING made enough to even have dinner out a few times a month. The product was well received – people love my photography! People loved my program. People love my book on selling and exhibiting your photography! And all of it sells… but not enough to quit my job, or even do much with. The book we need is how to turn the idea… Read more »

Jassen Bowman
Jassen Bowman
8 years ago
Reply to  Eric

If I could make only one suggestion in reply to your comment, read “The Four Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss. Yes, his writing tone is one of arrogance, but you will find the chapters in the middle of the book on “muses” to be exactly appropriate to your “how” questions, and launch you into self-learning quest that will never end. But while you’re learning, be sure to take the time to DO the stuff to get you where you need to be. That’s what I did several years ago, and I will never look back.

Lisa
Lisa
7 years ago

Hi Chris!

Great article. So many people spend time chasing the many get-rich quick schemes that they forget about their own passion and skills. That is a path to failure.

I agree wholeheartedly – when you combine that which you are passionate about with skills, that is where happiness and success are found.

I am definitely planning to read your book. Thanks for the inspiration!

Lisa

Eric
Eric
7 years ago

I followed this advice and wrote a book on photography. It just hit #1 on Amazon!

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BM8HQLK

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