Making Money from a Passion

If you’re passionate about something, you can make money from it, because people will pay for passion. Sometimes, it’s enough to earn a living, and on occasion, you can make really good money from your passion.

Whenever I tell people this, they usually scoff. Usually, they don’t believe it’s really possible for anyone to do it, or they believe that people who do make money doing something they’re passionate about had someone financially helping them to get started.

I can’t tell you how many emails I get where someone is saying, “I wish I could make a living out of my passion for X,” where X is any number of things. The same basic tactics work for most of those passions.

You can make at least a small side income out of almost anything you’re passionate about. There are a few catches, of course.

First of all, you have to have at least some transferable skills to go along with that passion. You’re going to have to be good at time management, because without that, you’ll never find the time to do what needs to be done. You need to have strong communication skills. You also need to be able to take criticism, because you’re going to be criticized no matter what you do (if criticism makes you upset, this probably isn’t going to work for you).

Second, you need to be patient. You’re going to have to put in some groundwork to make this possible, and that groundwork is not going to earn you very much money per hour. It’s going to have to be fueled by the passion that you have for whatever excites you.

Most endeavors that are fueled by passion eat up thousands of hours before beginning to turn a profit. I often call this the “valley of patience,” and many people never make it through to the other side. You have to work at something for a long while and often experience a lot of small failures along the way in order to succeed.

You also have to be willing to look at your failures, distinguish between what works and what doesn’t, and move forward from there. Every single time you try something, you’re going to do something imperfect. The challenge is to be able to look carefully at what you did, identify what you did wrong there, and try to correct it.

The most effective way to correct something that you did wrong is through deliberate practice. Deliberate practice means that you’re specifically focusing on just the elements that you need to improve on with a laserlike focus and with repeated feedback (meaning you do it with a coach or you do it with some sort of self-observation).

Got that? Here are five ways to turn whatever you’re passionate about into a side income.

Make items for sale. If you make things, selling them is an obvious route to income. One of my good friends loved to sketch fantasy art. Over a period of years, he gradually moved from offhand doodles to making custom art for people for a living. My great aunt used to make crocheted blankets and sell them; she also gave away many of them to charities, which she felt both helped her business and helped the community. My father loves to fish and sell what he catches.

Write a blog about your passion. Every successful blog I’ve ever read mixes two things. They tell stories and they also make points that are of value to the readers, often at the same time. Talk about your experiences with whatever your passion actually is. Tell stories about how you messed up, and tell stories about how you succeeded. Tie them in with some ideas that they can take home (either subtly or directly) and you’re going down the right path. The more you write, the easier it gets and the better your writing is. The key is writing consistently and generating a backlog of content that’s out there for people to find and read. Your first post won’t be a hit, and neither will post #100. Write a thousand, though, and people will begin to come.

Make videos about your passion. If you don’t like writing, make videos and post them on YouTube. The same ideas apply here as with writing a blog: tell stories and share information. In this case, you’re showing it, too. Again, a big key is to make a lot of videos, post them, and learn from what you’re doing. Eventually, the sheer body of work will begin to attract followers.

Write e-books about your passion. If you prefer longer-form writing, e-books are a great way to channel that passion. Write a short book-length document telling stories and sharing ideas about your passion, then put it up on the Kindle Store to sell for a few dollars. As with the others, practice makes perfect, and the more you write, the more ability you have to gain a following.

In each case, creating new content on a regular basis is the key thing. It makes you work on it regularly, forcing you to improve through repetition. It also puts more and more of your material out there, meaning that more and more search terms that people type into Google and Amazon will find matches with your work, meaning you have a greater and greater chance of finding a fan.

Teach. For the most part, the three items above also fall under teaching, too. However, teaching face-to-face can be a powerful revenue stream. Offer musical lessons to the public. Teach classes wherever you can, particularly for community groups. Give speeches (getting involved in your local Toastmasters is a great way to start) and presentations. Early on, you won’t get much money from this, but if you’re passionate and active in becoming better at this, you will gradually find more and more paid opportunities.

These are not the only ways to earn money off of your passion, but they’re a start. These all apply to a lot of possible passions, and you can often try to do more than one at the same time.

I’ve seen people turn many, many different passions into some source of income, from fantasy doodling and board games to fishing and hunting. The ones that succeed do the things I mentioned above: they utilize some basic transferable skills such as time management and communication skills, they work continually at it and strive to improve, and they’re willing to accept that they’re not going to earn much at first (or possibly ever) and still keep at it over a long period of time.

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  1. Izabelle says:

    I’ve said it before and it is worth repeating: passion alone is not enough. Actually, passion and practice are not enough.

    No, people do not pay for passion. They pay for goods and services that matter to THEM. Passionate individuals who understand this can, indeed, make a living (or even a fortune!) from their passion.

  2. Tracy says:

    Seriously – “If you’re passionate about something, you can make money from it, because people will pay for passion.” is so fundamentally wrong.

    It should read “If OTHER people are passionate about something, you can make money from it, because people will pay for passion” – they pay for THEIR passion, not yours.

  3. Izabelle says:

    Actually, it is fine if it is *your* passion, as long as you use it as a catalyst to doing something other people value.

    I work in one of these tough passion-fueled fields (visual communications, aka graphic design, photography editing and art direction). I cannot tell you how many CVs I’ve rejected over the years, or how many of my former classmates got “day jobs” to pay the bills while their careers never took off.

    My clients do not need to be passionate about what I do, and I don’t even necessarily have to be passionate about them, but I sure need to understand their need and use my passion for communications to fill that need as adequately and originally as possible. Too many designers I know don’t get that (it’s all about their style and their art) and as a result cannot find work in their field.

  4. Tracy says:

    “Too many designers I know don’t get that (it’s all about their style and their art) and as a result cannot find work in their field.”

    That’s pretty much the opposite than – that too much passion can hamper an individual.

  5. Riki says:

    If I read about a person who is “so passionate” trying to sell themselves, I am generally turned off. I don’t want somebody who has to sell me on their passion – I want somebody who has skill and expertise. Is passion correlated with skill? Sometimes but definitely not always.

    And the cold reality is, if you try to turn a passion into a business it invariably becomes work. No matter how much I love taking photographs, the work that I put into shoots is work. It’s not the same as a shooting when it was just a hobby and I no longer turn to my camera for fun. Everything has changed now that I make money from my “passion.”

  6. Riki says:

    And I should add that the word “passion” never crosses my lips in any way when dealing with my clients.

    Brides don’t care about my passion. They care about their wedding day and making sure I have the equipment, skill, and stamina to capture it.

  7. Tracy says:

    @Riki

    This is so true. I switched my career plans after an internship in publishing showed me that if I remained there, I would eventually lose my passion for reading – that I was better off keeping it as a hobby if I didn’t want to lose the love.

  8. Adam P says:

    I used to LOVE hockey, I had a shrine to Patrick Roy in my bedroom in my early teens. I ran the fantasy hockey pool in my highschool and bought Hockey News, followed it as much as I could.

    Then I got a job after passing my CPA (CA in Canada) for the NHL running their insurance captive in Bermuda until the 2004 lockout. Now I can’t stand to hear about hockey. If you want to suck the passion out of your hobby, get a job doing it.

  9. Izabelle says:

    Adam P – so true! I really love my job, but it took me almost a decade to start painting again.

  10. MattJ says:

    re: “passion-fueled fields”

    Izabelle makes an excellent point. Some people will never be able to get back from their passion what they put into it.

    Years of acting, dancing, voice practice? Hundreds or thousands of hours of classes and one-on-one lessons? Congratulations! You’re a good enough actor to capture a minor role in a community musical! Years of music and instrument lessons, and thousands of hours of practice? Congratulations! You’re good enough to be the keyboard player and backup vocalist that plays in a band that gets spotty weekend work at a local restaurant or two. You’re making small change, and you’ll never get back to positive value after all the money and time you’ve sunk.

    There are too many people in that field who are so ‘passionate’ about it that they are willing to do it essentially for free. You have to be incredibly talented or lucky (both is more realistic) to turn it into a career.

    If you love it, great! Do it. Just don’t think that if you can’t turn it into a career, the problem was not enough passion on your part.

    Further, I agree with the folks who talk about losing your passion for something once it becomes a job. I’m a pretty good ballroom dancer, and I’ve had offers to teach it for cash, from one of the local ballroom studios as well as individual ladies who want private lessons or a steady dance partner. However, I only teach occassionally, and for free. Why would I want a boss when I go to do my hobby?

  11. MattJ says:

    Some commenters here are passionate about correcting what they see as Trent’s bad writing.

    I wonder how they monetize that?

  12. Tracy says:

    @MattJ

    We sell our tears on eBay.

  13. Johanna says:

    My band has its first paying gig coming up in a few months. We’ll be lucky if we take enough money to cover the cost of renting our rehearsal space, let alone the cost of all our instruments, lessons, and time spent practicing together and separately. But we’d be renting the rehearsal space, buying the instruments, etc., anyway, so isn’t it better to recover some of the cost than none of the cost?

    Our collective passion (if you want to call it that, which I don’t) is making music for other people to listen to – not making music for nobody. And since people *are* willing to pay money to listen to music, it seems like it’s worth a try to get at least a little bit of that money coming our way.

    @MattJ: Criticizing Trent is its own reward.

  14. Jules says:

    Just to chime in: there’s a difference between being passionate about something and being *good* at something. Trent is certainly passionate about writing, but at the rate TSD is devolving (and having read the first chapters of his NaNo a while back), I very much doubt he’ll ever be *good* at it–and just to be clear, there’s *good* and “good enough”. I am very good at making diagnoses on-the-spot, but I simply don’t *want* to be a doctor. I am, however, a decent copyeditor, and I like doing it enough that I’m currently trying to eke out a small salary with it. But am I passionate about copyediting? Hardly.

  15. Kate says:

    I don’t think that people will pay for passion per se, but I DO think that the steps outlined above can help one monetize just about any activity. I’ve been teaching dance classes for kids (a particular and rare type of dancing) for about three years, and it will take another year before I recoup the cost of the teaching certification. After that, it’s all gravy. In the meantime, getting paid for the activity means I’ve been able to prioritize it in my life – I would do it for free, but not as consistently or regularly.

  16. Johanna says:

    So the site’s new overlords have changed the front page title to “Coupons and Financial Advice,” but at the bottom of the page it still says “Trent is not a financial advisor and no information found on this site should be construed as financial advice.”

    Hmm.

  17. Misha says:

    @Johanna: Wow, and scroll down past that. I guess THAT’S how you make money from a passion.

  18. Tamara says:

    Have you ever read something where a word was repeated so many times that it lost all meaning…?

  19. Sam says:

    @Johanna #16 – I just noticed that last night and thought it was weird. Many months back I noticed that links titled Mortgage Rates and Auto Insurance appeared at the top of the page. At first I thought Trent had dedicated a couple of pages to those topics for newcomers but once I clicked over I realized it’s some sort of advertisement type of thing. I wonder how long it will be until this blog is one big source of keywords for search engine hits?

    If I recall correctly JD had mentioned something in his announcement that when he sold GRS he made sure it wasn’t to a company that would slowly flood the site with advertisements and leave it for dead. I guess Trent didn’t do that.

  20. Kevin says:

    @Johanna: Yeah, I just noticed that today, too. I can’t remember what it used to be, but I know seeing “Coupons” in the header seemed new to me.

  21. Nick says:

    Wow. The coupon section is seriously aggressive and obviously just a keyword ad deluge.

    As a fellow blogger, I wonder how it feels to see a site that you spent years building from the ground up plastered with ridiculous coupon ads.

    It’s kind of sad.

  22. MattJ says:

    Johanna:

    Criticizing Trent is its own reward.

    And so is being in a band, I’ve heard. And some people are willing to move to LA and work crap jobs trying to make it in Hollywood, or NY on Broadway or in fashion, or Memphis/Nashville/New Orleans/Wherever in music.

    The point is, YES, monetize your passion if it makes sense for you. For many people in certainly highly-passion-driven endeavors, no amount of passion, or even hard work, is liable to ever lead to a ‘net gain’ such that pursueing their passion will pay off.

    That is, if music is one’s passion, then singing for free in the church choir or busking at the mall is likely to be less damaging to the bottom line than seeking the kind of coaching, training, and practice that is required to sing lead vocals of a bar band.

  23. Steve says:

    @MattJ – if we monetize it we’ll stop enjoying it.

  24. MattJ says:

    @Steve

    As I said in (10) – that’s why I haven’t tried to monetize my dancing.

  25. Johanna says:

    Really, MattJ? You’re trying to mansplain to me what I should find rewarding, time-consuming, or damaging to my bottom line?

    Has it occurred to you that I know more about me than you do?

  26. MattJ says:

    #25 Johanna

    You’re trying to mansplain to me what I should find rewarding, time-consuming, or damaging to my bottom line?

    Not even a little bit.

  27. Johanna says:

    And yet, that’s exactly what you did.

  28. MattJ says:

    Nothing I wrote after “And so is being in a band, I’ve heard.” was directed at YOU.

  29. MattJ says:

    It is, however, reasonable that you thought it was, given how I wrote my post.

  30. Johanna says:

    Can I ask how you think you know so much about what’s involved in busking at the mall versus singing in a bar band?

  31. MattJ says:

    As far as busking at the mall: Last year I organized an event with multiple performers (about 16 total) at our local outdoor mall, requiring me to negotiate the busking contract on behalf of all of the performers and my own organization, as well as promote the event, provide a sound system, recruit an MC, and partipate in the show.

    I’ll tell you what I know about singing in a bar band after you demonstrate to me where you’ve responded to two direct questions from me at this website, ever.

  32. jim says:

    “mansplain” ?

  33. Kai says:

    No-one pays for passion. They pay for a good or service that you deliver. Passion can help you sell other people on your good or service, but no-one pays you to be passionate. This is a terrible lie that is being fed to young people today.
    It’s not good enough to love something. It’s not good enough to practice something a whole lot. You need to be good at it, or good enough for what people seek.
    Passion is valuable – it can help, for sure. If you try to find work in a place that at least somewhat relates to your passions, that can make work much nicer. But it’s a complete lie to tell people that passion actually relates to other people’s willingness to pay you.

  34. Kai says:

    “Just to chime in: there’s a difference between being passionate about something and being *good* at something. Trent is certainly passionate about writing, but at the rate TSD is devolving (and having read the first chapters of his NaNo a while back), I very much doubt he’ll ever be *good* at it…”

    Once upon a time, Trent was good enough at distilling simple financial concepts that it won him an audience. This is not to be confused with being good at writing. In this low-expectations world (especially on the internet), people are willing to overlook poor writing for good enough content.

  35. Kai says:

    Seriously, ‘mansplain’?
    Are you genderizing an individual comment from an individual person about an individual topic?

  36. Kai says:

    “#22 MattJ @ 12:27 pm March 16th, 2012
    And some people are willing to move to LA and work crap jobs trying to make it in Hollywood, or NY on Broadway or in fashion, or Memphis/Nashville/New Orleans/Wherever in music.

    The point is, YES, monetize your passion if it makes sense for you. For many people in certainly highly-passion-driven endeavors, no amount of passion, or even hard work, is liable to ever lead to a ‘net gain’ such that pursueing their passion will pay off.
    That is, if music is one’s passion, then singing for free in the church choir or busking at the mall is likely to be less damaging to the bottom line than seeking the kind of coaching, training, and practice that is required to sing lead vocals of a bar band.”

    different people enjoy music in different ways, and are willing to go to different lengths to pursue it professionally. what works for one won’t necessarily work for another.

  37. Tracy says:

    Kai – ”mansplaining’ is not a term coined by Johanna but a specific observed phenomenon.

  38. David says:

    Fascinating stuff, words, as I may have mentioned before. “Mansplain” has not yet made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, but one feels that it can only be a matter of time before it does. Looking it up, I encountered “manslot”, which I had half expected to be defined as “not a happy one”; instead, it is a smallholding similar in size to a bovate given (especially in mediaeval Norfolk) to a Danish soldier. No one who is not passionate about words (as I am) will understand my undiluted joy in finding this gem, but I doubt it would fetch a whole lot on eBay.

    Meanwhile, if Johanna and her band are good enough to persuade patrons of bars to part with hard cash for the pleasure of hearing them perform – well, they must be pretty good. Doubtless they could sing in church choirs instead, but why the Devil should they?

  39. Lynda grant says:

    Mans playing love it. GO Jo

  40. Lynda grant says:

    Oops mansplaining.

  41. deRuiter says:

    “As a fellow blogger, I wonder how it feels to see a site that you spent years building from the ground up plastered with ridiculous coupon ads.” Once you sell your blog for a lot of money it won’t bother you one whit. Particularly true if you are allowed to continue to milk the blog with rehashes of old work, annecodotes which are invented (readers are so good at spotting those!)columns full of other people’s work and articles written off the top of your head with wrong information and figures which are incorrect. You won’t care either if you are too lazy or uneducated to grasp that “incredible” ought to be used for incredible things and not as a synonym for “very.” Yes, this used to be a blog which explained basic financial concepts and illustrated them with the success of a man who turned his financial life around, it was fun. For me it was like watching a child learn to walk or learn another new to him skill which you watch as you baby develops, had a bit of charm to it. At that point, bad grammar, unsophistication, occasional misinformation and a general lack of skill in writing the English language was OK. Now it’s not OK, because the content has changed, as has the smug, rather smarmy tone about anyone who spends a few dollars on something which isn’t a Prius, a $200. pot, or game. Note to author: There are some people in America who have worked hard and made enough money to be comfortable. They buy things which they want, not necessarily a Prius, fancy pot or game, and they can afford what they buy without a negative effect upon their quality of life. This is part of the reason to work hard and be frugal in America, so you can succeed in life and buy what you want. The new owners of the blog are using it for their passion for making money. This “follow your passion and the money will come” mantra is ruining a whole generation of navel gazing college students who are piling up massive student loan debt for things like degrees in basket weaving and majors of similar ilk. You can monetize your passion, but you are not being paid for your passion but for your knowledge, skills, and ability to execute them or to communitate them to those who need your product. The example noted above about a bride who doesn’t care about your “passion” for photography but does care if you have the staff, equipment, talent and ability to get her an album full of beautiful photos of her wedding is spot on.

  42. Adam P says:

    Applaud at deRuiter.

  43. kc says:

    Writing well would communicate much more than merely saying you’re passionate about writing.

  44. kevin says:

    The word or a form of the word passion was used 17 times. I think Trent must be passionate about using the word passion.

  45. Izabelle says:

    @kevin: I’m afraid all those repetitions occur because Trent is now passionate about S.E.O.!

  46. Kai says:

    Whether she invented the word or just brought it up as a concept, its ridiculous for a conversation that had no gender tint until she decided to see it.

  47. Johanna says:

    Tracy’s right that I didn’t invent the word, nor was I the first to notice the concept (if I had been, I would have called it something else, because portmanteau words are stupid). But if you read what others have written about mansplaining, I think it’s pretty clear that that’s what’s going on here.

  48. Kai says:

    Based on previous discussions between different pairings, I’m pretty sure that he would have made his comment the same way had you been male, and other women might have made his comment. As he stated below, his comment wasn’t even directly targeted as you, but rather just used your mention as a jumping off point, albeit not explained at the time.
    I don’t see a single thing in his comment that makes the gender of the two participants anything other than coincidence, unless you are going to decide than any time a man disagrees with a woman, he’s ‘mansplaining’, and thus invalid.

  49. Johanna says:

    …or you could just decide that you already know everything yourself, and you don’t need to pay attention to silly things like other people’s perspectives. That’s cool too.

  50. MattJ says:

    #48 Kai:

    Thank you.

  51. Catherine says:

    Hi Trent

    I have read your site for a long time – thanks for all the good advice. This is a really excellent article with a lot of thinking behind it. Quality stuff ; )

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