Doing What You Love — For Pay!

…and hey, Dave was on a Podcast!

I had a blast talking with Dave Swillum for his “Waking Up From Work” podcast. We talked about taking creative interests and finding ways to make them pay for themselves, and ideally, building income streams and whole careers out of doing what you love.

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Dave Swillum liberated himself from the corporate 9-to-5 by turning his passions into self-supporting income streams in several ways, including with his awesome podcast. I’ve done it with my writing. We hope you get something useful out of our podcast episode, and to help even more, here are several of the best ideas we unpacked.

Find Your People

People make money from every community imaginable, from organic farming to running S&M dungeons. Whatever your interests—truly, however niche they are—there are people selling equipment, renting space, teaching classes, running newsletters or magazines or blogs, or otherwise contributing to the community. Many of them do it for pay, however meager…or, in other cases, build entire careers from it.

Find the people who make things happen in communities related to your interests, and figure out their income streams. Look for chances to join them as a peer, or to work for them if they have paid staff. Look for opportunities to bring something needed, but absent, to the community…and embrace the chance to invent solutions for any need you perceive.

That’s kind of esoteric, so here’s what it looked like for me.

I was really into paintball as a teenager, but it’s ridiculously expensive if you play regularly. I started buying paintballs at a bulk rate and selling them to my friends for more than I paid, but less than they paid elsewhere. The company also wholesaled accessories to me, which I made available at a similar profit that saved my friends over buying retail. It funded the hobby, but not much more. It was time to take the resale business seriously, which didn’t speak to me, or try something else.

There were a lot of magazines serving our community, and while esoteric, they were sacred to us. “Action Pursuit Games” and others covered every aspect of our sport, from gear to interviews with top players, events around the country and the latest in tactics and techniques. The writers didn’t have to be professional athletes, or own huge businesses…they just had to know how to find, research, and tell, good stories.

I could do that—I was an aspiring writer, with a little experience writing small articles for my local newspaper. So I reached out to the editors of the sport’s leading magazine, and sent them some samples of my work and a request to explore how I might write for them…

Action Pursuit Games

…and my career was born. I wrote for APG for more than 12 years, until larger market forces shuttered the magazine and took almost every one of its competitors down too. By then I was writing for other magazines in other industries by leveraging my connections, and while I mourned the loss, I was positioned pretty well to keep writing about my other interests as my day  job.

Fill A Need

No one knows your strengths better than you do, so take an honest inventory of what you bring to the table. Creativity? Writing, art, organization, leadership, patience, brute strength, years of developing a certain skill or knowledge around a special interest? Figure out what makes you unique, and realize that all the work you’ve put in so far, just gets you to a starting point for whatever comes next.

So look for needs in the industry where you want to work. There are high-turnover positions that need warm bodies, and that might be a place to go pay some rent for awhile, but you’ll need to get clever to find higher-yield opportunities.

Or more easily, you can just ask people who are in the know.

Build a list of five people (or more!) in your target industry, who you might be able to reach via email, a phone call, or in person. Figure out how to make that interaction happen, and then strategize: how are you going to approach them? How might you start a brief conversation, to set yourself up to ask the big question? And then, how do you want to phrase it, exactly, when you ask?

Your lead-in question might be, “What’s your company’s biggest challenge?” Or, “How do you see our community evolving in the next five years?” Or, “What makes an ideal employee or creative partner?” You’re interviewing them, looking for their needs and challenges, which you can solve through the creative talents you bring to the table.

Your biggest question, then, will be: “How can I help? Where do I start?”

Podcast host Dave Swillum is busy building—among other things—an awesome recording studio for the bands and musicians in his area…and for those who need to do voiceover work, radio commercial work, and learn about audio engineering. It’s a need that he filled, which perfectly aligns with his passion for audio engineering…and his desire to have an amazing sound studio for his own use, that pays for itself!

When I put that question—How can I help?—to my editors, they came up with a list of things they’d like to publish, but needed someone else to take the time to research and write about. What once seemed impossible—actually making money from an industry where I was an avid consumer—was really that straightforward (although still not simple!).

What can you offer? How do your skills, background, and passions, combine to make you a strong candidate to creatively solve problems in an industry you admire?

Identify your people; get them to help identify their problems and dreams for growth; find ways to help…and then make yourself available!

Like Hunter S Thompson said, “Buy the ticket—take the ride!”

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