How to Build a Business Doing What You Love

Megan Holstein
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Most people tend to treat those who do what they love for a living as having struck the career lottery. They say things like “Wow” and “That’s so awesome” and “I wish I could do that.”

They never seem to realize they can do that. 

Running a business doing something you love isn’t like winning the career lottery. It’s like running a marathon: it’s a goal you can set, and an achievable one at that. Plenty of people set a goal to run a marathon and find themselves doing just that only a year or two later.

And like training for a marathon, building a business doing what you love is actually pretty simple — as long as you’re willing to do what it takes.

Step 1: Work For Free & Make It Public

A lot of people stop right here before they even get started because they don’t want to work for free. After all, doesn’t “building a business doing what you love” include making money doing what you love? And furthermore, don’t online professionals say to never work for free?

I disagree. I think you should be willing to work for free for at least a year on a part-time basis.

Here’s a basic fact about life: When you first start doing something, you suck at it. You have to practice a lot before you’re any good. 

Here’s another basic fact: No one wants to pay for work that sucks.

The solution is simple. Keep practicing until your work doesn’t suck, and then people will be willing to pay for your work. 

Most people are held up at this step in the process because they aren’t willing to put in the work it takes not to suck. They practice for a month or two, maybe, but they still suck, and they aren’t able to find any paying customers, so they throw their hands up in frustration and forget the whole thing.

The blunt reality is these people are being impatient. They aren’t good enough yet at what they do to justify charging customers, and instead of just admitting that and getting better, they’re blaming the world for their problems. You can’t build a successful business that way. That’s not a personal judgment, that’s just a fact.

I’m a full-time Medium writer primarily because I was willing to be a writer for free for many years. Before becoming a Medium writer, I tried to launch several Wordpress blogs, all of which made about $300 total over several years. If you calculated my hourly wage for that work, it would be somewhere between $1/hr and $0.10/hr. I also spent hundreds of hours writing fanfiction, which was both great writing practice and entirely unpaid.

Even still, after joining Medium with several years of writing experience, one successful business, and nearly ten years of professional business education, it still took several months of publishing 3–5x a week before I started making worthwhile money on Medium.

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This is a fairly normal progression for an entrepreneur. Yes, there are those who quit their jobs and are making six figures six months later, but they’re the exception to the rule. And after spending years as an entrepreneur, I think I’ve figured out what makes them an exception: they are laser-focused on their niche. They efficiently productize their offering and ruthlessly market in any way that is effective. They don’t always have prior business experience, but they have a clarity of purpose that is exceedingly rare in a beginner.

Most people don’t have this clarity of purpose. I don’t have this clarity of purpose. Clarity of purpose doesn’t come from business acumen, it comes from where you are in your journey through life. You have to be really sure of who you are and what you want out of life to have clarity of purpose strong enough to build a six-figure business in six months, and most people are just not emotionally capable of that.

It’s easy to feel bad about yourself for not being able to do that, but it’s perfectly okay. Everyone’s journey to self-assurance takes a different amount of time. The journey to building a business doing what you love is the journey of self-discovery, and it will take as long as it takes. It took Sinem Gunel about four years. It’s taken me nearly ten. It may take you even more.

The first step to building a business doing what you love is committing to get better at the work until you are good enough to charge money for it, regardless of how long it takes.

Why You Need to Publish Your Work Online

Getting public feedback serves two purposes:

  1. You can enhance the quality of your work much more quickly by getting public feedback. Things like view & engagement statistics and user feedback & commentary are like rocket fuel for your skill set and product growth. To pass on that feedback because it makes you feel nervous is to shoot your own foot off.
  2. As you grow in your skillset, more and more people will be attracted to your work. You will build an audience, be it on Instagram, Facebook, Substack, or elsewhere. This audience is who you will be selling your work to when you start making money, so you better build it now. If you don’t publish your work online, you will eventually launch your product to crickets, and you will not make any money regardless of how good you are.

So regardless of what it is you want to do, find a way to make the enterprise public. If you’re a writer, publish on Medium or start a Substack newsletter or something. If you’re an artist or designer, start an Instagram account and maybe make TikTok videos. If you’re a musician, post your music to SoundCloud. Do whatever it takes to show the world your work.

Step 2: Start Charging Money (When Your Product is Ready)

Eventually, somewhere between six months and before the end of the universe (but definitely longer than you wanted it to take), you will be ready to start selling your work to the world.

When you’re ready to start charging money, start charging money. Don’t pussyfoot around with “introductory” prices or price yourself at the low end of the market because you’re nervous about spending money. Charge what other eminent professionals in your market charge. After all, you’ve been practicing for some time, and you are now a professional. You deserve to be paid for that expertise just like anyone else.

If you published your work online as you were told, you will have an extensive online history of superb work. Potential clients/customers will be able to look through your work history and portfolio to see evidence of your skills. Charging good money for your skills shouldn’t be a big deal.

If you do have trouble closing deals for some reason, ask people politely why they declined to work with you — and instead of using this information as leverage to try to convince them to change their mind, treat it like invaluable feedback and make modifications to your business so the next customer says yes.

When it comes to starting a business doing what you love, that’s really all there is to it. Practice in public until you are so good that people are begging to give you money for your skills, and then let them do so. 

People break their backs trying to learn “the secrets” of building a lifestyle business, but there is no secret. You just have to be willing to do what other people aren’t willing to do, which is a lot of work for little pay for several years before things come together. Many people say they are willing to do this, but if you watch how people spend their time, very few people actually are.

So close this article and start making something. When you’re done, post it online. Do it again — and again and again and again — and after a while, you’ll wake up one day and realize you have a business on your hands. That’s all there is to it.

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Self-help writer with 3M+ views on Medium and Quora. Covering personal growth, relationship skills, and career growth.

Columbus, OH
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