Photo Credit: Aaron Patterson / Creative Commons
There can be no joy in living without joy in work. – St. Thomas Aquinas
Chances are, you hate your job. Forbes reports more than half of Americans are unhappy with their work lives. Every day, we’re commuting to places we associate with anxiety or boredom.
Why do we stay in jobs we don’t like? The usual suspects:
“I’ve got bills to pay! I can’t just quit.”
“I have job security, and that’s not easy to come by.”
“This is the only thing I know how to do.”
“I wouldn’t even know where to start if I wanted to try something new.”
A lot of us feel stuck.
But here’s the thing—we’re not stuck. There are ways to climb out of your current situation, find what you love, and turn it into a cash-generating career. Sound like a long shot? Not if you have a plan, and these steps can help you develop one.
1. What Do You Love to Do?
If you weren’t dealing with that crappy job every day, what would you be doing instead? Figure out which activities make you feel happy and alive—not dead inside, like I feel after a TV marathon.
Maybe you like to take pictures. Maybe you like writing. Perhaps a walk with your dog is your favorite time of day. Any activities you can dream of can be turned into a money-making venture.
If you’re still not sure, then take some classes. Try a few things out before making your choice. It could take years before you figure out what you love to do, but just keep experimenting. The alternative is that you never figure it out!
2. Do It For Free
Before charging people money, do what you love for free for quite a while. Doing the work without worrying about turning your passion into a business right away will help you hone your skills and build your confidence.
Take some baby steps. For example, if you’re thinking about a career in freelance writing, try blogging first. When you feel more comfortable, offer your services for free to a favorite website or local business.
Working for free will also allow you to determine if you actually like the work enough to parlay it into a job—if you won’t do it for free, you won’t enjoy doing it for money.
3. Combine Your Passion With Your Other Skills
Maybe you’re thinking about a career in photography because you love to take pictures. Are there any other skills that could increase the chance of success? Maybe you also have writing skills, and you could start a blog to promote and build excitement around your photos.
Figure out how to create your own success tool kit /secret sauce made up of all the different skills and experiences that only you have. This is what will make you stand out and keep your service unique.
4. Determine Your Ideal Client
Who’s going to pay you for the work you want to do? Think about your ideal customer. What’s their lifestyle like? What else do they like to do? And most importantly, based on who your ideal client is, what value can you bring to them?
Spend some time researching the needs, interests, and preferences of your ideal client. Then brainstorm ways to help them.
5. Make Connections
How can you reach out to the client that you defined in the last step? Is there someone you know that could connect you with your ideal clients? How can you draw attention to your work and provide value to the people who should see what you’ve got to offer?
There are plenty of cheap and easy ways to expand your circle and attract people who share your interests.
For example, if you want to write about food, start a food blog and get on social media. Invite friends and followers to share your writing for the chance to win a free cooking gadget. When you build your platform, you’ll be a more attractive contributor to a web site that pays writers.
Once your audience is aware of your work and finds value in it, build your portfolio so you can show off your work, which will help with the next step.
6. Do It For Cheap
Now that you’ve built some value, you can begin asking for money. When you reach out to paying clients, you’ll be able to present the free work that you did as a sample or a portfolio. For a job that’s service based, make sure you get references to help you move into the paid arena.
A client that’s getting some return for your work will most likely be happy to pay. If not, find someone who will.
7. Note What Works and What Doesn’t
As with any job, there will be an adjustment period where you figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Maybe you’ve found that the blog you’re keeping for your budding photography business isn’t gaining traction, but your Instagram account is getting lots of attention; it might be time to refocus your strategy.
Maybe you’ve found that keeping track of your writing assignments in a spreadsheet is easier than writing them down in a planner.
Take notes as you gain practice and experience; learn from both mistakes and successes.
8. Note What You Like and Don’t Like
Maybe you thought you’d like taking wedding photographs, but the hours are a killer, and you think you’d prefer studio work.
I started out as a coach, and then switched over to fiction writing. It was hard to gain the momentum to make the change, but now I’m glad I made the effort.
Don’t get stuck in a rut just because it’s the path of least resistance. It’s okay to adjust and shift gears as you go, especially if you’re really committed to doing work that makes you happy.
9. Simplify Your Message
In order to get the word out, refine your elevator pitch. Think about including not only what you do, but why you do it.
Your “speech” should sound like a friendly conversation that tells your story, not a sales pitch. When you’re catching up with a friend and they ask what you’re up to, here’s your chance to practice your pitch.
10. Follow a Pro
Take a look at the people you admire who are doing the work you want to be doing. What’s their strategy? How do they do it?
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, and learning from those who found success before you doesn’t mean you can’t be original. Copy strategy, but make the rest yours.
11. Bonus Step: Don’t Quit Your Day Job Too Early
All of this talk about following your passion could make you feel like you’re ready to put in your two weeks, but you may want to slow down. Make sure you take the time and care to build a solid business.
A day job can help fund your new venture until you start making real money, which takes the pressure off your passion project.
I speak from experience. I had a lucrative freelance job come to an end, and rather than pick up more work, I decided to try to milk my passion for money. Then my passion (coaching at the time) became joyless and hard work. It became more about the money than about my clients, and that felt gross.
That experience made me realize that it’s okay to keep a job that can fund my passion. Like me, you may find it easier to tolerate the daily grind knowing that your free time is going toward something you truly love.