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How to REALLY Follow Your Passion to the Bank: The $100 Startup Model

Posted By Guest Blogger 10th of May 2012 Blogging for Dollars 0 Comments

This guest post is by Chris Guillebeau of

More than a decade ago, I began a lifelong journey of self-employment “by any means necessary.”

I never planned to be an entrepreneur—I just didn’t want to work for someone else. From a cheap apartment, I watched what other people had done and tried to reverse-engineer their success. I started by importing coffee from Jamaica and sold it online because I saw other people making money from it; I didn’t have any special skills in importing, roasting, or selling.

Since then, I’ve never looked back, always working for myself and making a good living entirely through online ventures. And I’m no longer alone: in different ways, thousands of people from all over the world have also taken matters into their own hands. They are rewriting the rules of work, becoming their own boss, and creating a new future.

It all sounds so simple: pick something you love and build a business around it. Start an online storefront, become a problogger, and strike it rich. Cha-ching! But is it really that easy? As you might expect—or as you might have experienced in your own efforts—the real answer is more complex.

That’s why I dived into the real story.

Over the past three years I’ve been working with a group of 1,500 “unexpected entrepreneurs.” Most of these people had never gone to business school, didn’t have a lot of money, and in some cases, never intended to work for themselves. They simply found a way to make something interesting and share it with the world—and along the way, they ended up creating a serious income of at least $50,000 a year.

I learned a few surprising lessons from this group.

First, not all hobbies or passions are created equal

You can’t just pursue any passion—there are plenty of things you may be passionate about, but no one will pay you for them. I like to eat pizza, but not matter how passionate I am, its doubtful I could craft a career around my love for mushrooms and black olives. Instead, I had to find something more interesting to the rest of the world.

Whatever your situation is, you must continually focus on how your project can help other people, and why they’ll care about what you’re offering in the first place.

Next, most people don’t make money directly from their hobby or passion, but from something related

Nev Lapwood was a snowboarding instructor in British Columbia, Canada. He got by and paid the bills on the slopes, but competition was tough—and besides, the work was seasonal. Then Nev created a series of snowboarding DVDs and found his real calling. The business now earns a multi-six figure annual income.

In my case, I began a writing career several years ago by sharing stories about a quest to visit every country in the world, but I don’t get paid for that. I have to create value in my business like anyone else does. Without real value, I wouldn’t get paid, and the travel would be just a hobby (albeit a passionate one).

To be successful, find the magic formula between passion and usefulness

To understand how passion can sometimes translate into a profitable business, you must develop a skill that provides a solution to a problem. Only when passion merges with a skill that other people value can you truly “follow your passion to the bank.”

Another way to think about it is:

(Passion + Skill) → (Problem + Marketplace) = Opportunity

In Reno, Nevada, Mignon Fogarty created the QD Network, best known for her signature show Grammar Girl. The show was a huge hit almost from the beginning, spawning a line of books, related programs, and non-stop media attention. But before she was Grammar Girl, Mignon pursued a similar idea in an unsuccessful attempt to build popularity through podcasting. Here’s how she tells the story:

“Before I launched the successful Grammar Girl podcast, I was the host of a science podcast called Absolute Science. I loved doing that show and I was passionate about it. I actually put more effort into promoting that show than I did for the Grammar Girl podcast, and although Absolute Science was well-received, after doing it for nearly a year it was clear that the show was never going to make enough money to make it worth the time required to produce it.”

Mignon changed course, trading science for grammar. The answer wasn’t to abandon her passion altogether, but rather to make sure she connected the right passion with the right audience.

  • “Absolute Science”: Passion… but not enough audience.
  • “Grammar Girl”: Passion… and a substantial audience.

What goes up, goes up further

It’s easy and fun to grow your business or blog once it’s up and running.

That’s why the first sale, the first client, or the first source of income is so important. Many business owners I talked with earned hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and several earned more than one million dollars a year. In every case, they got to that point by starting small and making continuous improvements along the way.

Once you’ve found a winning formula, that’s when you spend your time on tweaks, the small-and-regular changes that will continue to increase income and influence.

When I asked our group of unexpected entrepreneurs about the follow-your-passion model, I frequently heard a nuanced answer. Almost no one said, “Yes! You should always follow your passion wherever it leads.” Similarly, almost no one dismissed the idea offhand. The nuance comes from the idea that passion plus good business sense creates an actual business.

Can you transition to a meaningful life oriented around something you love to do? Yes. Can you make money doing it? Yes, and you have plenty of examples to learn from—I talked with 1,500 people for the study that led to The $100 Startup, and all of them provided detailed financial information on how much money they made and how much it cost to start their business.

Is there a path you can follow for your own plan to follow your passion to the bank? Indeed, yes. Just make sure you create something that changes people’s lives. That’s where you’ll ultimately find your freedom.

Chris Guillebeau’s new book, The $100 Startup, provides a blueprint for creating freedom by building a business with no special skills and a small amount of money. Chris also writes for a small army of remarkable people at

About Guest Blogger
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  • Looking forward to reading the book, Chris. The biggest issue I’ve found since I started blogging is that BLOGGING has become my hobby, and I don’t want to write about blogging, making money online, etc.

    I’ve always intended my blog to be a platform to something bigger, but I am slow walking that. My next step is build a product like you talked about on IWT.

  • Love it Chris!

    It seems like so many enthusiastic and well meaning motivators shout, “Follow your passion and the money will come!” That’s just one aspect of it, albeit a necessary driving force, to creating a paid passion. It’s nuance … well said. Picking up the book!

  • Hi Chris, thanks for the inspiring post. Yes, I have to agree with you that if our passion does not provides a value to the audience, its just a passion with no business sense. Audience doesn’t care about our passion is. They only care about what can we provide to them. So its about re-packaging our passion into something that can provide a value to them.

  • This is seriously one of the best post I’ve read in a long time. I am going to post this great advice on my wall: Only when passion merges with a skill that other people value can you truly “follow your passion to the bank.”

    It took me a long time to realize that being passionate and writing about things *I* think others should be passionate about, doesn’t always make the best business sense. It’s great to be encouraged that passion plus good business sense is important, instead of just being told that passion should be your only focus.

  • Just bought the book (kindle edition) and really hope it’ll be an interesting read! Great to see peoples’ stories on how they succeeded on a shoestring :)

  • Dan

    Would love to read Chris’ new book on my Kindle, but $23 for the Kindle version? Seriously? And the paperback is $14? What gives, Chris??

  • I agree 100% with this article. I thought I could just create a website about the things i loved, work hard and the money would come pouring in! OOPS…that didn’t happen. Once i realized what the people wanted, that’s when things started to turn around. Outstanding read. thanks for the article. this should help many people.

  • Book looks interesting Chris, I’m going to check it out, good luck with it.

  • Love the journey you’ve been on and feel this will be a very interesting read. It’s on my to read list for sure, and thanks for the good advice.

    Good luck with the launch :)

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  • Excellent post. A lot of us have been in the same situation you were. We get tired of what we are doing or end up out of a job, then go online to make our fortune. Some make it while others don’t. The difference is that those of us who make it were persistent and never gave up. We wanted it and went out and got it.

  • Very helpful post. I’ll use your advice on my blog.

  • Enjoyed the article. Looking forward to using your advice.

  • I like the mix between passion and usefulness Chris. Never temper the passion. Let it ride. But keep people’s problems in mind.

    Is your content usable? Digestible? Are you helping people with their problems? Really critical, to help, to assist, while you take your passionate journey.

    Thanks for sharing Chris.


  • Great post! Wish I had got this advice when I was starting my first venture.

  • Great post chris!!
    Actually i was looking for this post in ProBlogger for a long time. People are only talking about following passion so that they dont have to think what to post next in case of blogging as a career? I ask, what if few number of online community is passionate in your passion? I have asked this same question to Anna White after listening her interview with Darren and she gave a very simple yet powerful answer. So, what i think is market research in your passion is a must approach before jumping into it. There are lots of free online tools like google adwords keywords tool, google insights for search which can give a very clear picture of online users interest in your passion. And if less number of people are searching about your passion in the internet, you can try closely related topic or niche to your passion like, if the tools shows less number of people searchig for “guitar” ( supposing this as ur passion ), and a closely related term ” martin backpacker guitar” is searched more, you can go for it and yes, you can easily create unique and valueable content and reach more people.

  • You have nailed it with “To be successful, find the magic formula between passion and usefulness”. This is where I see most startups fail, lead by techies who have a lot of passion, but don’t have a clue about the usefulness aspect.

    You are certainly a ‘pro’ blogger :)

  • Love it Chris!

    It seems like so many enthusiastic and well meaning motivators shout, “Follow your passion and the money will come!” That’s just one aspect of it, albeit a necessary driving force, to creating a paid passion. It’s nuance … well said. Picking up the book!

    • Darren is really the poeblrggor in which I gained insight in making money from the net. I love reading his posts but sometimes I get lost in some technical stuff he mentions in his blog.

  • Excellent and inspiring story, I shall be getting the book and giving it my full attention from cover to cover. :)

  • (Passion + Skill) → (Problem + Marketplace) = Opportunity

    Love that – simple but SO incredibly powerful

    I’ve written that in my journal

  • Reading the book now on my Kindle :)

  • Ino

    Yes, online selling really works. I also tried it, and it is now successful. You’re also true about most of successful business man had never gone to business school. I also found some great tips and information at

  • Ino

    Great post Chris! :)

  • Be wary of having too many passions.

    Don’t spread yourself too thinly.

  • Reading the book now–hardcover, because I’m too legit to quit!

    Haha, thanks Chris!

  • Great stuff from Chris as always! I’m excited to meet him in Denver on his $100 Startup book tour.

  • Nice post, Chris…

    I think what you say about the “follow your passion” method, and the possible pit falls, is very good advice…

    In theory, following ones passion should provide advantages, such as never running out of post ideas, etc..

    Though, as you say there are some areas(topics, niches,etc) where it may be very difficult to achieve a high level of success…

    Whether through high competition, or simply not much interest in that topic….

  • So are you saying I should drop my pizza blog?

  • me

    it is always refreshing to get new info from you..anyway i’m just writing in to say that i’m actually stuck at the creation stage..i guess it’s because of information overload..up to now, i still haven’t create a blog/site many ideas, so many possible opportunities…maybe i should just do one and be damned with the failure/critics..hahaha..
    btw..nice post…keep it coming..