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You Asked, We Answered: How To Make Money Doing What You Love

Fast Company reporters answer your questions on how to turn your passion into profit.

You Asked, We Answered: How To Make Money Doing What You Love
[Photo: Flickr user Maureen Didde]

We collected your questions on how to make money doing what you love, and now we’re rounding up the answers. We received a ton of amazing questions with many common themes–like when to quit you day job, how to fund a startup, and simply how to get your business started. Our reporters have tackled some of the questions below based on the inspiring entrepreneurs and businesses they’ve covered. Here’s what they had to say:

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Q: I’ve started making money on my side project, when is it time to quit my day job?

When I spoke to people who had turned their passions into profitable businesses, many had not, in fact, quit their day jobs. Many believed that it would be far too stressful to rely on their business as their only source of income, so they continued to hold on to jobs that would allow them to pay their rent every month and send their kids to school.

The secret here is to find a day job that you enjoy. If you are thinking about starting a business just because you hate your day job, it might be worth taking a step back and seeing if you can find another stable job that you enjoy more. After all, there is nothing worse than turning your passion into a business, only to discover that the anxiety of trying to make money causes you to resent a hobby that you once loved.

Instead, you might think of yourself as a multi-hyphenate, or someone with multiple professional identities. You might be a shop owner and magazine editor who sometimes organizes literary events over the weekend. Or you might be a freelance graphic designer who runs an Etsy business and teaches art classes on the side. As long as you find all the parts of your career reasonably enjoyable, you can create a life that you enjoy and that also allows you to make a living. This kind of life involves being very good at prioritizing what you need to do on any given day, and you might sometimes feel like a professional plate spinner, but it sure is better than being stuck in a single job that sucks the life out of your soul.

Of course, people managing several different jobs might find that one particular business takes off. They might realize that they suddenly have a steady stream of customers and a growing revenue stream. At this point, it makes sense to quit the other jobs and focus entirely on growing your businesses. But this process usually takes months or years, so in the interim, it’s worth finding stable work that makes you happy.

If your business is starting to gain momentum and the work load is getting to be too much, consider hiring someone to take care of some of the day-to-day operations.

Liz Segran, Fast Company staff writer

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How can I fund my startup?

Many entrepreneurs believe that in order to launch a business, they need a big infusion of cash either from a bank or from a private funder. As I reported stories for the Passion to Profit series, I was struck by how many people chose not to take on the risk involved with getting external funding because they didn’t want to be in a position where they might have to make creative compromises because they had loans to pay back or metrics to hit. Funding isn’t always a blank check: It often adds new worries and new people who feel they have a voice in the running of your business.

The Internet makes it easier to grow a business without funding. If you build your company on a free or inexpensive platform (like Shopify, Cratejoy, or Etsy), you can focus on growing your customer base and managing your inventory in such a way that you’re never purchasing too many supplies.

However, if you absolutely need startup capital to execute your business idea, then you need to focus all your energy on creating a watertight business plan and telling a compelling story about why you are the right person to be launching this business. Go to events where investors are likely to be and scour your personal network for potential investors; when you meet people for coffee, ask if they happen to know other people who might be interested in funding a business like yours. There is a lot of venture capital and private equity funding out there, so you will need to devote several months to networking with people in the investment community and trying to land meetings with potential investors.

And remember, it’s very shortsighted to secure funding at whatever cost. The wrong investor could torpedo your business or steal your idea. Or an investor could saddle you with unreasonable expectations, dooming you to fail before you’ve even started. You want to find a thoughtful investor who will be a solid partner as you embark on your business, providing the advice, insight, and connections you need to thrive.

Liz Segran, Fast Company staff writer

I want to manufacture a product, but where do I begin?

The logistics of manufacturing are always confusing and overwhelming, so if you’re planning to work with a factory to create a product, be prepared to go down a rabbit hole as you learn the nitty-gritty about the production process. Finding a manufacturer takes a lot of sleuthing and investigation work. When you figure out the exact specifications of the product you’d like to make, the best place to learn about manufacturing is to find a similar product on the market and start digging into its origins. If you are creating a product in a crowded industry, there are usually trade shows you can attend where manufacturers will be present. But if not, you might have to rely on your personal network. Speak to people who are in the business of making similar products–many will keep their manufacturing practices a secret, but there is always a chance that people will be willing to share details to help another small business owner.

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Liz Segran, Fast Company staff writer

How can I get big retailers to carry my product?

To land a big retailer, like a Nordstrom or an Urban Outfitters, a good strategy is to start with more accessible distribution sites and leverage your popularity to work with the big-name stores. For Julie Deane, the founder of the Cambridge Satchel Company, her entry to retailers only happened when her bags become very popular on her own website and started appearing in magazines. At first, smaller retailers wanted to carry her products but as the popularity of the bags grew, it was possible for her to gain entry into the larger stores. Stores like Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters usually carry large inventories of products, so they need some sort of guarantee that a product will do well with customers. Deane was able to point to statistics and sales figures about the popularity of her bags when she spoke to department stores, which made it a much easier sell.

–Liz Segran, Fast Company staff writer

How much equity should I give people to work on my startup, knowing I can’t pay them? If I give them an equal share, how do we resolve conflicts?

You should be as generous as possible with your equity share in order to keep people invested in your startup when there is no money involved. This means giving them cofounder titles with the same equity percentage as you. Regarding how you resolve conflicts, if it’s just the two of you, you’ll need to figure out how to work these out. There’s no “voting” at a company of two. If you have three, you can have a quorum for disputes. If you have four, my guess is your venture has already graduated from the side-project arena.

–Ted Mann, founder and CEO of SnipSnap as told to John Paul Titlow, Fast Company associate editor

How can I make money as a freelance writer?

First, you need writing samples. So yes, that means you might start out writing a few things for free (always a controversial matter among writers). If you’re having trouble getting small publications to bite, you’re in luck: Sites like Medium give writers a platform that, if you write original, useful and insightful things, can actually garner an audience. Alternatively, there’s always the old standby of publishing your own blog, although it’s much harder to build an audience from scratch. Still, even if your blog isn’t a huge traffic driver, having those clips to share with paying publishers is half the battle.

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Once you have your byline out there, it’s a lot easier to get paid work. Rates vary wildly, depending on who you are writing for, what their budget is, and how strong your work is. When I wrote freelance full time, I found it very useful to have one or two main clients, for whom I wrote regularly (in my case, daily) and then supplemented that with other miscellaneous assignments. One of the perks of freelancing is getting your work published in a variety of outlets, but having something steady to anchor your monthly income will help keep you sane.

As I mentioned, pay can vary depending on the type of writing you are doing. A medium-size blog will obviously pay lower rates than an established magazine. Some people aim for jobs doing marketing, copywriting, or sponsored content–which often pay very well. You may find it soul-sucking compared to writing magazine features, blog posts, or news coverage, but it can help pay the bills.

One thing worth noting: As a freelance writer, you are obviously not going to have a paycheck direct deposited in your account every two weeks. It’s up to you to file invoices and then, inevitably, follow up when checks aren’t cut on time. Mileage varies, but I once hounded a reputable magazine for six months in order to receive a $300 payment for an article I wrote. It’s great to have your work appear in a big-name publication, but in that case it wasn’t worth the trouble to pitch them again.

John Paul Titlow, Fast Company associate editor

Thank you to everyone who submitted a question! We’re sorry we weren’t able to answer more of them. If we didn’t answer your question feel free to reach out to our reporters on Twitter.

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