Passion or Profit: Should You Start a Freelance Business?

The commonly-given advice is: Do what you love and the money will follow. This is a great ideal, because no one wants to spend the majority of their waking hours working at something they don’t enjoy. There’s a flaw in this thinking however. Doing what you love is not always a viable option in the marketplace. Unless there’s a need for what you love to do, you can’t build a successful business.

Designers, illustrators, photographers, and writers come out of school set up shop to do what they love, and then find themselves without clients or the ability to make a living. I wish we could all make a living doing what we love to do, because that passion will sustain us for years to come, and will always feel fulfilled in our work. We can’t just set up shop and hope people come knocking on our door. They will knock on our door out of need a necessity.

There’re three aspects for determining whether you should start a freelance business:

  1. First there is your passion. What are you passionate about?
  2. Second there is the need. Is there a need in the marketplace for what you want to do that people are willing to pay for?
  3. Third: Why do you want to start a business?

You don’t have a business until you treat it like a business. Up to that point it’s a hobby.

According to Blair Enns over at Win Without Pitching, a business will assume one of two roles. They will either be a producer of goods or services, or they will be a marketer.

As a producer you’re first going to create something or offer a service, and then figure out how to sell it. The marketing approach looks at what is needed and how to sell it, and then builds it. The producer approach focuses on the business while the marketer approach focuses on the audience.

The television show, Shark Tank, points this out very clearly. People pitch all sorts of ideas to the Sharks. What the Sharks look for is, Is there a market? The product or service has to meet a need in the marketplace. You can have a great idea, but if it’s not sellable and you have not assessed its market viability, it’s only a great idea.

If you have a passion, want to start a business, and don’t take a marketing approach, it will be hard to succeed.

In launching a freelance business, one of your first strategies should be to find out what the need is. You can’t just launch as a web designer without understanding that your clients have a choice of not only other web designers but of do-it-yourself options, so why would they pay you more to design something they can get cheaper elsewhere?

We have to first determine first if our passion is sellable. If it is, then jump on in and start to build your business and your customer base. If it’s not, figure out what adjustments you can make in order to make it marketable.

The basis for marketing is identifying a need, and then creating a product or service that meets that need. You need to look at the market first.

If you’ve done your research and concluded that your product or service is marketable, your next step is how to differentiate. You are not the only creative professional in your field. There are many designers, writers, photographers, and illustrators in the world. It is crucial for you to understand that, in the marketplace, it’s the client who has the buying power and the power of choice. Why should they choose to work with you over Glenda’s Amazing Design Services across the street? If you can differentiate in some other way then on price point, you will gain influence over the buying choices of your prospective customers. If you don’t differentiate, you’ll be seen as just another creative service agency among the myriad creative service agencies, and what you have to offer is just another commodity to be bought and sold based on cost.

You cannot compete with and make a living.

The purpose of establishing a business should not be to follow your passion. It should be to make money to meet your needs so that you can follow your passion. If your passion and your livelihood are the same, you are blessed and unique. Most of us who’ve been in business for any length of time have had to readjust, reinvent, and restart in order to stay relevant and retain the power in the marketplace.

I didn’t start out as a designer. I started out as an illustrator. The market was not favorable when I began, but it was favorable for design. So I made some adjustments. I changed my strategy and my customer base, and built a reputation as a graphic designer. A few years later, I added web design to my creative service offerings. More recently, I’ve begun to talk with emerging designers, students, and those wanting to make career changes, about how to freelance. So, once again, I am reinventing.

Has my passion changed? No. But my business has. It’s been 34 years since I earned my degree and launched. I’m still here, and find most of my clients through referrals. I must be doing something correctly.

Being passionate about what you do for living, or, in other words, making a living doing what you love, is useful if you can leverage that passion in the marketplace. If you can’t, and you still want to build a freelance business, find out what you can leverage in the marketplace, and pursue your passion on the side. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of tweaking your focus.

Successful freelancers not only find a niche but fulfill a need in the marketplace. Meeting a need is the purpose of any business. When we’re able to make a living doing what we love, we’re twice blessed. When you set up a business, you need to be profit-focused (the IRS will tell you that). In order to be profit-focused you need to be market-focused. If you don’t go into business, what will the marketplace be missing?

Your Action Item:

Set aside time in the next day or two and do the following:

  • Write down what you’re passionate about.
  • Write down a need in the marketplace, that people will pay for, that your passion can fill.
  • Write down why you want to be in business.

Share these in the comments below.