What you won’t find in this post is any marketing buzzwords, well aside from the word profitable, and to be fair if you keep reading you’ll see that even then I’m really telling you to throw that word right out the window. I’m NOT going to be talking about branding, target audiences, or business strategies. Although, this girl does love a good convo about all three of those things. But I truly believe that a good passion project is really and truly only bred out of one thing. Say it with me now…TACOS. Oh, wait, wrong word. PASSION.
Maybe like me you know you want to start a passion project. And if you are feeling anything like I was two years ago when I started mine, it feels less like a want and more like a need. Like something deep inside you is telling you that you are anxious to start something that you can pour yourself into without rules or expectations. I hear you.
How I Got Here—A Chronic Illness & A Love Affair With History
So, let’s back up real quick and let me tell you a little bit about my passion project turned side–gig, an illustrated–paper product line dedicated to preserving & sharing history.
But first in order for me to tell you how I started my illustration line, I need to share a little personal info. If you know me in real life this isn’t news to you, but for over a decade now I’ve been suffering with a chronic illness, an autoimmune disease, that over the years has slowly and significantly impacted my daily life. My two main symptoms are debilitating fatigue that closely resembles Narcolepsy and full–body muscle & joint pain.
I’ve worked independently as a freelance graphic & web designer since 2012 working with the music industry and creative entrepreneurs. By the years 2014 and 2015 my health had deteriorated to the point where I spent most of my days in bed. I worked on client work from the bed, I ate from the bed, I cried from the bed. Oh, boy, did I cry from the bed. And over time my poor physical health really started to take over my mental health. My business was booming, but I was devastated that my physical health was dictating so much of my life. I love what I do and thankfully I still had my ability to work and pour myself into my client projects. But at the end of the day I was still feeling that ache, that call to make something that wasn’t dictated by a client’s design brief.
That was when I knew—I needed to start a passion project, something that was 100% mine. When I sat down that day I had ZERO intention of creating an illustrated history line. I just grabbed my markers and paper and drew what I loved. And in an afternoon I drew a sketch of The Statue of Liberty with her inscription because I’ve always had a love affair with the history of our Lady Liberty. Little did I know that she was the birth of my illustrated history line.
Words can’t even begin to explain how much I needed this project in my life. How on my hardest days, I could still prop myself up in bed and draw, pour myself into my project and feel the most like myself. And now two years later, I have a successful online shop, have retail stores carrying my product line and have attended craft markets to showcase and sell my work.
So, what steps did I take to start and how can you do it too?
The 3 Steps to Starting Your Passion Project Today
Step 1: Brainstorm what excites you.
Don’t know where to start? So maybe you were like me. You know you want a project, but you can’t figure out where to begin. Sit down with a good old fashioned pen and paper, turn on your favorite Spotify Playlist (Try Out Mellow Beats—It’s my favorite for brainstorming). Write down anything that excites you, write down the things that you daydream about. For me, my daydream list looks a little like this: History specifically American History, Mid-Century Modern Design, Reading & Education, Harry Potter, Family History, Boston Terriers, Paper Products and Stationery, Road Trips, Chris Pratt (I did say write down the things you daydream about, didn’t I?).
Now look over your list. See if you can find any that pair well together. Do you see any common themes? Maybe some of the things on your “daydream” list might not make the cut…i.e. Harry Potter, Boston Terriers, Chris Pratt. Hey, but you never know, right?
For me I found a common theme in my list. Storytelling & history. These are the things that capture my imagination the most. Bonus points if that story/history makes me feel deeply rooted and in love with the place I live.
Step 2: Stop Worrying About If It Will Be Profitable or Popular.
Remember when I told you that I’d be telling you to throw the word profitable out the window? The time is now, my friend. Fling open that window and be prepared to toss this word out on it’s you–know–what.
Remember this project is all about YOU. Its about igniting that fire within you and being your you–est you. This isn’t the time to worry if it will make money or if people will love it. Because here’s the thing about passion—people respond to it. They flock to it, they eat it up and come back for more. Why? Because passion is palpable. And I promise, if you are doing what you love pursuing, the thing they write inspirational quotes about, then the profits WILL follow. Pinky promise.
And as far as popular goes, let me just say this, “Y’all, I make illustrations based on history!” That certainly doesn’t sound sexy does it? (Unless you really have a thing for that glasses wearing, hair in a bun, librarian type.) I definitely had my doubts that anyone would buy illustrations about history. But I found my people. And there were a lot more history–loving nerds out there than I expected. Start your project, you’ll find your people too.
Step 3: Just Freaking Start.
Stop waiting for the “right” time. Whatever that means anyways. Don’t agonize over a business plan or consider a target demographic. Stop making excuses. I can say that with lots of tough love, because I’m the Queen of over–planning to the point of near paralysis. The more I worry about every little, tiny detail, the further away I get from actually doing the dang thing. And once you start, I’m here to tell you, that you’ll feel a weight lifted off your shoulders. I guarantee, like me, you’ll soon realize that you didn’t know how much you needed this project in the first place.
So, there it is, people. Just three steps. You’ve so got this. Considering starting a passion project or have already started one? Tell me all about it. I love hearing what things make your heart flutter. (Bonus points if it’s Boston Terriers.)