Once in a while, when you throw out the casual question “what do you do for work” at a party or networking event, you get a response that feels refreshingly different from the rest.

You may hear “I have a company that makes dog biscuits,” “I started a vintage wine membership company,” “I run an online school that has improv classes for kids,” or something along those lines that immediately captures your attention. More often than not, this answer inspires a bit of jealousy, accompanied by the thought “why can’t I do something fun like that?”

Well, now you can, as part of the Passion Economy.

A recent study shows that 

17 million Americans earned $7 billion

from their creations across nine digital platforms (including eBay, Etsy, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitch)

What is the Passion Economy?

The Passion Economy sits alongside traditional employment and the Gig Economy as a viable, and fast-growing, professional option for making a living these days. 

Traditional work – otherwise known as a job – can be aligned with your passions, of course. However, traditional work is primarily defined by “them” – the employer holds all of the power to give or take job responsibilities and/or define the mission of the organization. Similarly, the Gig Economy – full of drivers, shoppers, caregivers, consultants who work on a “gig” basis – requires people to fit into a pre-defined transaction model where time gets traded for money, and consistency and efficiency are the name of the game. 

Conversely, the Passion Economy involves developing your own product/service and finding (or creating) the market for it. Adam Davidson, author of The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-First Century and Passion Economy podcast host, says that this moment in time offers unparalleled opportunities for personal and professional fulfillment.

Examples of Work in the Passion Economy

At the heart of the Passion Economy lies a bustling group of creators. Under the umbrella of this sector, you could easily find chocolate makers, fashion stylists, Etsy store owners, coaches, monthly subscription box creators, and more. You may also see people delivering goods and services at more of a neighborhood, micro-economic level as piano teachers, art camp leaders, vegan home chefs, or as farmers’ market craft sellers.

The passion economy also holds a large swath of creators offering digital products and/or virtual services. Think podcasters, YouTubers, video course creators, visual artists, virtual tutors and teachers, bloggers, community moderators, and more. There are even people monetizing fringe areas like DIY home projects, how to make sourdough bread, how not to kill your houseplants, and, well, pretty much anything you can imagine. Certainly any problem you’ve solved before is something you could monetize by teaching other people to solve that problem, too.

Although Davidson profiles companies that have started as a hobby or personal service and have grown larger, he specifically highlights the wellspring of smaller companies founded for love, not money. 

WHY IS THE PASSION ECONOMY TAKING HOLD?

Aspects of the Passion Economy have existed for a while now, yet the sector is growing rapidly with headwinds from other economic trends: the Gig Economy and its emphasis on self-direction and independence from corporate giants; consumer appetite for artisanal products; the explosion of platforms like Etsy and Teachable that empower small business owners; and the search for meaning and purpose that’s equally important across the age spectrum, from 20-year-olds to the 55+ demographic these days. 

In addition, the pandemic, and all of its associated larger questions it stirs up about health, happiness, and our work lives, may serve as just the push some people need to do the thing they’ve been wanting to do for, well, forever. Or, it may highlight emerging needs (childcare pods, handsewn masks, backyard movies) that align quite well with personal interests for someone who’s currently unemployed.

If you think that the Passion Economy’s a lovely idea, but unprofitable, think again. On this podcast with Sam Yam, the cofounder and CTO of Patreon, we hear: 

“One creator on Teachable who advises artists on how to sell their art made $110,000 last year with only 76 students, at an average of $1,437 per course. Another creator who teaches physiotherapy made $141,000 with only 61 students, at an average price point of $2,314 per course. On Podia, the average revenue per user is increasing, as well. Creators who started out solely selling courses on the platform can now further monetize their audience by expanding into downloads and membership subscriptions. While making a living off (this) model is far from commonplace, it’s increasingly possible.”

 

HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED?

One of the best parts about the passion economy is the low barrier to entry. If you have a passion, you can likely create a profit from it! 

Especially in light of the times, consumers are starting to seek out content and services that are creator-led, instead of the traditional media consumption we all grew up on. Individuals with personality and true life experience are being favored over big business, because they’re more relatable and they can share real-life results.

This industry opens a new door for people who’ve long held “traditional” roles in the workforce, and perhaps are seeking a new way to apply their skills, even if it’s just part-time or a side hustle. So how do you get involved? It’s fairly simple, really. Let’s walk through the steps.

 

Identify a passion

For some this is easy, but for others it may be harder to figure out what truly lights your fire – what excites you as a possible new career path. But if you take the time and get honest with yourself, there are probably at least a few things in your life, whether hobbies or areas of expertise, that feel more prominent and powerful than the rest. 

Some of the questions you could explore: Are there things that, when you engage with them, make you lose track of time? Or that you can talk about for hours without effort? Or that you teach others simply because you love it? Or make and share with others because it brings you joy? 

If you’re stumped, you ask those closest to you what your best skills are, what they value most in their relationship with you, or what skill or craft interest you already have that they think you could charge money for. Their answers will be telling, but also probably not a surprise.

After this exercise, what if you discover you have the opposite problem — too many passions to count? How do you pick the one passion to pursue? How do you monetize it?

To truly get to the heart of your passions, and to uncover what you’re destined to pursue, journaling, self-assessment, or potentially working with a career coach can come in handy. Once you’ve identified the area(s) you’re interested in pursuing, you can begin to explore the different tools and platforms available to creators like you, and start to learn from those who have gone before. Even if you can’t find someone else out there with your exact business idea, chances are pretty good there are plenty of people who’d had a similar-enough idea, and created great success from it. They can become great teachers!

 

Commit to seeing where it goes

While you can monetize virtually any passion, it’s important to understand whether you could turn a sustainable profit from yours, and if that kind of lifestyle is one you’d like to engage in long-term. Adam Davidson’s The Passion Economy podcast, highlights the journey that successful Passion Economy participants have taken throughout their process of exploration and business development, to help you get your own juices flowing.

Perhaps in addition to a job search, you may want to set aside some time each week to go inward and explore whether this new reality feels like a good fit for you. If it does, start to brainstorm around what kinds of offerings you could create, and how you might start to generate a profit.

 

Start small

Presumably your schedule is already quite full, so start slowly with manageable tasks. Once you’ve figured out what passion to pursue, find others who’ve done something similar. How are they making money? How could you differentiate your own products and services to set your offerings apart? You can check out our post on How to Start Your Future Side Hustle that’ll offer tactical steps and tools to help get you started and get your idea off the ground.

 

Take measured risks

Starting something new is always risky, not just in terms of financial outlay, but also the time and energy commitment that you’ll probably have to take away from other things to reallocate to this new endeavor. But like any great reward, some small level of risk is necessary. If you decide to start something in the Passion Economy, it pays to be wise about how you invest time, money, energy and resources. Set a financial budget and some basic time constraints so that you’ve got some structure as you move forwards, and within those boundaries, give yourself the freedom to play.

TAKEAWAY

This new passion economy has the potential to turn our working world on its head. Even more, it has the power and opportunity to create positive change for you, if the thought of doing more of the same for the next decade or more feels draining and uninspiring. Who knows, with enough focus, effort and planning, next time it might be you turning heads at the cocktail party with your get-to-know-you answer: “I’m part of the Passion Economy, and I love what I do.”

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