My Taoist Approach To Freelance Business

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Confucius

Commonly offered advice when starting a business is to follow your passion. You find something you love and then figure out how to build a business around that love. The other side of the advice is to follow the money. Think first of existing and potential markets that offer the best chances of making a profit and build businesses around those markets.

yin-yang

I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions to any problem and either of the above are viable ways to start a business. However in my own freelance business I’ve always followed my passion and instincts and wouldn’t have it any other way.

I also take something of a Taoist approach to evolving my business from it’s origins to where it is now to where it will be in the future. It may at times mean missing an opportunity for money, but it offers me the best way to remain happy with the work I do and in my mind the success of my freelance business is about more than money alone. Again I wouldn’t have this any other way.

Digital art based on the word passion

Why You Should Follow Your Passion

I think you can make money around most any topic or industry. Some topics will naturally offer better opportunities than others, but I think most any topic can be tweaked to have a viable business around it. The way might not be obvious, but it’s usually there.

Whatever your passion, there is very likely a way to build a business around it.

That doesn’t mean every topic can lead to a multi-million dollar business of course. It will depend on how many others share your passion and whether or not those people would be willing to spend money around that passion.

There’s also a down side to turning a passion into a business. You run the risk of losing some of the passion when it mixes with those aspects of business you don’t enjoy. Some do lose interest in a hobby after turning that hobby into a business.

Starting and running a business is not easy. It takes a lot of work and effort and usually a considerable amount of time to build it into something that can support you.

It’s also something you’ll be involved with the majority of your waking hours. Your business will have ups and downs. There will be days where all is wonderful and days where you wonder if your business will survive next month or next week.

When you feel passion for your business

  • You’re more likely to stick through the hard times
  • You’re more likely to continue learning about your industry
  • You’re more likely to enjoy your daily work
  • You’re more likely to see ways to scale your business
  • You’re more likely to create quality work

During the first couple of years of my freelance business I didn’t make much money. I made about $12,000 in year one and even less in year two. I survived with some savings, taking on occasional odd jobs, and mainly by using credit cards to pay for everything a credit card would be accepted for. It amounted to a high interest loan that was always given as long as I didn’t exceed my credit limit.

I can look back at those days and remember how at times I was worried if my business would survive or how I would ever pay off the mounting debt. And yet because i was following my passion I enjoyed every moment of it.

I stuck through the hard times and continued to learn how to improve my skills and business acumen in general. I played to my strengths, which evolved from my interests. I never questioned what I was doing and knew that even if I had to take on a full time job to pay the bills I would come back to building a freelance web design business the moment I could.

Had my business not followed my passion, I’d probably be back to working for someone else with a job I probably wouldn’t care too much about.

Fractal art

Finding Your Passion

Some will tell you they built businesses and enjoyed every moment of it without following their passion. I think in many cases these people did follow their passion, though perhaps not in the obvious way.

We think of following passion in business as finding some topic outside of business that you love and then turning it into a business. For some though the passion is the business. For some the passion is in researching a market, developing a product for that market, promoting the product to that market, etc.

For these people following their passion has little to do with the specific topic or industry. I’d argue these people are following their passion even if they started businesses by following the money trail. Their passion was for business.

I can look at myself and my business and think about where business and passion meet.

  • I’m passionate about learning new things. A career in web design means always having to keep up with new technology.
  • I’m passionate about sharing what I learn with others. This blog certainly gives me an outlet to share the things I learn with others.
  • I’m passionate about working under flexible hours and conditions and being able to set my own schedule. Freelancing meets those passions very well.

Other things I feel passion for are art, creativity and problem solving each of which come in handy for someone working with design.

I’m also intensely curious about what motivates people, what makes us tick, how do individual psychology and social factors affect our decisions. Again pretty useful things when working in the design industry.

At the same time most of the things I feel passionate about could work equally well in other industries and careers. The life of a novelist or journalist would easily make use of my passions. If I didn’t mind giving up the freelancing thing a career as an architect would probably work as would a college professor.

I could easily come up with more examples. My point though is what you’re truly passionate about often goes deeper than a specific topic or industry.

When we find a way to merge what we truly love at a deeper level with what we do for business we’re genuinely happy with our working lives. To me finding this harmony between who we are and what we do comes from Taoism. This harmony is our path, our way through life.

Abstract art based on the word evolve.jpg

Evolving Your Business The Taoist Way

Let me say that I make no claims to be an expert on Taoism. What I’m suggesting here is my own interpretation of certain principles of Taoism based on my admittedly limited knowledge. I’m calling it Tao since to me it seems like the closest fit, but if I’m misinterpreting Taoism in any way please accept my apologies.

Several times over the years I’ve tweaked my business based not on financial potential, but on my own interests.

  • I dropped hosting services. I didn’t enjoy the work and as a consequence did little to build this part of my business.
  • I added WordPress services. Working with WordPress on this site led to more interest of WordPress in general. My increased knowledge allowed me to do things like answer WordPress questions on forums, which has led to more working developing themes.
  • I’ve spent much of the last year and a half working to improve the quality of my writing here. Other sites noticed and I’ve been presented with writing opportunities on other sites, which has now become a part of my business.

With each of the above it was my interest or lack of interest that led the way. I could easily have worked to generate more income from hosting, but I felt no passion for it. That lack of passion limited my success with hosting.

My interest in WordPress on the other hand helped build that aspect of my business. At the same time if my interest in WordPress were to wane and I found something like Expression Engine more fun to work with I could easily evolve my business away from WordPress and toward Expression Engine.

Writing is leading to more opportunities to market myself and is leading me to new business models I’ll work into my overall business.

Digital art based on the word adapt

Freelancers can Adapt Easily and Quickly

One of the great things about being a freelancer is the flexibility freelancing gives you. You can change and adapt your business quickly for any number of reasons. Evolving mine in this somewhat Taoist way of aligning personal interests with business enables me to lead what I consider a more successful business and lifestyle.

It’s not realistic to change your business 180 degree and think the transition will be a smooth one. It would be akin to starting over for the most part. However it’s fairly easy to add a service here, drop one there, and use new interests to create products, etc.

You can continue to evolve your freelance business as you evolve as a person and use your outside interests as part of differentiating your business from those around you..

Ultimately I feel as though I’m going with the flow, which is where Taoism comes into play. The flow of my life takes me in one direction and I adapt my business to flow in that same direction. I see my business as an extension of who I am as a person.

The evolution is all still related to where I started. I was a web designer and developer then and I’m still a web designer and developer now. Some of the specifics have changed, but the general theme remains the same.

The changes both myself and consequently my business take keep both in harmony with each other and I think allow me to produce a greater quality of work that continues to lead to both a greater financial success as well as a greater sense of satisfaction.

This greater quality ends up opening new doors to business models and business opportunities. In the end it’s passion leading business.

A play on the words evolve and love

Summary

At the start of this post I mentioned that I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution to most problems. How you start and run a business is no exception. Choosing a topic you feel passionate about and starting a business around that topic is certainly one way to build a business. It’s not the only way.

My own preference is to start a business based not around passion in a specific topic, but the deeper reasons you feel passionate about that topic.

My father for example has been a collector of stamps and coins throughout his life. The obvious suggestion would be to build a business around stamps or coins. Looking deeper though his passion is really in the collecting. Any business that is based on collecting such as sports cards and memorabilia or comic books would likely be something he would have enjoyed building a business around.

Beyond the initial startup think of your interests and passions in how you grow your business. Some of your outside interests won’t fit, but many others will. We evolve as people and there’s no reason our businesses can’t evolve to meet our personal evolution as well.

This may not always be realistic, but more often than not it will be for many freelancers and small businesses.

When you feel passion for what you do so much of what’s necessary for success follows naturally. Work doesn’t feel like work and as a consequence you put more time into and have more energy for your business. You become better at what you do for the sheet joy of it. If you let your passion lead your business you increase your chances for success in many ways.

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12 comments

  1. Excelent article. I’m going to be a product designer, not a graphic one, but I can for sure use these tips. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is a great post and so true. For me, I can’t seem to find anything because I’m interested in so many things, although I realize that a niche is a must, I just find myself doing 50 different things at once. I’m a graphic/web designer, developer, animator, consultant, marketer, accountant, etc, etc. It’s really hard to pick just one because of the fear of failure but then just saying that spells the end doesn’t it?

    Great post again!

    • Thanks JP. I’m the same way. I have so many interests that it can be hard to pick one. I think you can still do all those different things, though choosing one or two to specialize in has many advantages. We can only become experts at so many things.

      I’m sure that within all your interests there are a few you come back to more than others. Or maybe there’s something common to all those different things that’s really what your passion is.

    • I’m glad I could help Brett. Are you currently in school? No reason you can’t start the freelance business now. You couldn’t spend 40 hours a week on it, but you could always spend a few. That way by the time you’re ready to go full time you’ll have a client list as well as a portfolio to show.

  3. It’s a great article, thank you so much for the inspiration!A lot of people works, but dislike what they do and have no passion for that.You show how important is to define what you love and develop it.Really, if we would do what you really like, that would make our life much easier and pleasant.Because I think we can really call ourselves happy,if we have a job of our dream.Also I would add that now, when we all have access to the Internet,it’s easy to express yourself and let the world know about your passion,show everybody what you can do and how good you can do that.Expressing yourself and following your passion can make you not just a happy person, it can help start your own business and create a job of your dream.

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