Passion or Making money?

Potpiegirl wrote recently that she feels all that talk about ‘following your passion’ won’t make you a living online. At least that’s how I understood this post about niches. She should know. I don’t agree with all her advice (her advice on tags is different from mine – though it’s a nuance thing), but on this one she is obviously one of the people we can trust.

The Giant Squid Community Showcase took the opposite position some time later: Finding your niche within a niche. Like we’d all love to think: writing about your passion will get your traffic and sales. Perhaps the idea is so popular precisely because writing about something you love is so much easier. It is also easier to write WELL about a topic you are passionate about. But will it make you sales? Will you get traffic?

The post that started me on this one is by Chefkeem, a great squidoo community worker. But I have to disagree with his post: Money, Money, Money…forget it!. I get that it changes how you look at your lenses when you are looking at them from a monetary perspective. Sure. But if you can’t afford to treat this as a hobby (like say Janusz) complaining that you are learning to think like a business person and treating that as a problem is no use.

Lets get back to those first two posts. What they agree on is that finding a niche that works for you should be followed by mining that niche for MORE lens ideas and even more specialized topics. I concur.

Let’s imagine for a moment that my lens about earplugs (has to be the most boring topic EVER right?) had turned out to be in a great niche that needed to be mined. I would then have proceeded to make lenses about specific types of earplugs. There are earplugs for use during swimming. There are earplugs that can be reused. There are earplugs combined with masks for maximum chance at sleeping. There are foam earplugs (I prefer those) and there are gummy earplugs as well.

My success in that business would not depend in any way on my passion for the subject. I’m smart enough and have enough empathy to be able to relate to the issues swimmers have which make them need to use earplugs. I’ve also been on planes while having a cold and needed to use earplugs to make sure my eardrums didn’t pop out. So I could make those 7 odd lenses I just enumerated. And I think I could do so well enough. I love to write, so I could make myself interested – but passion? For earplugs?

My success would be instead based on two things:

  1. Getting traffic to those lenses
  2. The ability to convert that traffic into sales

Point one is dependent largely on the competition online (not just squidoo), though of course SEO can make a huge difference.
Point two is dependent on how well my lens works psychologically. Passion helps here: if I can write a lens that convinces people that the product I have on offer really IS the best product EVER, I am more likely to convert people into buyers.

But there are other factors like the colors used on the page, the amount of distraction on the page, the reminders to buy (those lovely orange ‘buy now’ buttons the amazon modules have), how clear the message is (offering only one product and selling IT well is more likely to turn into a sale than offering a dozen and hoping the customer picks one of them).

Let’s be honest about this: if making money online is your business, you can’t expect every aspect of it to be interesting. You can’t expect to just turn out hundreds of lenses and hope to hit the jackpot merely from ‘following your passion’.

If you are a business, you need to be business like. You need to watch your ROI (return on investment). You need to figure out how it is that some lenses SELL, while others don’t. You need to learn about what makes people buy. You need to learn SEO to get traffic to your lenses. You need to investigate keywords to increase the likelihood of finding a niche that DOES generate sales and where you stand a chance of being the biggest fish in the pond.

Of course, I’m perhaps not the person to talk. I’ve made a business (sort of) out of a longtime hobby: religion and spirituality. I’m stubborn enough to stick to that, because it IS my passion. And that in itself has a return of investment – my website has steadily grown and over the years its visitor numbers have grown as well. The adsense income alone is enough to cover my rent (if the dollar doesn’t sink too low). But that’s very long term. I started my website in 1998 or 1999 (there’s no way to be sure anymore). From a business perspective this isn’t very impressive. I spent 10 years on it and it still only covers the rent?

If you want to have success like that in 10 years time: sure, stick to your passion. But if you want to make money this year, perhaps you should be a bit less picky (or find a job). [I also design websites for a living: those customers pay my other expenses].

8 thoughts on “Passion or Making money?”

  1. I think you are right, you have to have your niche, your passion, but then you have to drive traffic to your lenses – sales don’t come wthout traffic. However, depending on the niche, visitors might not be drawn to purchase something.

    Some people are lucky I think because they have a niche that lends itself to making money. Other niches might lend themselves to a lot of traffic. We all need to find ours. That has always been my problem.

  2. This is such a tough topic. I can see success coming from either direction. If you’re unique enough and popular enough you can make it with your passion perhaps but it takes a devoted following and a lot of trust from your readers who spread your word virally etc.. Of course as Tony stated having the “right” passion helps as well.

    I’m speaking about myself ONLY here, but few have the “personality” to carry that off. (I really am a lovely person but…) For us learning SEO, marketing techniques, and striving to be useful and as unique as possible, etc. are more realistic goals…for me, any chance at success lies down this path.

    On the otherhand, there’s much to be learned from both schools of thought despite my own “limitations”.

  3. I actually agree with everything you say, Katinka. If you want to make money online, you need to apply your business sense, learn the ropes, and utilize all the available tools, whether you’re passionate about it or not.

    I see so many shoddy shopping lenses (not yours!) without almost any personal content, obviously thrown together quickly to simply see what “sticks”. My suggestion is to add a personal (passionate) perspective for a better online seller/customer relationship. This, in turn, should lead to more sales. And that makes good business sense.

    My blog post was meant to be two-fold – my personal experience with too many “monetizing” thoughts stifling my creativity, and, secondly, with the possibility of passionate expression being highly beneficial for increased sales.

    In the end, everyone has to find their own way of presenting their products. As you stated, it takes time and hard work to be a successful online entrepreneur. Not everyone can be a “ham” or develop a web-celebrity status. But we should strive to be remarkable, in one way or another. I find that expressing our own unique personality and passions is a good way to start.

  4. This is a great conversation. I am still very new at the “monetising” (yes, an “s” because I am English!) aspect of lenses and I think that the money I have earned so far has been more due to luck than me knowing what I am doing, particularly with regard to key words etc. All my lenses bar one have made money but I think it is because they have attracted traffic not because I have driven traffic to them. If that makes sense!

    I dont know if I am capable of making a lens that does not have any of my personality in it but I do hope I am capable of taking on board all the help that Katinka and others have given me, in order that the subjects I care about, will get the traffic I would like them to.

    The Chef’s comment about thoughts about monetizing stifling his creativity is interesting. For me it is possibly my creativity that may be stifling my ability to make money! Maybe you and I should do a couple of lenses together AngelChef!

  5. Of course Mulberry: there are several roads to succes. I see my own road as a combination of the ‘passion’ AND the ‘business’ approach. I guess sort of as I’ve described here.

    RMS: yes, that’s a great post. Its very precise about what DOES work. But the problem is, potentially, that what you end up writing about is something that gets written about A LOT. Short term that doesn’t bring in search engine traffic. Of course if you stick at it, while others move on, there may be success in the long run. But in the current economic climate I don’t know who can afford to take that risk.

  6. AJ: funny, I was thinking that you strike me as the kind of person who can write well about just about anything. I don’t know why you’d need to work on squidoo – you ought to be able to get another writing job, for instance in the ‘web editor’ niche (and that job you have now will give you just the experience to make a future employer believe you can do it too).

  7. I think it’s helpful to distinguish between having a passion for what you are doing vs being passionate about the subject of what you are doing.

    Let me give you an example: In a previous life (it seems like it now) I built a highly successful graphics and printing company from the ground up and ran it for 17 years. Eventually I sold the company and moved on. The odd thing was I had no particular skill as a graphic artist. What I did have was a passion for customer service and making things work.

    My passion for improving service and turnaround time led to a booming business. Figuring out how to re-tweek a process so it required fewer steps and had less chance for errors was my passion–printing was simply the subject of my passion.

    Many of us online have a passion I think for writing, for communicating with others, and for discovering new forums and methods to do so.

    I would think if that is your passion, it might not matter so much that the subject of that passion might be writing about earplugs (to use your example). The passion is about getting a message out and being successful in doing so.

    The efficiency would be to quickly distinguish between markets that are too small or too crowded vs undiscovered fruit that is ripe for the picking.

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