When she was 22, Sophia Amoruso began selling clothes on EBay under the name Nasty Gal Vintage. At the age of 28, she had amassed $250 million. How did she do it?
Simply put, she took a culture that she loved–vintage, hip, girl culture–and made a business out of it. She continued being fresh and relevant to her audience of Millennials. She did this by staying true to herself as an empowered Millennial woman–a #GIRLBOSS.
Like Amoruso, you can take what you love and make it a business without sacrificing your love for it. But beware. The journey isn’t easy. It takes vision, courage, smarts, persistence, and organization. You may have to sacrifice some of your idiosyncrasies to appeal to a broader audience.
At first, you may feel a twinge about making money from a purely passionate activity. But ultimately, if you truly love what you’re doing, you’re giving something valuable to people, something worth more than money. You’ll keep adapting to make it fresh. The world, and you, will be better because you’re doing this.
Do you really want to do this? Have no doubt. The reality is you’ll be embroiling yourself in the world of business; you’ll be taking what you love and attaching numbers to it. You need to make money to live. Are you doing it because you love it, or because you want to make money?
Do what you love because you love it. The money will come because you’ve taken the right steps to make it a business. Making what you love into a business is just required for you to be able to do it all the time. The real question is: do you want to do what you love all the time? Of course you do.
Set your expectations
This won’t be easy and you won’t even necessarily make money. You can expect to take what you love to the next level. Your art will get better. Your writing will improve. Your people skills will flourish. Expect to excel at what you love. If you don’t find yourself excelling, keep at it. If you find yourself excelling, keep at it. This is what you love and you know it. You can expect to excel when other people know it, too. They’ll see what you love for what it is, like when people are immersed in a painting. You’re just a conduit for something truly independent of you.
Get down to the nitty-gritty
You knew this was coming: there are practicalities to making this a business so you can do it all the time. These things aren’t what you got into it for. They’re the necessarily evils of the system. Keep your eyes on what you love–but get the practical stuff right.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) has a gateway to the logistics of starting a business. You can use this as your push-off point. Here you’ll find advice and links on everything from how to start a business to hiring and retaining employees.
Determine your business structure. If you’re not going to have any partners—say you’re a visual artist—you’ll want to register as a sole proprietor. This simply means that what you do as an individual is your business in the eyes of the law.
But say you’re in a band. Then consider registering as an LLC (Limited Liability Company). The LLC means each partner, or member, shares tax responsibilities. But any debts accrued won’t rest on your shoulders. Instead, they’re on the business as an entity.
Once you’re officially setup as a business, head over to the IRs site and get your Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes. You’ll also need to register your business with your state.
Prepare to accept payment
As a small business owner and an entrepreneur, it’s important to be able to monetize your work. If you’re selling your art, an EMV (Europay Mastercard Visa) card reader allows you to do so from anywhere. With a credit card reader, you’ll be able to take payment from the many people who don’t have cash and prefer a card. EMV is the evolution of the card readers you see on seller’s phones at farmer’s markets and concerts. EMV is now mandated by banks, because it reduces fraud. If you don’t have it, you may be liable for fraudulent card transactions.
There are multiple ways to get funding for your business:
- Crowdfunding—Kickstarter, Indiegogo, PledgeMusic, Sellaband, etc.
- Competitions and grants—colleges, government organizations, trade organizations
- Venture capital—MicroVentures, VCapital, FundersClub, etc for online; and see Wikipedia’s list of traditional firms
- Microfinancing— Kiva, Accion, Opportunity Fund, etc.
- Angel investors—angel groups, e.g. AngelList, Gust
- Venture debt investors—firms such as Trinity Capital Investment and Kauffman Fellows provide financing even if you don’t have positive cash flows or assets.
- Bank loans—most local banks have funding for their account holders
The type of funding you pursue will depend on the nature of your business. There’s all sorts of crowdfunding available for any sort of venture, but a site such as Kickstarter is best for artists who have a physical product to promise investors.
If you’re going to take on venture debt, have a clear view on paying it back, or you’ll have to liquidate or declare bankruptcy.
The SBA also may provide financial assistance to you if you:
- Operate for profit
- Are doing business in the US
- Have some owner equity to invest
Try out the other options, including using your own assets, first
Overall, there will be funding for you if you’re willing to buckle down, do the research, fill out the forms, and go for it. Just make sure your business plan is in place before gunning for funds.
Do research and networking
As you’re preparing to start your business, and once you do start your business, talk to anyone you can find who has done something similar:
- Access internet forums
- Research local entrepreneurs and reach out to them on LinkedIn
- Find Facebook groups
- Look at their websites and physical locations
- Send emails, introduce yourself, ask for advice
- See about sitting down with them for coffee
Anything you can do to find a mentor will help you immensely. Mashable has a list of entrepreneur social networks for just this purpose. Ask about every stage of starting, maintaining, and excelling.
Understand your brand and audience
The branding process is ongoing. Your brand strategy is essentially a roadmap for how you plan on adapting to an uncertain and volatile marketplace.
Your name is a big part of your brand. Like Sophia Amoruso, make your DBA (Doing Business As) name a reflection of what inspires you. In Amoruso’s case, it was funk singer Betty Davis’ 1975 album, Nasty Gal.
If what you love is art, you have a set of ideals. Your ideals are related to who you are, they’re related to your views, and they determine your aesthetic. Understanding your brand is a matter of identifying your aesthetic. Write it down in pencil so you can go back and change it. That’s because your aesthetic can, and should, change as you and your audience evolve.
Evolving with your audience is important. It shows you’re paying attention to what’s happening around you. It will also help you keep loving what you do, because evolution keeps things fresh and exciting.