biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: 5 steps to turn your passion into a paycheck

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Mariah Danielsen, an award-winning graphic designer and marketer who discovered she could build a business around what she loves: weddings, stationery and DIY projects. She is the owner of Oh, What Love and the co-creator of The Create+Connect Project, a program that helps creative entrepreneurs turn their passion into profit. Today Mariah shares some key steps to making the leap into the career of your dreams. Thanks, Mariah, for this inspiring and helpful post! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

Getting paid to do what you love sounds like a dream, right? Working with clients you love on projects handpicked by you is ideal, and it’s closer than you think.

To create a successful business, there are a few major things you need to figure out before you can truly succeed. These steps will help you focus on what you really should be creating, who you should be marketing to and how to make money. Use this downloadable worksheet to help you through these steps.

Step One: Define Your Unique Talents

First you need to figure out what it is that you want to do in your business. If you really focus on these steps, you’ll have a business that is perfectly suited to your talents and passion. Write your answers on the worksheet.

  • First figure out what you’re great at. What are your skills? What do you do well? Not just in your job but in your everyday life, as well. Whether you make killer pancakes or know HTML, write it down.
  • Next think about your hobbies. In your free time, what do you like to do? When are you the most happy? What do you enjoy creating? What would your closest friends say your best qualities are? Write ‘em all down.
  • Now take a look at your list. In your skills list, circle all of the things you might like to do in your business. What things do you find the most fun? These are the things you look forward to each day — your favorite things about your job.
  • Then look at your hobby list and circle all the things you think people would pay for. Don’t be stingy here; if someone somewhere would pay for it, circle it. This gives you clarity on what will bring you a profit in your new business.
  • When you look at your lists and everything you’ve circled, you should be excited about what you see because these are the things you enjoy doing. Think of different ways you can create a business based around these things. In the space provided on the worksheet, brainstorm all of the products and/or services you can provide with the things you have circled. Don’t discard any ideas — you may find a way to incorporate them into your new business.

These steps are critical because if you don’t absolutely love your business, it will be very hard for you to keep your business thriving without getting burned out.

If you have a business that is centered on what you love to do, you won’t mind spending a few extra hours at night or on the weekend putting the finishing touches on a project.

Step Two: Find Your Ideal Customer

Knowing your ideal customer is a must when you are designing a business you are passionate about because clients that you don’t get along with can zap your energy and kill your attitude toward doing the things you love.

To find your ideal customer, you need to really get to know them. Get inside their mind for a few minutes — feel what they are feeling, experience what they are going through.

Write down everything about them: age, gender, income, likes, dislikes, hobbies and values. Describe this person in detail, even give them a name and describe what they look like to really make them come to life. Write it all down on the worksheet.

Then ask these questions:

  • What are they afraid of?
  • What would they need to have a dream experience while working with you?
  • What blogs do they follow?
  • Who are their key influencers?
  • What conferences do they attend?

Get to know them so well that you know exactly how they feel, exactly how they speak, exactly what they are thinking and where they spend their time.

This can sound like a daunting task, but make sure you take the time to do this. Once you know your ideal customer, you’ll know exactly who to work with and how to market to them.

Step Three: Figure Out How You’ll Make Money

A business isn’t a business if it doesn’t make money, so writing down all the ways you’ll make money can help you decide what prices you should charge and how you’ll profit in your business.

  • Write down how much you’d like to make each year.
  • Break it down by month and by week: Now you have a basis for how much you’ll need to charge for your products and services to make the amount of money you’d like to make.
  • Charge premium pricing: If you try to charge the lowest price in your niche, you’ll attract customers who only want the lowest price, and they are less likely to be loyal to you and your business. If you charge premium pricing, you’ll attract your ideal customers who are happy to pay you the money you deserve, will keep coming back for more and will recommend you to their pals.

Step Four: Outsource Things You Don’t Know How to Do

When you’re first starting out, it may seem like you have to do it all yourself to save money. While this might be true, it is important to delegate tasks or hire them out so you can focus on the main components of your business that will make you money.

Here are a few inexpensive ways to hire out the things you don’t know how to do:

  • Hire an intern or a personal assistant to take care of the everyday tasks that take time away from what you really need to focus on.
  • Hire designers on crowdspring.com, fiverr.com and 99designs.com.
  • Hire a virtual assistant to handle all of your web and design stuff.
  • Find a friend to trade services with.

Stop doing the things you don’t like to do and focus on what you really love — that’s why you started your biz in the first place, right?

Step Five: Make the Switch

Set a date for when you will make the switch from your old job to your new business. Write the date on your calendar and stick to it because if you don’t, you’ll probably keep putting it off.

This means:

  • Fire all of your old clients (but don’t burn bridges).
  • No more blogging about your old business.
  • No more telling people what you used to do.

Start fresh — get your new website going, order new business cards, change your email footer and start networking with the people in your new niche. Tell everyone what you are doing and pitch to everyone. The more you get the word out about your new business, the faster you’ll get clients and the faster the money will come.

These tasks will give you a clear idea of exactly what you want your business to be, exactly whom you need to market to and how to make money doing the things you are really good at. Completing these steps will help you craft a strong foundation for a very profitable career doing the things you love.

Suggested For You


  • This is great and well timed. I recently left a job I was really not passionate about to pursue a career in real estate & renovations in Brooklyn which I love. People thought I was crazy for leaving a big salary and taking such a big risk but I have never been happier. Now it’s time to really drill down into how to make this as profitable as my last career, I’m diving into that worksheet immediately!

  • My partner and I are going to fill this out individually and compare notes. We are ready to turn our talents and hobbies into income! (can you say college tuition ???)
    Thank you Biz Ladies

  • @megan – Take your time filling out the worksheet. I blocked out about 30 minutes to an hour and really went through these questions and all of the sudden it clicked for me. Best feeling in the world

    @michelle – SO happy you enjoyed it!

    @heather – That is amazing. Congrats! A friend of mine and I are launching a program for creative entrepreneurs in in June and we go way in depth on branding, who your clients are and how to build your online presence with your website and social media – make sure you get on our list! http://www.createandconnectproject.com

  • WOW – thank you so much for this! I really need practical steps that help me wrap my brain around how to turn my passions into a business. Thank you for this and for the worksheet! Somehow, the worksheet really seems to make a difference to me actually being able to sit down and think about this and brainstorm!

  • I’m sad to see Design Sponge recommending websites like crowdspring and 99designs, which devalue the work of graphic designers, and ignore the importance of a good working relationship between client and designer. There are inexpensive ways to go about this that will get much better results. Advertise on craigslist, and choose a designer who’s portfolio matches your style best! Contact a good design school in your area – students are always looking for real-world projects! Work one-on-one with a designer and the result will be higher quality and perfectly suited to your business.

  • As a graphic designer, I’m somewhat offended that you recommend crowdspring.com and 99designs.com. Those sites devalue the art of graphic design, good branding is essential and why are you saying that you should value yourself and charge a premium but in turn tell designers that they aren’t worth it and should compete for your start up business. I would much rather work out an arrangement with a start up even if it meant getting paid in installments or some sort of exchange deal. I enjoyed your other points but that just totally threw me.

  • Thank you for this, I am in the process of recording my first album with a small Independent label and starting a music ministry, these steps are great for navigating the world of independent music business.

  • @Shell and @Kat: I totally understand your point with crowdspring and 99designs. I did graphic design (and still do) before I started ohwhatlove.com and have worked on branding with dozens of clients who are just starting out in their business. The thing I have noticed is that these people simply cannot afford to spend $500+ on a logo when they don’t have any clients yet. I totally understand the need for good branding – it is essential – but for someone who might not have a big budget to work with, it is an alternative.

  • Yeah, what Kat Randall said regarding devaluing graphic design services. I agree with her. I also think you should give your products and services a fair price first then you bring the business in to meet your sales goals. Don’t overprice your customers because you have envisioned that they are the source to bring your sales goals to pass. Also price conscious customers are capable of loyalty.

  • Thank you for sharing this solid advice. I’ve been toying with the thought of branching out on my own as a graphic designer and these tips are excellent. I do however strongly disagree with the suggestion of using 99design or fiverr to source designs. Those sites demean the design profession. As a graphic designer with a design education and years of experience under my belt I can honestly say that “you get what you pay for.” Often design professionals, like myself, are more than willing to work within many budgets and can source budget friendly solutions tailored to your specific business needs. The design process, especially one that will shape your brand identity, is more important than just a generic logo. I often build a relationship with my clients so we go back and forth until they’re happy and the design is perfect and that’s not something you’ll find on either of those sites. The comparison would be along the lines of hiring a professional wedding photographer as opposed to just putting disposable cameras at every table… the results will be very different. Crowd sourcing gives the same result with the design process. @Mariah, you reference the limited budget of the client as the reason to use these sources, but these services are a designer’s bread and butter and sites like these are putting more bad design into the world and they are also putting designers, like yourself, out of work.

  • This is great advice, except for the part where you recommend crowdsourcing design work. Any creative business owner knows the work and care they put into their unique products… and graphic designers are no different. I would argue that good branding is one of the most important parts of your business – it is the face of your company. Crowdsourcing websites devalue the work that designers do, and devalue the design process, and the crucial conversation between designer and client. As an independent graphic designer, I understand having limited funds when first starting out. I also know that I am so passionate about what I do that I would jump at the chance to help another business owner just starting out, even if that meant I had to be creative on a small budget, or work out some sort of trade. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, and I know that working directly with a designer would afford a solution that is a million times better than anything you can find on 99designs.

  • Some great advice, but as a graphic designer I’m sorta shocked that you’d recommend using 99design or the like. While I understand the costs in an upstart might be high, and one might not have the money to pay a graphic designer properly(but seriously if you can’t afford to hire a graphic designer perhaps you need to look over your business plan… it’s not like you’re hiring Paula Scher) using crowdspring.com, fiverr.com and 99designs.com only devalues the nature of our field. You suggest charging a premium for your product or service as it will only attract premium customers, and this works the same way for graphic design.

  • I have so many creative interests that its hard to focus! I’ll try out this worksheet and see if I can narrow it down!

  • Can I just say a Big Fat Thank You for sharing this!!! Am going to find a bit of quiet time to go through this (& see if there’s anything I missed) as I’m currently in the midst of launching something new over this side of town. It’s a bit risky setting something up in a country deep in reccession, but I remain optimistic!

    This post was too good not to share on Twitter and StumbleUpon, brilliant post Mariah!


  • I enjoy reading Design Sponge and I thought that this was a great post except for the part about using a designer from sites such as crowdspring or 99 designs. As a graphic designer and illustrator, I detest those sites because they devalue our profession and make our work seem trivial. The article could have suggested to trade services with a young, talented designer, so both businesses could benefit. Considering this site is all about design, I am very disappointed the writer thinks it’s okay to use businesses that exploit designers.

  • I really enjoyed reading your post until I got to the end. As a designer, I find it absolutely appalling to me that you recommend crowdsourcing designers as a way to save money for your business.

  • In agreement with earlier comments –
    A little upset to see the promotion of crowdspring et al on a website where good design and ethical means of production are held in high regard.

  • The real reason sites like 99designs should be avoided is because you’re getting stolen, copyrighted artwork: http://www.specwatch.info/SWJ99d.html

    When you’re working with someone who has no relationship with you whatsoever (they’re just part of a crowd and after your money), it creates the perfect environment for cheaters. That goes for American designers, but you need to consider the foreign factor as well because not all countries value honesty like the US does. For instance, almost every college application sent to the US from China contains falsified information– fake awards, fake activities, fake GPA. That’s not because they’re bad people but because honesty doesn’t get them anywhere in their culture and they’re raised not to care much about it. So, if you’re going to work with someone, you need to have a relationship with them.

    I apologize if I’ve offended at all, but just some food for thought.

  • I’m so sorry that I’ve offended some of you, my sincerely honest intent was to help out people who are trying to build their business, not to upset people.

  • Mariah, I realize that not everyone can afford $500 or more for a logo when they are starting up a business. But crowdsourcing is NOT a good solution. Graphic design is about a lot more than knowing how to use photoshop, and those sites belittle our profession.

    There are many designers who are willing to work on a tight budget. I’m a designer with a ton of experience, but if a brand new company with a great vision came to me, I may be willing to create something within their budget, for the chance to do some exciting work and the promise of more potential work in the future. And I can guarantee that the client will get a far superior result, because I will have formed an actual relationship with them, as opposed to the vapid, one way feedback you get with one of those sites (and also, let’s face it, the majority of people who participate in crowdsourcing are barely trained in the profession).

    If you’re in a position where you’re regularly looking for inexpensive logo work, I’ll say it again – contact a college with a solid design program! You’ll find an endless supply of young talent doing innovative work, and quite willing to work cheaply to add real-world work to their portfolios.

  • No, no, no. Those sites will NOT get you what you need in the way of good branding or graphic design for your new business venture. What they might get you is a ripoff of someone else’s copyrighted work and a whole load of trouble. At the very least you’ll be encouraging spec work for graphic design.
    There are other ways: trade, barter, ask a student….

  • I love this, it seems hard for people to be confident in their passion sometimes. At the same time, passion can drive success. If you love something you know you’re going to put 100% into it and people can see that. If you care, they’ll care. I think it’s also important to know how to draw the line between a passion and a hobby. You might not always want to turn your love for something into a job and ruin the reason you fell in love with it in the first place. Very universal post – I think everyone can take something from it.

    PS Love the worksheet!

  • Hit up a designer friend who needs some portfolio work. It’s win-win that way. I can’t imagine anyone who has Design Sponge aesthetics settling for cookie cutter branding.

  • This is such a practical article! I am a creative writer and marketer starting my business as a creative communications consultant for other artists. I’m also glad to hear from graphic designers to know that craigslist would be a good alternative to the sites mentioned. Thanks again, ladies, and power to the small business owner!

  • For someone like me who knows absolutely NOTHING about graphic design, using inexpensive services on crowdspring (for example) is extremely beneficial. I am a freelance writer and there are plenty of job bidding sites that use workers from India or China for a fraction of the cost. Writing quality may not be the best (in English),but, they DO know how to use keywords and format articles for internet use (something beginners may not know). Same goes for graphic design. For the price, it’s a great deal even if quality isn’t the absolute best. If you feel like it degrades you as a graphic designer, don’t patronize them or submit work. End of story.

  • I think the point Mariah was trying to make was that it’s possible do make something you have a passion for, be something you get to do every day!

    you are **inspirational**……look how far you’ve come already. just doing what you love is a dream come true. loving our new friendship!!! can’t wait to collaborate!


  • I like most of the post, except—of course— crowd sourcing recommendation.
    We simply can’t explain the need for using those sites by justifying the price. That’s where the danger starts.
    I understand that sometimes people can’t afford to pay concrete sum of money , but that’s why designers charge differently. If I wouldn’t be a designer, sure, I’d like to hire Pentagram for my branding, but I know they’re out of my price range. I’d try to reach to Twitterverse and look for fellow designers (even self-taught, but passionate ones that educate themselves about the design) to discuss the price and value.
    Most of people on crawdourcing sites are not even from US, and it’s better for all of us to make sure we don’t devaluate designers.
    I understand the trend, but it doesn’t mean we just simply agree with what’s happening globally. The advice about finding someone at the collage is great. Again, Twitter is one awesome place to find a match.
    Anywhoo—hanks for the article.
    :: Marta

  • I don’t want to do the whole, broken record crowdsourcing argument that’s been posted so many times here, so I will just say that there are plenty of great designers out there, including myself and some other designers I know, that will happily take your budget and see how much we can get out of it. All you need to do is ask. You may need to ask more than one person, but eventually you should be able to find a dedicated, passionate designer who will be able to make it work, or personally knows another designer. It can be really beneficial to talk with a designer and tell them what you want and your budget and then let them suggest, based on your list, what you NEED and how much of it is feasible.

    Excellent article, Mariah.

  • I’M AWESOME AT MAKING PANCAKES!!! :) and having been a creative being all my life… writing, drawing, sewing, crafting I am trying to face my fears, get some guts and turn it into something that I can live off!! as such this article really resonated with me thank-you so much Mariah!! I will whack on some quality tunes and spend the rest of the evening (here in Aust.) going over the worksheet and your site

    cheers :)

  • Thank you SO MUCH for this! I, too, am on of those people that scours their brain trying to figure out how to make a living off of doing what I love. These tips were very helpful.

  • I completely agree with the part about firing bad clients! David Ogilvy also advised ‘resigning’ bad clients. You’ll do such better work and feel much happier working with people who you like and who ‘get you’. I think a good tip is also to start with one – just one – get that right and then get a second and so on. I would rather work with one amazing client than with 20 ‘niggly’, awkward clients who aren’t enjoying the experience either!

  • Thank you for all the tips. I started my business last August and am slowly seeing more revenue. If anyone needs graphic design, it’s clear there are plenty of designers that commented on this (myself included) that would be a good alternative to an outsourced design site. Aside from that, this worksheet was just what I needed to really dive into and find more clients in the best way possible. I am setting up a booth at an elite bridal show this weekend in Nashville and am nervous because it is my first one! These questions will really help narrow down what I’m going to say to these ladies since I will be the only stationer there!

  • Kendra – if you know absolutely nothing about graphic design, then it is even more important for you to work with a designer one-on-one who can help you decide what’s best for your business. On a crowdsourcing site, you would be making all the decisions blindly. When it comes down to it, you would be dictating exactly what you think is best.

    Put in a different context, it’s like going to the doctor. You know what all the symptoms are, and you may have some guesses about what is wrong, but you rely on the doctor and his expertise to diagnose and treat your problem. Crowdsourcing is like saying to a big group of maybe-not-so-qualified doctors, “Hey, I think I have this specific disease! I’ll pay someone to write me a prescription for this thing I think I have!” The odds are high that you’ll have paid for the wrong medication, possibly one that will cause damage in the long term.

    Not patronizing or submitting work is fine, but as designers, it is very important that we take the next step and inform inexperienced people that there are much better solutions available for a similar price.

  • I won’t rehash the argument against crowdspring, 99designs, etc. As a designer, I agree 100% with everything said.

    But perhaps we can also offer more helpful leads to the start-up entrepreneurs, who truly cannot afford much in the way of design until their business takes off?

    Reaching out to the schools to hire a student designer at a lower price is a great alternative. It also gives the entrepreneur experience in building a relationship with a creative, which can be helpful long-term. Does anyone know of a job board for this, or contacts at places like Pratt and SVA?

    Another thought is to go to a portfolio site like designrelated.com and do a search for “student”. An entrepreneur can see which work looks like a good fit for their business and then contact the individual designer to see if they’d be willing to take on the work at a lower fee (professional designers might well post student work, but at least it’s a narrower pool of designers to reach out to).

    Also, a note on asking for a lower rate… If you are willing to give more creative authority to your designer on final decisions, let that be known up front. That can be an incentive to take on your project at a lower rate, because it means less work for the designer, making the lower rate more fair to him/her.

  • This was a very inspirational post. Thanks Mariah! I’m a very business minded graphic and web designer and appreciate that you clue people into outsourcing. I’ve seen a lot of negative feedback on here about a few of the websites you’ve mentioned, and though I have no experience with them, I will even refer people to themeforest.com, etc. when their budget just isn’t there. Doing that, or facilitating an affordable, good looking option and guiding someone in the right direction even if it’s not yours is GREAT for business. I’ve done this in the past and then had people come back to me a few years later, when they did have a bigger budget and want to work with me. It’s all about sharing the light and in doing that you create relationships that are valued and trusted. Thank you for your insight and passion.

  • I am SO grateful for this post! I have had a business (that I am passionate about) for ten years, but no logo. Thanks to you I hooked up with fiverr and am having a logo done!

  • You know what? Crowdsourcing will get you hundreds of logo ideas thrown together in 20 minutes or less by designers that care very little about your business because they have a 1/100 chance of being paid for their work.

    You do not need to pay $500 plus for a logo if you dont have the money. I am an experienced designer, and will happily work with and create a logo design for $100-$200 for a small business owner that comes to me with enthusiasm and respect.

  • Thank for for these tips…and the worksheet! I’m a stay-at-home mom w/ 3+ years of interior design school under my belt but no time or $$ to finish my degree. This Fall my youngest will begin kindergarten & it’ll be time for me to start my next chapter. I know what I’m good at but it’s hard to get it all organized and know where to start sometimes. I’ll definitely be using your techniques to see where my talents take me!

  • This is wonderful. Just what I need right now. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    To dip a toe into the designer conversation I think finding a student is a very viable option for those who are starting out and/or moving from hobby to business. I’m lucky enough that my sister is working on building her portfolio.

  • Love this article! I’m actually in the process of starting my own craft business & though the ideas are flowing like crazy through my head is just hard to figure out were to start! I bought this great book “The Handmade Marketplace” and it tells you step by step how to get there (it’s also how I found this blog!); one of the key aspects is blogging. I’ve never blogged in my life and I’ve been looking how to and where to but for someone who’s never done it before it’s a little overwhelming! Then I saw this article and it was just perfect! I like the idea of the worksheet to help you narrow things/ideas down and also the fact that you have to put down a transition date so that you focus on it and don’t post pone it for any reason, something always comes up, but I’m setting the date today!

  • Apparently you forgot to mention how graphic designers are in fierce competition against crowdsourcing and then go on to break your own rule of not knowing your customers.

  • Great article and worksheet! I am a graphic designer and HIGHLY recommend ThemeForest and WordPress Templates for new businesses on a budget.

  • This article is just what I needed today. I am starting a business in home decor and life-styling. I have a lot of ideas and have already started building the website (launching in March I hope). I keep back peddling in the confidence department. I have a full-time job and here so many inspiring stories about how people just quit their jobs to follow their passion. Most of them don’t seem to have much overhead though, i.e. a mortgage or student loans. I’m sure I have the talent and skills to do what I love as my only job but making that leap is daunting, and I know it also takes time and planning (maybe your next article could talk more about those realities). Anyway, the tips here were very helpful and encouraging.

  • Yay!! Six years ago I replaced my corporate high heels with Wellies and never looked back! Today I am mixing work with pleasure!

    I love my landscape/garden business! I also love blogging and turning others on to the land of green!

    Thanks for more inspiration!

    May all your gardens grow,
    Jan Bills

  • I feel like Mariah gave some solid advice and is only trying to help. Unfortunately, you can’t make everyone happy. Successful women don’t have to help others succeed… she chose to and I think that is fantastic and very unselfish.

    @mariah: I am a freelance Interior designer and event planner who is trying to gain momentum this year. Is it detrimental to not focus on only one avenue? I love both and have experience in both… I can’t give one up!

  • @Kelli – I found a way to combine all the things I love to do into one business, each hobby is just a different branch of your biz. Fill out the worksheet for each different branch of your business – it’s definitely okay to love more than one thing :)

  • Thank you for the tips…part of me wants to start a biz but am really afraid and alone-feeling. How do I branch out into the community? I want to start an art consulting side biz but worry that I dont’ have any clients nor will be able to find any!
    Guess it’s time to study. Thanks again!
    Joanna in Berkeley

  • Awesome article, I see you support websites crowdsourcing design websites. Maybe I could recommend crowdsite.com. I started a contest to get a logo for my business BeFit and I was pretty excited about the winning logo.