Recently I’ve gotten a bit tired of the cliche advice for wannabe freelancers/entrepreneurs. Every one screams, follow your passion and everything else will just fall into place. Yeah, sometimes that works, especially if your passion lends itself well to monetization, but it’s such a generic piece of advice, that it can easily be misunderstood.

Let’s take a simple example, say your passion is knitting. Just throwing yourself into it, and spending hours at home producing endless amounts of woolly scarves and sweaters is not going to help you finance your passion (or your life in general). Unless you somehow monetize this hobby it’s not going to become a business. You could either sell the end product (funky woolly sweaters), exchange knowledge/experience by connecting with other people who share your passion, or create products/come up with ideas that solve a problem related to knitting.

What you need to think about is what makes you special or interesting. What is your take on the subject? With so much free information available online it’s down to you to come up with a way to stand out. Pat Flynn had a good post on that recently, it’s about picking a niche, but it’s also relevant once you picked a niche and need to define yourself within it. So if you intend to start a business you need to start thinking about your hobby as a business. And be warned, this can at times lead your passion to start feeling like a chore if you’re not careful.

Now we get to an interesting point, which is relevant to anyone switching careers. And it’s something you should think of whether you’re trying to go from one type of day job to another, or trying to start your own business. No one likes starting from scratch, which is likely why often people prefer to stick to the known cubicle rather than taking a chance with their dream. If you’ve been a (good) lawyer for 20 years, deciding out of the blue that from next month you will start running a nursery might not work out so well. But you can cheat a little bit, so that rather than looking at it as 20 years of law vs 0 years of child care, with something I would call skill transfer.

What you can do is look at the skills you’ve gathered during your career, and how they apply in other places. Maybe you made some connections you can call on, maybe your law knowledge can be applied outside of the law office, maybe some of your colleagues can become your first clients. What skills applied in the nursery business would give you an edge over someone with 0, 5 or 10 years of just child care experience. Being a newcomer can have its benefits – solving problems by thinking outside the box can create great, innovative businesses.

When I finally decided to leave my day job I realized I didn’t really want to stay in the same industry and become a full time freelancer. Changing one boss for another (myself) and cutting out the commute was nice but not the whole solution. Having to chase after clients and constantly work on projects for others was not what I loved about coding. I enjoyed designing and creating websites, experimenting (sometimes too much) and building tools, etc. Marketing and sales – not so much. I also realized that with my preference of practical application over theory (I did end up running away screaming from a maths degree I thought I’d enjoy) I’m never going to be that rockstar/ninja/whatever developer.

But what made me a mid-level generalist in the web development industry actually gives me a slight edge and an advantage when it comes to niche websites related to my interests or how I’m perceived as an author. The fact that I don’t need to outsource the design or web related work for these projects means they are so much easier to bootstrap and fund on a small budget. A professional looking book cover and author website is an important part of any writer’s brand. Being able to do it myself helps, and allows me to spend the money in other areas – like a good editor for the books. It doesn’t always save time, but that’s another story…

In fact the time sink is something you do need to watch out when transferring skills. You still need to way your options – is it better to save the money and spend the time doing it yourself or save the time so you can say finish that book quicker. I do have to admit to sometimes over thinking and overcomplicating things, just because I look at them from a developer’s perspective. These are the times when you need to have your business hat on. What is the best choice for long term gains? What will affect the revenue most – both in a positive and a negative way? But I started to fight back my inner perfectionist (hence the blog design here sucks at the moment…).

So, have you found a skill from one career path help you on another?