Cashing in on Your Passion: 3 Strategies From a New York Times Best-selling Author

Ryan North is a computer programmer, humorist, and New York Times bestselling author.

He writes a comic for Marvel, owns an ad network, and has run some of Kickstarter’s most successful campaigns ever.

He’s a DIY entrepreneur who’s managed to turn his passion into a business.

Find out his secret to keeping so many irons in the fire and how he’s turned all of those projects into a successful business.

In this TGIM short, you'll...

  • Learn one of the smartest ways to give your customers bad news. 
  • Hear the pros and cons of working on multiple projects at once.
  • Find out how it's possible to earn a steady income without a steady job.

Check out the full short below:

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I mean the obvious advantages is that you're doing different things. You're making money from different things which means any one of those things can go catastrophically wrong, and it's not the end of the world.

The whole reason I ended up doing all this stuff at once is because Dinosaur comics didn't fill up my time. I would start Dinosaur comics, it only took a couple hours to write. I'd usually be done around noon, another hour for email or whatever and then 1pm, 2pm, you were done. I don't know if you have ever been unemployed or underemployed, but for a lot of people, the first couple of weeks is like, "All right. Yeah. Free time. Woo. Spring Break." Then after that point they're like, "Oh God, I'm wasting my life. It's killing me just to sit there and do nothing."

I couldn't sit around and do nothing for more than 2 weeks. I started going crazy and that's where Project Wonderful came from, and that's where all these other projects came from is having free time and not wanting to have free time. Wanting to do something fun with. I'm at the point now where I remember free time wistfully. I remember it sounded fun.

The other downside is that the idea of taking a vacation is kind of weird because I feel like the idea of a vacation works for someone who has one job and it's a job that they want a vacation from. Where for me, a lot of the projects I do, none of them really feel like work. They all kind of feel like I'm cheating somehow, and I'm getting to get paid for doing stuff I enjoy. The advantage I guess is that you're never bored, and the other advantage is you get to do a lot of cool stuff, like I've got to edit an anthology and I get to write super hero comics, and I get to run an ad platform and I get to do all of this interesting cool stuff that I wouldn't get to do if I was only doing one of those things.

My whole secret from Dinosaur Comics onwards is you don't treat your readers like they're eyeballs for ad networks or they're clicks and displays. You treat them like they're your pals because they're choosing to read your comic and there's literally thousands of comics out there.

They're choosing to read yours. You might as well treat them nice. Initially it was merchandise sales. I made t-shirts for that supported myself and more recently sites like Patreon, which is micro patronage, where you can say, "Hey. I, like Ryan. I'm going to pledge a dollar a month."

The great thing about something like Patreon is it gives you reliable income. You can trust you're going to have this amount of money from Patreon every month. Where with merchandise sales, maybe design doesn't work maybe people have enough t-shirts, they don't need anymore. So it's a bit more unpredictable.

We asked for $20k, we got $580k, which is a lot of money for a book and it was the most funded publishing project on kickstarter at the time. It's since been surpassed, but at the time we were number one, which was very exciting. The thing with kick starter is that if you have 15,000 backers, you can get worried and say now I have 15,000 tiny bosses, or you can think of it as now we have 15,000 teammates. I always went for the teammate angle, which helped us a lot I think.

There was one case where, as part of the rewards package there was a push skull, a full sized York skull, so you can hold it and contemplate your own mortality. Due to a spreadsheet order we had under ordered these. We were going to be short by I think 400 skulls, which meant some people get their thing on time and some people wouldn't. It seemed very unfair.

The answer was not to say, "Hey guys, we screwed up and, sorry." Instead we went to a manufacturer, Squishable, who makes really cute everything's and we said "Look, is there something small you have that you have some extra stock of that we can buy, that's already on hand, that we could have right now?" They gave us these cute little foxes and owls and different animals. The case letter update was "Hey, we screwed up. Card on the table. We ordered too few skulls. There's 400 we don't have. We're going to have some more. It's going to delay your stuff by maybe 6 months. If you want to volunteer for this, we'll send you this tiny adorable animal right now."

The complaints I got from that update were not, "How could you be such a dummy Ryan?" They were, awe man, I wanted to the cute animal, and the spots were already taken in half an hour, I'm so frustrated, which was great. People were really happy.
Again, it comes down to ... I'm sure we've all had bad kickstarter experiences. You try to treat people the way you'd want to be treated.

I would gladly, the expense of ordering those tiny animals the cute little animals, I would gladly pay that to have everyone be happy instead of having people pissed off that they lost the draw and their package is going to be late, and so they won the draw an get their package a little bit late, but they get this bonus stuff right now. It's just trying to do good by people.

Show notes:

About TGIM: TGIM is a podcast for people who can’t wait for the week to start. In each episode we’ll be bringing you inspirational stories about entrepreneurs who have overcome obstacles, built incredible businesses, and are now living the life they want.