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Make a living doing what you love

I recently gave this interview to journalist Alexis Grant.

You talk about making a living doing what you love. How have you managed to do that?

The key thing is to do what you love and do something interesting. Worry about the money-making afterward. I have managed to make a living out of traveling by:

a) doing interesting things
b) documenting them well (I hope) through my blog and books
c) working hard at marketing myself
d) doing a good job when people pay me to do something for them.

From this a positive reputation can slowly begin to grow.

What kind of audiences do you speak to? Do you seek out most opportunities or do they come to you?

I speak to a lot of schools and some corporate audiences. The talks come about through a lot of hard work, cold calling and occasional spamming! I seek out the majority of my talks. However, with time, I am now starting to find that some people come directly to me, mostly through the effort I have put into in making my blog good and current.

What do you talk about? How do you keep it fresh every time?

It depends what the client wants. The essence though remains the same: exciting adventure stories and good photographs. The relevant message varies, from geography lessons to religious studies to corporates wanting to learn what difficult really means, setting high goals, etc

Are you naturally a good speaker? If not, how did you learn?

I would say that I am naturally articulate. But I am not naturally self-confident enough to stand up and speak to large audiences. I have gotten used to this though. The knowledge that I am the world expert on my subject (“me”) helps give me confidence. And once an audience laughs in the right place you quickly relax.

I spend a lot of time studying other speakers and trying to improve. The TED talks are great for this. I have also started doing some Pecha Kucha talks they are very unforgiving!

How do you know how much to charge? Did you start out speaking for free?

I started for free, and then crept my fees up over a few years until I reached a level that both the client and I were happy with.

You’re a big fan of print-on-demand. Can you tell us about your writing journey? Do you sell your books when you speak?

I had the usual round of rejections from normal publishers so I self-published my book. I sold it on my site and at talks (a large advantage I have over some POD authors). On the back of a few positive reviews a mainstream publisher came along and asked me to work with them.

The biggest difficulty of becoming an author is not writing, or even publishing your book. It is selling it. Marketing and distribution are so hard.

What tips do you have for authors looking to grow their audience, promote their books or make money by speaking?

Become an expert in your niche. Help other people. This seems counter-intuitive, but it is an attitude that will reap dividends in the long run.

Build a presence in your community, whether that is a real community or your online world. Get known. Get a reputation for being good at what you do, and also as a reliable, decent person to work with.

Start small, learn to walk before you fly, serve your apprenticeship. Life is not the X-Factor: for every instant superstar there are a thousand who plod and graft and get there in the end. And there are a million more who don’t work hard enough or imaginatively enough and who eventually give up.

Any other advice for people who want to make a living doing what they love?

Do what you love with relentless energy, passion, commitment. Set very high standards. Learn from others. Help others. Do not compromise on the things that really matter and compromise on things that don’t matter too much. Be continually grateful for the opportunity and the freedom to be doing what you love, even when it feels like a nightmare!

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  1. Excellent ideas Al. Good interview which I am sure will be very helpful for many people pursuing similar dreams.


  2. …such as myself!!! Very encouraging words Alastair!

  3. I am a naturally cautious and pragmatic person, but at 48 years of age I’m starting to realize that “The key thing is to do what you love and do something interesting. Worry about the money-making afterward.” is absolutely the way to go! In my earlier years I loved adventure: I inter-railed, went hiking and camping alone in Iceland, and went mountaineering in the Cairngorms with a friend. I spent 4 years after graduation in Africa as an oil exploration engineer – which was amazing and life changing. I even went back to Africa as a consultant in later years. But I let “making a living” (read money) take over, and adventure fell by the wayside. I shouldn’t have let that happen. In recent years I’ve been lucky enough to recapture some of that adventure, diving in Thailand and Malaysia, and climbing Snowdon, and hiking and camping the North and South Downs. I’m now a big advocate of micro-adventures which I do with family and friends. I’m slowly but surely making adventure a priority again. Sorry for rambling on here, but this stuff is important. Thanks Alastair for reminding us with this great website what really matters!



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