Get paid to play: How to create a business you love

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For the past 15 years, The Ideas Lab founder John Williams has helped thousands of people bored with the 9-5 to identify what they love doing and launch their own successful businesses.

In this exclusive article, the bestselling author of ‘F**k Work, Let’s Play’ – a definitive guide to launching your own successful business – sets out five key things to consider about your new enterprise before leaving your employer.

2020 was one hell of a year. One thing that has come out of it that will be positive for many is that we have been forced to rethink about working life – working from home has shown that we don’t have to conduct business as usual.

And the stresses and strains we all experienced made many of us question what we want to invest our precious time and energy into. Surely there are better options than doing humdrum work just to pay the rent?

Why can’t more of us do something we really care about and make a great living from it? What if you could get paid to do the kind of things you’d choose to do even if you didn’t need the money? That’s what I call getting “paid to play”.

I’ve helped thousands of people to do this over the last fifteen years and I can tell you that there has never been a better time in history to make it happen for you. We have hundreds of tools available to us now that are free or very affordable and allow us to turn our knowledge, skills and expertise into a business we love.

Whether you’re already working for yourself in some form and it’s not taken off the way you’d hoped, or you’re still in a job looking to escape, here are five tips to help you to get paid to play.


If you want to make a living out of something, and do so soon, you need to focus on options that lie in the sweet spot between what I call the ‘three P’s’:

PLAY: What feels in flow for you? What excites you? What do you find yourself learning more about just out of curiosity? What kind of people would you be delighted to work with as colleagues, clients or a target market?

PRACTISED: Choose something that uses some of your existing skills, knowledge and talents. What areas do you have a lot of expertise or skill in? What do people rave about when they work with you?  What have you learned an enormous amount about even if it was in your spare time?

PROFIT: What do people really want? What do they have a real frustration with or need for? What are people happy to pay for? What is a good market to approach that has money?

If right now you have no idea, the next tip will help.


If you have an idea for a course, service, app or product and you’re not sure whether it will work, go and talk to the people who you think might eventually buy. You don’t need a finished product or a website, and you don’t need fancy surveys or focus groups. Just have conversations.

Are any of your friends or colleagues potential clients or customers for you? Or have they used similar products/services before? If so, ask them if you can have a chat over coffee. When you meet, don’t ask them if they like your business idea (people tend to be polite when you do that and will say something encouraging). Instead, ask them about what they have paid for in the past, what has disappointed them, and what their ideal solution would look like. Have enough of these conversations and you will get really clear what people will happily pay you for.

F__K Work front cover


One of the biggest mistakes early-stage entrepreneurs make is being too broad in their focus. Photographers, for example, often say they’ll photograph anything: you, your family, your wedding, your business, your dog. But when you say you’re for everyone, you’re really for no one. In addition, presenting yourself in such generic terms lumps you in with every competitor in your field, making it harder to get noticed and make sales.

Instead, get specific. ‘Superniche’ on one thing you know you can do really well and which you’d enjoy doing. Then aim all your marketing at that area. And because you’re now a specialist, people will often be willing to pay more for your service or product. Once you’ve got it off the ground you can always expand.

When one of my former clients, Saskia Nelson, left her job she knew she wanted to do something with her passion for photography. But instead of taking any work she could get (as so many beginners do) she took my advice to superniche into an area she cared about – dating profile photos. Since no one else was focussing on this her business, Hey Saturday, quickly became the #1 service to go to and attracted a ton of press coverage, too. Now she has photographers working for her all over the UK and US.


For many of us today, our business resolves around our own knowledge and skills. However, if you sell yourself simple by your label of expertise – web designer, executive coach, project manager, nutritionist etc. – you will become commoditised. That means that people will compare you with others of the same label and will then be tempted to choose the cheapest.

Instead, find a way to package your expertise into something that solves a specific problem: a one-to-one programme, a group experience, an online course, or a methodology you can offer to implement in corporations.

This can often enable you to double or triple your rates because now people aren’t considering your hourly/daily cost, but the value they will receive from the package you are offering.


The business world has changed. It no longer benefits you to hide your personality behind a bland professional façade. Dare to show your real personality in your work. Some people might take against you but others will be much more drawn to work with you.

I’ve seen so many beginning entrepreneurs strip everything that makes them special out of their marketing so that, when you read their website, they look exactly like everyone else. The result? No one connects with you.

If you have strong opinions about your topic, share them! If you think a common approach in your field is unhelpful for the people in your target market, say so. Some people will disagree, but those that resonate with your approach will remember you.

Make this the year you get paid to play! Make a commitment to yourself that you will find a way this year to get paid to do something that really matters to you. None of us know how long we have in this world. Life is too short to spend it doing work that has no meaning to you. Join us in the Play Revolution!

John Williams is author of F**k Work, Let’s Play: Do What You Love and Get Paid For It, published by Pearson Business and described by The Sunday Times as “A compelling 10-step escape from corporate life that could spell a rash of resignation letters.” It is out now on Amazon , in paperback and eBook formats. Ten percent of  book royalties benefit War Child UK. There is also a free  ‘F**k Work Let’s Play’ Facebook group that people can join, and a free ‘5-Day Standout Business Challenge’  to participate in. Find out more at .