Follow Your Passion with Care - Travis Senzaki

I Followed My Passion, but

The advice to follow your passion will leave you alone in the middle of nowhere if you don't make sure others share it, first.

Me, following my passion. Alone. Because I never bothered to check if anyone else cared.

. . .nobody else did.

If You Build It, They Won’t Care

Forget what you heard in Field of Dreams. Forget that staid entrepreneurial advice to follow your passion. “They” are not going to come just because you built something you care about.

They will come when you build something they care about.

Entrepreneurial Journey: First Faltering Steps

It’s OK to stumble when you first start walking. My kids did it and I wasn’t always there to catch them quite on time. I’d say I’m sorry, but that’s part of the lesson. Nobody was there to catch my stumble but me.

A year and a half ago, I went all “Oooh shiny” over online entrepreneurship. I decided to build a niche site – a website that aimed to be the best resource online for a small but active niche of interested people. My niche was study abroad.

I Was Passionate About Study Abroad

I work in study abroad in my day job. I have studied abroad and it changed my life. I passionately believe that it is the most valuable experience possible in college.

And I thought nobody online was doing a halfway decent job talking about it.

I found myself a search keyword with a good amount of traffic: Best Places to Study Abroad. I bought the exact match domain, just like the advice said I should. And I set to work.

I figured if I could build an awesome information resource, google would reward me with first-page placement and the traffic would roll in. I poured a year into producing detailed, multi-thousand word advice articles on how to get the most benefit out of student abroad.

. . . and nothing happened.

My Passion, But Nobody Else’s

The reason I chose that keyword was because I thought nobody else was serving it well. Search for the best places to study abroad and you get articles like “Australia, because beaches.” In fact, you still do, since my site never made it anywhere in google’s rankings.

To me, that’s bullshit. I created a whole algorithm for rating study abroad destinations on a university-by-university basis, based on the services and outcomes they offer. I was going to change the way students everywhere selected their study abroad destinations.

See the problem?

(I didn’t.)

My plan was to seek out people who were searching for light articles about what countries were cool – who clearly weren’t thinking seriously about the benefits they wanted from study abroad – and convince them to take the process seriously with nothing more than my writing skills.

I should have known failure was the only outcome.

Lesson Learned: Validate Your Passion Before Following It

Somewhere, in the deleted scenes of Field of Dreams, there’s one with Kevin Costner preselling tickets. He doesn’t just take Shoeless Joe’s word for it. He travels around the country with a stack of tickets large enough to cover his expenses, time, and travel, and finds buyers.

Then, and only then, does he build his field.

If they will come, you build it.

There are other lessons in here – audience identification, pre-planning monetization, and probably my copywriting and photo selection skills. But this was the big one. Follow a passion you share with a larger group.

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