How to start a business – one play project at a time

By Selina Barker, Head Coach at Screw Work Let’s Play


Ian was stuck.

He knew he didn’t want to carry on in his job in an ad agency, but he had no idea what he wanted to do instead – or even what he could do.

Ian was a classic case of a frustrated creative. Bright, creative, funny and full of potential. But he was stuck in a career that he’d fallen into. He was stressed out, working long hours and feeling increasingly worried that this was it; there was no way out.

Sound familiar? If so, read on to see how Ian played his way out and ended up creating a thriving business that surprised even himself!

When Ian contacted me to start working on a solution his best friend warned me, “He’s been like this for years. If you can sort Ian out, you can sort anyone out. Good luck!”

So when I met up with Ian for our first coaching session he looked a little surprised when I told him ‘We’re not even going to discuss career options at this stage. First thing I want you to do is go back to basics and just start doing the things you enjoy.’

‘Over the next 4 weeks I want you to start a project revolving around something you love to do; a passion, an interest, an activity. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with a career you have in mind. Right now, all I’m interested in is you doing something that you love.’

‘So here’s the question, what do you enjoy doing?’

Ian listed his interests and we talked them over. One really stood out, ‘photography and people watching. I love people’.

So that’s where we started. With a simple four week ‘play project’ to revive an old love for photography.

Ian dusted his camera off that weekend and set off for London’s South Bank to take photos of people passing by, experimenting with different cameras for different effects. And you know what? The moment he got out there and started clicking that camera he came alive. He repeated these sorties for the next few weekends.

Baby photo by Ian McAllister

By the time I saw Ian again he was like a different man. He was full of energy, so excited about his project. With this new focus in his life, work was no longer so all-consuming. He was leaving work earlier to go and focus on his photography. He was relaxed. He was happy.

And then I saw his photos…this man had talent.

Now even at this stage Ian wasn’t thinking that he wanted a career as a photographer, he was just loving rekindling an old passion that he’d been neglecting.

But, as seems to happen with play projects, his passion drew him on and one play project led to the next:

  • He created a simple website to display his photos (the first he’d ever made)
  • He had a go at photographing his friend’s new born baby and realised how much he enjoyed doing it
  • He offered to photograph at a friend’s wedding, to see how he found it and how they liked the photos – the impressive results drew others to hire him as well
  • He put the photos up on his website and let people know he was available for hire
  • He created a Facebook page and asked his friends to spread the word. (He’d chosen a good market as all his friends were starting to marry and have babies!)dem

And… he found he was in business. What started out as a pure play project had already turned into a nice little income stream doing something he loved.

Wedding photo by Ian McAllisterIan didn’t want to go full time until he’d built the business up, so instead he found a new job that gave him a better work/life balance with plenty of time and energy to focus on his business.

I met up with Ian the other week and business is now booming. He has decided to set himself an ambitious double figure target for year one in business (on top of his day job salary) as an incentive to push him to make it work. 5 months in and he’s close on target with momentum growing.

“How the hell did you do it?” his best friend said to me “I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy in the 10 years I’ve known him. Who knew he had this hidden talent and entrepreneurial spirit!”.

Well, something in Ian knew it and by giving him a 4 week play project to focus on something he loved to do, that creativity, hidden talent and entrepreneurial spirit finally had a chance to shine through.

That’s why play projects blow me away. People come alive, like waking up out of a long sleepwalk; they discover the things they truly love doing; they find talents they never knew they had; and they regain long-lost confidence. And after just 30 days they’ve got tangible results they can share with others and build on further. That’s why I’m no longer surprised when play projects turn into whole new careers and fledgeling businesses.

Launch your own play project with Selina’s help

You too can have Selina guide you in creating a Play Project – and for the fraction of the cost of 1 to 1 coaching – by joining The 30 Day Challenge – a unique experience you can take part in from anywhere in the world to make your own idea happen.

We kick off very soon and we’re already half full so check it out now:
Read more about The 30 Day Challenge

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