What’s the stage BEFORE starting a full time business? (3 real life stories)

We’ve all been there. Looking at someone else’s creation and thinking “but how did they get there?”. When you’re looking from the outside without any of the resources that they have now, the distance to ‘there’ from ‘here’ can seem like the distance to another land (a land whose glossy blue photos you’re looking at in a guidebook, but to which you don’t have a passport).

What is the answer to how did they get from here to there? Well it’s multifaceted (I did write a whole book on it after all!) but there is one constant among the stories behind the glossy pictures and that is: they started with a project.

Yes, just a little project.

A free range project, kicked off with resources a thousandth of what they have now (and probably with pretty much exactly what YOU have now).

In my free range courses I separate these out into play projects and prototype projects:


– A play project is the one you do for yourself, to get into something you’ve always wanted to do, to explore something about yourself, to get over a barrier, to allow yourself to just DO something you want rather than dream (this one doesn’t have to be paid).

– A prototype project is where you try out an idea (that might become a business) in a small way, either to see what it’s like to actually do it or to validate it by getting paid.


Let’s look at a few of these in practice:


Example 1: You Changed My Life (play project)


A great example of this type of project is one being done right now by free range tribe member Eli who started the blog project You Changed My Life as a way of saying thank you to the people who have inspired her. As she explains:

“I first started a gratitude practice as a way to combat depression. I began with a simple daily journal but I wanted something more. So, I set up this year-long blogging project where I draw a picture and write a letter thanking a different person each week.”

I came across Eli when she wrote one of her thank you posts to little old me (click here to see the amazing ‘Be Free’ picture she made for me – very free range!). When this beautiful picture + words landed in my twitter feed I was blown away (and since then have been loving her creations for her other favourite people, from scientists to writers to thinkers and doers of all kinds). 

Where is Eli’s project going to go? 

I have no idea (and neither did she when she started). And that’s part of the joy of a play project: you get going without the pressure of ‘but I forsee a roadblack to world domination!’. World domination isn’t the goal here, starting something for yourself is.

But, ironically, it’s by starting in this way that big things can happen. For example:

Imagine if Eli now wants to launch herself using something with her art, or collaborate with others, or simply to put out a guide to gratitude (update: browsing her blog today I’m seeing a sweet looking happiness + gratitude eguide getting a neat mention. Nice one Eli!).

If she chooses to do anything like that, she’ll have built up a base, met people, got clearer on her thing, and most importantly she won’t be someone just talking about doing something ‘one day’ she’ll be someone who is out there already doing.

And that means she’s in a much stronger position than if she had spent the last 6 months thinking “well I don’t know what I want to do so I can’t do anything until I figure it out”.

But what if Eli doesn’t choose to take any part of this any further? Well, she’s spent a year doing something she loves on the side, and getting back in touch with a passion that clearly brings her alive.

Not too bad a deal really, right?

That is the reason I keep going on about doing a project: however it turns out you are further ahead than when you started. Either in your own thinking or in the thing that you do decide to do.


Example 2: London Hiker (prototype project to brilliant guides)

When I met Catherine Redfern on a free range course, the first thing I learned about her was that she loved the outdoors, especially hiking. The second thing was that she was pretty sure she couldn’t turn that hobby into a business (unless she became a full time guide which she wasn’t that keen on). The third thing was that as an introvert there was no way she was going to get up and ‘sell stuff’ (she was pretty clear that marketing was not her thing).

Cut to today when she is proudly selling the Escape London Adventure Pack – an series of guides to 10 weekend walks “to take you out of the big smoke and onto the hills”. All these walks can be reached by public transport from London so you can escape the city and be out in the hills this weekend (a simple + brilliant idea which I will definitely be using when in London!).

Doing it in line with your personality.

You may have heard me say before that if you make your strengths central to what you do you’ll have more success and enjoy it more. But how does that look in practice?

Well, Catherine created this product in line with her strengths as a detail-happy human and an introvert: she wanted her guides to be online so she didn’t have to always be interacting with new people, and she used her natural organisation strengths to create easy to follow guides to make weekend adventures easy for the rest of us who aren’t as naturally enamoured with logistics!).

What’s more she has got them out into the world in a way that is very much ‘her’ and that she is comfortable with (ie: no noisy networking meetings, no sleazy selling, just really good stuff proven to people who then love her quality and want to spread the word).


What’s the result?

The guide launched yesterday and already people are buying (in fact she emailed me this morning and said that she made 3 sales since last night… it may not seem like much but IMHO that’s kinda cool for your first online product’s first day!)


…. and pause.

This is where most stories leave off, and it’s part of the reason for confusion about how this stuff happens, so let’s look a bit deeper:

If you ever wonder “how do people get an idea and then sell it online” I’ll give you a hint: this is not Catherine’s first project.

In fact since doing the free range courses she has done several mini-projects including play projects (doing the walks) and a prototype project (creating a free mini-eguide for one of the walks), and I have no doubt that what she is doing now is another step in her build up to create a fully fledged business. 

Through each project she:

a) got up the confidence to see that this was a thing that people connected with and wanted more of,

b) got support. People (other free range tribe members!) who had seen her develop this were already excited about it being out there and were happy to spread the word about it so she wasn’t launching into a vacuum (ie: before she sent me her link I’d already seen it in my Facebook feed, by two separate people sharing it with their friends)

c) learned what exactly was useful to other people so she could create products that were full of useful information that people can really use.

For example unlike other guides, the Escape London Adventure Pack caters to people who want to get there by public transport and gives you the information you need to easily organise the travel yourself.

Imagine if Catherine had not run any of her prototype projects before this one. She would be unsure about whether anything would ever work, do a bit of research, and give up (which is pretty much what was going on before this). She might have created a guide and at a pinch put it up, but it wouldn’t sell because it was her first thing and no one knew her… and because she would have seen it as her one big chance, rather than as a mini project, she may have taken it as a sure sign of failure and given up. Familiar story?

If you’re in that position now, try doing that for yourself: trying something out, taking one step, telling yourself “this isn’t the be all and end all, I’m just exploring”, and then building from what you discover and doing it again and again. That’s how all free range adventures are created.

Example 3: Ladies Who Impress (prototype project to inspiring live events)

Free Range tribe member/course participant Jana created Ladies Who Impress as a project to celebrate successful women and in turn inspire others to be more confident and do their own thing in the world.


Unlike the other examples here Jana wanted to create a live event that exactly what she’s done. Her Ladies Who Impress events feature inspiring women, that you get to meet and hear from in her live evenings in London. She has built these up to something that look fabulous and get great feedback too (check out her Facebook page with photos here).


I think it’s a really awesome idea, and I love how she has dived in and done it, starting with getting friends to come along.


And as a final example of the end point of mini-projects…

Well I’m sitting in one. I am writing this from the results of a prototype project turned full time business: my lovely new balcony (a little urban sanctuary) was created by a free range course grad who went from corporate cage to garden designer with a thriving practice one project at a time.


Until next time,

Marianne x

PS: do you have an example of a project you’re doing or that you’ve done in the past? Head over to the Free Range Facebook page or drop a line in the comments below and let us know your thoughts!


  • Alexis Staley

    Thank you! I am starting a project called theartofsacredbody.com, I finally just…started. And the response is slow but, pretty steady and I can see it growing bigger and bigger in my mind. And, since I just started it now instead of thinking about how I need to make it this big in order to pay the bills, I just started it as a play project. Now the ball is rolling, and all I have to do is hang on. (and put forth more consistent and steady effort 😉 But your post is definitely motivating me to continue and I know that I can be successful because, I’m providing something that people want and need. No sleezy sales, just, “hey, here’s some neatly compiled information that is helpful to you!” Life would be so much more interesting if everyone had their own play project. Thanks for encouraging!

  • Life would be so much more interesting if we all played a little more in stead, yes.
    I hope you get to give a lot with your play-project.

  • Cat Paterson

    I am doing your 21 day course and in the middle of your 8 day free course. I have launched a play project on soup.io just to get a feel for putting stuff on the internet – something I’ve never done before. No real themes for a blog per se, just been so caged up for so long that not sure how I feel about people commenting (or not commenting lol) on any of my thoughts or ‘stuff’ so just dipping a toe in the water and see what happens next. Nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’ve called it tapasupyourlife.soup.io

  • Cat Paterson

    Well done Alexis. Really interesting information. All the best with your play project and its evolution 🙂

  • Heather

    Thanks for sharing me the best ideas about business. I love this article too much. Please check here http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/why-check-the-best-before-starting-business

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