Six tips for money-making hobbies
You can make money from your hobby.
Whether you knit, or write, or make photographs, or grow a vegetable garden, or tinker with cars, or build web sites, or collect ancient coins — you can make money from your hobby.
I'm not saying it's possible to get rich by playing your violin at weddings, or by weaving baskets from pine needles, but earning money from a hobby is a nice way to get paid for doing something you would do anyhow.
This article is the first in a series that will explore how to turn a hobby into a source of side income. In the weeks and months ahead, I'll describe general best practices, discuss potential pitfalls, and provide case studies culled from my friends, and from the stories of readers like you. (If you'd like to share your experience, please drop me a line.)
First, by way of introduction, here are some ground-rules for making money from hobbies.
Focus on Something You Love
Pursue something you're passionate about. Choose a hobby that you enjoy, and find a way to make money from it. Don't choose a hobby simply because it might make money and then dive into it with that aim in mind. You should be doing this hobby because you love it; any side-income should be secondary.
I love to write. I was struggling with debt. I began to read personal finance books, and then to summarize what I'd learned for my personal web site. From this, Get Rich Slowly was born. Now I make over a thousand dollars a month writing about personal finance. But I didn't start this for the money — I started this because I was passionate about the subject.
Keep it fun. Don't let it become a chore.
If you're interested in making money from a hobby but don't know where to start, think outside the box. What skills do you have that others don't? Define the term “hobby” broadly. Find something that you can do that most others cannot, something for which other people might be willing to pay.
At my day job, I have a customer whose wife loves to cook. She turned this hobby into a part-time job as a personal chef. She prepares meals in advance for wealthy clients. She spends a few hours a day preparing a week-long menu for people who pay her handsomely for her time.
I have a friend who likes to travel. One day he discovered that he could subsidize his journeys by writing about the places he visited, and by taking photographs. Now every couple of years he takes an all expense paid vacation. He's doing something he'd do anyhow, and it doesn't cost him a dime.
Don't Force It
Your hobby will not make you rich. In most cases, it won't even net you enough to allow you to quit your day job. It's quite possible, however, to earn enough money to make the hobby self-sustaining, to keep yourself in new tools and equipment.
My brother builds speakers and works with audio equipment as a hobby. He makes some money at it. (“Spending money,” he says.) Jeff notes, “It's not hard to make money from a hobby. What's difficult is trying to turn it into an actual business. Moving from a hobby to a business is a pain-in-the-ass.”
Often when you try to take your hobby to the next level, the joy goes out of it. Suddenly the extra income just isn't worth it. When I tried to turn my computer-building hobby into a business, I hated it. There's a balance to be achieved, and if you can find it, you can have a fun while earning extra income.
Don't Underestimate Your Ability
It's easy to discount your abilities. When you truly love something, your prolonged experience can give you skills and knowledge that you don't appreciate.
For example, I have a love for early 20th-century American pop culture. My brain is filled with facts and anecdotes about once-famous recording artists. I sometimes find myself under the impression that everybody knows who Billy Murray was, or is familiar with the song “Ukulele Lady”. But this isn't common knowledge — it's specialized.
The same concept holds true for you and your hobby. Know a lot about Napoleonic warfare? Start a blog about Admiral Nelson. Spend time tinkering with bicycles? Open a small-scale bike repair service. Not everybody knows what you know. Don't sell yourself short.
This can be difficult. In order to actually earn income, you need customers. But just as most people have a tendency to underestimate their abilities, they also tend be uncomfortable with self-promotion.
There's no shame in mentioning your money-making hobby to friends, family, and neighbors. You needn't be pushy. Just mention it at natural points in the conversation. If you've decided to do some woodworking for cash, mention this when your uncle mentions he wants to buy a new bookshelf.
Marketing can be subtle, but it's an absolute necessity if you hope to earn money from your hobby. People need to know you're available before they can hire you.
Hone Your Skill
Practice, practice, practice. The more time and energy you're willing to devote to your hobby, the better you will become. The better you become, the more likely that you'll be able to earn money from it.
Photography is a terrific example. If you're willing to make a hundred images a day, you can improve your skills quickly, especially if you teach yourself about composition. You may never become a professional photographer this way, but you can develop your skill to the point where you can sell images to stock photo agencies, or enter (and win) photography contests.
Some people are born with natural talent. Most of us have to work at it.
Why should you care about making money from hobbies? Remember: the wealth equation has two sides. You accumulate wealth by reducing expenses and by increasing income. Often we only focus only on our careers when it comes to “increasing income”. But there are other ways to make money. One of the best is to harness a hobby.
This is an especially good technique if you're stuck in a low-wage job. And sometimes a person can turn a money-making hobby into a career. Who doesn't want a job doing something he loves?
Future articles in this series will cover topics such as:
- Making money from photography
- Using the web to make money from a hobby
- Making the leap to full-time
- Creating web sites about your hobby
- Teaching your hobby (thanks, Donna!)
- And, of course, plenty of anecdotes from people who have turned their hobbies into money-making ventures
Most of all — whether or not you make money from your hobby, enjoy the time you spend with it! Hobbies help make life fun.