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.

Be Creative

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.

Market Yourself

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Donna
Donna
13 years ago

Great column today. I especially like the “Don’t force it” section. I’ve done crafts to sell in the past and when it becomes a job it’s no longer fun. Now, I’m just doing it for fun and getting more done, learning more, and teaching more. That’s another way to make money from your hobby, teach it. I’ve just joined a team of craft reporters on http://www.craftcritique.com/ as well to hone up on my writing skills.

dizzydiva
dizzydiva
13 years ago

This is an excellent post and it was actually very motivating and inspiring thank you! I’ve always wanted to be a professional photographer and painter.

I know you will cover the overall cost of having a hobby in future posts as they can be quite pricey.

I look forward to reading more on this “hobby” series!

serenity
serenity
13 years ago

Thanks JD this is really help! I have a friend who’s been thinking it for a long time. Donna was right about teaching it, unfortunately not everyone have the patient to teach 😀
I specially like the part where your hobby will not make you rich, I guess the term is correct. Hobby are suppose to be fun, but it was nice not to throw a lot of money to get fun.

communicatrix
communicatrix
13 years ago

Wonderful post! As someone who turned what was basically a hobby into a full-time gig, I can speak to the wonderful sense of fulfillment and growth–and I’m talking personal even more than financial–that I had every step of the way.

To me, a key to “success” (whatever that means to you, which is why it’s in quotes) is to stay open and flexible and consider the whole thing a wonderful learning experience.

Looking forward to the rest of the series.

Jan
Jan
13 years ago

Don’t give things away for free. You can make a birthday present by all means, but don’t do irregular hand outs. Try not to go down the route of giving to your friends and family or they will not take you seriously. Work out the cost of making it plus your time spent at a skilled hourly rate like £45 per hour e.g. Plumber or Electrician. Add this to the cost and you will get your sales value for each product. Want to sell it cheaper then I recommend you waste less time. If you do give it as a… Read more »

sn0wl0ver
sn0wl0ver
13 years ago

Very good post! Looking forward to the next one. I just wish that my only hobby I am passionate about, (and very good at I might add!) is shopping! I really need to re-evaluate my wealth equation!

Bijou
Bijou
13 years ago

Jan brings up a good point about pricing. I have a friend who makes gorgeous and unique jewelry. The piece of hers that I own always draws compliments. I can never bring myself to buy any of her creations as gifts for others, however, because she does not charge enough. At her prices, I feel like I’m taking advantage of her and her considerable efforts, and I would not want to cause offense by overpaying her.

ispf
ispf
13 years ago

Great post! I will look forward to others in this series.

[…] J.D. at get rich slowly has started a new series on how to monetize your hobbies. The introductory post, Six Tips for Money-Making Hobbies was out this week. This one lays out the foundations of the basic how-to […]

disparatedan
disparatedan
13 years ago

Excellent advice. I turned what I love into a business and now I loathe it. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. sn0wl0ver – have you thought of being a professional shopper? There are people out there who will pay you to shop for them. Bijou – I can’t understand your logic. If the jewelry is unique then it is an excellent gift at any price. If you don’t buy, how will your friend get materials to make more? Why would you pass up a bargain? Does she have a website? I think I’d like to… Read more »

Paul Schmidt
Paul Schmidt
13 years ago

What an amazing idea. My hobby is Radio Controlled Aircraft. I had red about a man who has used his skills as an RC pilot for aerial photography. I have seen some of the photo’s from a golf tourney and they were fantastic. In the article he states that his equipment costs were in the 2500 dollar range and in 1 year he has been able to recover that cost and put some money towards more advanced equipment. My only concern is how to justify the initial investment with out having a solid customer base. I would think that there… Read more »

shrikant
shrikant
13 years ago

first i was hobbiest photographerlater i went in profession as wedding photogra[pher and then i switched over to as industrial and commercial photographer, i have huge collection of photographs covering all subjects my idea is now to get money out of the these pictures, will suggest me some easy and powerful way to earn money?, but one thing that i m staying in india, the city is mumbai, so is it possible to get money here?, exlpain me please

BillinDetroit
BillinDetroit
13 years ago

Shrikant, The market for photography (like many other things) is international in scope. You could start by contacting stock photo agencies via the internet and inquire regarding their needs and prices. From those contacts, you may learn of possible additional markets. Follow up on every one of them. To do this, you will need to have access to a high resolution scanner for the existing photos and, perhaps, a high resolution digital camera for future photos. Possibly you could market the low resolution version, but you will probably need a high resolution version to sell to commercial publishing houses. If… Read more »

Dena
Dena
13 years ago

Great post! We believe that having recreations and hobbies is a must for this fast pace society and have dedicated the time and energy to create a community website that dynamical changes for each chosen hobby. The fun, information, creativity and friendships brings great value.

matthew
matthew
12 years ago

does any one have any ideas for hobbies in real estate? besides construction, interior decorating, and sales

mallory
mallory
12 years ago

Hi great post! I’m all riled up and ready to make some money. I’m pretty new to the blogging thing. My blog is part personal, based on my life, thoughts, etc. and half pop culture. Do you think I can make money through this or do i need to be a part of a more specific and informative niche like yours? Thanks!

sharon
sharon
11 years ago

Hobbies include computer repair and baking. My brother has friends that need computer repair, or like the baked goods I make, and would like me to do these things for them – but when I tell them that I charge a nominal fee, they don’t seem to come back. Wonder if they thought that I work for free because they’re friends of my brother? You need to pay me for my materials and my time, if I’m going to go out of the way to do something for someone who’s not MY friend. I think of it this way –… Read more »

EnnisP
EnnisP
10 years ago

A great post and timeless. I’m a little late to the party but the information still applies. I even referred to it in a recent post http://tiny.cc/X01fg .

My wife, BTW, bakes beautifully and is now offering her products for sale. She has done well!

It might now happen often, but there are occasions when a hobby does become the sole means of income.

Debra Flowers
Debra Flowers
10 years ago

I enjoyed this article. I like to bake cakes (not bakery style). I have did bake sales for my church and they were very successful. I think if I put myself out there (fliers), I could make a little money, like the article said–SLOWLY, smile.

Thanks

Arthi
Arthi
9 years ago

I would love to write about my travels as well.

Where can I market my travel annectodes?

EconomicallyHumble.com
EconomicallyHumble.com
8 years ago

Don’t force it is a great example. Side income projects should be fun, especially since they are using precious time.

kabunga
kabunga
7 years ago

thanks a lot what a wonderful tips.

Humphrey
Humphrey
7 years ago

Many thanks. Sometimes we sell our self short assuming that people know what we know and capable of doing.

ways to make money for
ways to make money for
7 years ago

Generally I don’t read post on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very compelled me to take a look at and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thanks, quite nice post.

Madhav Tripathi
Madhav Tripathi
7 years ago

Money saving hobbies are great to create a money saving culture. I can see creativity has no limits. Don’t underestimate yourself is the best tip, many times we underestimate our self.

Moneyjojo
Moneyjojo
6 years ago

Making money online should be treated as a business. Businesses are planned using a strategy. Often the outcome of a strategy is unintended. This is so true about making money online.

Brittany
Brittany
5 years ago

Nice ideas! My boss actually referees lacrosse games on the side because he actually enjoys doing it and being involved in sports. It makes him a few extra thousand dollars a year!

Live Money Online
Live Money Online
2 years ago

I love the part “Focus on something you love”.

That single part can actually be about the whole thing how to make it.

Very true and inspiring, I love this article!

Cheers!

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