Inspiration

Should you make money from your hobbies?

KnitNell posted an interesting comment on my last post Work that feels like play:

“A number of people I know say although they love their hobbies and love being creative they don’t however want to give up work and earn money through their hobbies. It would be turning something they love into work.”

This is a really good point. Not everyone wants to turn their hobbies into paid work.

I have a friend who used to love making racing bikes and customising the bike frames with his own designs. When he tried to turn this into a business, he fell out of love with it.

It became ‘work’.

He now earns a very good living as a chiropractor and builds and races bikes as a hobby.

I have plenty of hobbies that I would never dream of turning into a business – cooking, gardening, walking in the Lake District, yoga, sustainability, making martini cocktails, reading… (actually, I would consider tuning reading into a business somehow)…

However, twelve years ago I turned one of my passions – health and fitness – into paid work. I retrained as a personal trainer and then coached people 1:1 and wrote articles on health and wellbeing. I never earned much money and ultimately it wasn’t quite the right thing for me. But I had twelve years of freedom and fun and I learnt a hell of a lot – both about myself and about business. I don’t regret it for a second.

Now I’m switching things round and am focusing on creativity, relegating health and fitness to my spare time. Will this work? One year down the line, will I realise that this too should just be a hobby?

I have no idea.

So my question is; if you want to start your own business, when should a hobby remain something you do purely for pleasure, with no financial incentive at all? And when is it something you should try to make money from?

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10 thoughts on “Should you make money from your hobbies?

  1. Walking the Lake district sounds like a perfectly awesome paid hobby, assuming a wise enough customer.

    Your bike-making friend’s example would definitely fit me. If my most-fun hobbies happen to accidentally earn money, that’d be great! Just seeking customers would feel like the work-part I’d want to avoid when playing for a living.

    To be fair, I do enjoy learning a lot and my job is about knowledge, so I have a version of that, but writing grant proposals, cleaning datasets, and attending meetings are about as far from play as I can get.

    To answer for myself: a hobby should be for pay when the seeking of pay is so easy as to not spoil the fun of the hobby.

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    1. Thanks for commenting David, it’s really good to hear your thoughts. I love how you sum it up; “A hobby should be for pay when the seeking of pay is so easy as to not spoil the fun of the hobby” – great way of thinking about it.

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  2. I’ve watched both myself and others fall into this trap – – my formula for avoiding this is, “IF I offer my hobby for sale, does it grow until it becomes a full-time business, or does it just compensate me for my supplies?”

    If it’s the second, it remains a hobby – if it’s the first, I run it like a business….part-time or otherwise – – –

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  3. I agree with David, that it’s the seeking clients bit that can spoil things when you turn a hobby into a business. Ideally, you would create a buzz around what you’re doing – something that is unique to you, and that other people want to know about and, ultimately, pay you for. I also agree that walking in the Lake District would be an amazing business – I have a friend who coaches people while walking in Wales, and another who does the same on the South Downs. The trick is to combine your hobbies, or to offer some kind of skill at the same time as doing your hobby – so it could be historical walks in the Lake District, or watercolour painting, or bird watching, or collecting materials for jewellery making, or kite flying, or… you get the picture! :-)

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    1. I agree, ideally you would create a buzz around what you’re doing and then the clients/customers come to you rather than you searching for them. Like you say, there has to be a fit between your hobby/what you love to do and what people would pay you for. I really like the idea of combining your hobbies, such as coaching people while walking on the south downs, which sounds fantastic!

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  4. Very thought provoking
    And some great advice in each commentary.
    I’ve always got stuck on the question would I really want to do this or that for money.

    The other day when I offerred to mow someone’s else’s lawn and tidy a driveway of moss. I had thought for the first time in my life, I enjoy this so much I’d do it for free. I hesitated before saying the following statement in my head… It would be great to be paid for it as well. I was worried about saying that second statement because I did n’t want spoil the feeling. Howevr, instead I discovered I felt exactly the same, so I guess that’s a starting point. What I also noticed was my level of enthusiasm

    Brillant blog

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    1. Thank you – it’s very exciting that you’ve discovered something you enjoy doing so much you’d do it for free. And great also that considering getting paid for it didn’t spoil your enthusiasm! Why not experiment and see if you can mow some more lawns etc for a small fee and see how that goes/how you feel?

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  5. A very interesting post and I can certainly remember a well meaning member of my family once saying to me “if you turn your hobby into a business it wont be a hobby anymore and you wont enjoy it” (good programming huh!).

    For me, the issue is not so much about spending time on our hobbies as “work” (if we mean by that, getting paid), it’s all the things we have to do around the enjoyable activity (the hobby part) in order to make it income generating & a business.. That’s often the less exciting part. e.g. I recently came across an article about running a small photography business and from those who are doing it, they report spending about 80% of their time on the business and 20% taking photographs!

    So there’s (often) the rub… maybe part of the solution is finding clever ways to delegate/outsource/shift/collaborate on the business side so that our time can be spend still doing the interesting stuff (the hobby!) and at the same time generating an income !

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    1. Thanks Frank, excellent point. It’s often the other stuff associated with running a business/making money that is less than playful – admin, marketing, finance etc. I like your suggestion – find ways to delegate, outsource or collaborate. If you can do this successfully, you’re onto a winner!

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