I converted an old computer into a workstation for my kids last weekend. It’s just a laptop plugged into an old monitor, but I wanted to make sure they were learning how to manipulate mouse and keyboard as effectively as they do the home screen on an iPad.
It reminded me of being roughly the same age, my family’s first computer arriving on a cold February morning, and opening an entire world of opportunities. Games to be sure, but also digital encyclopedias, and the Internet. I taught myself to type and then shortly afterwards taught myself how to build websites.
Were they good? Not by a long shot, but I had fun, and I built sites for many of my hobbies. I created a proto-wiki for Star Wars expanded universe characters in 7th grade, followed by a Pokedex website in 8th. I built a mockup for a new school website in 10th grade, which was apparently good enough to get me to a state competition (I didn’t win). I had a lot of fun doing these things but taking the next step and converting my hobby into a viable business was a much longer process.
In fact, I dropped out of my computer science classes within a quarter after going to college and didn’t build a new website for almost the entirety of my time in college. It got hard, and I took a new, more interesting path – writing.
Fifteen years later, I’m back on this path. I don’t personally build websites, but I work with clients and developers to make it happen, crafting strategies for building a platform that engages customers and prospects alike. I get to write and create new things and work with a diverse range of people across different industries.
So, it’s only natural to go back and think about what it takes to actually turn a hobby into a business – what challenges are there and how to overcome them without losing passion for what you loved in the first place.
The Risk of Working on What You Love
I’ve fallen into this trap a few times before. After college, I worked as a freelance copywriter for nearly six years. I wrote a lot of stuff but would frequently find myself taking on projects about video games, baseball, hot sauce, or whatever else sounded cool and interesting.
The problem? I didn’t actually enjoy it. Writing about World of Warcraft sure seemed like a good gig, but it turned something I had a passing interest and enjoyment in and turned it into a chore. I wasn’t playing for fun anymore. I was playing so I could hit my word quota and get paid.
In time I learned that I could enjoy work without focusing solely on topics that were already of interest to me. As a result, I spent a lot of time writing about new and interesting topics – fashion brands in Japan, travel tips for Alaska and Canada, the ins and outs of certain types of software.
Turning a hobby I used for relaxation and downtime into a business had ruined my hobby to some degree – it wasn’t fun.
When Hobbies Can be Viable Income Streams
That said, you can monetize what you love if you do it right. The key is to think in terms of production and not consumption. Rather than building a business around something that you consume or experience to relax, you monetize or augment an activity or productive action you already perform.
Look at Etsy, where millions of people are producing arts and crafts and selling them to support themselves. It works because creating a 10th anniversary wine set, while tapping into those same skills, isn’t the same as working on a personal project. It’s using skills you enjoy using to build something that has value.
That’s what I did with my freelance writing business and it’s what I’ve done with my inbound marketing consulting business. I work with people to build relationships and apply skills I use elsewhere for fun to guide them in improving their marketing efforts.
It’s fun, but it’s also a viable marketing strategy.
If you can find the same balance, leveraging talents and skills you enjoy using in new and profitable ways, you can do the same – turning your hobbies into real, viable businesses that can thrive without impacting what you love.
Also published on Medium.