Is Your Hobby Also a Career Path?

by Rebecca Lake |February 9, 2019

From childhood, we're told to do what we love, and with good reason.

"It's important to love what you're doing at work, because if your income is the only reason you're at your job, it's unsustainable and unfulfilling in the long term," says Grace Chon, an art director turned professional pet photographer. "In an ideal world, you should feel happy, fulfilled and purposeful with your career."

The demands of a busy schedule and a desire to do work that was more reflective of her values led Chon to seek a stress-relieving creative outlet. She found it in taking photos of homeless pets at her local adoption center, a hobby which eventually morphed into a successful photography business.

The things we do for sheer enjoyment can offer the sense of personal meaning that may be lacking in our day jobs. As in Chon's case, financial satisfaction may follow if those hobbies eventually become careers.

Finding the path that will allow us to transform a favorite pastime into a profitable side hustle, or even a booming small business, isn't always as obvious or straightforward as we may have anticipated. With the right preparation and a bit of honest introspection, it is absolutely possible to make your passion your profession.

clay pots sit on a wooden shelf in a pottery workshop

Evaluate your hobby's potential to make money

Turning a hobby or passion into a career requires real work, devotion and sacrifice. You'll be investing your time (and, potentially, money) while stepping away from other avenues of professional development. Consider whether your hobby can be both profitable and sustainable. Before taking the leap, think carefully about these questions:

1. Is my passion something I could monetize?

Take time to brainstorm different ways you could monetize your passion. Cast the net as wide as possible when coming up with ideas. Consider which monetization options you can pursue right away and which ones you may want to try once your business is more firmly established.

2. Is there a market for what I have to sell?

For a side gig or business to be profitable, it needs an audience. Brandon Gaille found his audience by accident while running the marketing company he founded.

"One day, an employee asked for my feedback on her blog," Gaille says. He realized he could apply what he had learned over a decade in marketing to help burgeoning entrepreneurs grow their online businesses.

The result was the launch of his eponymous small business and marketing advice blog, which now attracts a monthly audience of nearly 2 million visitors. He monetized his pursuit by offering a course that teaches others how to build a blogging business. The course has become so successful that he was able to close his marketing company in order to blog full-time.

adult man working in kitchen at a wooden table

4. Am I willing to put myself out there to promote my business?

When you have a product or service, turning it into a business entails selling other people on your idea. If the thought of selling turns you off, business coach Amanda Abella recommends reframing how you think about it.

"Many people have a negative view of sales, but I think of it more as sharing," Abella says. "You have a product or service you want to share with people, and when you share it with them, you help them."

Helping others was a huge motivator for Chon. While she didn't set out with the goal of starting a photography business, she experienced an "aha!" moment after realizing there was a need and desire for her photography skills on a wider scale. Once that clicked, "turning it into a business was a no-brainer," Chon notes.

Be prepared for challenges

When Mark Holtzman decided to combine his two lifelong loves — photography and flying — into an aerial photography side hustle, he was unsure whether it would be successful. But after years of working for his family's business, he was ready to branch out with an enterprise of his own.

While he was able to land assignments early on, Holtzman shares, "I had no idea how to do them because there's no book on how to be an aerial photographer." He faced a steep learning curve when it came to things like pricing his services, marketing his business to potential clients and getting paid.

Those were the things he had to figure out as the business grew, and they may present a similar obstacle if you've never run a business before. Enlisting help from an experienced mentor and investing in education can help you navigate the waters. And if you're daunted by all the "little" things you need to do to get your business up and running, such as administrative tasks, don't be afraid to seek out help. Abella suggests hiring a virtual assistant to handle the smaller stuff.

You may even find one challenge you face is the naysayers who try to steer you off the path. When Chon decided to leave her stable job for her photography business a decade ago, "People thought I was crazy," she says. Dealing with critics wasn't easy, but believing in her business allowed her to tune them out.

Holtzman's photography business was born out of a desire to have something he could call his own. While he's achieved international recognition for his work, the real value lies in being able to do something he relishes — with no eye toward the exit.

"If you're doing something you love to do, you don't retire," he says.

Rebecca Lake

is an author whose work has appeared online at U.S. News & World Report, The Balance and Investopedia.

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