Career Is Your Hobby Also a Career Path?

by Rebecca Lake | February 09, 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.

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.

clay pots sit on a wooden shelf in a pottery workshop

3. How much time am I able to devote to transition my hobby into a business?

Chon spent nine months working on her side gig at night and on weekends, cultivating a clientele, building her portfolio and fine-tuning her photography brand. Gaille committed six full months to learning about the business of blogging before getting started with his own site.

Their efforts paid off — but there’s a potential downside to devoting all your free time to your side gig. "Startups don’t run on fixed, predictable schedules, and require a lot of time and energy to be invested into the business," says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, an online resource for people starting a business. "This can easily bleed into your personal life and, if you aren't careful, drain you completely."

Conversely, not dedicating enough time may hinder progress. Be realistic about how much time you can put in and the results you can produce. "Strategize how you plan on working smarter instead of harder," Sweeney says, "and set aside some time to rest and recharge as well."

Strategize how you plan on working smarter instead of harder.
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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.

adult man working in kitchen at a wooden table

How to turn your hobby into a lucrative side hustle

Develop a strategic business plan

“The expectations behind jumping ship from your full-time job to start a business generally come with feelings of excitement and determination,” Sweeney says. “But the reality means becoming a lot more practical.”

That begins with understanding the financial and legal aspects of running a business.

For example, will you need startup capital and, if so, how much will you need and where will it come from? Will you take out a bank loan? Use a credit card? Borrow from friends and family? Dip into your savings?

Further, creating a business plan can help you organize essential legal tasks, such as choosing a business structure and getting a tax identification number from the IRS. It’s also a great tool for mapping out the projected growth of your business.

“It’s good to have a document on hand that allows you to be strategic and set up goals for the next one to three years,” Sweeney says.

Jumping ship from your full-time job to start a business generally comes with feelings of excitement and determination.
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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.

Keep your ‘why’ in focus

Your “why” reflects your true desires and motivations for pursuing your passion. If you find yourself struggling during your passion-to-career journey, reminding yourself of your “why” can provide the mental boost you may need to continue forging ahead.

Chon's “why” was all about making the emotional connection she was missing in her day job. “I was doing something that inspired my curiosity and passion, but that was also really meaningful for the pet owners too," she says.

For Gaille, it meant pursuing a career that ultimately allowed him to work less, freeing more time with his family. Amid running his marketing company and spending time growing his blog, Gaille was also receiving treatment for a nervous system disorder that had previously left him physically and mentally disabled for close to a decade. The experience taught him to balance making strides with his new business and keeping himself healthy. And the career shift was just what he needed — professionally and personally: An unintended but happy side effect of building his business has been a complete health turnaround.

"After 14 years of weekly doctor visits, tests and emergency room visits, my health has dramatically improved because of the success of my side hustle," Gaille says.

Your 'why' reflects your true desires and motivations for pursuing your passion.
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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.