Updated on 03.25.11

When Should a Hobby Remain a Hobby?

Trent Hamm

One constant theme of The Simple Dollar is my encouragement of people to try to find ways to turn their passions and hobbies into a stream of income. This is a path I followed in my own life, as I turned my hobby of writing into a major revenue stream.

While that may have been a powerful experience for me, it’s not always a good idea to turn your hobby into a full-time job. I’ll give you an example.

Over the last year, I’ve been trying to turn my other main passion – gaming – into a side business.

I’ve tried several models for this. I’ve made some gaming videos. I designed a website. I wrote a bunch of articles. I created plans, revised them, created them again. Of course, I also played a lot of games along the way.

What I found was that the idea of producing (and managing) this type of content on a regular basis seemed a lot less fun than simply playing the games. I enjoy writing, sure, but I’d rather fill an evening playing a few games with my wife or with my children than squeezing in a game and then writing an article about it. I found the video creation enjoyable, but I couldn’t see what I was doing that was much different than what, say, Tom Vasel was doing.

I finally came to the realization that, for now, gaming should just remain a hobby for me. It’s something that reduces my stress and makes me think. It’s something that gives me many opportunities to socialize as well as compete in a friendly way.

(That’s not to say I won’t make a video series at some point, because that was actually quite fun, but it’s not on the table for the time being.)

So, you have a hobby. Should you try turning it into a side business?

Simply put, I do recommend trying it, but start it as a side business. Do not talk yourself into trying it when it’s expected to be your main source of income, because there is some likelihood that you’ll end up intensely disliking the other activities, perhaps enough to cause you to begin to dislike that hobby that you love.

The key is to dip your feet deep enough in the water to see if there is potential for significant money making and to make sure that you’re fine with turning one of your passions into a profit making venture. Some people who knit, for example, do it purely for fun and find it less fun if they’re knitting for customers, while others thrive on the concept of creating projects for others that also puts money in their pocket. Some people write for themselves, while others write for an audience. Some people can happily spend day after day in their woodship making Andironack chairs, while others just enjoy making one once in a while for friends.

You won’t know until you try. If it does click for you and you do find a profit-making path, you’re likely on the early steps of a journey that will change your life. If it doesn’t click or you can’t find a way to earn anything from it, it’s better to have tried and failed than to never have tried at all.

Never let the fear of failure keep you from trying, though. There is no way to succeed without trying, and not trying at all has the same exact result as utter failure except that you had a valuable learning experience along the way.

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  1. Jason G says:

    I had both a negative and positive experience with this particular subject. Early on in my high school years I fell in love with car audio as a hobby. Before I knew it, I had a great little business going out of my parents garage. I continued on like this through graduation and used it to supplement my regular income for years and it was very rewarding. I then decided to take the plunge and make a full time career out of it and that is when most of the fun stopped. At this point, I spent more time time worrying about the bills and advertising than I did working on cars. I was young and wearing my rose colored entrepreneurial glasses I suppose. Reading this article brought back a lot of memories for me; some good and others bad. I would have been better off to have kept my hobby as just that. I no longer love to work on cars no matter how good the side money is! The stress that came along with trying to make it full time just ruined it for me. I agree with the Author, approach with caution.

  2. Dave says:

    I did this with comicbooks a few years back. I had an enormous collection (16,000 comic books). I decided to sell some on ebay and other venues to get rid of a few that I no longer wanted (of course this was about a year before ebay got stupid with their fees). I did very well. Well enough that I started to buy other people’s collections to sell and make some money. Eventually the buying and selling took so much fun and time out of the hobby that I almost gave up on the hobby as a whole. I have since drastically decreased my collection to a more manageable size (4,000 or so comics) and have the time to enjoy what I have and when I occasionly buy some newer comics I have the time to sit down and enjoy them. I do have to admit that comicbooks funded our last 5 vacations, so that was nice!!!

    I would not recommend someone turn their hobby into a side business unless they are ready to devote the time and energy and possible loss of intrest in the hobby as whole.

  3. Stephan F- says:

    I think that designating a favorite activity as a hobby is actually important to do. It frees you up to not think about all the potential it might have and all the weight that puts on you.

    I was in a doctors office once, waiting for a checkup, and reading a random magazine for lack of anything better to do. In it was the last review of fishing gear this writer was doing before retiring. What struck me most was how he ended it saying he was so glad to be done with fishing and how he was going to move to Kansas so he would never have to think about fishing again.

    That struck me and so I have a designated hobby, cooking. I have looked at going into the food industry but it is too brutal for me. Not to say that I don’t put recipes up on my blog, but it is not a part of the business as such.

  4. Hunter says:

    My hobby is cycling. I love it. It’s my guy time. Let me clarify. I’m a male-military-spouse. So, apart from the neighborly banter at the school bus stop in the morning, I don’t have that much contact with growed-ups. My weekend rides with the guys are priceless. In the peloton it does not matter who you are, what you do, or what you believe in. You are just another guy on a bike. Our group is diverse, millionaire pawn broker, Microsoft security global expert, everyone in-between and this Daddy. It’s cool.

    I have considered a few ways to generate a revenue stream with a bicycling focus. But most would not pass the 3 5 tax rule on hobbies. I suppose I could create a unique blog.

    Appreciate you insight. H.

  5. Jonathan says:

    My side business hobby is programming. I’ve programmed as a hobby since 9th grade, and that hobby has served me VERY well at work (where my programming knowledge has given me skills and responsibilities that make me indispensable to my company, even though my job description doesn’t require those skills) and more recently as a side business. About 18 months ago when I got my first smartphone, I decided to try writing a financial calculator app, just to see if I could. A few weeks into the project, it became clear that I could, and then I realized that I could actually try selling the thing. To this day there still isn’t a viable competitor to my app for Palm’s WebOS phones, and I’ve made several thousand dollars on my “pet project” (and money still comes in each month with no work on my part). I haven’t expanded beyond that first app yet, but I’m planning to do so soon.

  6. Monique Rio says:

    When I was growing up I’d been told that I shouldn’t pursue a career in something I love doing because the pressure to make my hobby provide an income would make me hate it. That seemed logical enough so I planned my life accordingly. Now I see that that advice was only half true. What’s in this post is much closer to the full truth. Namely that when you find you enjoy the process of making money from your hobby it’s the best. And just because it’s your hobby doesn’t mean you necessarily will enjoy the activity when it becomes a profession.

    Something I’d add is that having multiple streams of income makes the “turning a hobby into a career” thing way less stressful. Knowing you can quit at any time is huge.

  7. lurker carl says:

    Having turned several hobbies into side businesses, I no longer consider those hobbies nearly as fun as before. Although I’m far more efficient at snapping out projects based on those hobbies, the pleasure is greatly reduced even though the outcome is now greatly enhanced. I’m not sure if that is because diminished returns on the learning curve has me less challenged (or more frustrated) or if morphing fun to work has dulled the overall experience. I now keep hobbies as pleasureable distractions while focusing on long term proven income streams with a business-like attitude.

    In the grand scheme of things, it is extremely helpful to chase gainful employment in activities or backgrounds that you like/love and are good at performing WITH plenty of folks willing to pay for it, rather than only chasing things that you are passionate about without regard to a customer base. To persue one’s dreams without realistic expectations may be akin to becoming yet another Don Quixote.

  8. Korea Beat says:

    I think all the advice here is good. I started blogging and translating as a hobby and was able to turn it into a side business that generates a substantial income. To do that required really keeping at it for a long time before I saw even $50/month from it. And once it did become a substantial income-generator, some of the fun factor did disappear.

    Still, that’s not stopping me working on turning my current hobby into a side business also.

  9. Kathryn C says:

    I like keeping hobbies separate from business otherwise I get stressed out when I’m doing my hobbies. I think I’m like most people where I like to separate “social norms” and “market norms-Dan Ariely talks about this in his book (predictably irrational)

    In short, it’s the same reason why it’s annoying when you’re on a date with someone and he/she (your date) tells you the price of something that’s clearly printed on the menu. That takes the interaction from social to market, essentially from warm and fuzzy to “all business”.

    I think it’s in our human nature to want to keep the two separate. I definitely do.

    But, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to turn hobbies into a business; it just means beware that it probably won’t be a hobby anymore.
    I enjoyed this post, thanks!

  10. NewReader says:

    I enjoyed this post, and I can relate. Almost a decade ago, I turned my hobby of jewelry-making into an online side business, and I did it on a real shoestring. I taught myself html and built my own website, learned how to photograph jewelry to best display it online, learned about marketing a website, and so forth. I had a blast! It remained a side business for about four years, growing over the course of the first 6 months into become a steady source of income, though always just an supplement to my regular job. I think at its peak I regularly earned several hundred dollars profit a month for very little work. The problem was that I lost interest in designing jewelry. The thrill of getting orders turned into, “Oh no, I have to make one of THOSE necklaces again.” Coming up with new designs became an exercise in cost analysis, profit margin, and current trends, whereas in the beginning I designed purely for aesthetic reasons. Without the passion, the success of the business felt like a burden, so I closed up shop and have never regretted it. But, I learned a lot, and the extra income was helpful at a time when we had more childcare costs than we do now.

  11. Lindsey says:

    Where is the web site you created about gaming, I would love to see it if you still have it up.

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