We’ve all heard the famous saying “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” But, as the lines increasingly blur between doing what we love and making a living, this may be easier said than done. With many people seeking ways to turn their hobbies and passion projects into profitable careers, the phenomenon of “hobby entrepreneurship” illustrates this notion well.
Work and hobbies naturally lie at opposite ends of the motivational spectrum. By definition, we go to work to earn a living and practice hobbies in our leisure time, primarily for intrinsic enjoyment. Yet, examining the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics II -- a nationally representative sample of nascent entrepreneurs in the United States -- tells us that nearly 26 percent of budding U.S. entrepreneurs started businesses that grew out of a hobby.
Many of the world’s most admired companies began with passion for a hobby. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates -- the richest man in the world today -- developed a fascination with computer programming at age 13 when he wrote his first computer program, a tic-tac-toe game. Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak bonded over their love for technology as members of the “Homebrew Computer Club,” with their first two computers, the Apple I and Apple II, initially designed as a hobby and without intent for profit. Clearly, these notable examples of entrepreneurs who successfully monetized their hobbies are the exception rather than the rule.
Oftentimes, hobbyists turn to entrepreneurship not because they want to be entrepreneurs, but because it’s a vehicle for them to pursue their passion. The etymology of “passion” is rooted in the Latin word pati, or “to suffer.” Although hobbyists who become entrepreneurs would seem to reap the benefits of combining work and leisure, such a career path often entails significant sacrifice. With this in mind, aspiring hobby entrepreneurs must consider how much they’re willing to sacrifice to make their passion a profession.
To gauge whether this could be the right path for you, ask yourself these three questions before turning your hobby into a business:
1. How much money do you need to make?
Whether you’re single, married or supporting a family, think about your cost of living as well as your need for financial autonomy. Most entrepreneurs don’t quit their “day job” to pursue their startup full-time right away. If you have a stable income to cover financial obligations, you may prefer to pursue the hobby-related business on the side, affording the latitude to enjoy the hobby and explore its market potential without the pressure of relying on it as a significant source of income. As you increase commitment to your hobby-related business and it begins to generate income, consider any financial tradeoffs you may have to make. If money is not a major concern or you have a financial safety net to fall back on when sales are low, you may be able to increase this commitment more quickly.
2. How flexible are you?
In other words, how willing are you to pivot your hobby to meet market demands? By practicing your hobby, you are creating value for yourself in terms of the intrinsic enjoyment it provides. But, to run a profitable business, you must create value for others -- your customers. How well does your hobby provide value for customers who are willing and able to pay? Many hobby entrepreneurs experience a divide between their enjoyment of the hobby and their work on the business as money becomes a larger factor. If running and developing a business is distracting from your original passion, it may be wise to delegate or outsource certain tasks to employees, co-owners or other professionals.
3. Are you prepared for negative feedback?
By sharing your hobby with the rest of the world, you’re inviting both positive and negative feedback -- about yourself, your competence and your business. Entrepreneurship inherently involves a rollercoaster of emotions, and it’s easy to cling to the “ups.” But, make sure you’re also open to experiencing the “downs” and managing their impact on your enjoyment of the hobby.
Related: 5 Steps to Launching Your Company
Hobby entrepreneurship is not the right path for everyone. A double-edged sword, it has the potential to either bolster or erode passion for your craft. For some, starting a business may be the best of both work and play -- being paid to do what you love -- or it may end up shifting your focus away from an activity that you would otherwise practice purely for enjoyment.
So rather than jumping in right away or taking an “all or nothing” approach, try easing into monetizing your hobby. Continue practicing what you love, and be humble and receptive to feedback along the way. Eventually, you may realize you’re already taking steps toward starting a business and money will naturally enter the equation. But, if the business ends up taking you so far away from doing what you love that it’s no longer enjoyable, consider keeping the two separate.