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Hobby to Business: How to Grow Your Hobby into a Serious Income Source

In January, it will mark two years since I started my blog. I was in a much different place in my life, financially, emotionally, and professionally. My blog originally started because I felt hopeless about my debt situation and wanted to find others to connect with. I wanted to hold myself accountable in the debt payoff process and turn my life around.

Blogging soon turned into a serious hobby. I loved writing, connecting with others, and learning from other financial bloggers. After dabbling in blogging for a year, I started thinking about how I could monetize my hobby. I was already spending nearly every waking moment of free time on my blog, so why not figure out a way to get paid, make more money, and pay off my debt? It seemed like a logical decision, but it was tough to get started.

After a few months of trial and error, I started to get freelance writing clients. After writing for just a few people, others started to see my work around. My clients also started recommending me. My passionate hobby was now turning into a full-fledged income — so much so that my income had nearly matched my take home pay at my nonprofit job. So in July of this year, I took the leap and turned my hobby into a serious income source — my business.

If you’re looking to turn your hobby into a business, here’s how.

Learn from the Best

When I first decided that I would give freelance writing a try, I didn’t know anything about how the business or practical side even worked. How much do you charge? How do you get paid? How do you find clients? It seems that all I had were question marks floating around in my head.

Instead of wallowing in the uncertainty, I decided to be proactive and learn from the best. I actively reached out to every person that I admired — any time I found myself envious of someone and their career, I stopped myself in my tracks, and emailed them for advice.

This one simple trick has helped me turn jealousy into motivation, rather than a self-crippling defeatist attitude. I started by looking around at people who were already doing what I wanted to do. I emailed no less than ten people to ask them advice on how they got started, what advice they had for new writers, any tips for finding clients, etc.

At first, I was so nervous to email some of these people. I also didn’t want to bother them or waste their time. My approach was to keep it short and sweet.

  • Start with a compliment. Ex: Hi, I absolutely love your piece on {This Awesome Website}. You are such a great writer and your work always makes me think.)
  • Ask a specific question. Ex: I’m curious, what are your tips for new writers? What is the best way to find clients?
  • Be gracious. Ex: Thank you so much for your time! I know you are busy, so I really appreciate all the help.

I got responses from nearly everyone I emailed. Granted, I already had a blog to legitimize me in the community, so if you are a complete stranger, I recommend trying to establish a relationship first — or at least introduce yourself and explain clearly what you need help with and why.

Find a Mentor

Having a mentor is key to growing your hobby into a business. While I got some great advice from all the writing professionals I contacted, what I really wanted (and needed!) was a person who I could talk to about my goals, dreams, fears, and struggles. Someone that had already experienced the hard stuff before me. I was so very lucky, because my mentor fell into my lap. I was referred by a friend for an editing gig, and got the job. But it was so much more than a client-contractor relationship!

My client was so generous with me and turned into my mentor. It was never really established, but that’s what it has turned out to be. She has given me great advice about being a business owner, dealing with taxes, and encouraged me on so many levels.

I believe the best mentors appear organically. It’s not something that should be forced. Start by being genuinely interested in others, in becoming an asset for them, and learning all that you can. If you stick to that, your mentor will come along.

Get Up Early, Stay Up Late

When you are trying to turn your hobby into a business, there will be an awkward time when you are making money — perhaps even good money — but not enough to quit your job. It will feel tiring to go from your day job, and then focus on your hobby-turned-business. The only way to make it work is to get up early and stay up late.

It’s tough when you are already working full-time, have family obligations, etc. But if you really want to turn your hobby into a business, you have to sacrifice some things, and the first to go is usually free time. At my peak, I was working about 80 hours a week, often waking up at 5am or 6am (and I am NOT a morning person) to get some work done before leaving at 8am. Then I’d work my day job from 8:30-5, and be home by 5:30pm. I did give myself an hour to eat and decompress a bit, but nearly everyday from 6:30pm – midnight, I’d be working more.

It was tough to manage, but I had the end goal in mind: self-employment. I knew that it was a means to an end, and not a permanent lifestyle (and if it was, I’d definitely have burnt out!).

We all get 24 hours in a day, and when you are trying to create a business from the ground up, there are some growing pains and some much needed time requirements on the front end.

Deliver Quality Work and Ask for More

When you are first starting out and working hard to turn your hobby into a business, it’s paramount that you deliver quality work. Even if you are not getting paid, or getting paid a small fee, you need to deliver quality work now. That work can now serve as your portfolio and once you have one client, it’s easier to get more. You now have a reference. Someone that can vouch for your work.

My best strategies for getting work and more referrals are to deliver quality work, on time, every time. Not only that, but I make it clear what I want and I ask for more work.

I’ve been happily surprised when clients have given me more work, or even a raise, just because I asked. People are not mind readers, so you need to tell them what you want and what you need — they could potentially help you in a big way. When you are first starting out, you want to be on the forefront of someone’s mind when they think about the particular product or service that you offer. By delivering quality work on time, being professional and courteous, and being upfront about how you want to grow, you’ll be able to grow your hobby into a business that sustains itself through referrals and relationships.

Turning a hobby into a business is hard work. As glorified as it may be, it’s not easy. It takes serious persistence and, most of all, patience. Use these tips to get started and turn your hobby into a serious source of income.

Do you have any tips to add?

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