Is It Time to Monetize Your Hobby? Ask Yourself These 3 Basic Questions

Is It Time to Monetize Your Hobby? Ask Yourself These 3 Basic Questions

Written by Kristin Wong

Topics: Work

Money isn’t everything, but it can help you get from Point A to Point B.

When I was a kid, Point A was begging my parents for Littlest Pet Shop toys, which they couldn’t afford because they were busy putting food on the table. Point B was having the entire playset, complete with carrying case, accessories, and polar pets.

This was my financial goal, and I was determined to reach it, so I started brainstorming ways to make money. First, I asked my Uncle Danny if he could hire me as his professional closet organizer. He paid me twenty bucks to pull everything out of his closet, get rid of stuff he didn’t want, then make everything look neat and tidy. (Come to think of it, I was Marie Kondo’ing before Marie Kondo.)

From there, I enlisted the help of my best friend to wash cars around the neighborhood. The gig went pretty well until I was fired for using a brillo pad to wash a car—oops! That didn’t stop me, though. I threw garage sales, made friendship bracelets, mowed lawns. Eventually, I earned enough to buy the full playset, which kept me entertained for hours.

My point is, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that you can create your own income streams to pay for things you can’t otherwise afford. If you can make that money doing something you actually enjoy, like a hobby, even better. But money can also make things complicated. It can make your hobby feel like work. And if you’re not successful at monetization, that can be disappointing. You then risk giving up your hobby altogether, because you associate it with failure.  

However, if you can find something you’re good at, you enjoy doing, and that people will pay you for, you’ve struck gold. So how do you know when it’s time to give it a try? Here are three questions to ponder before you turn a hobby into a money making venture.

1. Why Not?

If you’re unsure about monetizing your hobby, the first question you might want to ask is: Why not?

If you have nothing to lose, you might as well give it a try. And you can test it out and start small. For example, years ago, my mom started crocheting. She enjoyed doing it while she watched TV, and before she knew it, she had accumulated a small pile of scarves. At the time, I was selling stuff on eBay for my boss as a side gig, so I suggested she do the same. Throw a scarf up on eBay and see if there are any bites. Why not?

My mom earned some fun side cash selling her scarves back in the day. It wasn’t enough to pay the bills, but she was crocheting to relax anyway, so she had nothing to lose, and she started small. Try it as an experiment—if it doesn’t work out, no harm. If you have a blog, put up a small banner ad. If you make furniture, create a Craigslist ad. Enjoy playing guitar? Ask your local coffee shop if you can post an ad for guitar lessons.

But maybe you have a good answer to “why not.” I haven’t tried to monetize my photography hobby, for example. Why not? Because if I did, I’d be forced to improve my technical skills. I’m not very good yet, and while I do want to improve, it’s something I want to do gradually at my leisure.

Or maybe you’re not ready for all the extra work that comes along with monetization. By the time you set up a web page for your mini business, get business cards printed, and figure out payments and invoicing, you could be so taxed from the work that you don’t feel like doing the fun stuff. In other words, maybe your answer to “why not” is that monetization will take away from your tinkering time with the things you enjoy.

Maybe you don’t have time to monetize. Sure, you can start small without investing a whole lot of time in trying to make money with your hobby, but if you’re hard-pressed to find a moment of free time in your schedule, and your hobby is serving the useful purpose of being a relaxing reprieve from work, you might want to keep it that way.

2. Are People Paying for Something Similar?

Just because you’re ready to make money with your hobby doesn’t necessarily mean people are ready to pay for it. I’d be hard pressed to find customers for my feline Instagram management hobby (but hey, I’m open to interested parties).

But if people are already paying for a similar service, that’s a good sign that your hobby has financial merit. In most cases, this is obvious: People pay for services like dog walking and writing and babysitting, for example. They pay for products like jewelry and scented candles. But some hobbies, like playing chess or birdwatching are less obvious. You may have to research exactly how people make money with this hobby. Or get creative—a friend of mine started a business teaching chess to students!

Of course, skill level and experience matter when it comes to how successful you’ll be at monetization. This is another reason it’s important to start small. (My entrepreneurial chess-loving friend? He started as a tutor, with just a couple of students.) Doing so allows you to build your skills and experience. So don’t focus on making a million bucks overnight, try to test out your idea on just one customer. I did this with writing coaching—I simply slapped up a purchase page on my website then emailed a few people I knew to test it out.

3. Are You Ready for the Work?

Turning your hobby into work can often feel like, well, work. If you don’t want to answer to anyone about your hobby, worry about financials, or wait on invoices, monetization might not be for you. Those things can really put a damper on your hobby, so make sure you’re mentally prepared.

I’ve written this before, but there are plenty of advantages to not monetizing a hobby. For example:

  • There’s less pressure to be perfect. Since you’re not selling, you have more freedom to explore the hobby on your own terms.
  • You get to fully enjoy the process. You get to fully indulge the art behind your hobby without thinking about the business behind it.
  • If you change your mind and lose interest in your hobby, it’s easier to give it up when you haven’t yet invested any time or money.

If you’re ready to give up those advantages and think about honing your hobby as a skill, approaching it like an entrepreneur, and invest more time and energy into it, then you might be ready to monetize.

How to Get Started When You’re Ready

When you know you’re ready to monetize, there are a few tasks to get you started. First, research and brainstorm ways you can make money with your hobby. When I was a newbie writer, for instance, I was hungry for articles and advice on how established writers made money.

From there, come up with a test or experiment for making your first buck. Maybe that’s making $50 in advertising revenue on your blog by July. Or maybe it’s selling one thing on Etsy by June. Or finding one consistent pet-sitting client by the end of the year. Start small and come up with some actionable steps to get there.

Once you do, you can take stock of what you learned. Ask yourself more questions: Did you enjoy it? Do you want to continue? And if so, how can you take it one step further? Maybe that means creating an ad for your writing coaching. Or creating a schedule and inventory for your scarves.

Making money isn’t everything, and if the idea of going financial with your hobby makes you cringe, there’s no need to force it. Sometimes a hobby is just a hobby, and that’s okay, too. But if you’ve got money on your mind, there’s also nothing wrong with earning a few bucks doing something you enjoy.

Your Turn

Have you ever tried to monetize a hobby? What worked and what didn’t? How did you know it was time?

neil_2017_2Kristin Wong has written for the New York Times, The Cut, NBC News, and Glamour magazine. She’s the author of Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford. Kristin is a writer, but she’s also an amateur photographer, speaker, podcaster, and recovering workaholic. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @thewildwong.

6 Comments

  1. Linda Ursin says:

    I have monetized more than one hobby, or at least I’m trying to :D I’m doing it because I don’t have a choice if I want my freedom. If I had other ways to get the money, I wouldn’t do all this work.

  2. Kirk Crippen says:

    I have been doing just that for the past year and a half. I have used my baking and fudge making abilities for raising money for bike events as well as building or attempting to build a customer base. I am considering at looking into turning my baking into a home-based bakery and see where it leads. I love to bake delicious cakes and breads and I enjoy making others happy through my baking and bring a little touch of childhood memories back into their lives.

  3. Brody says:

    I’m conflicted about monetizing any of my hobbies! On one hand, it sounds like a great way to not end up surrounded by finished projects, as well as giving me an opportunity to explore creating things. On the other hand, I never want my hobbies to feel like an obligation. I’ve seen friends monetize their hobbies and then basically end up feeling like they were in a sweatshop of their own making, with zero enjoyment left in the thing they used to find delightful.

    I’m considering exploring a very small version where I basically set up a table at the farmers market or a tiny local craft fair or something and see what happens. Or seeing if a local shop wants to carry my stuff. But not stress too much about it!

    • Kristin says:

      “I never want my hobbies to feel like an obligation.” Yes, this. Because as much as we’ve all heard the old “do what you love for a living and you’ll never work a day in your life” cliche, in reality, it IS work and it feels like work a lot of the time.

      Also, I love the idea of trying things out on a smaller scale.

  4. J2 says:

    This is exactly what I needed to read! Thank you!

    I’ve recently monetized my microlearning video-making hobby. I’m starting with just one friend (and I CAN’T charge her!), but her network may bring me more clients. Above all, I still love the work part of it.

    Who knows? Maybe I’ll learn how to make stop-motion videos with my knitting and crochet projects next. ;)

  5. Bethany says:

    Thanks for writing this! I’ve been making money by baking dog treats for the past four years, but I’m bored to death with it now and looking for a way to transition to something else…these are questions I really needed to ask myself.

Leave a Comment