The dream of practically everyone I know is to quit their dull, unfulfilling nine-to-five, and chase their passion while being rewarded with money and fame along the way by loyal, rabid fans and followers, as well as finding joy and satisfaction from creation.
The journey from point A, where you start to think you’d like a creative way to make a bit of money, to point B, where you’re actually earning money by being creative, can seem like a very long and meandering route.
I think a big problem is that there’s often not a lot of transparency with people who have actually achieved it. You might not really see how other people do it, or you might not understand the steps they’ve taken. You might start, only to lose faith along the way when their path doesn’t work for you.
It can take days, months, or even years to make the journey but you know what? We all have to start somewhere, sometime. Here are the five easiest steps you can take to make your hobby something that can pay the bills.
1. Find your passion.
This one is, of course, the most important.
If you’re going to turn a hobby into a lucrative side gig, you absolutely must be passionate about it. You must enjoy it when everything’s going wrong, and you must be able to take rejection for it because I guarantee that will happen. Whether you want to become a YouTuber, an artist, an Instagram influencer, or a wood carver, what you’re doing must be worth more than money to you.
At the start, you won’t be getting paid for it. You will be tired, and busy, and there will be other and easier things you’ll want to do instead.
There has to be a fire driving you in order to begin. No matter what your hobby is, you have to have something to say with it.
I used to believe that my passion was baking. I thought that it wouldn’t take much for a little baking side hustle to take off — I just needed my first big break. When that big break didn’t come soon enough, I quit. There was no passion to keep me going.
In short, over the course of the journey, you will struggle, you will fail, you will be told you’re bad. You need a reason to continue regardless. That’s passion.
2. Find a platform.
One of the best things about existing in this era is that there’s a platform for every type of side gig. If you’re a musician, you can put your content on Soundcloud. If you’re an artist, you can put your work on Instagram. Content distribution is getting better and easier every day, which means it’s simpler for the people who care about (and who hopefully will one day pay you for your work) to find you and applaud you.
A guy from my hometown literally built a solid platform, and when it was Garage Sale Saturday on our street, he sat on top of his platform building furniture, which was his side hustle. People loved the show, and they bought his stuff.
Note: it might take some experimentation to find it. You might discover what you thought was a failsafe platform lets you down. This is where it comes back to passion. Don’t be afraid to branch out and try new or unusual platforms.
There’s the right platform out there for everyone, something that will fit your needs, whatever you’re selling, and your audience. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.
3. Find something to keep you accountable.
Humans suck at accountability. We say we’ll wake up and go for a run, but we sleep in. We vow this will be the last time we eat chocolate, but we buy more cake.
So, we need some kind of way to track when we succeed and watch us when we fail. For running, it helps to get a running buddy. I personally found that for healthy eating, a monetary reward system worked best for me.
On Instagram, I often see people doing photo challenges. They’ll post one picture and say they’re beginning the Black and White challenge, or the Photo a Day challenge, where they have to post in a certain format for a certain length of time.
How can you do this for your hobby? I like a sticker system: every day I do the hobby, I get a sticker. That way you can build on your streak of motivation and effort.
The end point is, find a system that helps you track your hobby. Not the progress, not the goals — just how often you do the dang thing. Give yourself an internal reason to keep going and lend you accountability.
4. Find a community to support you.
I believe it’s very rare that someone will do something well, continuing happily in the face of obstruction, without needing any support from others.
Now, I’m not talking about sycophants who will agree with everything you say. I’m not saying that if you don’t have a single fan, you’ll stop. The are lots of examples of people pursuing their hobby alone, even when the going’s gone very, very tough.
I’m saying it’s easier if you don’t have to do it alone.
For writing, I’ve found that one of the reasons I’ve been able to keep going when I fail is that I’m not alone. The writing communities I’m lucky enough to be a part of are full of incredibly supportive, experienced members who answer any and all questions they can help witt.
It’s chock-full of role models to emulate and aspire to be like; and it also has people who are willing to admit when things aren’t going their way, too.
This last component is most important. It’s great to see successful people and aspire to be like them, but when you’re doing a side-hustle and you look around, social media makes it seem like everyone but you is succeeding. It’s incredibly valuable to have people who confirm that things suck for them right now, too, and you’re not alone, and yes, you will keep going.
The takeaway is to find a group of like-minded people trying to do the same thing as you. Search on Twitter, on Google, at your local grocery store notice board. It’s easier together.
5. Don’t lose your passion once you’ve found it.
This is the one I’ve struggled with the most. When you’re good at something, and people tell you that you’re good at it, and you’re rewarded for it, it’s easy to follow your dreams.
When you struggle, when you get bad feedback, when you look around and everyone’s doing about ten times better, that’s when you run into problems. At that point, it’s easy to forget why you started doing it. It’s so tempting to stop, give up, take a break you won’t come back from.
For me, I was hopeful I could turn painting into a side hustle one day. I was hindered by the fact that I’m not very good at painting, I didn’t know anyone else who was painting, and I genuinely didn’t believe that I could ever earn money from painting.
In short, I didn’t believe it rewarded me enough to persevere.
What I didn’t realize was that a) side gigs can be profitable without needing to be paid; and b) sometimes it takes time to make something financially profitable. Essentially, I overlooked the mental and emotional benefits that painting brought me on a regular basis, in favor of chasing that dollar sign. I also ignored the fact that I’d have to practice — a lot — in order to become good enough at painting to sell my work.
To regain my passion, I had to force myself to paint. And I think sometimes, that’s what it takes: when you run out of motivation, you have to run on willpower alone. It’s worth it. You’ll get there.
What you don’t see behind every successful person who turned their hobby into a gorgeous, creative, fulfilling full-time job, is that someone has worked hard for what they’ve earned.
It’s easy to tell yourself that they’re unicorns, rare breeds who had it easy or got lucky, because that means that if you fail, it’s not your fault.
But everyone can do it. All it takes is finding your passion, your platform, your accountability, your community, and the patience to continue when you feel the passion is gone. As long as you understand it’s a journey, not an overnight transformation, you can turn your hobby into a paying side hustle, which might one day turn into a career.