Do You Have a Business or a Hobby?

Do You Have a Business or a Hobby?

Many people ask me if I think their business idea is a good idea to pursue. That idea is usually based on what they love to do in their free time. Their passion. Their hobby.

And in most cases, the answer to, “Do you think I could make money from this?” is…

No. Sorry.

See, here’s the thing: You may have the most creative, amazing, fulfilling idea in the world, but if you have to dig deep to think of ways to turn that idea into cold, hard cash, you don’t have a business brewing.

You have a hobby.

People have a hard time swallowing that truth. They feel sinking disappointment to hear that what they really love to do isn’t business worthy…

And then they get stubborn.


They grit their jaw. They decide this is what they want to do – they love this! Do what you love and the money will follow!! Everyone knows that!!!

So they give me the virtual finger, go work their asses off throwing together a business plan, mocking up a website, writing copy, and what have you.

But it doesn’t work. A hobby is a hobby. If it’s not in hot demand, it’s going to fail.

And people still don’t get it. They hang on to “businesses” that limp along collecting a client or two here and there. With each customer they manage to rope in, they think, “See?! I was right, James, this IS a business! What do YOU know, anyway?!”

The occasional customer does not a business make.

It’s true that working on something you find personally fulfilling is absolutely grand. It’s true that doing what you love is the best feeling in the world. And it’s true that knowing the work you do changes lives makes you want to do more of it.

Of course, it’s also true that if there’s no real demand for what you love and you’re struggling to pay the bills each month, you’d best get a real job and quit trying to survive off a hobby.

That’s not to say a hobby can’t become a full-fledged business. Many people got their entrepreneurial start from their beloved pastimes. They worked out of their garage or from their kitchen table, crafting labours of love that suddenly became hot items everyone wanted.

These people were lucky. What they loved was loved by many others. And thus, they managed to turn their hobby into lucrative ventures.

Most people? What they love is just what they love. Appreciated by others, possibly. But a business?

Usually not.

Building a business means being honest about actual demand, need and interest. Creating an income stream means letting your head poke up in the clouds of dreams while keeping your feet firmly grounded in reality. It means doing the research and crunching actual numbers, and facing the cold, hard truth.

Don’t despair, though: If the cold, hard truth shows you that your hobby can’t become a viable, lucrative business, then fantastic! Give yourself a high five. You can finally accept that your hobby won’t make you money.

Which means you can focus your energy on figuring out what will. You’ll turn your attention to better ways of creating the money you need, instead of beating up your beloved hobby so that it ekes out a few dollars now and then.

And when you do, you’ll realize that the income-earning business you settle with can give you exactly what you wanted in the first place: the freedom and time to enjoy your hobby.

Sounds like a way better plan, doesn’t it?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Hobbyists are some of the most obsessive spenders on the planet. A hobbyist can get in front of that money stream because it takes one to know one.

    • I *think* you’re saying hobbyists spend money like water and end up with a collection of valuable items cluttered around their legs… this is what I know of most hobbyists, actually.

      They’ll find ways to subsidize their spending so they can continue their hobby, absolutely, but they rarely put income streams as a major priority and ahead of their hobby, sadly.

      • That is what I’m saying, yup, and you’re right. The hobby itself is the priority, not figuring out how to make it work as a business.

        But it does happen. People do it. And people bust into the scene all the time. The top level of any field is not sealed against newcomers. But most folks have no idea what it takes to accomplish that.

        More importantly, I think for many people the effort of doing so would sacrifice their enjoyment of the hobby because it becomes a job.

        Take a look at gaming, for example. There are tons of jobs in gaming and many ways to make money online from it. Yes the big players all seem well established right now but nobody started out big.

        One thing you have on your side is time. It takes time to be knowledgeable enough and to gain the connections. You can keep plugging away and grow slowly. You’re gonna do your hobby anyway, right? After a while you may become known as the “go to” person for something specific and that’s the beginning of a possible business right there. It also takes time to know the market around your hobby. All of this takes more time than you’d think (you’d almost think I’d been considering this for a while, wouldn’t you?).

        • Heh, stranger things have happened… 😉

          I agree with you here: If you’re going to do your hobby anyway, become a master of it. And then become THE person considered the go-to. That can certainly be the beginnings of a business.

          But here’s the crucial part: … the *beginnings* of a business. That’s the reality most people miss.

          Which, of course, you get!

          • Having a hobby is good, but having a business is something difficult. See, most people do what they want and they want to turn it into a business, but in reality having a hobby and being good at something is not enough. Those people need good business skills to even take off an idea. Very rarely a hobbyist also is an expert in business. People should start with that and not jumping over their heads with their dreams if they cant make money of it.

  2. It’s very important to know the difference between a hobby and a business. It’s very easy to assume that they both flow together, but unless you can serve a suitable, sustainable market and provide products/services they are willing to pay for then like you said it’s just a hobby.

    • I’ve seen talented people who don’t make money because they don’t know how to monetize their skill. Most talented people who don’t turn their hobbies into a business don’t use their knowledge as a resource. Talent , knowledge, and skills are intangible resources.

  3. The other thing they need to consider is whether they want a business, OR a hobby that makes money (although a hobby that makes money is usually considered a business by the tax dept). For some people, they may be happy with a hobby that makes a little money. But if they’re looking to make a living – that’s a whole different mindset and approach.

    I think often people have been listening to too many online get-rich-quick people. Often it’s all about “make money doing what you love” and the business aspects are forgotten. They don’t do the market research to find out if what they love will sell, and will sell at a price and quantity that makes it (a) worthwhile to put the effort in; and (b) provides a decent/good/luxurious income.

    Michael, while I agree with what you’ve said about hobbyists (I have several, and I spend a fortune on them), a lot of people don’t look to see if the market is already flooded, or how they can be unique. It’s not enough to just supply widgets for a targeted hobby anymore. And that’s where people are losing out, they’re entering a flooded, marketplace and looking like a clone of everyone else.

    • Good point, Mel – there’s absolutely everything right with having a hobby that makes a little money. Why not?! Great! And yes, that could be considered a really tiny business, and it could grow larger.

      It’s when people persist in insisting their hobby can become a major income stream because they can’t see straight or feel they’re betraying their own passion that gets me. As you mentioned, too many “experts” toss around the “make money doing what you love” BS, and they neglect to tell people it’s just a carrot in front of the nose.

      Make money doing what makes money. And use that money to do what you love.

  4. I guess only a few have found the perfect mix between a business and a hobby. Do you think that just because there’s no competition or demand for your business that it won’t really work? How about creating a demand? That would be tough, I guess. But most successful businesses became one because they stick to their guns when everyone is telling them to quit and venture into something more ‘lucrative’ so I guess, I’m 50-50 on your post here.

    • Actually, most successful businesses became successful because they had a solid foundation, a good plan, proper investment and people who knew how to build and grow businesses at their back.

      We HEAR a lot about those success stories where people stuck to it despite adversity and made it because they make for damned good stories. Inspiration. But it’s like airplane crashes – you hear tons about the one that went down, and nothing about the thousands and millions of planes that had a safe, smooth trip.

      So I’d say that sometimes, when everyone is giving you signals that you should look elsewhere for income… well, maybe you should. 🙂

  5. Great points James, but this is tricky. Bill Gates started in a garage. And, I just heard there are now more family pets in the US, than children. And Michael is right, people send insane amounts of money on their hobbies.

    Maybe we need another post on how to move your hobby into a business.

    My problem is I know there is no market for my hobby, but it’s not making toy boxes, or funky jewelry. Believe me, I would love to give up my hobby. But it’s too important.

    • I’d say knowing there’s no market for your hobby isn’t a problem – it’s enlightening. You now have two choices: find another way to subsidize your hobby with a different income stream, or figure out what PARTS of your hobby might become an income stream.

  6. Hi James,

    An important topic for folks to consider when starting a business.

    I’ve got my main business – branding and design – and then smaller offshoots – essays, paintings, life shops, creative bios, etc. Yet, they all have the same “challenge the status quo” theme running through them.

    The diversity keeps me interested and allows me to be creative in my offerings. It’s easier to find your life theme and work the business around that they just picking out a hobby. To do something on a consistent basis, you’ve got to feel real enthusiasm for it.

    Enjoyed it! G.

    • It’s great you’re doing well within your passion – I’m sure there are a lot of people who envy you that.

      But it’s important to remember the point of the post: enthusiasm, passion, love of what you do… those aren’t (and shouldn’t be) the foundations of a business. It’s GREAT if they’re there in the business and things match up.

      But in most cases, that’s not realistic or achievable without major life moves (that usually involve a stint or twelve in poverty). Business is about bringing in cold, hard cash so that you CAN do what enthuses you, I’d say.

      Though I realize I’m taking a hard stance with this one… 🙂

  7. I believe that hobby type businesses can be ideal for a person like me. I admit that I have to gag a little everytime I say this, but here goes…I’m a stay-at-home Mom. I NEVER thought that I would walk away from my profession to stay home with babies, but that’s exactly what I did.

    I started selling the items that I make online about three years ago. At first when people called my hobby a business, I would laugh. But these days, my hobby turned business brings in a substantial income each month, allowing me to stay home with our three daughters. Often, I have so many orders, I can barely keep up. Yes, I’ve been lucky. But, am I going to get rich doing what I do? Absolutely not. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to produce huge volumes of product. But, as a temporary solution to the problem of having no income what so ever, it’s been fantastic.

    Bottom line, my hobby/business adds a second income to our house hold, when there was only going to be one. Works well for us!

    • Good stuff, Sarah – sounds like you have a success story in the making! And it also sounds like you were realistic about the difference between hobby and business… which certainly helped you develop your business slowly from your hobby. Nice job!

  8. I like how you pointed out the bright side. The sooner one gets out of feeling sorry for himself the better because the “reality” is not that one is lucky and one is not. If you turn your passion into a business and there is demand, you still have plenty of bumps and your passion still gets tempered with “business” activities, so the process is not non-stop euphoria either way.

    There’s a ramp up period where even the successful hobbiest turned biz owner needs to be doing activities that aren’t so “fulfilling” until he can generate enough cash to delegate parts of the business that don’t fulfill him. It’s still a great thing but just not as rosey as one would believe.

    On the other hand, if one can find clarity like you pointed out, and keep his goal on just setting up an ethical business in an area of high demand, he may have a better chance at getting to cash quicker, freeing up more time, and may get more time with his “passion” than the person who started out making their passion into a business.

    So it’s all good either way. Just get some clarity and get moving! 🙂

    • That’s a great comment, Yusaf – and you’re right. You’ll always have times when you fall a little out of love with your business or moments when you’re not feeling the passion… even if what you’re doing was born out of pure love for your hobby.

      It’s learning to weather the storms and discern the differences between what you want to do and what you have to do to do what you want that keeps people moving forward!

  9. I’ve always heard the entrepreneurial cliche of making your hobby into your business so that you can inject passion into your work. Thanks for drawing the line between hobby and business, however blurry it may be.

    The only thing that I cringe at, is when people throw around the word luck with passion and success. If you’ve made your passion quantifiable in both money and happiness, then you’re not lucky… you’re just a hard worker.

    I know you probably meant it that way anyway. Though you’re absolutely right: if you’re holding onto a few customers, you’re don’t have a business, you have a hobby. Cheers!

    • Yeah, I tend to use the word lucky loosely – I believe we make our own luck. Sometimes there are wild opportunities that seem to fall from the sky, but it’s not chance: every choice you made prior to that moment brought you exactly to that “lucky break”.

      So in short, you create luck from hard work!

  10. “Do what you love and the money will follow!! Everyone knows that!!!” …If we all did what we loved then we’d all be rich by now. LOL

    You bring up many great points James! I have had the same stubborn/defiant responses from people who have asked me to coach them or give them advice on trying to take a hobby to a business. Sometimes it works out, most times it doesn’t. BTW – that’s how I got launched … airbrushing as a hobby. 🙂

    There is also one other thing I also encourage people to think about – that when a hobby becomes a business, it can rob the joy out of it because it becomes a job.

    My advice is that if you have a hobby that people are knocking you’re door down for then you just may have a business. Thanks for such a great reminder!

  11. There definitely is a difference between a hobby and a business, but at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with loving what you’re doing. I love what I do, but it wasn’t always my main source of income. I used to just write and voice act and use social media as hobbies, but they then turned into my sole business(es) because I’m damn good at them and I’ve been able to help people in numerous ways, while also making a living.

    These are all things I love but started as just something I did for fun, on the side, or as a hobby. But don’t get me wrong, I know these inside and out and have educated myself to the max, so to me, I guess they’re a bit more than a hobby. I took them seriously and while I never considered I would do them as a full time income, I worked my butt off to make myself the best at them.

    I think you’re more saying that people try to dig too deep to find a business idea that they sometimes think too hard and think that anything can become a business. But not everything can be turned into a successful business. And if that’s what you’re saying, then absolutely I agree with you. They don’t realize that once you turn your hobby into a business, it’s no longer fun and games, you have to treat it like a real business and work HARD.

    Thought provoking post! 🙂

  12. Well, I keep hearing that the real money is in selling the shovels to the gold diggers, rather than in gold digging. That, and also selling them drinks.

    It seems to be true in my hobby, creative writing; tons of people are teaching others how to write. Some teaches and “coaches” don’t even have books published. In blogging it appears to be the case, too. Folks make money from “helping” others to blog, rather than actually blogging. It’s just a feeling, I’m sort of improvising here. I don’t have data.

    So I guess the way to make money on your hobby is to become known to be good (not necessarily to become good), and start selling shovels to the gold diggers. Or at least the drinks.

  13. Oh man… I completely relate to dealing with this from many a start-up entrepreneur: “People have a hard time swallowing that truth. They feel sinking disappointment to hear that what they really love to do isn’t business worthy… ”

    I absolutely love their spirit, but I don’t mince words with them if I think their business isn’t going to bring them viable income. Frankly, I’d rather someone be honest with me about the viability of my project before I spent countless sleepless nights working on it.

    As many have already pointed out the key here isn’t just to focus on doing what you love – it’s to enjoy what you’re doing while providing a product/service that people are willing to pay for.

    For example, my hobby is writing. But most people didn’t seem willing to whip out their checkbook for a few sonnets or a short story. However, I’ve found a huge number of people eager to pay for excellent sales writing. In this case, searching for that happy medium paid off!

  14. Personally, I see my writing as my Life. Far from a Hobby. Means too much to me. A hobby is something you don’t take very seriously but a business, is a lifestyle. Something that flows in you internally and externally. And as long as you love what the BUCK, you doing, then everything is A-okay, like a Dr. Seuss quote.. ( smiles)

  15. In my own vision of this, a hobby can’t be profitable because, well, its a hobby. You can’t have an objective point of view to take good decisions because you are too emotionally involved in it. Pleasure and happiness are prioritised instead of everything else. Because it’s a hobby, we want to keep the flame burning which is impossible 365 days a year when it is transformed in a business.

    I know with a real business, you can be emotionally involved too but not in the same way. They are professional emotions. You love your business and the incomes and you always want to push the management, the marketing and everything in the most effective way. Being productive and generating profits is the priority instead of being in a quest of pleasure.

    Trying to bring a hobby into a business is the path to eventually kill this hobby. Because surely, someday, we always have to face a tough choice or action that burn down that professional honeymoon and change our relation with it. And then, you find yourself doing something very strange… Having another hobby that is not your business.

  16. Well, I respect the hobbyists’ wants to keep/store the creations they make. Of course, it would be better to turn these into a source of income but you know, they always have the choice to follow this advice or not.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Well, that’s easy. Some people hoard because they think the items are valuable – when they’re really not. Some think they might one day need those items – and they never do. Some hang on out of a sense of frugality, to save money… which costs them on several levels. And some have emotional attachments. They just can’t bring themselves to let go. […]

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