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Hobby or Hustle? Here’s How to Decide

A woman sitting at an office table looking off in the distance.
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So, you’ve found a new hobby, and you absolutely love it! Maybe you’ve discovered the thrill of snowboarding or just picked up a paintbrush. Perhaps you’ve realized you have a knack for finding the best vintage clothes at the thrift store.

In today’s gig economy, you can turn almost any hobby into a money-making side hustle with enough effort. However, this can leave you feeling pressured to turn everything you love into a part-time job, which can suck the joy out of each new hobby.

Both hobbies and side gigs can be wonderful parts of your life, but how do you know whether you should turn a hobby into a hustle? Here are some ways to know where to draw the line.

Look at Your Schedule

If you’re good at a hobby—and, especially, if you’ve been doing it for years—it’s often tempting to think monetizing it will be simple. However, turning a hobby into a hustle is a time-consuming effort, no matter how experienced you are. If you’re already pressed for time, it’s probably not going to work well.

When you decide to monetize your hobby, you might need to invest some time into improving your skills. However, what really makes the process time-consuming is all the work required to get the word out about what you do.

You might need to build a website, create a social media strategy, attend networking events, design business cards, and much more. If adding those kinds of responsibilities to your schedule doesn’t sound feasible, your hobby should probably remain a hobby.

Consider Your Budget

Similarly, turning a hobby into a hustle can also drain away a lot of funds. Can you stand to lose money right now?

This might seem counterintuitive. After all, the whole point of a side hustle is to make more money. However, 29 percent of small businesses fail because they run out of money.

Before your side hustle becomes lucrative, it will just be an additional expense. For example, you might need to spend cash on promotional stuff, like flyers or web design. You might have to rent or buy a booth from which to sell your wares or purchase supplies to create your product. Also, until people know who you are, you won’t be making much income.

If you can afford to weather the storm until your project becomes lucrative, go ahead and hustle. If you’re already strapped for cash, though, stick with your hobby for now.

Do a Trial Run

One good way to decide if your hobby should be a hustle is to try it out in a small way.

For example, let’s say you’re considering selling vintage clothing online because you love thrift shopping. Before you invest lots of time and effort into building a website and Instagram presence, list a few things on Etsy to test the waters.

A low-effort trial run like this can show you what your next move should be. If you find that you enjoy the work, you can grow the project into a hustle. If you decide you’d rather keep your hobby casual, you won’t have lost much time, energy, or money figuring it out.

Research Your Competitors

To learn how well your hobby will work as a hustle, you might want to see what the competition is doing.

Of course, you can also launch a gig no one else has thought of before, but if you can make money doing it, someone’s probably already tried it. Do a bit of online research on how others might have turned the same hobby into a part-time job.

If there’s a lot of competition, that’s a sign that it’s probably easy to get started. However, it might be harder to make much money unless you stand out from the crowd. If you don’t find much competition, it might indicate that it’s more difficult to monetize that particular hobby. However, that also means you could potentially make more money if you put in the work.

When you research your competitors, it might also give you some good ideas about how to market yourself, and what not to do. For example, you might find some websites that look appealing, and others that don’t. Use this research to strategize your hustle.

Explore Other Hobbies

It’s valuable to have at least one hobby that you engage in purely for fun. If you only have one at the moment, think twice before you turn it into a job.

Hobbies provide an important outlet, but if you turn your only one (or all of them) into a side hustle, you’ll have to face the prospect of working constantly, and you’ll burn out fast.

Be Realistic

This question might be a difficult one to ask yourself, but it’s very important. Are you actually good at your hobby?

Try to answer honestly. A lot of people enjoy doing things they’re not very good at. If you want to turn something into a side hustle, though, talent is what makes the biggest difference in the results. If you’re not already great at what you do, you’ll struggle to find customers, and you might get frustrated by the pressure to do better.

Of course, with practice and training, you can get better at nearly anything. If your beloved hobby lies outside your natural talents, consider improving your skills before you try to monetize it.

Embrace Learning Opportunities

A woman at a table in a cafe listening to something on her laptop as she looks out the window.
Flamingo Images/Shutterstock

Finding opportunities to learn and improve your skills is also a great way to see if you should turn a hobby into a side gig.

Check out local classes, online courses, or books on the subject. Watch YouTube tutorials or seek out a mentor. If you want to monetize a hobby, you need to invest this kind of effort to make yourself marketable.

If you find that you’d rather keep enjoying your hobby at your current skill level, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you probably shouldn’t make it a side job. To succeed at a side gig, you have to be committed to constantly learning and improving.

Talk to Other Entrepreneurs

No matter how small your side gig is, once you have one, you’re an entrepreneur. While you work on that hustle, you’re your own boss—and not everyone is especially good at this.

To find out if that lifestyle will work for you, meet with other entrepreneurs, and ask them about their experiences. Reach out to friends, family members, and colleagues who freelance, own small businesses, sell handmade art, and so on. Ask them what an average workday is like, and what they had to do to make their side gigs viable. This inside look can help you decide whether the entrepreneurial life is for you.

Turning your hobby into an income stream is often romanticized in today’s startup-loving work culture. Sure, it can be great, but it’s easy to forget that hobbies don’t always have to morph into serious endeavors. Consider these factors as you make your choice and listen to your instincts.

If your hobby is meant to be a hustle, it will probably just feel right when you give it a try.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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