5 Tips for a Successful Hobby Side-Hustle

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You spend a lot of time on your hobbies. Ever wonder if you could monetize them? I don’t mean “make a living“. That would be work! No, I mean wouldn’t it be cool to recoup some of your expenses with your fun activities. I’ve painted miniatures on commission, because I enjoy painting. Plain and simple. I like the challenge of working (and completing) projects that I might never had tried if it weren’t for helping others’ with their particular need. I provide a service with my skills in a particular hobby, because it’s fun.

In this article, I go over a few tips for making sure your hobby side-hustle is successful.

  • Some people have home-based businesses. I don’t consider painting miniatures or other hobbies “a business”. But, if you’re getting “paid to do your hobby”, then you should approach your projects as a professional.
  • The tips below are useful even if you don’t make any money from your hobby, such as painting miniatures.
  • Hobbies are about making and keeping good relationships. Don’t let money get in way.

Hobbies that I’ve been paid to do

  • Painting miniatures
  • Assembling miniatures
  • Photography (e.g., stock photography)
  • Voice over work
  • Video production
  • Drawing and sketching
  • 3D modeling and printing
  • Creative writing/blogging

Of all of these “hobbies that make money“, the one that has been easiest for me to stick with has been painting miniatures and writing.

The secret I’ve learned to making money with a hobby is that you have to enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t, then your hobby does indeed become a “job”. I know I’m going to repeat myself about this.

Don’t take money for your hobby if it turns your hobby into work.

Here’s my simple definition of work:

Work is something you do when you’d rather be doing something else.

Pretty broad, isn’t it? When you’re doing something, but would prefer to do something else, that thing becomes a “work thing”.

I’m probably getting myself in trouble for over-simplifying the issue. Look, here’s the bottomline.

Keep your hobbies and work separate. Money tends to muddy line between fun activities and responsibility.

Your challenge is to enjoy the benefits of both.

MORE: Tips for making income as an artist online


Here are 5 tips for successfully navigating a hobby that also happens to make money.

1. Structure your Routine

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Do you want to be more productive?

Of course, you do!

But, this is more important: having fun and enjoying your time.

The worst thing you can do when you’re making money is dreading the time it takes to do it. This is especially true if it’s your hobby!

Look, if you’re planning to bring in any useful amount of money from your hobby (e.g., painting miniatures, whatever), it’s going to take up a slot in your daily routine. You’ll have to think about the time it takes to finish a project.

You can only fit so many books on your bookshelf

I don’t want to think about deadlines or meeting expectations when I’m working on something that’s supposed to be enjoyable.

You already have a day job, don’t you?

We all tend to fall into patterns with our day-to-day activities. All of us naturally form familiar routines and schedules to fit our needs.

Sometimes you don’t even realize you’ve fallen into a habit of doing certain things.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up?

Usually, it’s hitting the bathroom. Or, maybe it’s lighting up that first cigarette of the day. Doesn’t matter. It’s your routine and it works.

Your body and brain learn to focus best when you don’t have to devote extra energy making new decisions.

Use your daily routine as a structure for your advantage.

Set a schedule for how you want your hobby time to look like. Be ready to enjoy yourself when you do hit that painting desk, your digital dark room (e.g., Adobe Lightroom), or tending to your garden.

This is your personal time. That means you have full control over your schedule. You create the schedule that maximizes the way you like to live.

I know that I’m most active at night. I’m mentally nocturnal.

Night owls are more creative individuals (source).

Whatever you’re working on, if money is a factor, you’ll want to make sure you enjoy that time. Structure can help!

2. Stay Connected

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Here’s an important thing to remember as you work on your hobby and get paid to do it.

You will become lonely.

Wait, how does someone become lonely working on a hobby? Well, the dilemma is that you will be tempted to dive a bit too deep into a project. The idea that you’re getting paid to do something will drive you to work harder than you normally would if it were “just your fun hobby time”.

Most hobbies that pay decent are those that you’ll work on alone.

Do you need to be around other people to paint miniatures, work on a 3D model, compose music, or tend your garden? No. In fact, you may realize that being around other people during these “hobbies” will slow you down.

To get the work done efficiently, you’ll want to work on these hobbies without people around to distract you.

And, there’s the problematic rub.

You need to be connected to truly enjoy any hobby. You don’t have to be in the physical presence. But, you’ll want to be within a community of other likeminded individuals.

A community of other hobbyists is the key to maintaining a sense of purpose, excitement, and even discovery in your hobby.

Sure, you’re getting paid to do whatever you’re doing, but the atmosphere within your chosen hobby community will be a breath of fresh air when you need it.

I think one of the best ways to maintain connections within your hobby community is social media.

Okay, social media is a bad phrase in some circles. I know some people eschew using the internet and sharing their daily lives online. I completely understand.

But, I would venture that if you’re making money with your hobby, then you’re already in some type of community. In this case, here’s your encouragement to maintain your relationships and don’t let your paid gigs get in the way.

Finally, a side benefit of staying connected is you’ll be networking in a natural way that may become useful for you later. In other words, by staying within a connected hobby community you’ll encounter unique opportunities, such as finding (or being) a mentor, or creating a group of people who bounce ideas off of each other and give advice that can help you in surprising ways. 

3. Keep Organized

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Do you know the C.R.A.P. method for painting miniatures? It applies to more than just painting models.

In the CRAP method, staying organized is a key feature for staying productive.

If you want to be efficient and get stuff done, especially for a hobby side-hustle, maintaining an organized workspace will be a major boost. You’re not wasting time tracking things down. Whatever tool, reference, or instrument you need will be right where you stored it.

MORE: BEST STORAGE AND DISPLAY ORGANIZERS FOR MODEL PAINT

With any business, a hobby that pays will require you to keep track of incoming revenue and outgoing expenses. Of course, if you’re doing something for a friend, then money is no object.

On the other hand…

If you want some profit, then it will be handy to keep a schedule of your work and what it costs for you to execute a project.

Find a scheduling or project management app for your smartphone or tablet. I have a cloud based workflow for book keeping, e.g., Google sheet, iCal. This becomes vitally important if you have multiple projects happening at the same time.

For those of you who have more involved logistics, you may want to use pre-made business templates https://www.templafy.com/business-document-templates/ for invoicing and contract fulfillment. These kinds of things reduce the time you may waste on creating and updating your books.

I keep track of things like deadlines, payment transactions and dates, contact information, and other important notes, e.g., instructions for revisions/updates.

When I was at peak productivity, I also had to manage workflows around my other daily responsibilities. Staying organized helped keep any stress at bay and kept my hobby time fun. I was able to work within my limits and keep free margins so I didn’t overwhelm myself.

4. Set Expectations

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I used to work in a client-facing job in Midtown Manhattan, New York. The most important lesson I learned was this:

Always manage expectations

Never promise something you can’t 100% deliver.

I’ll say it again. Never under-deliver on a project. Meet or exceed expectations.

That is your #1 goal if you’re trying to turn your hobby into a money making business. I’ll underscore this again.

If you’re serious about making money from your hobby, then you’ll have to go above your normal fun expectations.

This is how you keep people coming back to you.

For a hobby, does this sound a bit too business-like?

If you enjoy your hobby and are making some money here and there, that’s cool. But, if you want to drive an actual income that can dent your daily working expenses and recompense your time and skill, then you’ll want a continuous project pipeline.

If want to continue your hobby-business, then you’ll need to apply and maintain a few key business principles. This is a topic for a different article.

Look, if you’re going to accomplish anything in a timely fashion, you need to set hard goals. The good news is that these are usually simple deadlines for a project.

When you deliver, you’re done.

Everyone’s goals, however, will be different.

When you starting a project for someone, make sure all the expectations are clear.

Here are some tips when you kick-off a project:

  • Set expectations with clear goals
  • Repeat instructions back and clarify every detail
  • Put instructions and expectations in writing
  • Keep your client/customer updated on your work progress

A good relationship with a client will allow you to set clear goals, meeting expectations, and deliver on time. Set goals for your client and yourself!

5. Be Professional

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There are a lot of hobbies that make money. But, what separates the normal hobbyists from the professional hobbyist is professionalism.

What is professionalism?

  • Professionalism is a spectrum of characteristics.
  • A person who exhibits professionalism is someone who conducts themselves with an attitude toward providing a high quality service, product, and manner.
  • A professional invests their best effort to meet their client’s need.

You don’t need to be paid to exhibit professionalism.

When you’re getting paid to do a job, you should respect the project. Someone has entrusted you with something sacred. No, not money.

You have been entrusted with a faith in your abilities.

Did you know money may be a tangible unit for “trust”? (source)

When someone thinks your ability and skill is worth giving money for (and perhaps repeatedly for multiple projects), that is not something to take for granted.

I’ll repeat: When you get paid for your hobby, it means you have a skill and talent that someone is willing to pay for.

It comes down to reputation and honor.

  • Are you reputable?
  • Do you have a sense of honor?

Be a professional, because that’s the best way to return a favor for someone trusting you.


Final Word

Here are the 5 tips for successfully navigating hobbies that make money:

  1. Structure your Routine
  2. Stay Connected
  3. Keep Organized
  4. Set Expectations
  5. Be Professional

Money comes easier to some people than others. But, this article isn’t really about money.

Hobbies are about finding and maintaining good relationships.

It’s about how your hobby, your free time, becomes a way for you to create proper relationships.

When your hobby starts making money, you learn how to form better relationships with your free time. You create a better relationship with your toys, your tools, and material belongings.

You learn to value things in a good way. Your perception of what is important and what is not clarifies itself.

When you form a relationship with someone who is paying you for your hobby, that’s important. Not just because you have someone who will want your service again, but you will discover what you value in other relationships.

Really, a successful hobby side-hustle is not a regular job. It’s a hobby on top of another hobby.

Getting paid for a hobby is merely a layer up. Icing on an already yummy cake.

What’s that saying? “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”

But, I disagree.

You can have your cake, eat it, and make more cake.


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1 thought on “5 Tips for a Successful Hobby Side-Hustle”

  1. These are all great tips and you are so right about not taking money if it turns your hobby into work. As a photographer I’ve done this many times. People know you have a camera and take photos they just assume you want to do all photography. Hey, those landscape photos are amazing, do you want to shoot my wedding? LOL, learning how to say no has been something I’ve been practicing. Finding a structured routine, with kids, has been my recent goal.

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