How to Take Your Pastime to Full Time

  •    Freelance writer focused on web development, email marketing and baseball. He lives in Los Angeles, but wishes he lived in Tokyo.

You've heard it before: if you work on what you love, then you'll love your work. Who wouldn't like to make money doing their favorite hobby instead of spending all day filling out spreadsheets (unless your hobby is Excel, in which case: congrats!). Pulling this off is easier than it might seem. How can you turn something you genuinely enjoy into a career?

The short answer is one step at a time. The longer answer involves all those steps.

Take Yourself Seriously

Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is just showing up. That doesn't mean you don't have to work at your success, it just means that you absolutely will not succeed if you don't get started. It means that 80% of working out is going to the gym, 80% of writing a novel is sitting down and typing every day, 80% of starting a business is taking it seriously as a business. Once you've started something, you're not usually just going to turn around and leave the minute you get the ball rolling.

To turn your hobby into a business, you have to treat it like one:

  • Set aside enough time to pull this all off. You very likely already spend a serious amount of time on your hobby, but now you'll need to spend time on the business/promotional side of thing. This can be a couple of evenings every week at first, but be consistent.

  • Write a business plan and really think through the steps you'll need to take in order to move your hobby from pastime to profitable venture.

  • Get a business license. Nothing says “I'm serious about making this happen" like paying your city or town the small (but necessary) fee to obtain a license. Now your hobby is suddenly something you'll be able to start writing off on your taxes.

Joe of took his hobby seriously and built an unexpectedly successful business as a result.

Create an Online Presence

We've long since passed the point where a business can succeed without having a notable presence on the internet. Google is the new Yellow Pages and if potential customers can't find you there or on another search engine, then there's a good chance they'll assume you don't exist.

  • Build a basic website. Make a nice home page, give visitors a way to contact you, put together an about page so people can learn about you and your business, get an appropriate domain name and publish it. You don't have to go over the top (at least not yet) — the more ambitious you are with this first version of your site, the less likely you are to ever finish it. Read our post on why your first site doesn't have to be perfect. Establish that your business is real with a tightly packaged, small website that you can worry about building on later as your business grows.

  • Start a Facebook page. If Google is the new Yellow Pages, then Facebook is the new community bulletin board. It's the ideal spot to share your business with your friends and get them to share it with their friends. There are plenty of other social networks to consider, but deal with those later on once you're established. Facebook is the most important.

Deb of used an online presence to turn her love of art into a business. Listen to her story of how she did it:

Build Your Brand Identity

With your presence established, you can start showing what sets you apart from other businesses that provide something similar to yours. Your product/service may be the highest quality, most interesting, least expensive of its kind, but you need to successfully convey that both intellectually and emotionally before people who don't personally know you will believe it.

  • Ask yourself why you think someone else would choose your business. Ask friends why they would choose it. Use these answers to identify and develop your brand's emotional benefit.

  • Use this as the basis of your brand's personality. Every brand, large and small, has a personality. Don't be afraid to show yours off. Determine your target market (budget? high-end? moms? grandparents? teens?) and focus your message in that direction. If you try to be everything to everybody, you won't be anything to anyone.

  • Tell your brand's story. This will likely even be your own personal story, detailing your love of this hobby turned business and/or the neighborhood in which you live. Start a blog and keep it updated every couple of weeks with tidbits of this story.

Betty from built a brand that's all about her own story. You have your own story to tell. Tell it.

Keep at It

To quote Richard Branson, "In business, you will never get everything right the first time. Learn to dust yourself off and get up quickly when things don't go your way."

No matter how many stories you hear about people who achieve instant success, it is far more common for success to take time and effort. Don't give up just because your business hasn't taken off in the first six months or a year. Set small, realistic goals for yourself (first sale by second month, third sale by third month, etc.) and build on those. You have to walk before you can run.