I write and photograph, and play on the web. Okay, it’s more serious than that, but many think of these things as hobbies. I’ve never thought there were hobbies. They are jobs. My career. My business. I’ve been selling my writing and photography since I was 15. Blogging and web publishing was a natural career move as technology developed along with my skills and business. Writing and photography aren’t hobbies. They paid the rent.
Along with my work, I have hobbies, too. A hobby is something you do for fun, relaxation, and enjoyment. It’s a change from the day-to-day grind of your job, whatever your job is. Luckily, most of us live in a society that allows us hours away from a paid job to do something other than work.
For most, their hobby brings creativity and fun into their lives. It stretches the mind and body, actually making them a better worker for the time away from the job. Hobbies are wonderful things and they need to be honored.
The moment you make money with your hobby, your hobby becomes a business. Things change. You change. The hobby changes.
Recently, people have a new attitude about hobbies. I learned how to knit last year and I’m having some fun with it, making mistakes as one does when they are learning. I sit waiting in airports and offices, knitting away mindlessly, enjoying this new hobby that allows my mind to wander while my hands are busy and I’m accomplishing something. I like hobbies which make things.
Someone notices and they start chatting, eventually leading up to:
You Can Make Money Selling That
I cannot count how many people have admired whatever I was working on with these words, “You could make money selling that.”
I want to hit them or shake some sense back into their brains. I do this for fun. I give them away. Maybe in a few years, when I know what I’m doing and I have too many finished projects, I might sell them at fundraisers, but right now, it’s fun. I like it like that. No stress. No worries, except when I knot things up or make a mistake and have to unravel it. Sigh.
When I start selling my hobby, it’s work. Thinking about selling them is work. Preparing them for sale is work. Monitoring the sales is work. I knit to get away from work. Why would I want to put work into my knitting?
As a photographer, many students come to my business of photography workshops eager to turn their hobby into a business. Why? Because people told them, “You could make money selling those.” Teaching writing and blogging workshops, I’m told over and over again that “Oh, people tell me I should publish my life story.”
Your story may be the best story, your photographs may be lovely, but only a few experts can properly evaluate the quality of your work so you know the real truth of whether or not you could make money with it. It can take years of hard work and skill development before you can make money on your hobby.
Yet, people love saying “you can make money with that”, and over time, we tend to believe things we hear, if we hear them often enough.
When Everyone Turns Their Hobby Into A Business, The Professionals Lose
How much per hour were you paid in your job 25 years ago? Let’s assume it was USD $8.00 for a semi-professional starting position. Over time, you improved your job skills, attended training programs, and moved through the ranks. For the average worker in the United States, in 25 years, your pay rate should have increased to maybe $20.00 an hour? $25? $50? It depends upon a lot of things, but you are certainly not being paid eight bucks an hour for doing the same job you did 25 years ago. Right?
As a professional photographer, the going rate for a photograph 25 years ago was USD $100, for an average use of an image in a typical publication.
Photography was unique in this aspect of turning a hobby into a business. People spent a lot of money on expensive quality equipment, processing, and travel and in time, they wanted some money back. They exhibited their images, entered them in contests, and sent them to magazines and selling one to 6 images a year, for fun. They rarely reported their income and were thrilled no end bragging that one of their pictures was in XYZ magazine, whether or not they were paid for the image. “Published” was payment enough. For the professionals, these people weren’t competition. Until the technology changed.
Photo editors started complaining about paying me the going rate for a photograph. “Why should we pay you $100 when we get get this image for $25?” I’d look at the image and know why in an instant. The picture was horribly composed, photographed in the middle of the day, and slightly out of focus. This didn’t come from the best photographers, ones who earned their right to be called a professional, studying and learning for years, struggling to be in the right place at the right time with the right light, and praying the moment would all come together into a great photograph – but from someone who happened to have a pocket camera in the moment, took a picture, and was told “hey, you can sell that picture!”
How could I compete against the occasional hobbyist willing to let their work sell for 75% under the market value or for free?
The same thing crept into the writing industry. As a writer, I’m now paid the same amount as I made 25 years ago. No pay raises in sight for me. The cost of living has increased greatly, but I have to publish 8-10 times as many articles in order to pay my bills as I did 25 years ago. It’s exhausting. Why? Because anyone can be paid for writing today. Thus, the market value has dropped.
It wasn’t that long ago that writers were paid from 10 cents to a dollar a word. Now, many bloggers are getting paid $10-$50 a post, some even less, no matter how many words they write. If they write 800 words, an average length blog post, for $25, that’s three cents a word. Depending upon the topic, let’s say it takes two hours to write a good, in depth blog post. If you are paid $25 a post, that’s $12.50 an hour. But if it takes you, as it sometimes does me, three to four hours to write the same post, your compensation is worth $6.25 an hour. And that’s just for the writing. Not the invoicing, proposals, marketing, networking, training, and all of the other things involved in writing professionally. Add those hours to the mix and that $25 easily drops to $3.00 an hour or less.
Is it worth turning your hobby into a business if you make less than someone working at McDonalds or Burger King?
That’s the decision facing many bloggers today. And professional photographers and writers are working harder than ever for less money because of the competition from the hobbyists underselling their work because they don’t know how to market their products and services. It’s just their hobby and they are happy making a few bucks and getting published, while professional photographers and writers are taking on two and three unrelated jobs in order to pay their bills.
When Your Hobby Becomes a Business
I’ve watched bloggers turn from hobby enthusiasts, eagerly sharing their words and thoughts with others through their blogs, to businesses as their blogging changes once they put ads on their blogs.
Some say their blogs and writing doesn’t change with the addition of the ads. But it does. We’ve all seen how income from your hobby changes your hobby’s intention and purpose. It becomes about the money, not about the fun.
As I said, if I were to start selling my knitting, I’d have deadlines, quotas, accounting, taxes, watching trends and fashions, meetings with buyers, shipping, advertising, and a lot of business things to consider.
Turn your blog from a hobby into a business and you now have to keep publishing content. You need to track income and traffic, and test drive different ad programs to find what works for you. You may need an accountant to help you figure out your taxes and handle all the paperwork for your online business. You need to watch trends and fashions, producing content to keep your readership growing or the advertisers might drop you. Marketing and public relations become important as you learn the value of an incoming link. Social media and networking is a must to spread the word about you and your blog. Changes in technology can keep you on your toes as you need to incorporate these into your blog – or not. You have goals and deadlines, commitments, and you have to work harder to keep up with your competition.
If blogging is your sole source of income, then every moment you spend blogging and working on your blog has an hourly rate, which needs to be commensurate with what you need for income in order to survive and pay your bills, and hopefully build a better future for you and your family.
Your blog no longer becomes about tapping on your keyboard and smiling when someone leaves a comment on your blog. The thrill of coming up with interesting ways of writing about your subject starts to exhaust you as it becomes a job and not fun.
In my humble opinion, if you want to make money with your blog, enough to cover your costs, then have a few ads and put all your energy into your content and forget the ads are there, if you can.
If you want to turn your blog into a business, then treat it like a business, not a hobby. Be professional. Just like photographers and writers, you have to compete against the hobbyists, but keep your standards high and business practices professional. There is a career and money to be made if you make a business plan, hire professional experts to help and guide you, and keep studying and training, improving yourself and your blog over time.
The rest of you, enjoy your blogging hobby. Have fun with it. It doesn’t have to make you money. Let it feed your spirit not your wallet.
The author of Lorelle on WordPress and the fast-selling book, Blogging Tips: What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging, as well as several other blogs, Lorelle VanFossen has been blogging for over 15 years, covering blogging, WordPress, travel, nature and travel photography, web design, web theory and development extensively as web technologies developed.