How to turn your hobby into a side hustle
There are quicker ways to make some extra cash, but to stick with it longer term, try something you love.
Rachel Goclawski needed extra money a few years ago, so the Millbury resident started teaching cooking classes for children — with a twist. The recipes were based on ingredients she foraged from local woods and fields, a hobby she has pursued since childhood, when her grandmother taught her to identify wild plants.
Over time, Goclawski, 45, who works full time as an IT specialist, added workshops that teach children and adults how to forage for themselves, and she began selling the jams, salves, and tinctures she had been making for her family and friends. This now earns her a few thousand dollars per year.
Side hustles like driving for Uber or doing chores for people who post them on TaskRabbit get buzz for being easy ways to make a fast buck. But there are hundreds of ways to earn extra cash. Turning a hobby into a side hustle won’t yield such quick profits, but it can get you paid for doing something you love.
Not everything about running a hobby-based business is fun, however. “You have to wear every single hat,” Goclawski says. There are expenses to manage and supplies to maintain. What follows are tips for keeping your side gig satisfying and profitable.
1. HAVE A PURPOSE
Goclawski’s side hustle covers private school tuition for her daughters, who have mild special needs. Carter Whitlock, who creates upcycled tote bags from plastic feed and grain sacks, was inspired to reduce waste.
Whitlock, 42, lives in Gloucester and works at a local fish market. She got the idea for the totes last year, after the Gloucester City Council voted to ban single-use plastic bags, and she joined Gloucester’s Clean City Commission as a volunteer working on local sustainability issues. She gets old feed sacks, made of woven plastic, from farmers, brewers, and stable owners who would otherwise discard them, and turns them into tote bags (she used to work in the apparel industry and likes to sew). When she sells the bags at farmers markets, she gets to talk to people about the problem of garbage disposal, so “even those who do not buy my product have an opportunity to consider where their waste goes.”
2. KEEP ACCOUNTS
As a hobbyist, you might not keep detailed records of your spending. Once you’re trying to make a profit, however, every penny counts. “You think, ‘Oh! You’ve got free ingredients, this is going to be all profit.’ It isn’t,” Goclawski warns. When she started selling the products she had been making for her family and friends, she was stunned by the cost of customer-worthy containers and shipping expenses.
Paul Murphy, 55, of Arlington tracks every detail of his side gig selling vintage artwork, lamps, and other decorative pieces, including how much he spends on his inventory, cleaning supplies, and rent for space in two shops (one in Cambridge, another in York, Maine). He notes hidden costs, too, such as having to buy a car big enough to hold a large piece of furniture, and the basement room that could be used as a study if it wasn’t dedicated to storing his stock.
3. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS
Running any small business can take over your life, and hobby-inspired businesses are no exception. Having realistic expectations for how much time you have (or want) to spend, and how much money you can make, helps to keep your side hustle from turning into a source of stress.
If you have never run a business before, you will likely have to learn how to set up a website, keep accounts, and create a marketing plan, and consider logistics. If you make or resell things, you may have to invest in inventory before you start earning. Whitlock crafted 200 tote bags over the winter, and hopes to sell them all, at $15 each or two for $25.
Murphy, who works as the communications director for an academic institution, spends hours scouring estate sales, thrift stores, and flea markets (including when on vacation); then researching his finds, setting prices, and merchandising. He nets a few thousand dollars per year in profit but jokes, “If I figured out my hourly rate, I’d probably stop doing it.”
Goclawski sold her handcrafted products online, at craft fairs, and at nearby orchards, but she found she couldn’t produce enough to meet demand. Now students who take her classes are her primary market. “For me, it’s the enjoyment that the people get out of the class, and then they (can) go home with something cool.” The fees she earns from teaching account for most of her side income.
4. HOLD ON TO THE FUN
If turning your hobby into a side hustle is taking the joy out if it, look for ways to make it feel like less of a chore.
If you make art or take photos, for example, you could sell greeting cards and other products based on your designs through sites like CafePress, Redbubble, or Zazzle, instead of trudging to craft fairs or spending your evenings packing and shipping orders from your own online store.
Meanwhile, remember why you started your hobby in the first place. Murphy enjoys the thrill of finding treasures. Whitlock finds sewing meditative, and likes creating something others find useful. Goclawski takes her kids to forage for dandelions, like her grandmother took her, and they have “a good old time” together. “I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t fun; I’d be kind of a masochist,” Goclawski says. “You pick a side hustle that you really love, and that’s not a job.”