Friday, December 07, 2007

Do's and Don'ts of Turning a Hobby into a Career

I know the peaks and pits of turning a hobby into a career. Here's how I left the corporate world, including the mistakes I made:


  • Transition carefully, thoughtfully: I was a midnight poet, writing before and after, my work day (a financial writer for a small business publication). On the side, I dabbled with freelance essay writing and other creative projects. My big break-through came when my employer decided to launch a new column about business people & their hobbies. I gladly volunteered to research and write those pieces. That extra work eventually gave me the samples and experience I needed to become a columnist.
  • Network: One of my former managers became a business editor at a major newspaper. I was able to sell her on the idea of a fun piece about the weekend activities of high-powered deal makers. That opportunity led to other high-profile assignments. Likewise, many former managers and co-workers now work at other national, regional and local positions. Those contacts and friendships have led to revenue for me.
  • Work for your old job: When I first started freelancing, my former employer was one of my first clients. The steady assignments initially provided a financial cushion.
  • Be Flexible: Be open to different kinds of clients and different types of assignments. I've written restaurant reviews and I've tutored high school students.
  • Pace yourself: Learn to say no. Taking on too many assignments or too much too soon will harm your reputation if you can't deliver. I learned this the hard way: A few years ago, I agreed to an unrealistic schedule for a small niche publication. What's more, I had competing professional and personal commitments that were already pushing me to the limit. Ultimately, I disappointed one niche publication editor. We have not worked together since. I should have been realistic and just declined the project.
  • Establish a support team: Get the right legal, tax and tech support help. In hindsight, I should have nurtured better ties in those areas before I went out on my own. Hint: There's no MIS team when your computer crashes in your home office.


  • Forget the numbers: It's all about the money. Don't turn a hobby into a career if you lack the capital. Every business has start-up costs and lean periods. You need seed capital and a realistic business plan to get past early difficulties. Don't fly without a net. I've had my share of hard landings and I recommend nets & cushions.
  • Price yourself too low. Be competitive, but set rates that will support you and your business. Don't give away your services.
  • Overwork yourself: Once I worked non-stop for about 36 hours straight, with a small break for a family event. My work marathon led to bronchitis and lung damage. The extra work cost me a lot in terms of medical expenses and lost work. Don't pretend that sleep is optional.

In this post: Silly Goofs That Tank A Small Biz or Self-Employment, I featured advice from Ruth King, president and CEO of I promised to follow-up that post with her tips for "turning a hobby into a business." Here's her list:

  • Be a Shadow/Intern: Find a mentor in your field. Learn the about the nuts and bolts of your business from someone who operates a similar business. Many people are surprisingly generous with their time, talent and advice.

  • Study the back office. Learn and try-out all of the back-office bookkeeping functions that you will have to master as a business owner. There is a lot of paper-work. It's not just about the craft, your services or the products.

  • Learn about your suppliers and industry contracts.

  • Research, research, research.

  • Consider a part-time schedule: Keep your hobby part-time or on weekends only until you have developed enough contracts and contacts to make it worthwhile. Consider working part-time at a salaried post. Think about a part-time job that offers great benefits, such as Starbucks: 10 Reasons Why I'll Work at Starbucks: Late Bloomers Guide to Saving: Pt. 3



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Book Shop of Fear
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Marcus Aurelius said...

Very Timely Frugal Duchess!

Back in 2000 I registered a corporation with the State of Wisconsin. I let it drop after getting flooded by paperwork from the state for employee counts, earnings, etc etc etc. Just today the filing I made with the state to restore the corporation to good standing just took effect.

I have a website my wife and I are using to document our homebuilding project. So far, only the bank, my mother's business (title insurance & escrow company), and our well driller have their own websites. I will hit up our subs with a proposals for a low cost and low maintenance web presence as well as a couple of more intense and more costly sites.

I have a number of filings yet to complete but as you say never forget your rolodex of friends & contacts!

Frugal Duchess said...


Thanks for your comment.
Good luck with your new project!
Take Care,

Father Sez said...

This is very timely for me too.

I am planning to leave the workforce and still trying to gather the courage to take the leap.

Your points will come in handy.


Frugal Duchess said...

Father Sez:

I appreciate the feedback and I wish you lots of success!
Take care,