Scott H Young

Should You Try to Make Money?


Almost everyone is an artist.  If you create something original, you’re an artist.  Whether that medium is music or software, it doesn’t matter.  A big question for a creator of any kind is whether to keep a passion as a hobby, or try to use it to make an income.

It didn’t used to be this way.  There was a clear dividing line between hobbies and work.  Technology has made it possible for small-time artists to blur this line.  Bloggers, amateur designers and basement programmers have been able to make a decent living pursuing a hobby, the question is: should you do it?

It’s Your Choice

I’m not going to discuss the problem of whether artists should be allowed to make money off their work.  I think the answer is a definite yes.  Anyone who has spent hundreds of hours working on a project can attest that money certainly isn’t everything, or even the most important thing.  However, by putting in all of that work, you should be able to choose your reward for success, whether it is money, praise or change in the world.

Ultimately, the decision to go pro needs to be made on an individual basis.  Some people can really enjoy turning a pastime into a business.  For other people, it will just be an overhead nightmare, sucking the joy out of an activity you once loved.

Making Money and Creating Art Aren’t The Same Thing

Typically, successful independent software developers don’t spend most their time developing software.  Profitable developers often spend only about 30-40% of their time actually writing code.  Some of the most successful developers spend less than 10%.  For this website, only about 30% of my time is spent writing.

As soon as you start trying to make money, you introduce overhead.  I’ve found that the most successful micro-entrepreneurs, spend the largest chunk of their time on marketing.  Generally, you don’t spend time on marketing if you aren’t trying to make money.

If you don’t like the business activities, don’t try to make money.  With few exceptions, making money isn’t just a process you can slap onto a hobby.  It takes serious consideration, and often occupies more of your time than the actual creating.

The flip side of this is, of course, by turning a hobby into a money maker, you might be able to quit your job.  This can end up giving you more time to create because, while you’ve added overhead, the extra income means you don’t need to spend time working somewhere else.

I enjoy doing the overhead work and business-creation at least as much as I enjoy writing.  But this is my preference, not everyone’s.

Money Can Kill The Joy

I stopped freelance writing in August.  Although I enjoyed writing for direct payment more than any other job I’ve had, it wasn’t as fun as writing for free, or writing for this website.  I enjoy writing a lot more when I know that I’m not going to be paid a cent for finishing an article or book.

When you directly exchange your time or efforts for money, it’s easy to lose some of the joy.  Now, instead of being a fun, voluntary activity, it becomes work.  I’ve found that working indirectly for money by building a business (instead of per article or per deliverable) helps this problem.

Some Hobbies Aren’t Good for Making Money

Just because you like your paintings, that doesn’t mean people want to buy them.  A hard lesson to learn for any micro-entrepreneur is that people don’t want what you’re selling.  If your reason to go pro is the dream of watching thousand dollar payments roll in while you sit back and relax, stop fantasizing.

Why Making Money is Good

I’ve just presented a few arguments for why any amateurs should think hard before starting to earn money.  But, there are also many reasons to go pro other than greed.

More Professional Projects

When you’re limited to your own volunteer activities, and the help of whoever you can trick into working for free, you’re weaknesses will always show up in the final result.  If you’re a great programmer, but lousy interface designer, your software will be hard to use.

Earning money from a project can give you the resources to make it better.  Instead of having to do everything yourself, you can focus on your strengths and hire people to do what you can’t.  Revenues can allow you to improve what you have to offer to the world.

Work on a Bigger Challenge

Earning money gives a very specific, measurable goal.  When your goal is more abstract, it can be harder to focus on it.  Earning money for me is a huge motivator, not because I really desire the extra cash, but because it turns a vague, open-ended task into a concrete and challenging goal.

Quit Your Day Job

I’ve never understood how some people live double-lives.  They spend the majority of their day working jobs they either tolerate or actively dislike, to spend their off-hours working on satisfying projects to give away for free.  There are valid reasons for this, and I mentioned a few of them above.

However, why does their need to be a split?  Why should the activity that gives you meaning and passion in life be separated off from the activity that earns you money.  It would be like eating all your food in two different meals: one which has no nutrients, but flavor and another that fills you up, but tastes like cardboard.

All or Nothing

I’m of the opinion that pursuits to earn money should be an all-or-nothing approach.  Either you keep it an amateur effort, free of overhead and customer service, or you work to build it into something meaningful.  There are two big reasons for this:

Most micro-businesses take a lot of work to reach decent income levels.  I probably earn about $50 per hour based on my monthly income and earnings per month (although it varies considerably).  When I started, it was probably about $0.04 per hour.  Although you don’t need to start at such a low level, exponential scaling is important.  Putting in half the effort might only give a tenth of the results.

Second, the potentially corrupting factors of money occur no matter how much is involved.  Hobbies become work whether you’re paid $0.10 per hour or $1000.  The business overhead of earning money tends to be all-or-nothing.

What are your thoughts: make money or keep it a hobby?


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10 Responses to “Should You Try to Make Money?”

  1. J.D. Meier says:

    Hey Scott –

    I think it’s important to find the most efficient and effective way to fund your life-style and needs. It needs to be consistent with your “why” and “hows” and you need to live your values on the job. You don’t need to make money from your passions, but you do need to be passionate about what you do.

    If you’re in a scenario where you hate your job, then follow your passion or decide to find the passion in what you do. I’ve seen a lot of turnarounds happen simply from that one decision.

    The worst mistake I’ve seen is when people try to make their hobby their income and then kill their passion and fail at supporting their basic life style or needs.

    A good pattern I’ve seen is when people figure out what they really want and find a healthy work life balance, where they find the job in their day job and carve enough time for their hobbies.

    The exception is when you have a hobby and real talent and you haven’t reached your potential.

  2. Koichi says:

    This is a great article, and really lays things out nice and cleanly. I’ve finally figured out a way to turn my (online) passion into a job, which came from my blog about learning Japanese. I spent a year and a half building up my blog, and then I was able to turn it into a thing where I taught one on one lessons via webcam on eduFire (though it has since turned into me doing other things for eduFire as well, to fill up a good 40 hrs a week). Thanks to the net, I’ve been able to do exactly what I want, even though it’s a really small niche.

    I bet we’ll see more people doing this kind of thing as the economy swings downward. No money really brings the creativity out in people!

  3. Juliet says:

    Hi

    Thanks for the interesting debate.

    I believe in doing what you love and loving what you do. “Work” (if one must call it that) should be something you enjoy. In a way, its a money-making hobby versus a non-money-making hobby that you can still do for fun on the side.

    Juliet

  4. BeyazTavsan says:

    Good point with day & night jobs. I especially liked the meal example. However, I really think that quitting the day job is not as simple as it seems when you’re married and have kids. I think this is the most important dilemma that the ‘awakened’ corporate workers have. Although there are a lot of big words and bullshit, there isn’t any concrete way to ‘quit the day job’. Yes there are recommendations, but nothing concrete. I’m very happy for you that you have started with the job=hobby way when you are meaningfully young.

  5. Graem says:

    I think everyone wrestles with this question in their youth.

    Then there comes a time when “choosing money” is not such a difficult or agonizing decision. It’s just a way to prioritize and support a preferred lifestyle.

    While the “starving artist” (or entrepreneur) approach may be poetic or exciting while you’re in or just fresh out of school, being broke quickly gets old when you start incurring real life expenses… I mean, basic things like rent and car insurance.

    My personal opinion is, focus on learning how to make money at something you can be good at, and you’ll fast learn to enjoy it. Trying to do it the other way around rarely works out with the same results.

  6. Jun Loayza says:

    I am all for turning your hobby into something you can make money with. What could be better?

    After reading your comments about how making money could kill the joy, I can understand how some people might want to keep their joy-life and work-life separated from each other.

    Overall, I feel that the happiest life is one where work and play are one in the same. People usually dislike their life because they hate their job. What could be worse than to wake up every morning, work at a place you dislike, then go home and rest, only to wake up the next morning to start all over. It’s terrible! So, if you can make money doing what you love (which in this case means your hobby), I say go for it!

    Now actually making the money is the hard part!

    Jun Loayza

  7. Kali says:

    My opionion is of Elton John’s “Burn Down the Mission.”

  8. Josefine says:

    On of my secret hobbies is collecting stamps, but I wouldn’t go that far to quit a job for it. On the other side, I am really looking forward to finish my PhD next year, so I can do full-time what I love to do, getting more involved in internet marketing and being full-time on the project I have started.

    As you have said, not every hobby is appropriate to be a replacement for a 9-5 activity. But who knows … if you are passionate and self-confident enough, you might even turn a stamp collection hobby into a nice income stream that can replace your job.

    If you don’t try you will never know.

  9. Wonderful post! As someone who turned what was basically a hobby into a full-time gig, I can speak of the wonderful sense of fulfillment and growth that I had every step of the way.

    To me, a key to “success” (whatever that means to you, which is why it’s in quotes) is to stay open and flexible and consider the whole thing a wonderful learning experience.

  10. I am following a path similar to you Scott. I’m writing a spirituality blog at my site and want to make a full time income off it soon to free time.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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