Most of us associate work and jobs with tasks and activities that we do out of a need for a paycheck. Of course, some people enjoy their work more than others. I can tell you from firsthand experience that life is a lot more pleasant when you’re able to make money doing something that you enjoy.
From 2008 to 2013, I worked full-time as a self-employed web design blogger. During that time I picked up an interest in photography and started to learn a little bit about the subject. In 2012, I decided to use my existing experience with blogging and selling digital products to see if I could make some money with my new photography hobby.
From 2012 – 2018, I made a little over $1 million (in total) with my photography hobby using blogs and digital products. When I started, I was a total amateur with very limited photography skills. Several years later, I’m a little better, but still not at a professional level.
Despite being just a hobbyist, I was able to make an above-average income and enjoy my work. In truth, my photography skills really didn’t make that much of a difference. I didn’t sell photos or offer services to clients. I made money by blogging about photography and selling digital products.
I wanted to share my own experience in this article because I believe the basic concept could be applied to other hobbies as well. There are plenty of different hobbies that make money, so there are lots of possibilities. If you have an interest in pursuing an income from your own hobby, I hope that this will be helpful for you.
The Keys to My Approach:
Now, let’s take a look at how I was able to earn a living as a hobbyist photography blogger.
The majority of the revenue generated by my photography blogs came from the sale of my own digital products. Info products like courses and ebooks get a lot of attention when it comes to making money online, but in order to sell those types of products, you need some expertise.
There are plenty of other types of digital products that you can create aside from info products. My products were related to photo editing. They were files and add-ons that photographers could use in software like Photoshop or Lightroom. While I was working in the web and graphic design industry, I got some experience with photo editing, so I was always more experienced with that aspect as compared to actually taking the photos.
I sold my digital products on marketplaces, at daily deal websites, and on my own websites. Early on, most of my sales were made at marketplaces and deal sites because I didn’t have existing traffic to my own site. Over a period of time, I worked to increase traffic and sales at my own sites and I relied less on sales at third-party websites.
If you’re wondering how you can duplicate this for yourself, take a look at Etsy. Of course, Etsy is well-known for handmade crafty items, but there are also loads of digital products for sale at Etsy. You could create your own products and start an Etsy shop and take advantage of Etsy’s huge audience to start making sales quickly. If you also start selling at some daily deal sites, that’s basically the same approach that I took in the beginning.
It’s possible that you have an idea, but you can’t create the product yourself. That’s ok. You can always hire someone else to create the products for you. I hired freelancers to create my initial products, and later on, I wound up creating many of the products myself. For about $300 I had my first products created and I was able to start selling.
Partnerships accounted for the vast majority of my sales early on. I sold on a few marketplaces and partnered with several different deal sites to run limited-time promos of my products. The details varied from one site to the next, but typically it would be something like a 10-day offer and I would split the revenue with the deal site.
You may be familiar with deal sites like Ultimate Bundles and AppSumo. There are also many smaller sites that target a specific audience, like the photography deal site PhotoWhoa. Partnering with these sites can be a great way to sell a lot of digital products quickly.
This approach was ideal for me because I didn’t need my own audience to start selling products and bringing in some money. I was able to validate my offer and know for sure that people were interested in it before I spent countless hours building up traffic to my own website.
Part of the money I made from these sales was re-invested to create more products (by hiring more freelancers) and more products gave me the chance to get more promos on daily deal sites, which resulted in more revenue.
I also had partnerships with a few affiliates that sent traffic to my site, and they earned a commission for the sales, but that accounted for a much smaller amount of sales and revenue as compared to the sales on marketplaces and deal sites.
Once I started to make some sales on third-party sites and I knew there was a demand for the product, I knew I needed to work on building up traffic to my own site. Without traffic to my own site, I was dependent on others. If I could get a steady flow of traffic and sales on my own, I wouldn’t need to rely on others.
One of the ways I built traffic was through the use of freebies. The products I sold were in packs. I started offering a few individual items as free downloads and I got links from other websites and blogs to those freebies. Those links started bringing traffic to the site, and then once visitors arrived on the site, they were presented with an offer of more freebies if they subscribed to the email list.
I used the email list to continue to send traffic back to the site (by emailing subscribers about new blog posts) and, of course, to promote products that could be purchased.
People love freebies. You can use freebies to build links to your site, get people to sign up to your email list, and try your products. Some of those people will wind up as paying customers, so it can be a great way to build an audience if you’re starting from scratch.
Although my main goal was to sell my digital products, I used blog content to grow traffic. Some visitors arrived at the site for the blog content, accepted an offer for freebies in exchange for the email address, and eventually purchased other products.
The blog content also allowed me to be more active on social media. Pinterest was an excellent source of traffic for blog posts.
Another benefit of the blog content is that it gave me something to offer to email subscribers aside from constant sales pitches. I sent an email each week with links to new blog content, and I think that helped subscribers to feel like they were getting something out of being on the email list since it wasn’t just one sales pitch after another.
After I had achieved some level of success with selling digital products at my photography blog, I decided to start a second blog, and eventually a third.
The main reason for this was my existing relationships with deal sites. I could only run promos for my products every so often at each deal site, but if I had multiple sites, I figured I could run promos more often and visitors/customers wouldn’t get sick of seeing the same brand all the time.
I know some people would prefer to put all of their focus and energy into one project or website, but for me, the multi-website approach worked pretty well. I was able to grow the second and third one much faster than the first because I already had a proven method and some solid connections.
I’m no longer managing any of my photography blogs/websites because I’ve sold them all. The sales totaled $716,000 (or about $694,000 after broker fees).
The sites did pretty well while I owned them, but selling was also a huge part of the overall project. That’s one of the cool things about building a website or blog is that you can eventually sell it and get a nice sum of money just to walk away.
Why Would I Sell the Websites?
Whenever I share the details of this story, people always ask me why I would sell websites that are making money on a monthly basis. There are a lot of different factors that weigh into the decision to sell a website, and different people will see it in different ways.
In my case, there were two different sales for these photography websites. I sold two blogs/sites together in early 2016 for $500,000 total, and then I sold the third blog/site in late 2018 for $216,000.
With each sale, time was a big factor in the decision. In 2016, I was struggling to divide my time between three different photography blogs and an Amazon FBA business that was growing very quickly. I sold two of the sites because I didn’t think I could manage everything.
In 2018, I was again managing a few different projects after starting my personal finance blog Vital Dollar, and I ultimately decided to sell my last photography blog to free up time.
I’ve always preferred to sell a website rather than hold on to it too long and watch the value decline because it doesn’t get the attention it needs.
It was hard to walk away from my time as a hobby photography blogger, but I can always start another blog sometime in the future (actually, a travel photography blog is part of my retirement plan).
My Hobby Job Allowed Me To…
While I owned and managed my photography blogs, there were several specific benefits related to working on my hobby.
Work on Something I Enjoyed
For a few years, I had the privilege of making a living running a blog on a topic that I really enjoyed. It was still work, but for the most part, it was enjoyable.
Develop My Skills
During the time I worked on my blogs, I was able to improve my own photography skills. As a blogger, you immerse yourself in the topics that you cover, and it’s a great way to learn.
I typically work from home, but while I was running the photography blogs, I was able to do more traveling than normal. The best part is, I was able to incorporate the travel into my work. I used the photos from my trips on my websites, and in a lot of cases, I wrote articles about the places that I visited. Some of my all-time favorite working days were the ones that involved hiking and photography.
Me on a fun day of work hiking and photographing waterfalls.
Ultimately, I ran the websites as a business, so being able to make money was obviously important too. I was able to make a six-figure income working on my hobby and then sell the blogs.
If you’ve ever considered starting a side hustle related to one of your hobbies, I would definitely encourage it. Regardless of whether it remains a part-time thing or ever becomes a full-time income, there are a lot of benefits related to making money with your hobby.
Although I’m no longer running my photography blogs, I’m still incorporating hobbies into my work as a personal finance blogger and blogging consultant. It’s a great way to make your work more enjoyable!