If you follow this blog it’s no secret that I’m a fan of side hustles as a way to make extra money and work towards financial freedom. My own personal experience with side hustles is the reason I recommend this approach. My online business originally started as a design blogging side hustle (in 2007), and within a year and a half of consistent effort, it produced an income that allowed me to leave my full-time job.
But that experience from 2007-2008 isn’t what I want to talk about today. The story that you’re about to read happened a few years later.
While I was running my design blog for several years I started to get interested in photography. If you have any interest in photography you probably know that it can be an expensive hobby. Cameras, lenses, filters, tripods, software… it all adds up very quickly.
In 2012 I wanted to upgrade from my point-and-shoot camera and buy a nice DSLR and some lenses, but I couldn’t really justify the $5,000 price tag for the equipment that I wanted.
After all, it was just a hobby.
Even though I was making a nice income at the time, I decided to start a photography-related side hustle to see if I could earn the $5,000. At that point, I had been blogging and running my own websites full time for about 4 years, so I was pretty confident that I could make some money, but I really didn’t know if it would be a lot or a little.
As it turned out, I made that $5,000 in a few months, saw the possibility to grow it much further, and over the next 6 years I wound up making a total of a little over a million dollars. (I did wind up getting a camera, but ultimately decided to spend less than $3,000 on it.)
There are a few reasons I’m telling you this story:
- To show the power and potential of a good side hustle
- To show that you don’t have to be an expert on a topic in order to make some money
- To encourage you to take action and start your own side hustle
→ Related reading: 40 Exciting Hobbies That Make Money
The Details, and How I Made it Happen
Before I tell you more about what I did and how I did it, I want to stress the fact that I was a beginner photographer back in 2012. I’m still not that great, but back then I was just learning the basics.
I also want to tell you some things I didn’t do. If you hear about someone making money with a photography side hustle you probably have some specific ideas that come to mind.
- I’ve never been paid to take anyone’s photograph (portraits, weddings, newborns, etc.)
- I’ve never sold or licensed my photos on any stock photography website
- I didn’t sell prints of my photos
- My photos have never been in a magazine or any high-profile publication
- I didn’t run photography workshops
All of those things are perfectly legitimate ways to make money, and I’d actually like to try a few of them at some point in the future, but that’s not the approach I took.
Instead, I created digital products and a photography blog (turned into multiple blogs, more on that later). I also made some money from affiliate promotions at my blogs, but the majority of income was from selling my own digital products.
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So as I mentioned, I started this project back in 2012. It started with a simple website and a few products, but it expanded into more websites over the years.
Here is a timeline overview:
- 2012 – Launched photography website #1 in the fall and had some success pretty quickly.
- 2014 – Launched photography website #2 in the fall.
- 2015 – Launched photography website #3 early in the year.
- 2016 – Sold website #1 and #2 together for $500,000.
- 2018 – Sold website #3 for $216,000 ($194,400 after broker fees).
Breakdown of the Numbers
As you can see above, I’ve now sold all of my photography websites. The money from the website sales is included in the total mentioned in the article title. Here is a breakdown of how I came to that number:
- $694,400 total for the sale of the 3 websites (that is the total after broker fees)
- $555,826 combined income running the 3 sites from 2012 – 2018
That comes to a total of $1,250,226. My expenses related to running the 3 sites from 2012 – 2018 totaled $111,616, bringing the net amount to $1,138,610.
My Approach to Making Money with a Hobby
I’m not going to list the domains of the websites or list the specific products that I sold. What I hope that you take away from this article has nothing to do with photography or the industry. The same approach that I used could be used in just about any industry or niche. I want to explain the basic steps that I took so you can see how it’s possible to take something that’s a hobby and turn it into a decent income.
You may be wondering how much time I put into these websites, and that’s a valid question. At the start, it was just a few hours per week because I had other websites that I was managing full-time. For about a year and a half (2014 – 2015) the photography websites were my main focus, and it was definitely more involved than a side hustle at that point. But in 2015 my wife and I started an Amazon FBA business that took up about half of my time, so the photography sites went back to a part-time project. Right at the beginning of 2016, I sold 2 of the 3 photography sites to free up more time for the Amazon business. Photography website #3 was always a part-time project, except for a span of a month or two in 2017 when I dedicated more time to creating digital products. In general, it started as a side hustle and didn’t turn into anything more than that until it was making several thousand dollars per month.
If you’re a regular reader you may remember my article How I’ve Made Over $1 Million Blogging. For full disclosure, there is some overlap and these photography blogs were included in that. However, my general blogging income also includes blogs on other topics like design and travel that are not relevant to this article.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at the details of how I was able to turn a hobby into a source of income.
1. I Saw an Opportunity
As I started to get interested in photography and I was visiting websites and blogs on the topic, I noticed that there was a big market for digital, downloadable products related to photography. I saw a lot of websites selling them, and it seemed like there were a lot of people interested in buying them as well.
Although there were a lot of sites selling downloadable products to photographers back in 2012, there is exponentially more competition now. It’s crazy how many sites are selling these types of products now. If you’re just getting started and looking for a way to make money from a hobby I wouldn’t recommend following the same path that I took because it is extremely competitive. Instead, apply the principles I’ll be sharing to another hobby, or take a different approach to making money with photography (like offering services).
I had previous experience selling downloadable products in the web/graphic design niche, so I thought I could use some of that experience to help me with selling products to photographers. I also saw that there were a lot of existing websites and blogs that had established audiences and email lists, and if I could partner with these people and get them to promote my products I could potentially start making money even without my own audience.
2. I Took Action
One of the biggest hangups for many people who want to start a side hustle or online business is simply getting started. A lot of people have ideas and good intentions, but fail to ever move forward and actually get started.
3. I Created Products
In my case, I got started by creating a few products to sell. I looked at these initial products as kind of a test. I hoped I would be able to sell them and make enough money to buy the camera and lens that I wanted, and if it went well, I would continue to create more products in the future.
4. I Set Up My Website
Once the products were ready I created a basic website with e-commerce functionality to collect payment and deliver the products to customers. I used SendOwl to set this up (it was called Digital Delivery App back then). I highly recommend SendOwl for selling digital products because it’s extremely easy to use, has a lot of gre