How to tell if your business is really a hobby in disguise

Have you been stuck in start-up mode for too long? Then perhaps you’ve got a hobby, not a business.

I’ll come clean here. When I first started Business Plus Baby, I was in a crowd with some mums who were running successful businesses and some who were making a few pounds (or dollars) from a hobby.

I was determined to run my blog as a business, dammit. I had a new family to feed and I wasn’t going to be faffing around with a hobby. In my mind, the difference between a hobby and a business was this: a hobby makes pocket money (if you’re lucky) and a business makes proper money. An income you can live on.

OK, it might have to be a pro-rata income while my kids were preschoolers, but it was still an income rather than a few quid here and there.

Then I realised it wasn’t as simple as just working harder and making more money. Looking back, I’m surprised I missed this because I had been self-employed for six years before my kids were born. But the part-time working-from-home thing messed with my mind a little (the new baby hormones didn’t exactly help either, but that’s another story!)

When I’d been self-employed before, I’d mostly worked on training projects for bigger businesses. That meant putting on a suit and driving to an office, usually at sensible times of the day. All of which focused my mind to think in a business-like way.

If you’re trying to get a business off the ground in your spare time – and possibly your pajamas, too – it’s easy to drift into a grey area between hobby and business. You don’t think as strategically as you would in ‘office mode’. After all, this is meant to be an escape from 9-5 employment, isn’t it?

Be careful, because this can lead you astray.

You may have a hobby if:

  • It’s a project based around your interests rather than a fully-fledged business
  • You’re still spending most of what you earn on training, tools and generally investing it back into the business
  • You’re still ‘bootstrapping’ : that’s trying to do things for free or on the ultra-cheap.
  • You’re enjoying the creativity of this process, partly because there’s not much at stake yet.

Does any of that sound familiar?

The signs you’re moving into business mode are:

  • You’re no longer selling to just your friends – you’re getting orders from friends of friends and beyond.
  • Your customers expect more of you than they did, for example quality, customer service and professionalism.
  • It’s the right time to build a reputation and a brand for your business, rather than it just being “Helen does that, give her a call…”
  • You need to set up systems if you’re going to continue operating (and keep your sanity!) E.g. You need a process for what to do when an order comes in, rather than just making it up as you go along.
  • You’re still doing almost everything yourself, but it won’t be long before you need help. It’s time to look at virtual assistants, getting help with PR, customer service and finding someone to answer the phone. Or you may be considering franchising.
  • You’re thinking about forming a company rather than carrying on as a sole trader. You’re switching mind-sets from ‘self employed’ to ‘business owner’.

If you’re stuck in hobby mode, it’s time to think about what’s blocking you…

  • Are you still flying by the seat of your pants when you should be planning, setting targets and measuring your progress toward them?
  • Are you still determined to do everything yourself to save money?
  • Are you too knackered to think straight because you’re doing everything yourself?
  • Are you enjoying flitting from one great business idea to the next but never committing to any of them?
  • Are you going with the flow and reacting to events as they come along, when you really need to have plans in place to deal with them before they happen?

The dividing line between hobby and business isn’t just money. It’s professionalism, planning, organisation, commitment, branding and more. Get those right and there’s a good chance the money will follow.

What are (or were) your signs that you need to move from hobby-mode to business-mode? Drop me a comment and tell me…

(This post previously appeared at



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