This is your business, not your hobby

My attitude has caused me to miss so many opportunities it’s really not funny.

If I had a different attitude back in 1998, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this to you now. I would probably be retired.

That was when I started dabbling in this whole making money on the Internet thing. I was still living at home with my parents at that point and was just trying to make a few dollars here and there.

I know, it’s always 20/20 hindsight. However, if I could have my time again I would do things so much differently.

Back then all this stuff was new to me, as it is for many of you. As a result, it was exciting and fresh and most of all fun. I’d stay up all night working on my sites, fluffing around with this and that.

I loved it and it really didn’t feel like work.

In most people’s minds, this sounds like a good thing. However, there is a core problem with this that can actually harm your quest for making money online.

You see, most of us are programmed to do two kinds of work. The work that earns us money should be hard. This is serious stuff and most of the time is neither fun, nor would you ever want to do it for free.

Then there is the other kind of work that is enjoyable. Normally what would be considered your hobbies. That might be surfing, building model airplanes, photography, etc. It’s the kind of work that can be hard, but doesn’t have to be, and you’re doing it because you enjoy it.

So you’re programmed that if you’re enjoying yourself, and you aren’t earning a lot or any money from the exercise, then it’s simply a hobby.

Unfortunately, there lies the root of many people’s failure to make much money online. They see it as a hobby.


When you treat your business like a hobby, there are all sorts of negative side effects as you might imagine. Let’s take a look at a hobby of my own, analog photography or what is often called Lomography.

Most of my cameras take only 12 shots on very old 120 film. I walk around all day trying to find suitable subjects and carefully take every shot knowing that I have only one chance to get it right, and zero feedback.

I then have to take the film out of the camera in the dark, drive to the one place in my area that develops them, and even then I only get the negatives. I then have to painstakingly scan each of the 12 shots at high resolution with my fingers crossed hoping that they’ll turn out well.

Most of the time, despite how much effort goes into it, I get only 1 or 2 shots for my trouble.

But I don’t care. I love it and would do it all day if I could.

But I don’t. In fact, I end up doing it only once a month because I don’t treat it as a serious endeavor. It’s not my job, and it doesn’t make me any money whatsoever.

As a result, I do it when I get a chance. It’s not serious work. It’s hobby work.

I know if I get to do it, then that’s great, if not, no big deal. If the shots don’t turn out that well, then that’s fine. I had fun doing it. If I find something else that seems a bit easier takes my fancy (like iPhonography has lately) then I’ll just do that instead.

That’s the great thing about a hobby. If you fail, then that’s OK. If you want to switch hobbies then that’s cool too. If you spend all day and only get 1 or 2 shots, then no big deal. The process was fun.

But this kind of mentality is dangerous if you want to have success in a new online business. If you are treating it like a hobby, you’ll probably fail.


When you write about correcting people’s incorrect behavior, it’s easy to sound preachy. I’m the first one to admit, that I don’t do all of these things well so don’t feel like I’m on my soap box here.

However, what drives me is to encourage us all to not miss out on the amazing opportunities that are still passing us by everyday. I might long to be back in 1998, but I can guarantee you in 10 years we’ll be longing to be back in 2010 saying if only.

So, do all that you can to tackle this paradigm problem and make the most of what you have. Here are a few strategies that I have used in the past.

Create an Imaginary Friend with Billable Hours
When you have hobby mentality, you have no respect for your time. When I take my photos, I don’t think about how many hours went into those couple of good photos.

Don’t let that creep into your business. One strategy I’ve used is to create an imaginary client. The affiliate site I’m working on is not my own, but this imaginary client. I know that for every hour I work on the site, I need to justify the time I spent as they are paying for it.

No client in their right mind is going to want to pay me for shooting the breeze for hours on end on Twitter or Facebook. If I can’t prove that this is directly going to bring positive ROI, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it.

I would encourage you to do this seriously. Use time tracking and reporting software to make this real. Grindstone is a great free time tracking software for Windows users and timeEdition for Mac.

Set Goals and Deadlines
I can’t stress enough the importance of setting goals and deadlines on your projects. As Steve Jobs said, “Real Artists Ship”. In other words, it doesn’t become art, unless someone else sees it or uses it.

If you don’t have deadlines in place, you’ll just keep refining and refining and never actually “ship”.

You should also work on daily deadlines. I create a list each day that consists of really 3 parts.

  1. You don’t go home until this is done.
  2. Important, money making work.
  3. Long term business building activities.

By using this prioritization system, I can ensure that projects move forward, money is made, and the bigger picture business is built.

Performance goals are also important. Goal setting is a big topic to cover, and I’m not going to try and do it here, however, it’s fundamental if you want to see success.

Enforce Accountability
In addition to the imaginary client, I would encourage you to get some accountability partners. This could be your life partner (wife, husband etc.) or it could be some sort of mastermind group.

Whoever it is, ensure that they are on the same page and believe in you. Mastermind groups are excellent and whenever I’ve had the chance to be involved in this kind of thing, it has been immensely encouraging and helpful. Going to marketing conferences can have a similar effect sometimes.

If you do have a significant other, it’s important that you involve them as much as you can. Share as much as you can with them, and celebrate the wins with them. Even though my wife doesn’t know exactly what I do at the office after 8 years of marriage, she knows enough to help me through disappointing times, and to join in the celebrations when I have a win. I couldn’t do it without her.

Mental Cues
A big part of moving your mindset from hobby to business, is to use mental cues as much as you can. There are many ways you can do this. Including:

  • Creating a dedicated work area that is ONLY for work.
  • Creating a set time each day that is your work time.
  • Dressing differently when you work. I know it sounds strange, however, a business mindset and pajamas just don’t go well together in my book.
  • Giving your business a name, and getting business cards made.

Write a Business Plan

A business plan doesn’t need to be a 100 page document. A friend of mine ran a $200 million company and helped me write a business plan. He believed it shouldn’t be longer than 6 pages. That’s all you need.

It’s difficult to find treasure without a map.

Reinvest into Your Business
I see people all the time ONLY focus on free traffic sources. This is small time thinking. I’ve seen very few businesses that have become big that haven’t eventually moved to paying for advertising. Usually using PPC.

Sure, you don’t need to do it straight away. However, I would encourage you to reinvest back into your business as much as you can if you want to grow it fast.

Focus and reclaim wasted time
One of the biggest battles we all have online is keeping focus.

We must master this in two main areas.

Project Focus
How many times have you started something, not finished it, and then gone onto something else. Almost everyone has done it, and some more than others. You must stick to your business plan and execute what you set out to do. Remember, a magnifying glass will never set anything alight if you keep moving it.

Task Focus
The day to day problem that many people encounter is keeping a tight focus on the tasks. The Internet is the worlds biggest distraction.

If you want to get things done, turn off your email, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. In fact, turn the power off on your modem. Focus on the tasks at hand. Only turn it back on when you absolutely require it.

If you use Firefox, then try using an add-on called Leechblock. I love it. It stops me visiting sites that are distracting during certain times of the day. When you try to go there, you can even customize a message that says “Get back to work slacker! Time is money!”

Now… go and find a post it note and a black marker and stick this on your monitor… “THIS IS NOT A HOBBY!”

Have any other good strategies to share? I’ve love to hear about them below.

February 25, 2010

Comments (29)

Said this on February 25, 2010 At 10:23 am
Excellent post!! I must go back to work now and thanks for the tools!
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 10:53 am
You hit the nail on the head here Jay. I used to let things slip because I was not focusing on it as a business and now I know better. I only have a certain amount of time to work on things, but I know that I can make time if I want too. If I am truly serious about earning a living online then I will have to get to work and treat it like it should be treated. Nothing is done by doing nothing.
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 11:55 am
This is a great article on personal productivity, Jay, but on some points I disagree with you 100%.

I just wrote a long comment detailing why. And then my WiFi connection failed briefly and the comment disappeared into the ether.

So, I'll sum it up by saying that: no, any activity at which you are successful at is FAR more likely to be something you enjoy as much as you enjoy a hobby than to be something you regard as 'work' which you would never stoop so low as 'doing for free'.

"If I had a different attitude back in 1998, I wouldn
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 12:36 pm

Excellent post. I always SAY that my online business is "business", but my actions sometime say something different. I love your idea about working from the mindset that your site is actually a client's Web site. Then with that mindset I need to account for the time spent.

This has been a very helpful and timely article.

Thank you,

Mike Boyter
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 12:38 pm

Good tips, thanks for writing that up, its a nice summary. There's one point that is woven through your message, which partly gets discussed in your time management section, but to me it is fundamental to your blog and the top and needs to be in big bold letters.

The biggest difference between a hobby and a business is that it has to generate income, and the biggest difference between a real business, and just a hobby that masquerades as a business, is that you get very clear about who wants to buy, what drives sales and effectively get yourself positioned in that loop.

Your thoughts?

Rodney Brim,
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 12:40 pm
Hi Allan
Is your link grindstone, is it suppose to go back to your Home Page???

PS. I do enjoy reading your articles.

Kind Regards
Paul Young
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 01:01 pm
Hi Allan
It's Paul Young again I would be grateful if you could direct me towards a good alternative to google adsence please.I have done my reserch but still unsure which one to use, I'm just starting out with my new website I haven't gone commercial yet as I am still building my content through site buildit.

Many Thanks
Paul Young

PS. I know your a busy person but I need a pair of eyes on my site and I would be grateful for any feedback thanks again Paul.
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 01:42 pm
THANK-YOU -- needed to hear and be reminded of this.
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 04:05 pm
Ooh! This one applies to me. Thank you - I needed that.
By the way, your link to Grindstone is just linking back to this article.
best wishes, Julie.
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 04:28 pm
Hi Warburton,

Thanks for your comment. I think perhaps I wasn't clear enough in parts.

For this point:

"The work that earns us money should be hard. This is serious stuff and most of the time is neither fun, nor would you ever want to do it for free."

I was referring to the fact that we are programmed that way. So if work doesn't look like that, we treat it like a hobby.

However, when we treat it like a hobby, we don't treat it like a business.

As discussed, the danger of treating your online business like a hobby is that most of the time you don't get very far. You don't have the hard edge that you need to achieve big things with a hobby like you do with a business.

In this quote:

"If I had a different attitude back in 1998, I wouldn
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 04:29 pm
Thanks. This is now fixed!
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 05:00 pm
Totally agree Rodney.

I think of course you need passion about a subject to truly pour yourself into it, especially when you are not yet making any money yet from it.

However, the initial selection of your niche is super important as I discuss in an earlier post called "Don't back the wrong horse".
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 05:05 pm
You are so true. In fact, I must honestly say after reading this article I come to realize that I am as guilty as charged! Thanks for the wake up call.
Said this on February 25, 2010 At 05:07 pm
Hi Jay,

As a stay at home Mom trying to turn my "dabblings" into a serious income I really appreciate your article. I find it very hard to give my online work the high priority that it deserves - everything else seems to get in the way. I know I need to give it time and effort but find it hard to put it at the top of the list. Your article makes me realise that I should just do that!


Carlen Maddux
Said this on February 26, 2010 At 10:37 am
Good stuff, Jay. Thanks, carlen
Said this on February 27, 2010 At 10:23 am
Nice article Jay with some very good advice. I've struggled with the hobby mentality thing with my online business activities but comments like yours are great to help keep focus. Cheers.
Said this on February 27, 2010 At 12:44 pm
I agree with a lot that has been said here. I think that one of the major distractions is the next best thing always coming up on the internet...especially in the internet marketing field.

It is almost like the "next best thing" drives itself. As if it is a part of human nature.

It is almost impossible not to want to look at something that is supposedly brilliant. Yet in the areas of human endeavour is always the person practising the basics that eventually does well.

Opportunity here: who can write a comprehensive "Master these basics" for the internet?
Said this on March 1, 2010 At 07:24 am
I have been looking for alternatives to Adsense too. I have found a few that work well. There are SO many out there... but some of them need the traffic there to begin with. I wrote an article about the top affiliates I use. Hope it helps! Another that I did not put in this article is Commission Junction. They are easy to use and offer a lot of categories.
Said this on March 1, 2010 At 07:29 am
I'm in the same boat... except I take care of someone with Alzheimer's. There are always things to do- dishes, laundry, interaction time with Pat, web design, .... and then my website.

I am going to start using a timer while I am in the office. An hour for writing, 20 minutes for Facebook marketing, and so on. I am hoping it will keep me on task.

This article is so right about how I need to treat it as more than a hobby. I WANT this to be a success! Online business tips, web design & tutorials, alzheimer's, product reviews, and poetry- it sounds like success, right?!?
Said this on March 4, 2010 At 06:26 am
This article has really been a blessing to me. I know now that i have to be serious with my business right from beginning.
Said this on March 22, 2010 At 01:07 pm
"Nothing is done by doing nothing." Great quote, Dwight! And a great article! I'm just getting started... :)
Said this on May 5, 2010 At 11:47 pm

your article is really hammered my head, and make my eyes open widely, since I build a web just to inform especially young people on make money activity to develop their logic first before trapped into scam/fraud

but honestly in my heart I also want this web making money at least to pay for its existence (on the net)

now I realized that I can help them while making money for my web if I treat it seriously as a business, not as a hobby or just a "dedication" :)

thank again Jay, I'll rebuild my web soonest, and seem I'll quote much from this article and discussion since most comments is also so value to people on the net

it's worth to be echoed anywhere

Said this on May 8, 2010 At 01:27 am
My motto is "Just Do It".
Only a month into it but I'm working on
I am confident it will be up in the next 48hrs. but I just want it to be right, if that's even possible. After all, it is and will be a living breathing thing. Thank you for reminding us that time is money, staying up until 2am is surely counterproductive. But since it is only 1:30 might as well have a glass of wine. Good luck to everyone and "Just Do It".
Said this on May 21, 2010 At 12:48 pm
Good articles

that's very interesting
I must do what havn't do so far action and is not a hobby

begin from nothing just in the head, put it in practice !

Thanks jay very inspiring

Just action !
jfar ibrahim
Said this on July 27, 2010 At 08:31 am
good articles.
that's remind me to do not in simply things in all aspects but motivate us to do more interesting work.besides its give me open my eyes just action!
Said this on September 29, 2010 At 10:18 pm
Great article... I agree that there are so many distractions with online business that take us away from the ultimate goal: making money online. Thanks for the practical tips!
Said this on October 19, 2010 At 04:30 pm
I have two websites that I have worked on for nearly two years. I also I am looking at going into a different direction with my career, however I want to keep the websites as a business as well.

I have not mad much money at all from the websites and after a while it seems like all I am doing is learning or trying to learn these two different careers. I don't waste time while I am learning and doing but it does get stressful sometimes when the money is not coming in.

I am confident that my knowledge will will pay off eventually.
Said this on December 13, 2010 At 02:45 am
Thanks Christina
Sorry it took so long to reply, read your post will be looking more into this.

Thanks Again
Said this on April 25, 2012 At 02:44 pm

Great point you made about mindset and how most people define work; you CAN have fun and be "working" at the same time. 

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