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Surprising Ways to Make Money from Your Passions


Handicrafters know they can sell on Etsy and designers can always turn to Zazzle, but there are plenty more ways for people to turn just about any passion into a profit.

Store sites and affiliate programs, eBay and Craigslist have all made a love of an activity into a potential moneyspinner. But what if you’re not into knitting handmade covers for iPads and you don’t want put your art up for auction in the world’s biggest garage sale? Here are five surprising ways in which passions are being turned into cash.

1.     Share Your Designs

The usual step after designing a new product is to protect that design as much as you can. It’s why inventors filed more than half a million patents with the US Patent Office in 2010. When the makers of Arduino created the hardware and software for their micro-controller, however, they chose to make it open source. Allowing the electronics community to hack their board, improve it and build on it while requiring them to share their hacks even as they sell the products they create would only improve the device and increase its appeal, they believed.

The company itself largely makes money by being known for its expertise. Businesses who need exclusive tools based on the microcontroller hire Arduino’s team as consultants. “Basically, what we have is the brand,” Tom Igoe, an associate professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University and Arduino team member told Wired Magazine in 2008. “And brand matters.”

But that doesn’t mean that businesses aren’t making money with Arduino boards. The device hasn’t just created a community; it’s also led to a network of distributors that are willing to sell kits based on Arduino designs for community members to put together. Botanicalls, for example, manufactures a leaf-shaped widget that senses moisture levels in plant pots and sends a text message when the soil needs watering. The kit is sold around the world for just under $100 through electronics companies like SparkFun. Distributors can act as retailers that buy the kits on a wholesale basis from the maker or they put the parts together themselves and pay the maker a royalty. The requirement to publish the designs on a Creative Commons Share Alike basis does nothing to reduce their value while helping makers to improve their function.

You don’t have to be a whiz with a soldering iron to make money by sharing designs though. One of the advantages of Arduino is that sellers don’t have to do the manufacturing. If they’re selling to the rest of the community, it’s enough to collect the bits and write down the instructions. That’s something other makers can do too. Origami enthusiasts, for example, have long published their plans in books, while makers of amigurumi, crocheted dolls, sell downloadable PDFs of their plans. Freebies of simple patterns can help bring in new hobbyists while the complex designs land the profits.

2.     Don’t Sell, Buy

Most ways of making money involve offering something valuable to someone who’s willing to buy it. Buyers, though, have the advantage of being paid to make purchases — an ideal job for anyone passionate about shopping.

Companies use full-time buyers to make deals with vendors, a job that’s as much about negotiation as picking items but shopping enthusiasts can also earn money on a part-time basis while emptying the contents of someone else’s wallet.

At the bottom of the ladder are mystery shoppers, people who test the customer services at department stores and retail chains. The rates are fairly low — around $12 to $25 for each trip — although shoppers might also be able to keep some of the items they purchase. They can also enjoy free meals in restaurants or get their car serviced on someone else’s dime.  The Mystery Shopping Provider’s Association provides a list of companies that hand out jobs to secret shoppers and even offers accreditation which it suggests might help applicants win more work.

Higher up the pyramid are personal shoppers. While these may be people who buy groceries for old folks in the neighborhood, the more enjoyable work has more to do with styling than bagging and carrying. The Association of Image Consultants International provides a list of courses that people can take to help others look their best, some of which cost thousands of dollars.

Buying sharp suits and designer shoes for someone else might not be as much fun as going on a shopping spree for yourself but it is a satisfying way to turn a passion for something as simple as shopping into a money spinner.

3.     Share What You Think

Bruce Allen could well have the second best job in the world. He flies a helicopter over the mountains of British Columbia while tossing explosives out of the window to start avalanches. It’s a form of safety control that has to be hugely satisfying. Even his job though has to come second to that of Adrian Gill. A writer for the London Times, Gill is the newspaper’s restaurant critic, television critic and travel correspondent. Or to put it another way, he gets paid to eat in expensive restaurants, to take exotic vacations and, when those are too strenuous he needs a rest, he gets paid to stay at home and watch TV.

Few people can land a job that good but anyone can create it for themselves. Earning money from a website is always difficult — a site has to bring in large amounts of traffic, which is difficult to monetize — but review sites are among the easiest. Affiliate links will bring in commissions, advertisers will pay for placements and top sites land free items to handle and play with before anyone else gets to see them. The challenge will always be to review something which feeds a niche market and has little competition.

But that just means thinking about your niche passion. You might like eating out but create a site that only reviews curries or Persian food and you’ll be able to capture much of the market  — and find it easier to top search engines and attract advertisers.

The real money though will come when you take a simple review site that gives you a little money for doing something you love, and build on it to win work in that field, or even a related one. Vegansaurus, for example, offers reviews of vegan businesses but it also functions as portfolio for the site’s writers and founder, bringing in all sorts of interesting work.

Tell people what you think of something you love and even if you don’t make much from the reviews, you might make some more from the people who read it.

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