Why I Think NOT Monetizing Your Passion Projects (Including Writing) Might Be The Smarter Approach For Creatives
Sometimes not monetizing projects is the better (but less profitable) approach
A few days ago, I shared why I have — up until now at least — deliberately refrained from monetizing this Medium channel.
I wrote the post to attempt to provide a counterpoint to the “monetize everything” war cry which encourages creators to develop and aggressively monetize “side hustles” with the idea that one might hit it big:
Why I (Deliberately) Haven’t Monetized My Medium Account To Date
It may stand in defiance to some people’s idea of conventional logic, but I don’t see this account as part of my…
Today, a question from a friend reminded me why I don’t generally monetize writing that I do for fun or to build an audience. I thought it would be worth sharing that broader reasoning too.
In response to anything I share that’s unrelated to my business — example: afteraliyah.com, a website I recently launched, and which today included a piece about the arrival of salt and vinegar crisps to Israel–I often receive the same two questions:
- What’s your “end game” with this (insert recent project, whether a Medium publication, a website, or a podcast)?
- How are you intending to make money from this?
For things that I write for fun on the internet — or for some other non-profit motive — the only truthful answers are typically:
- Because I enjoy writing / creating / sharing knowledge and perspectives with others.
- I’m not.
There are always ways one can attempt to monetize online content.
In the case of these examples I could:
- Serve banner ads for my website about life in Israel
- Paywall all my Medium articles
But I think that many content creators are better served by not attempting to turn every passion project into a monetized side hustle.
A few reasons to support that line of thinking are below.
It Keeps You Focused On Monetizing Your Main Business
My main line of business is selling freelance writing and marketing consultancy packages to clients.
My average monthly client value ranges from $500 (at the low end) to several thousand dollars per month. Even Medium Partner Program earnings of a couple of hundred dollars per month wouldn’t make a substantial contribution to my revenue base. Which is why I don’t limit my audience reach, at the moment, by engaging in the program.
That sharp dichotomy brings me a lot of clarity.
This — freelance writing for clients— is where I make my money (at the time of writing). This is where I want to keep my (fickle) focus. The mental energy that’s left over from that process can be channeled however I want it. But the expectations of using this to build income that can sustain me are “there” and now “here”.
Essentially, while I am interested in exploring passive income sources such as e-books (I have a couple already on the market), I want to bridge a gap between what I do for money and what I do for fulfillment.
If those two things can coincide — that’s nice. In fact, that would be enviable. But for most getting to that point takes a lot of time.
But I enjoy committing to projects just to channel my passion and creative energy without the expectation that they will turn a dime. Such projects might be:
- A podcast
- A YouTube channel
- A blog
I can put time into them as hobbies. But so long as they’re non-professional pursuits I can hold myself to some kind of account to place them within their proper limits in my schedule.
It Gives You A Sandbox For Your Paid Pursuits
My friends will remember the intentionally bizarre publicity campaign that I put together for my own wedding with the intention of shoring up interest among my friends in Ireland to make the international commute (with no direct flights) to attend the event.
While it’s likely that most just chalked the wackiness up to eccentricity, the reality is that I sometimes use such opportunities (hobby PR project of sorts) to test out new marketing techniques that I later roll into my actual paid work with clients.
For instance, during my wedding campaign I learned how to:
- Set up and operate a robocalling system
- Create a system for sending out personalized thank you videos to attendees
- Create a sync between Eventbrite and Mailchimp
Learning how to put the digital nuts and bolts together to make the above happen was fun and the campaign gave those who attended my wedding plenty to laugh about.
But it’s also knowledge that I might be able to use professionally down the line.
You Can Be Creatively Uninhibited
I make a living through selling thought leadership and content marketing services to my clients.
These are both activities that — to be done well — require thinking and strategy.
While this is a good thing — clients get better results. It equally means that I can’t just sit down in front of a text editor and write about whatever comes to mind. Before I sit down to write anything for my clients — or for my own content marketing — I ideally need to be thinking about:
- SEO and discoverability
- Messaging and the target audience
- PR concerns like positioning
- Where this piece will sit in the context of the overall strategy at work
Writing for fun, or simply for passion or meaning, means that I can free myself from some of those constraints.
I want my writing to get read — sure. But if I really want something I’m going to write it. Even if from an SEO standpoint the topic would likely be considered a non-runner.
To really channel my authentic self into my writing, I need to have free reign over what I put on the page and not be held hostage by a strategy document or the dictates of SEO best practices.
I’m not trying to present writing about things you’re passionate about and writing for money as mutually exclusive options.
I think that if you can make a living through creating content that you’re totally passionate about that you’re in an incredibly enviable situation. And having a reasonable degree of interest and passion in your professional writing is, in my view, essential for success.
Nevertheless, for many, achieving the lofty position of writing (or creating) full-time about what you love isn’t an option — at least one that’s immediately available.
I think that limiting readerships and constraining creativity by focusing on monetization for passion pursuits too early on in the game can be a mistake that ultimately takes an enormously enjoyable and liberating activity for creatives — creating to communicate or for some other non-profit motive— and subjects it to the same confines that govern the more restrictive work that many of us do during our “day jobs.”
Even if those also involve creativity, many creative types encounter them as obstacles of sorts. Many of us dream of being totally unencumbered by any external factors in order to produce the very best work that we’re capable of. Depriving one’s hobby writing (or filmmaking or podcasting) of that freedom can be limiting.
And anyway: sometimes the joy and “payment” we derive from creating unfettered work that we’re truly passionate about is worth more than the monetization potential available at that moment.
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