At some point (or several ones) in our lives, we encounter situations where we are forced to choose between following our hearts or our heads. The stakes can range from the inconsequential (e.g. eating healthy vegetables vs. fast food) to those which have far-reaching consequences on our lives such as the choice of one’s degree program or career.

A lot can be said about following one’s passion to the exclusion of everything else, usually in the form of heart-warming quotes and sayings. However, despite what your favourite source of inspirational career advice may suggest, passion alone is not enough to enable you to squeeze out a liveable income from any of your favourite activities. Fortunately, clever sayings are not the only tools you can use to assess the income generation potential of any of the activities which you happen to be fond of. By considering and asking yourself a few simple questions you can hopefully decide if any one of these is worth pursuing as a source of income or is better left as a hobby.

Are you willing to be persistent?

If you decide to try and make money through your favourite activity, you are venturing into entrepreneurship or self-employment which is almost the same thing. This usually comes with a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, both of which will be there for pretty good reason. To begin with, you are unlikely to immediately start getting customers or making money in the quantities that would support your ideal lifestyle or sometimes even fully meet your basic expenses. This will not be helped by the constant external criticism and advice to stop “wasting time” and go find a real job instead. Are you willing to persevere through such challenges long enough for your business to start supporting you? If the answer is a definite “no” then you might need to consider something with a little more security like an actual job.

How, why and who will pay you?

When asked how Facebook makes its money, only one out every five Zimbabweans who regularly use the platform will give the correct answer if a survey I once conducted is anything to go by. What is more, some of the good people who would give the wrong answer to that question sometimes approach people like me to create websites and apps which they are also not sure how they will make money from? The one thing that is common among them all is that they are sure that they will make money.

Now, there is nothing wrong with not knowing how Facebook makes money because, as you can see, you are far from being the only one. The problem arises when you start taking it for granted that you can earn a lot of money from something similar just because. So going back to the subject of the activities which people are passionate about, you can see how easy it can be for some people to simply and wrongly assume that writing a book, singing a song or “inventing” something would get them a big payday. Always try to first clearly understand exactly how, why and who will pay you before betting all your hopes for future riches on your hobbies.

How big is the market for your work?

So what if you know that there is a market and some demand for your services or products? In such cases, the next step would be to discover the actual size and nature of this market. Find out if it even exists in your home town or country. For instance, some genres of music while very popular in other parts of the world are virtually unknown or (even despised) in Zimbabwe. Knowing both the size and extent of the potential target market for your activity will help you decide if it worth pursuing as a means of making money.

Do you know anyone who is making money doing it?

One of the most straightforward ways of telling if you can earn money from a certain activity is the existence of someone who is already doing exactly that. The ideal case studies would be people who are most similar to yourself e.g. those who come from the same country or even socioeconomic background as yourself. For instance, if you want to make money singing, Jah Prayzah makes for a far better source of inspiration and validation for your dreams than any of the American artists whom you idolize.

Do you understand the basic aspects of running a business?

As I mentioned earlier, making money from a passion usually involves running what is essentially a business. This means that your day to day activities will include a lot of tedious and yet necessary work which will be far-removed from your particular set of interests e.g. marketing, talking to customers, filling orders and balancing books. If you understand and appreciate that this is what running a business entails, then you stand a far better chance of actually succeeding than someone who doesn’t.