Some people work a second job, or a "side hustle" simply for money. Other folks however use their side gig to nurture a passion, something they wish they could do as their full-time job, but can't quite pull the trigger on doing.

In many cases our side hustles are gigs that don't follow typical career paths. Whether you want to pursue something artistic, something entrepreneurial, or even just a personal passion, it's possible if you follow the right steps.

It's not enough to have a dream. You need a dream, a plan, and a heavy helping of reality. It's possible to turn your side hustle into a business, but you have to approach it with a critical eye, weighing your enthusiasm against reality.

A time clock where workers punch in.

Many people dream of no longer punching a clock. Image source: Getty Images.

How to start

If you already do what you plan to turn into a business as a paying side gig, you have completed the first step. It's very important to actually make a little bit of money in whatever field you plan to enter because in many ways, until you cash a check, it's a hobby, not a side hustle.

For example, as a freelance writer, it has become very easy to get published, but perhaps harder to actually get paid for your work. Doing some free work on the side to get your feet wet is not a bad idea, but getting paid is essentially when you go from amateur to pro.

Make a little money and you at least demonstrate that it's possible. In addition, seeing what it takes to earn some cash in the field gives you the basis to do the hard math needed next.

Should I make the leap?

While it's easy to get caught up in the romance of making your side hustle your business/full-time job, it's important to remember that you still need food, clothes, and a place to live. Before making any decisions you need to do a reasonable budget. It's OK for this to involve some belt-tightening, but you have to project how much you really need by honestly looking at your current expenses.

You can cut back on discretionary budget items to pursue your dream, but you can't not have health insurance. Similarly you can eat out less or move back in with your parents (if they will have you) but you can't not eat or live in a tent in the park.

Once you have a budget you have to examine how much money you can bring in and whether that can cover your needs. This is where your past experience getting paid for your side hustle comes in. Will having more time increase your earnings predictably? How long will it take to build up the business you need to cover your expenses?

Another important thing to factor in is that regular jobs pay on a predictable schedule. Some side hustles do not. If you drive for a ride-share service, or plan to run a day care from your home, that's not a major concern, but fields where you invoice clients (writing, graphic design, and many other trades) have an extended payment cycle. Factor in that it could take 30, 60, or even 90 days to get your money and that it's possible you will have a certain percentage of bad debt you never collect.

Work it and hustle

When I made the leap from a traditional newspaper job to becoming a full-time freelancer, I had a budget, some clients, and a little bit of a cushion in the bank. I knew what I needed to make money, and was willing to take work I would not even consider now in order to make the dream of turning my side hustle into a business a reality.

In many ways the work was harder than just having a job had been, but instead of building someone else's business, I was building mine. The important thing, at least in the early days, is to treat your work as a business.

That means keeping regular hours, putting in long days, and treating the money you make differently than when you made it on the side. I have always paid myself a salary and have only inched that up when my circumstances comfortably improve.

Live the dream

In the early days of leaving a regular job for my own business, I worked seven days a week, with 10-12 hour days being common. There was a healthy level of fear which drove me to spend as much time as possible not only working, but soliciting new work. It was a grind, but a delightful one where the rewards were tangible.

You can make your side hustle a business, but you have to realize that even if you love the work and have a passion for it, it's still work. You need to put in the time and do everything you can to make yourself successful without the safety net of a guaranteed paycheck. That's not for everyone. In many cases it's best to keep a side hustle on the side, but for those willing to make it happen, the end result can be everything you ever imagined it to be.

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