Pastime to full-time: How the pandemic made us turn our hobbies into main jobs

Pastime to full-time: How the pandemic made us turn our hobbies into main jobs


As the Great Resignation rumbles on, salaries continue to rise at a lower rate than inflation, and we’re ordered to return to offices, it’s no wonder many of us are considering turning part-time hobbies into full-time jobs.

The appeal of turning to self-employment is obvious.

You get the freedom to make your own hours, choose your own workspace, and get paid to do what you love.

But how do you make the switch from turning a side hustle into your main gig?

Rob Ballentine, 54, lives in Hampshire with his wife and teenage daughter. He found drawing ‘incredibly curious, mysterious and challenging’ as a child and continued throughout his adult life.

When a friend was devastated by his dog’s death during the first lockdown, Rob pencil-drew the dog – and was stunned by his pal’s reaction.

‘It was such an emotional moment for my friend that he posted it on Facebook,’ Rob tells ‘I was overwhelmed with the amazing feedback.’

In stepped Rob’s wife, who posted his art on a local Facebook group, and RobBallentineArt , a business offering beautiful pet portraits, was born. Rob took the leap from a job earning £80,000 a year to focus on painting, which he’d always loved (Picture: Rob Ballentine) For Rob this was a stark change from working as a consultant trainer in military, defence, government, health care and telecommunication businesses.

When Covid-19 and lockdown hit, Rob had just left his job, where he was earning around £80,000 a year, to start his own training business – but quickly found himself with no work.

Now in demand for drawings, he expects to double his former salary over the next couple of years, charging £450 for an A4 drawing and £750 for an A3 with more depth and detail. He was encouraged by overwhelmingly positive feedback on his work (Picture: Rob Ballentine) Asked how he dealt with the switch from employed to self-employed, Rob believes that at the early point of the pandemic, there was so much uncertainty and fear about everyone’s fate that not doing something was scarier than doing it.

‘It brought the face of death ever so closer and the unnerving greater than possibility, that it “could be me”,’ he tells us. ‘It brought the “I’m not as invincible as I thought”, closer to home.

‘When one’s life is in view of their possible demise, all else takes a back seat – including fear of starting a new venture, especially one where my skills were still in their infancy.’

The popularity of the portraits helped the decision. It was a scary move, but the pandemic made Rob knew he had to act (Picture: Rob Ballentine) He adds: ‘Without that feedback it would have been a much riskier and perhaps foolhardy decision to go all out.

‘One must tread carefully and wisely in the snow that covers the frozen pond, no matter how much the other side beckons.’

Kendall Platt, 35, from Reading, found that her regular gardening sessions helped calm her overworked brain.

In December 2018, she ran four wreath-making workshops that incorporated techniques designed to aid relaxation, as a soothing passion project alongside her main job as a forensic scientist.

She quickly realised that her side hustle should be her main hustle, telling herself she realised life was too short to stay in work that made her ‘miserable’. Kendall found that gardening was good for her mental health (Picture: Kendall Platt) In 2020, Kendall switched her focus to her business, Adventures With Flowers , and in March 2022 she launched The Mindful Gardening Club; a gardening and floristry membership that costs £19 a month and already has six members.

Her new business is more than just a job change. Kendall credits going self-employed for restoring her confidence.Having suffered being bullied by a work colleague, maternity discrimination when pregnant with her daughter and twice being made redundant, Kendall’s self-esteem was at a serious low. This was gradually restored as she slowed down and gave herself time to reflect.She tells us: ‘Gardening for mindfulness had such a hugely positive impact on how I felt about myself and my relationships with loved ones, that I had an overwhelming urge to bring it to more women in similar situations to me.’ Kendall’s self-esteem was at a low after being made redundant – gardening brought back her confidence (Picture: Kendall Platt) Transforming your hobby into your business can be a lucrative move.Sophie French was a project coordinator and PA on around £29k a year. While still living with her mum she founded Anvil And Ivy in 2014, making handcrafted […]

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