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5 Ways to Fund Your Passions

Joanne Cleaver

Shelly Bryant loves poetry. She'd be a full-time poet if she could.

Instead, this former Houstonian, now transplanted in Singapore, makes a living translating Chinese books into English. She makes poetry pay by virtually coaching aspiring poets, thus offsetting the cost of books, conferences and her website, poetrycoachonline.com.

If there's something you love to do outside your career, there's probably a way to make it revenue neutral. Here are five ways to fund your passions.

1. Coach newbies. Bryant charges $180 per session, covering a minimum of 10 pages of work. She says most of her clients are better at writing poetry than they are at marketing themselves. She helps them fine-tune their work, identify publishers and craft pitches.

One long-standing client has gone from frustrated to published -- twice, with two full books of work. Other clients have finished major projects. Bryant says that with her full slate of translation work, virtual coaching keeps her teaching skills honed.

[See: 13 Lucky Events That Call for a Financial Plan.]

2. Barter work for leisure. In tiny Manistee, Mich., movie buffs can watch first-run films for free by ushering at the Vogue Theatre.

Manager Travis Alden explains that the circa 1938 theater, newly restored and reopened in December, relies on community volunteers to run the concession stand and sell and take tickets. Those ushering on a regular rotation can sit in the back and watch as long as they like. Movies range from those currently shown in megaplexes across the country to midweek matinees of classics like Casablanca.

Academics can barter their expertise on cruises. Although cruise lines' policies vary and auditions apply, services such as Sixth Star are in the business of scouting entertaining experts for lectures and demonstrations pertinent to the cruise itinerary.

Dan Benedict introduces cruise passengers to the ocean night skies as a guest astronomy expert for several cruise lines. His company, AstroCruises, started when a major cruise line read his articles about astronomy and invited him to give presentations about constellations. "You have to have knowledge, passion and be able to present," he says.

You'll have to reconcile yourself to a status of not quite staff and not quite a celebrity, and it's likely that you'll find there's no rest for the bleary when a passenger approaches you at the midnight buffet with questions about your afternoon lecture. But there's a reason why cruise gigs are highly coveted by academics: You get to see the world on the strength of your charm. Smooth sailing, indeed.

3. Swap your stash. Every dedicated crafter knows what a UFO really is: an unfinished object. Most quilters, knitters, feltworkers, scrapbookers and woodworkers have a few shameful UFOs lurking in the back of their piles of materials, usually known as a "stash."

Your UFO can be someone else's gold. Members of the The Haute Couture Club of Chicago, a decades-old group dedicated to precise garment sewing, regularly burrow in their stashes and UFO stacks for donations and trade to support both the club and their own habits.

ReAnn Scott, vice president of programs and workshops, says when a venerable sewing shop recently closed, one member bought 500 bolts of fabric, which the group sold at bargain prices to each other and other local sewists. "Everyone left the sale with lots of new fabrics for their stashes, and we filled the coffers of the HCC," Scott says. The club also raises money for an annual scholarship for students in local fashion and design programs.

She notices more members upcycling materials salvaged from thrift and resale shops. One trend is to cut usable pieces from old wool sweaters, boiling them into a felted state and then patching the pieces into free-form art garments that are also warm. "You can find a beautiful man's dress shirt, redesign it, and turn it into a woman's blouse," Scott says.

4. Show and sell. By day, San Antonio resident Jen Eskridge manages marketing communications for a real estate brokerage. On nights and weekends, she's an up-and-coming quilt and craft designer who has a following of thousands for her patterns, books and classes.

Eskridge, a military wife with three school-aged children, specializes in simplifying complex traditional quilt and craft designs so that other busy women can quickly make a professional-quality project.

She started by building a deep well of original content for her blog. "With original content published twice a week, you can build a following and then sell ads," Eskridge says. She created a simple tool for stitching precise seams and started selling that through a website, reannalilydesigns.com, accompanying the blog.

The seam guide bought her credibility with book publishers, and the publication of her first book, "Deploy That Fabric" (which shows how to use military fabrics in craft projects), immediately resulted in requests for presentations and workshops for quilt guilds and conferences.

"Teaching is lucrative in this industry," Eskridge says. A large metropolitan quilt guild may pay as much as $600 for a speaker for one meeting and may schedule a couple of presentations in back-to-back meetings. Weekend workshops can gross $1,500 or more, as well as the chance to sell books, supplies, kits and tools for make-it-and-take-it projects.

Her advice: Get to know the professionals already mining an enthusiast market and figure out what types of businesses and activities are the most lucrative. Then, innovate your way into a niche, network with others to join forces and cross-sell wherever possible. It also helps to get a good accountant to help you write off the expenses to events you'd be attending anyway.

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