If what you do outside “work” is your true love, then why not consider making it your career too? After all, you probably want to love what you do, especially if you’re going to spend most of your life doing it.
For some of us—me, for example—the distinction is not so clear-cut. I have multiple hobbies—I love writing, I enjoy making jewelry and I love the challenge involved in marketing products. My full-time job involves writing for Bplans, my evening meditation includes making jewelry, and in whatever spare time I have after that, I enjoy keeping up with the latest digital marketing trends. Because most of my time is filled with the things I enjoy doing, turning a particular hobby into a full-time business has not been a priority for me. That said, it’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about over the years, particularly in relation to the jewelry I make.
If I did want to turn my jewelry business into a full time career, where would I begin? How I would I do it? What are the things I’d need to consider?
To help you figure out how to turn your own hobby into a business, I asked a few “ex-hobbyists-and-now-CEOS” to share their stories. From the responses, I’ve compiled a how-to guide that will help get you up and running.
But, first things first…
Should you turn your hobby into a business?
A number of people I asked cautioned both myself and fellow readers to consider carefully whether turning your hobby into a business was the right approach. They had done so and found that, after turning their hobby into work, they no longer enjoyed doing it. The pressure of working to a schedule and meeting financial goals and customer expectations simply took away the fun, relaxation, and personal satisfaction they had previously felt while doing it.
One woman went so far as to tell me that even after she stopped doing her hobby for a living, she ended up disliking the activity so much that now she now longer does it for pleasure. In her own words:
“Something about how I relate to those activities changed, fundamentally, and for good. So I advocate thinking long and hard before making your hobby into a business. Ask yourself, “If this doesn’t work out as a business, could I live with not ever doing it again because I won’t ever feel the same about it?” If the answer’s no, save yourself some heartache and choose some other way to make a living. Because it’s amazing what a loss it feels like not to be able to enjoy something anymore that used to bring so much pleasure.”
Questions to ask yourself:
- Will you enjoy doing your hobby when you have to do it to a deadline? For some people, working on their hobby is like working on a long-term art project. They do it to learn, to create something beautiful, and in an attempt to attain perfection. Unless you’re planning on selling your services for a fortune or selling your items to an art gallery, you’re probably going to be making or doing things faster than you previously would have. Is this right for you?
- Will you enjoy doing it when it means that if you don’t, you probably won’t have a roof over your head? If you want to turn your hobby into a business because you think it’s going to be as much fun as it was when it was only a hobby, you could be in for a surprise. Simply knowing that if you don’t make another widget, you won’t be able to pay your electricity bill, could tip the scales. Are you ready to grapple with the difference between doing something for fun and doing it as a business?
- Are you really committed to this hobby? Perhaps you simply do it to relax. Thinking it’s your true calling if it’s something you only do to wind down could mean you’ll get distracted, or that another idea will take your fancy.
- Are you inspired by a challenge? There’s no doubt about it, starting up will be tough, especially if this is your first business. You’re probably going to be wearing a lot of hats for a while—accountant, customer service rep, brand ambassador, CEO, and so on. This is also a good time to think about what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
- Can you sell “yourself” or the things you create? Believe me, this is a valid question. Five years ago I was abysmal at selling the jewelry I made, as well as my writing services. I was far too modest and I didn’t want to push people into making a decision. I’m not the same person today. Today, if you ask about my jewelry or my writing, I’ll offer you a business card or give you my rate per word. This is a skill you can learn and I believe it’s something you will have to learn. Be prepared to sell.
If you’ve decided it’s a good decision, how do you actually go about doing it?
Advice from the experts
1. First, find a WAY to turn your hobby into a business
Nancy Collamer, author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement, has six suggestions. If you know you want to turn your hobby into a business, but you’re not quite sure exactly how, this is a good place to start your thinking. We’ve expanded on a few of Nancy’s points below:
- Teach others to do what you love. Whether that’s guitar lessons, cooking classes, or bike repair maintenance, practically anything can be taught. You can do this online via a web course (try Coursera or Udemy), or through a college or continuing education program.
- Sell, import, invent, or craft a product or accessory for enthusiasts in your hobby. For example, if you are a wine enthusiast, you might import hand-blown wine glasses from a different country, invent a unique wine refrigeration device, or develop a line of fun wine-themed t-shirts, or…well, you get the idea.
- Teach the business of the hobby. Nancy talks about this in her book using an example of a man who used to work for Microsoft in marketing. His hobby was actually magic, and now he teaches marketing to magicians! So, let’s say your background is in publishing, but you love cooking—you could specialize in teaching people in the food industry how to get their cookbooks published.
- Speak or write about your hobby. Hobby related how-to topics, historical perspectives, or compelling stories are all of interest to enthusiasts. The number of how-to books available on Amazon and the Kindle store are testament to this fact!
- Create a tour or performance series around what you love. An example of someone who did this is Tony Mula. Tony turned his love of pizza and Brooklyn into the highly successful A Slice of Brooklyn pizza tours. And, if you’re a bike enthusiast with a penchant for travel, what about starting up a bike tour company for tourists?
- Appraise, repair or fix items related to what you love. Most hobbies have stuff connected to them, and sometimes, that stuff needs to be fixed by a skilled and knowledgeable person. So you could fix computers, appraise collectibles, repair bicycles, source missing parts for highly unusual items, or similar.
2. Do your research and plan methodically
Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to turn your hobby into a business, a next good step is to find out as much as possible about your industry. Business attorney Nina Ries of Ries Law Group in Los Angeles, recommends a five-step process:
- Research. Learn as much about the industry as you can. Get to really know the space and the niches within. Take the time to understand the players and grasp how they think.
- Evaluate. Once you understand the space, you should take some time to re-evaluate the quality of the idea. Don’t be afraid to be hyper-critical. Solicit ideas from others. Sometimes the idea is terrific, and other times, it just requires minor tweaks. Make those tweaks before fully entering the market—and understand that, for most entrepreneurs, this is a process, not a single final product.
- Develop a plan. As you develop a business plan and a roll-out plan, and think about each step along the way, and what you will need to take each step. Plan to have the information and resources you will need at each marker. You will need a team to ensure that your plan is comprehensive and that you have touched on all the main issues.
- Build a team. Consider who you will need on board. An attorney knowledgeable in that field and experienced with start-ups and small businesses is critical to the success of any company, as she will advise on corporate structure that makes sense, draft or review your documents and contracts, advise on employment or partnership issues, and will work to protect your interests as the new company grows. A CPA is equally important, and will help address tax considerations and preparation. You may need additional employees or consultants, such as salespeople or marketing consultants. Get the help you need to succeed.
- Go all in. Do it. Go for it. Throw yourself into it. And don’t look back. Work hard, but cut yourself some slack. You will make mistakes—learn from those mistakes, make adjustments, and move on.
Alden Mills, a former Navy SEAL, Founder of Perfect Fitness, and author of the book Be Unstoppable, The 8 Essential Actions to Succeed at Anything, is the perfect person to turn to if you need a whole lot of motivation (and a wake-up call). Not only is Mills a successfully published author, but he also has an M.B.A from Carnegie Mellon and has turned his love of fitness into a full-time job. If you need serious motivation, this guy’s advice is for you:
Step One—Define the what. Know what success is, and make it measurable. Saying that success is to be happy isn’t a measurable goal. To be successful is know what you want to be successful at and know when you’ve reached the goal.
Step Two—Understand your why. Once you know the what, then you must know the why behind the success you’re seeking. You see too many folks out there that get caught up in what other people think or view success to be. To be truly successful, you must understand what it is you want to be successful at and why you want it. Once you determine your why, then you’ll be on your journey to figuring out your way. Understand your why then get to work figuring out the way. On figuring out the way, I’ve found seven actions that have helped me.
Step Three—Persist. Success worth working for will take buckets of persistence so here’s a framework to use to help keeping your fire in your belly stoked when success seems so far away (and remember, it’s darkest before dawn—success can be closer than you think—so don’t ever give up on what you believe in!).
P—Plan in 3D. Take your success goal and do the following: Define it (write it down and put it in a place where you see it all the time), divide your success goal into mini-goals, and take action on it daily
E – Exercise to execute. Whatever your goal, you’re going need strength and stamina to achieve it—not to mention the ability to fight off depression and the demons of doubt that will inevitably come knocking. Fitness does this and more!
R—Recognize your reason to believe. Knowing your why is great, but recognizing your reason to believe in achieving your success goal can be the difference between giving up or pressing on.
S—Survey your habits. To achieve your goal you have to take action—lots of it. Habits are a collection of actions; the problem is not all habits will help you get to your goal. Learn to understand which habits are holding you back and reprogram them.
I—Improvise to overcome. Success isn’t achieved in a straight line; it’s never as simple as it seems. There will be twists, turns, ups and downs—prepare yourself for the unexpected by knowing that you’ll need to improvise along way to overcome those hairy obstacles that get in your way.
S—Seek experts. Success will take time and along the way there will be people that can help – experts that can help you improvise, learn a new habit, teach a new skill or prevent you from making a mistake—seek these people out—put your ego aside and ask for help!
T—Team Up! For the really big hairy success goals—the ones that leave you wondering if it’s even possible—find yourself someone who is great at the things you’re not, at the things your success goal require. The truly great successes in life from discovering DNA to building cars or designing computers or the next great thing will come from a team of people who are committed, passionate and understand the purpose (the why) behind the success they seek.
4. Advice for product-based businesses
If you’re going to be selling physical products, Lauren Fritsch, founder of Let Them Wear Green, a company more famously known for selling Lauren’s signature scent, Adalene Love Perfume Balm, has shared some very useful tips with us:
- Understand your costs. Most hobbies we do out of love, and the second it turns into a business, we need to understand both materials cost and our time cost. I have a spreadsheet that helps me calculate those costs, especially for the complex nature of perfume, so that I price my product appropriately.
- Never underestimate the power of wholesale. I was able to sell in great stores in and around NYC by giving retailers favorable terms to start so that my product could prove itself. Wholesale orders can feel really great for the new business because you sell more (at a lower profit margin) at the beginning.
- Cultivate consumer fans. Selling direct to consumers is now easier thanks to the internet. Profit margins are higher, quantities (and therefore investment) is lower.
- Be prepared for cyclical sales. One month may be huge while the next could be quiet. Use that time to do strategic marketing and branding awareness efforts, don’t panic, and get excited that your hobby is making you money!
Marketing your hobby-gone-business
1. Get the word out
You never know who the next potential client could be, and it may not be the people you think. Keep telling people about yourself and what you do. There’s a reason companies like Coca-Cola never stop advertising. If they do, their competitors will the ones their customers start thinking about. It’s all a matter of who your customer thinks of first.
2. Wear your brand or be your brand
If you make jewelry, like me, wear your jewelry. If you grow trees, fill your front lawn with the trees your grow. If you’re a designer, wear your brand on a t-shirt, perhaps something you’ve created. This will increase the likelihood of people finding out about the existence of your company and it will help to create a brand that is more than just your product but that also includes you.
3. Identify partners and build a support network
Are there nearby businesses who will refer customers to you? Perhaps businesses that will stock your products? Build relationships with these key players and don’t forget to give a little as well. If you want something, you’re going to have to give something in return. How can you help them?
Don’t forget to “hang with” the people in your industry—peers that could help you or refer you to relevant customers, or who can give you additional insight into that world. For me, that means speaking with artists at craft fairs, working with or collaborating with others on particular items of jewelry, or learning something new together at a craft center.
4. Be unusual
Earlier this year I wrote a post about Lori Cheek’s marketing tactics. To advertise her business on a shoestring budget, Lori had to think outside the box. She chalked the name of her business on the sidewalks of New York, placed “Cheek’d bookmarks” in books in bookstores, placed stickers on coffee cups in Starbucks, and even went so far as to slip her business card into the pockets of popular celebrities. You can argue over Lori’s success, but you can’t argue about the amount of press she got due to hard work and creative guerilla marketing.
And, if you think that creative marketing is relegated to only the creative industries, you’re wrong! Just about everything has potential. Men in Kilts, a window cleaning franchise has found a way to make themselves stand out. The answer’s in the name…they clean windows in bright green kilts! Their slogan? “No Peeking.” No one is going to forget these guys.
5. Make sure you have an online presence
This isn’t just a “must” if you want to be found in our digitally-oriented times, but it’s also an easy and affordable way to build brand exposure and take sales. WordPress is easy to set up and learn. Ebay, Etsy, and Amazon are virtually fool-proof, and a number of companies like Shopify, BigCommerce, and SquareSpace also make creating an online store a dream.
If you’re not worried about selling something online, at least use platforms like Google+ to put your business on the map, Facebook to share the content that resonates emotionally and to reach your personal network of friends and family who may be able to help you spread word, Twitter to build relationships with people you don’t know and to strengthen relationships with those you do know, LinkedIn to share professional information, and so on. There’s virtually a platform for every time of business in existence.
Yin Wu of LoveGem Studio suggests using social media to engage with your customers. In particular, she finds that by attaching peoples’ names to photos, she can encourage them to engage with and share her products. She has found success doing this on Instagram, and her actions have even resulted in her jewelry being featured in various fashion photo shoots.
If you’re still not sure about what’s right for you, let me know and I’ll be happy to help you figure it out. Leave a comment below.
6. List your business in online directories
This includes sites like Yelp, Craigslist (for the US), Gumtree (for the UK), and a number of other sites including Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo!, Manta, and the Yellow Pages. Be sure to do a web search on your competitors or on other businesses like yours to see where they’ve listed their information.
7. Take amazing product photos
Whether you’re selling online or taking photos to submit to a magazine or newspaper, pictures can either make or break your business. The Four Sisters Farm Soap Company finds that taking photos of their products outside is best, especially in the evening or on an overcast day, adding a feeling of “atmosphere.” If you want to take pictures on a white background, you can either order of build your own lightbox, or use a free online service like FotoFuze—popular among Etsy sellers—to create a bright, white background.
More learning resources
If you think you’re ready to make the leap, there are so many great resources you can turn to in order to help you get started. For one, take a look at our library of sample plans. Many hobbyists are first-time business owners, and need a bit of help getting started. Writing a business plan is that essential first-step.
Some of our key articles on Bplans that discuss this topic include:
- Do you have a business or a hobby?
- 6 reasons to keep your hobby a hobby
- How I got my first customer: I marketed myself not my business
A few books I recommend looking into include:
by Meg Mateo Ilasco
by Jason Malinak
by Nancy Collamer
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve turned your own hobby into a business. What were your personal struggles? How did you overcome them? Do you advise others take this route? Leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to respond.