Learn how to use the passion for your hobby to grow a business

Jessica Barnaby
Image: Wednesday Genius

So you want to quit your day job and out of all the business ideas you’ve had, your hobby fits you the best.

I was like you. But it was never my deliberate business strategy to turn a hobby into a fulltime business. Somehow my first business grew from a hobby (website design). And then my second too (coaching), and my third (marketing). I also managed to make a business out of my love of writing — I thought I’d become an author but ghostwriting and copywriting were a better business bet.

While I owe my success stories to having so many hobbies, turning hobbies into successful businesses comes with risks. I’ve made painful mistakes from not thinking things through enough. But mistakes are fixable if the ground is solid underneath.

Rose-tinted spectacles are risky and try to convince you that potential clients are already queuing around the block. You must put on the horn-rimmed glasses of a favorite sensible aunt, and remind yourself you’re planning a profitable business. A sustainable business needs more than flash-in-the-pan excitement.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to think of your hobby-based home business as a proper business venture.

Attributes of a hobby:

  • It fits into your spare time
  • Friends make it fun
  • You don’t have to tell anyone about it
  • You can ignore the bits you don’t like
  • Your social media friends love all your posts
  • You can give it up for months
  • The government keeps its nose out
  • You can dismiss websites as an online equivalent of a business card

Attributes of a business:

  • It’s a fulltime job
  • Customers make it successful
  • It fails without publicity and targeted sales and marketing
  • You need to be the go-to expert in your field
  • Your social media friends aren’t the right market research to test the waters with
  • You have to immerse yourself every day because there’s a profit motive now
  • You need to know about taxes, liabilities, business licenses, and where to get legal advice
  • You need a website that works as a receptionist, catalog, sales team, PR team, and customer service agent

But you shouldn’t skip the business plans side of the process because you don’t want to be the person who goes to the store and buys random ingredients and then has no idea what to do with them.

The Evanston Chamber of Commerce says that business planning connects the dots in your business so you get a better picture of the whole.

The good news is that your business plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Even a one-page business plan helps you identify your customers, sales and marketing avenues, and your product or service.

If you don’t know where to start with a business plan, LivePlan can help you build it.

Yet, the one trait you’ll find common to most business owners is brutal self-honesty in where they stand, where they want to be, and what they’re willing to do to get there.

With honesty, you might find that the idea of a business venture is more attractive than the reality which means you won’t quit your day job after all. Or the vision for your sustainable business changes and you decide to seek startup funding instead.

The following self-assessment questions help you test the waters with yourself. Your answers serve as signposts directing you to explore your options. As people, we’re very resourceful, especially when we can see where we’re heading.

1) Have you run a business before? If yes, what learnings can you bring into your new business? If no, what resources do you have to help you? This can be a business course, an experienced and reliable friend, or a business coach.

2) Are you in urgent need of cash? This helps you decide if you can take a long-tailed approach to business growth. Or if it’s better to take a slower road and build in agency work too.

3) How much time will you spend on your business? Your business strategy should consider family, relationships, and obligations. The self-employed often suffer from business matters creeping into their personal time.

4) Will this be your sole household income? And do you have savings to maintain cashflow until your business builds up. If not, you may have to consider a slower approach to your home business strategy. It’s possible to build a business on strong foundations part-time so you can do contracting or freelancing on the side.

5) Are you prepared to invest in the right things? A recent client wanted help turning his photography hobby into a business. He said, “ I spent most of my savings on expensive new equipment when I should have spent it figuring out a strategy to get more business.

Remember, people need to find you and trust in you before they’re willing to pay you. Yes, you need the right equipment to do your job, but make sure you’re investing in your sales and marketing strategies too.

6) Is Social Media seducing you? Everyone’s got their own successful online business on social media. But you don’t know if their success stories are real. They could be trying to cultivate an influencer image. You don’t know if they use staff to help them out or if they’re part of a clique promoting each other to jumpstart a success that may or may not happen. Your business venture needs you to be proactive with market research, sales and marketing, and business strategy.

7) Can you write for readers and search engines? It’s so easy to set up a business online that you can do the basics over a weekend. But the quality of your writing affects the success of your website and marketing. Learn the rules of copywriting and SEO, or budget to hire a copywriter who can help grow your business.

  • Photography — everyone’s getting married and in need of a photographer. Easy!
  • Gardening — everyone wants to be rid of this chore. Easy!
  • Cooking — everyone wants healthy, wholesome, home-cooked food. Easy!

There are many success stories of thriving businesses in these areas. But those business owners are not you. You have your own motivations, obligations and experiences.

Taking photography as an example:

  • What will you photograph when the wedding season is over?
  • Do you need to keep your weekends free for your family?
  • How do you respond to criticism and complaints?

When your hobby becomes a fulltime business with its own bank account, and maybe even a business loan, you have to do the bits that you didn’t like before. You have to work weekends, take outdoor photos in the rain, maybe even with children and animals — you do like children and animals, don’t you? You even have to make pitches because the sales and marketing never ends.

The point is, your hobby isn’t your hobby anymore. Can you live with that?

When your hobby becomes your business, your relationship with it changes and you need a new form of relaxation.

Here are a few options:

  • Save a part for yourself: An artist might keep oil painting to herself. By not linking oils to her business profile, nobody can commission her for them.
  • Find a new hobby: You can be deliberate and seek a new hobby but you can’t force it. A hobby, by definition, is something you do willingly because you can’t *not* do it. Leave yourself open to discovering something else.
  • Turn the business into your hobby: But do this carefully. Your business is a fulltime job, taking up an awful lot of your mind — your family and friends will feel your absence. Even so, a lot of people discover something they never saw before and it becomes a new delight.

One client compared it to her child who’s now grown up and flown the nest. “ My baby took up all my time and drove me to distraction, but without her, I wouldn’t have discovered all the other joys she gave me.”

This client makes clay pots and photographing her pots for Instagram account is her new hobby.

Your family, friends and untargeted social media accounts are not good market research. Identify your client base and ask real potential clients what they want in a business like yours. When you’ve asked enough of the right people, you’ll see how to fit their needs into what you are able and willing to do.

The best validation is a sale, whether you’ve launched your online business, or not. If you have launched and the sales aren’t coming, test your website and marketing channels with a website audit. It’s important that you’re using language that resonates with your clients. It’s also important that the search engines are delivering your site and your product to them.

Think with the mindset of a business owner and you’re going to see your hobby through different eyes.

  • You’ll stop justifying higher-end equipment and tools because you prefer to stay lean while you get yourself off the ground.
  • Business strategy and planning will become a part of your mindset, and you’ll find it possible to bounce back from bad decisions.
  • You’ll have contingencies in place for the off-days when personal reasons throw you off track. Sickness. A late night up with the little one. An argument with your best friend who’s also in charge of your social media.

You’ll take the ups and downs in your stride.

Starting a business from a hobby is like starting any other kind of business. The difference is you’re going in with the advantage of knowing your product from a user perspective. That information is priceless. Use it wisely.

  • Understand your limitations and know when and where to call in help
  • Make sure there’s a market for your product or service
  • Manage your money — cash flow is critical to your survival
  • Maintain your relationships with friends and family — you need that stress relief valve



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