Learn how to turn a hobby into a small business
A hobby is something you do for fun and to destress. Having one can have positive psychological impacts and give you feelings of satisfaction.
Sometimes, it ends there. But sometimes it might turn into a means of making money – which completely changes the game.
This is how I started; I had a hobby that I was passionate about which blossomed into a thriving small business. But it didn’t happen on its own! (If only)
If you’re looking to turn your hobby into something more, here are some insights & tips on how to go about doing that.
Does running a business interest you?
A good question to consider before you take your first steps since that’s essentially what you’ll be doing.
When you first start, you’ll mostly be creating so you have something to share and sell. As your small business grows, your focus will start to shift to more business-minded tasks.
Yeah, sometimes being all business sucks but now that you’re a business owner, you’ll need to promote, research, create, make purchases for material, and look at your bottom line to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward in product, marketing, and sales. You’ll be wearing all of the hats until such time you can offload some of those pesky tasks that you’re not so thrilled with.
What will you sell and how?
Before you setup shop, decide specifically what you will sell, how it will be packaged, what are the cost of materials / shipping, and how much you can sell it for. Ensure that the end price can cover all costs, including a few bucks for yourself for your time and effort. You can’t forget to pay yourself!
Where will you sell?
In today’s world, there are so many ways to sell your goods and services so you won’t be without options here. Some research will be required to decide where you might want to start selling.
Will it be in an online shop?
Print on demand sites?
Through brick and mortar shops?
Consider the cost and effort of each to determine the best one for you. Pick one or two to start and gauge how well it’s going after 6 months. If it’s not turning over a fair return, try something new.
How will you promote?
Social media is a great way to get some exposure and gain a following. There are many platforms to choose from though, which can feel overwhelming. Ask yourself which one will allow you to reach your audience and will feature your product or service in the best light.
Markets are a great way to meet your audience in person and have one-on-one conversations with them. These can be local or national and provide you with invaluable information about how people use or react to your items. They may even have some ideas and suggestions of their own to provide!
One thing I would highly recommend is choosing a market that aligns with your product and audience base. You wouldn’t want to setup a table at a food market, if you’re selling knitted baby booties. A craft fair or gift market might be a better fit.
But fit might not be apparent until you give it a try, so do try a few and take note of how you did. What you earn at the end of the day should cover all associated market costs (table/booth cost, food, travel, display materials, helping hands), plus your time to setup, attend the market, and take down.
My first year in markets, the money I earned barely covered my table costs. Since I had a full time job at the time, it allowed me to be flexible and experiment without the stress of trying to make money. As time carried on, I started finding the markets that were right for me and have since become a regular attendee.
Ads are a whole other ball game which I won’t get into because I don’t know enough – and I don’t advertise. I simply focus on strong SEO to be found which is one way to go.
If you decide to advertise, keep an eye on ROI. If your profit margins are 15%, and you’re spending 20% of everything you earn on ads in a month, you’re losing money so adjustments will need to be made.
What does the future of your business look like?
It’s easy to think short term cash but let’s look 2 years into the future. What do you want your business to be or look like? Wherever it might be, hopefully you’re starting to see some profits at that point in time.
If you are doing well, you might want to expand and get into larger markets, like selling to brick and mortar shops or to big box stores. Maybe you want to expand your product line. Or license your artwork. You could even hire help to get your business ahead or offload those tasks that chew up your time so you can focus on the tasks you’re well versed in and enjoy.
Consider what each option would entail.
Thinking about this early will hopefully help you see efficiencies and plan for it ahead of time.
Are you ready to quit your day job? Or grind?
I envy those that who are confident enough in their business ideas to quit their full-time jobs to pursue their dreams full-time. But I’m a person that needs a bit more assurance. That’s why I started my business outside of my full-time job. I wanted to ensure I could get a good foundation going before jumping into the deep end.
If you’re like me and not willing to risk a steady monthly income up front, you will have to sacrifice downtime (and downtime activities) instead, in order to find time in the day to build the business.
If you’re serious about turning your hobby into a business you have to think of it as such and commit to it like you would a job in order to gain momentum. The important thing is not how much time you spend in a day or week, it’s that you stick to it - even if it’s just a couple of hours in your day each day. It may not build as quickly as the folks dropping their full-time jobs, but it will grow so long as you take steps every day to get it there.
And please, whatever you do, don’t measure your progress in weeks or months because this process takes time. I look at quarters. How were these last 3 months? Were they better or worse than the last? What can improve? Then keep going.
How will you find the time?
Time is one of your most precious commodities in building a side business – and it can get chewed up pretty quickly. Especially if you have kids, a full-time job with overtime, or are watching the latest Netflix series you just can’t help but binge.
To find more time, audit your tasks outside of your daily work to see what you could reduce or eliminate to find time for your business.
First outline what are the things you NEED to have; 8 hours sleep, 1 hour in the morning to get ready for the day, 8-9 hours for your job, 2 hours to cook dinner and enjoy a meal with your family, 1 hour for exercise.
Once you tally that, subtract 24 to get your remaining hours in the day. THAT is what you have to work with.
This doesn’t mean use every hour to work. But it does mean dedicating some of that time to this new business.
I’m constantly challenged in finding time which means I am always switching one task for another to get a good balance. I run business errands on my lunch breaks. To get my Netflix in, I put it on in the background if I’m sketching or doing less intense tasks. I only do yoga twice a week even though I’d love to go every day. I occasionally forego the social occasion on the weekends to stay at home to get some REAL downtime in. The rest of the time, you can find me working on something to do with my business; Even if it’s small.
Doubts & burn out might kill your business
They say a lot of businesses fail in their first 5 years due to poor returns or lack of funding. I think they can also fail from sheer exhaustion and crippling self-doubt.
With all of the work you’re putting in and everything you might be sacrificing to chase your dream, it will affect your mental and physical health pretty quick if left unchecked. This will have unexpected impacts on your daily life, your relationships, your mood, and general ability to cope with stress. Trust me on this one! I’ve reached burn out a number of times because I haven’t quite figured out how to manage it all in a way that’s healthy.
That is the danger with “the side hustle”. At times you’ll feel like you’re killing yourself and not getting far - which will be the case up front as there’s a lot of foundation to lay at the start. But in a state of mental exhaustion, that process only gets slower.
If we push ourselves too hard, it will make bad feelings worse or even make you sick, taking you out of the game for much longer than you’d like. So, even though you’re working hard to make this business happen, take a step back if you need to. Breathe. Rest. Then get back in the ring!
Fall out of your pose
As my yoga teacher says, “If you fall out of your pose, who cares! Get back up and start again. It’s the only way to become stronger.”
This is true for running your business too. You’re going to fail. You’re going to fail a lot. And that’s amazing. It means you’re working towards success. Emotionally removing yourself from those failures is key to not letting that failure take hold.
Think of everything like an experiment and have no expectation of the outcome. You hope for it to succeed but it could also fail too. But what does each of those look like to you?
Let it succeed or fail. Learn from it. Move on.
Whatever you do, don’t wallow. Don’t sit in a pool of self pity if it doesn’t work out as planned. You are learning. You are growing. And it will be better next time.
It takes a village
While your business is yours alone, you’ll always need help from others along the way. Be OK with reaching out to people in your community to gain insights. Network with people you might want to do business with. Care for your customers like each one is your only one. Surround yourself with supportive people who will cheer for you. Foster all connections as it will all help you succeed.
The beautiful thing about starting a small business is that you’re forging YOUR own path. There are no books to reference, no rules to follow, no path markers (or boss) to tell you what to do. It’s up to you to figure out what works. That’s equally exciting AND terrifying so embrace it.
While it may seem like a lot, it doesn’t all have to happen in one day or even one year. What I’ve outlined above comes from an accumulation of years of lessons learned and experiments I’ve conducted.
I hope it gives you a bit of a jump start so that you’re confident to start on your small business adventure.
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