“Turn your hobby into a business.” Aspiring entrepreneurs are often advised to do this, but is it good advice? Can you really turn a hobby into an actual full-time business?
Rest assured, it can be done. We asked a few hobbyists-turned-entrepreneurs for their do’s, don’ts and the best advice to follow if you want to follow in their footsteps.
Needle By Needle
It wasn’t exactly typical behavior for teenage boys, but when Kohl Crecelius’ brother taught him to crochet in high school, his buddies Stewart Ramsey and Travis Hartanov joined in and the trio began crocheting snowboarding hats for their friends. In college, the friends went their separate ways, but summer volunteer stints in developing nations infused all of them with the desire to make a difference. Realizing that crochet offered a low-investment way for people to craft salable products, seven years ago they transformed their quirky hobby into a business, Krochet Kids International. Today, the global nonprofit empowers women in Uganda and Peru by giving them the tools to crochet handmade products, selling the products on its website and providing education and mentorship to help the women break the cycle of poverty.
(L-R) Kohl Crecelius, Stewart Ransey and Travis Hartanov
Do: Just do it. “Too many entrepreneurs delay their projects until they have the perfect plan, and too much time passes,” Crecelius says. “When we started, we were 20 years old and didn’t have all the answers, but we took steps forward and learned along the way.”
Don’t ignore what your customers have to teach you. “We should have started collecting and analyzing customer data sooner,” Crecelius says. “We’ve been able to learn so much about our supporters and how they interact with our product by utilizing better analytics and by asking them.”
Best advice: Commit. “People respond to, and want to support, those who are authentically and creatively pursuing their dreams. People will respond differently when you commit to pursuing your dream and move beyond a ‘side project.’ Put your idea out there even if it’s not 100 percent perfect. There's boldness in vulnerability.”
My, Om My
Shari Czar started teaching yoga, meditation and relaxation as a hobby to balance out her intense day job as an IT manager. In November 2013, she took the leap and launched Infinite Heart Space, teaching and writing about yoga, meditation and stress reduction full time.
Do know your strengths and weaknesses. “The smartest thing I did when turning my hobby into a business was to decide which tasks I could do well on my own, either through experience or through teaching myself, and which tasks were better completed by leveraging others. Admitting [this] and accessing help was key to moving forward,” Czar says.
Don’t do business on a handshake. “When making an agreement with others, put expectations and commitments down on paper and make sure all parties agree to them,” she warns. “Then [check in] with each other to make sure everyone is staying on track.”
Best advice: “Surround yourself with people who support you and what you are looking to do,” says Czar, who recommends finding mentors in your industry. “Creating a business has its ups and downs and it’s nice to have emotional support from others who help you push through the challenges and cheer you on.”
Jason McCoy has been fascinated with voice-overs since age 14. “I loved music and audio in general,” McCoy says. “I’d listen to the radio and mimic commercials. I used my computer mic and Windows sound recorder to practice and play for hours.” Today, McCoy’s business, McCoy Productions, does voice-over for commercials, e-learning, phone prompts, audiobooks and more.
Do gain experience. “I interned at a radio station and was able to work with real voice talents,” McCoy explains. “I asked questions to figure out the best path to becoming a professional voice actor myself.”
Don’t wait too long. “My biggest mistake was not jumping ship on my day job sooner,” McCoy says. “Once you can afford it, make the leap. A business will only thrive when all your attention and time is focused on it.”
Best Advice: Learn from others. "Find someone in [the situation you want to be in] and see how they got where they are. Don’t reinvent the wheel—use their wisdom to your advantage.”
Matthew Olian’s high school hobby, glassblowing, became the foundation of Grateful Glass, which creates custom remembrance jewelry that suspends the cremation ashes of a loved one or pet within layers of glass.
Do your homework. Olian studied business administration in college while making glass art in his spare time. When he finally decided to turn his hobby into a business, he did a lot of research. “Reading [about the industry] and speaking with both funeral professionals and even competitors gave me a better understanding of how the industry operates,” he says.
Don't rush it. “When transitioning from a hobby to a business, take your time,” Olian advises. “You need a well-developed product line or framework for your services. Then figure out who your customers are and how you will reach them.
Best advice: "First, though, ask yourself the important question, ‘Is there a need for what I’m offering?’" Olian says. "The more time, thought and planning that goes into the early stages of your business development, the more likely you will be to succeed.”
Melissa Connolly started blogging in 2002. She found she had a knack for designing blogs, and began creating “blog skins” for her blog every other week. “I probably created more blog designs than I did blog posts,” she says. Soon other bloggers started asking her to design their blogs. In 2003, she turned blog design into a business, and in 2005 she transitioned into offering them through Emtwo, the business she runs with husband Sean Connolly. The company offers a full range of services, from website design and brand identity development to Web consulting and social media management, to clients ranging from independent bloggers to corporations such as FedEx.
Don’t treat your business as a hobby. “About six months in, I started to realize that this business would never be seen as a legitimate business if I didn't think it was,” Connolly recalls. “Who was going to take me seriously if I didn't? How was I going to land bigger and bigger clients if this was just a hobby? It can be hard to move into the business mindset, but the earlier you do it, the better.”
Do find a new hobby. "There wasn't much fun in my life for the first few years of my business,” Connolly admits. “The hobby I loved became the business I loved, which was great, but I still needed outlets away from the business that would inspire me and relieve stress. Thankfully I found a few new hobbies, including baking and cake decorating, that I have no desire to turn into businesses!”
Best advice: “Having a good business plan is smart, but sometimes you just have to dive in and see what happens,” Connolly says. “When you spend too much time thinking, you can become overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. Do something! Every day, little by little, do things that grow your business a little more.”
Read more articles on leadership.
Photo Credit: Krochet Kids International (3), Stephen Caffery, Courtesy of McCoy Productions (2), Matthew Preiser, Richard Alcorn