Turning a hobby into a business
Hobbies can be welcome stress relievers -- knitting to unwind, dabbling in photography, tinkering with woodwork. For some enthusiastic hobbyists, these pastimes can also present business opportunities. That's where Jessica Bauer found herself in October 2008 when she rediscovered a childhood passion for jewelry-making. She found inspiration everywhere -- from bottle caps to Scrabble tiles to the growing selection of beads at craft and specialty stores, and her hobby quickly escalated. A year later, at the urging of friends and family, she started selling her jewelry at craft fairs and online on SmashingDarling.com. Her boutique is called Jewels by Jessica Evelyn. THE PITCH
"I make jewelry as a hobby and have ended up with more jewelry than any one person can wear. So, a couple of years ago I started selling my jewelry to make some money on the side. I have an online boutique, I sell my jewelry at craft fairs, and I've hosted a few trunk shows to get my product out there. I don't plan on turning this into a full-fledged business that I would quit my day job for, but I really enjoy making and selling jewelry on the side. What is your advice for someone like me, who has a hobby and would like to turn it into something a little bit more?"
Asher Epstein, managing director, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship
"First of all, find out where the customers are. You have to make sure you have a clear picture of whose problem you are solving with your hobby.
"Secondly, be sure you understand how you are going to get your product in front of customers so they can buy from you. You can say your customer is a 25- to 34-year-old woman, but you still need to figure out how you will get the product in front of her so she can actually consume what you are offering.
"Third, figure out the financial model and whether there is enough money to be made from selling your products or service. Is this going to be a worthwhile thing to invest in? Usually when you do something as a hobby a lot of the reason you do it is because it's your passion, so you are spending money but you justify the money you spend because you are interested and you are passionate about it. When you are doing something for a business you have got to make sure it's a worthwhile business where there's money to be made and it is a worthwhile use of funds.
"The fourth thing you should ask yourself, particularly because it is a hobby, is: 'Is turning my hobby into a business going to take the fun out of it? I do it for fun, I do it when I want to -- it's a stress release. All of the sudden now that I've got to deliver a product to a customer and I've got to deliver a product for money, is that going to take all of the fun out of it for me?'
"The last thing I'd recommend if you want to turn your hobby into a small business on the side is make sure it is the kind of business you can run on a one-off basis. If you're selling jewelry, you can be selective and go to any flea market or craft show you want, then disappear. If you're running dog-walking services or some service where there's an expectation of continued support, that doesn't work -- you can't just walk away because something else comes up. You have to figure out if it's the kind of thing you can ramp up and scale back at your own discretion."
"All of your advice is really beneficial. I have gotten a lot better about spreading the word about my jewelry. I have a Facebook and Twitter page for my business and I do a lot of word-of-mouth advertising through family, friends and co-workers. I've been very good about giving out business cards at events, but after hearing your advice I am thinking maybe that isn't enough -- at future craft fairs and trunk shows I plan on having a place for people to leave me their e-mails so I can send out updates on my products and when and where I will be selling next. Already I have people asking me if I am going to return to fairs that I have participated in the past -- I think this would be a great way to communicate with the customer base I already have.
"The most important thing you touched on for me was deciding if turning my hobby into a business would take the fun out of making jewelry. Honestly, at times it has. But at the end of the day I take so much pleasure and pride in seeing someone walking around wearing something I've made, so I know it is worth the infrequent annoyances of selling a product. I think this is great advice for others and would personally say if it gets to be too much, take a break or stop altogether. At the end of the day hobbyists do what they do because they love it -- not for money. That is really important to remember."