January is National Hobby Month. And in honor of this special month, we wanted to share with you some entrepreneurs who turned their pastimes into multi-million dollar businesses as well as provide some ideas to inspire you to fulfill your dreams and help you learn how to turn a hobby into a business.
Hobby to Business: Success Stories
One of the most notable hobbyists of all time is certainly Walt Disney. He turned his love of doodling and sketching into a multi-billion dollar business that continues to thrive nearly 50 years after his death. He is a prime example of how to not only turn a hobby into a business, but how to open a successful business.
Disney began drawing pictures at the young age of four, and by seven, he was selling them to friends and relatives. Throughout his formative years, he kept pursuing his hobby and attended art school in Chicago before launching his career in animation, film production, and theme park design.
As a young girl, Debbi Fields worked as a “ball girl” for the Oakland A’s and used the money she earned to make cookies. A decade later, she began selling these cookies in a small retail shop. They were an instant success, and soon she was overseeing more than 650 “Mrs. Fields Cookies” retail bakeries in the United States and more than 80 in 11 other countries.
While not every 13 year old takes up programming as a hobby, Bill Gates did. He took proceeds from a rummage sale to buy a terminal and a block of computer time on a computer at his school and wrote a tic-tac-toe game that enabled players to play games against the computer. From there, he went on to devise an algorithm for pancake sorting while at Harvard University and then dropped out of college to start Microsoft. Who knew that a teenager with an unlikely hobby would turn into one of the world’s richest men?
As a preteen, Pamela Love spent many hours making bracelets out of toothbrushes. She would heat the brushes and bend the plastic into cuff-like shapes. Two decades later, she has turned her love of jewelry making into a multi-million dollar business. With pieces featured in top fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle and buyers from top retailers clamoring to purchase from her, she has definitely demonstrated that a little hobby can become big business.
In her native England, Rachel Ashwell had a hobby of perusing flea markets for second-hand treasures. Upon moving to the United States in the 1980s, she decided to begin selling her finds in a Santa Monica boutique. Items she sold were quickly snapped up by fashionable customers wanting to create the “shabby chic” look in their homes. Soon, she had her own TV show, signature product lines, and the attention of Oprah Winfrey who became a passionate brand advocate for her.
Could Your Hobby Be Your Ticket to Success?
There has never been a better time to convert your hobby into a business. Ecommerce sites like Etsy, which features handmade crafts, along with social media sites that enable small businesses to reach customers beyond their local community are creating an online environment prime for aspiring, crafty entrepreneurs.
If you have daydreamed of painting, sculpting, sewing, or even writing all day, you may want to take some time to explore the possibility of turning your hobby into a business. Of course, starting a business of any kind is a big endeavor and not one that you will want to take lightly. If you’re ready to explore the possibility, start with these first steps.
- Establish Goals
Where do you want to go with your hobby? Are you an aspiring Bill Gates who wants to generate millions? Or would you be happy with selling an occasional piece you handcrafted?
- While your aspirations don’t have to be set in stone, it’s a good idea to have a general idea of both long- and short-term goals. You will want to evaluate what you have time to accomplish and how you will accomplish them. Remember: How you define success is subjective, very personal, and only something you can determine.
- Consider Your Lifestyle
Most likely you are involved in your hobby because you enjoy it and because it relieves stress you experience in other aspects of your life. But what if you had to do it all day, every day? Would it still be enjoyable? What would you do as a stress-relieving outlet if your hobby became your occupation? These are important questions to ask before you set up shop and quit your day job. There are no right or wrong answers – only decisions that you’ll have to make based upon how you want to manage your life.
- Prepare to Multitask:
Being a small business owner means having to wear many hats. In any given day, you may be focused on bookkeeping, sending out invoices, ordering from suppliers, and developing a marketing plan. There is a big difference between having a full-time job with a sideline hobby and being an entrepreneur with a growing business. You will find that you cannot solely focus on one task or project. Most likely, you’ll be spread thin, particularly during the early days of your business.
- Educate Yourself:
There are many things to research before turning your hobby into a business. You’ll want to explore what legal business entity is right for you, how you will obtain customers, and who the reliable vendors are that you can count on. That’s just the start! Learning as much about your industry and running a small business can help you avoid costly pitfalls down the road.
- Create a Plan:
If you’re not yet scared off, congratulations! You may have the chops to set up shop! A business plan is the next step. Not only will a good plan of action help you as you navigate through these early days of your business, it can be a necessity when you’re trying to obtain financing to hire staff, purchase inventory, or buy equipment to create your products. Financing may be a key component of whether you can turn a hobby into a business. Here are some way to go about financing a business.
Hobbies help to pass the time. They help relieve stress, make us creative, and give us a sense of accomplishment. For some, they also become the impetus for growing a business and achieving financial freedom. Whether you’re able to turn a hobby into a business, it’s important to have fun doing what you enjoy and to realize there is tremendous value in doing so.