For many of us, a hobby is what you turn to after a long day at the office or on the weekend, an activity that brings you joy and happiness and helps you unwind. If done right, creative hobbies like writing, art, cooking, knitting, or graphic design can also become a business. But like any entrepreneurial venture, transforming a creative hobby into a viable business requires research, planning, and a lot of hard work.
Get to Know Your Hobby
Whether your hobby is gardening, fitness, or photography, figure out what you love about it and what you don’t like. Can you imagine working on it full time? Will you still find it relaxing and enjoyable if you have to do it all day? If your livelihood depends on it? Some career experts point out that a number of people who have turned their hobbies into businesses no longer find joy in the activity itself.
Develop a Thick Skin
If you’re creating a product like gemstone jewelry or animal portraits, you’ll find that some people love your work and others don’t. Most creative endeavours, such as art, are subjective, and not everyone has the same tastes. As a creative entrepreneur, you need to develop a thick skin and learn to brush off negative comments and feedback; if you’re serious about pursuing your creativity as a career path, it’s something you’ll have to get used to. There may also be people around you, whether out of genuine concern for your financial wellbeing or simple jealousy, who will try to discourage you from pursuing creative entrepreneurship. As tempting as it may be to dismiss their skepticism as negativity that you don’t need, actually listen to what they’re saying; they may offer perspectives you hadn’t considered and could lead you to do more valuable research or look at things in a new way.
Research, Then Research Some More
Every entrepreneur should have a business plan. Business plans help you create a road map to success, articulating in writing exactly what your goals for the business are, what success looks like, and how you’ll get there. It should also include industry, customer, and competitive analysis so you know what’s happening in your industry, what your customers want and need, and what other businesses in that space are doing. If you know a dozen people in your neighbourhood baking chocolate cookies, maybe your business needs to specialize in sugar cookies instead. Use strong research to find your creative niche and specialize.
Think Outside the Box
Just because your hobby is photography, it doesn’t mean you only have to limit yourself to, say, children’s portraits. There are many ways to earn money from a creative talent that doesn’t directly involve the hobby itself, including using your skills and expertise to teach others, writing or vlogging about it, or coming at it from a new angle, like selling your photos to other creatives to use in their work or licensing your music to online video creators.
Side Hustle or Jump Right In?
You’ve researched the market, the competition, and customers’ desire for your product. You’ve determined that you can make money turning your creativity into a business. But do you jump right in and go full time, or pursue it as a side hustle? That depends on you, but Rachael Hunt, business coach for wellness professionals and the founder at Freedom School, said she highly recommends taking the side hustle route. She says it it teaches potential entrepreneurs how to manage their time, multitask, understand what’s important, and appreciate what they already have.
“You can learn what your strengths are and play those up,” she explains. “You will craft skills that are critical for succeeding as an entrepreneur. And you will appreciate the journey so much more when you are on the other side of it.”
Jeanette McCurdy jumped right into the field of freelance editing after she was laid off from a 13-year career in educational publishing. She recently created JM Editorial Services with the ultimate goal of being financially stable, but still leaving herself enough time to spend with her family.
“I met with, and emailed, and chatted with many [former colleagues] who freelance,” she says. “I also did some online research into starting your own business, with a focus on the Canadian business landscape. Then I just took the plunge.”
Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to do the same, it’s time to start to think about the logistics. Create a business name and register it through the appropriate government body; build a brand, including creating a logo; purchase business cards; and get your finances in order by keeping detailed records and either hiring an accountant or investing in high-quality accounting software.
Have an Online Presence
An online presence is crucial today. Create a website with a customized URL, create a blog that you update regularly, and set up your social media. It’s better to choose one or two social media platforms and do them well than try to maintain too many accounts and do them poorly. Choose a platform that best suits your business as well as where your audience lives (Instagram is perfect for photographers, for example). Use these platforms to continue to build your brand, creating content and establishing loyalty. Interact with your followers and respond to comments and complaints. Start building an email list and update subscribers with interesting and relevant news, behind-the-scenes looks, and special offers to reward their loyalty. Add your business to Google and as many online directories as you can find.
Treat your venture like a business. If you’ve decided to turn your creativity into a business, you need to treat it like one. Get up every morning and get to work – creating and networking, updating social media, and anything else you can do to grow. Don’t fall into the afternoon-nap trap or allow yourself to slack off just because you’re working on something you also enjoy. It still requires focus and dedication.
Keep learning. Join chambers of commerce and networking groups. Attend conferences, sign up for courses (in-person or online), and find other resources at places like your local library. Read about changes to various social media platforms and keep up with the trends and best practices.
Network. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone and get out to fairs, markets, and other locations where your work would be valued and where you can potentially expand your audience. The larger your network, the more connections that can potentially help you.
Work hard. As entrepreneurs know, running a business is a lot of work. Be prepared to work hard, particularly at the beginning, as you run what’s likely a one-person business, meaning thoughts of 9-to-5 workdays fade into memory. And get ready for possible cycles of work, where you may have lots of clients one month but a relative few the next.
By doing your homework and working hard, turning your creative hobby into a successful business is definitely possible. Play it smart and put in the work, and you might be able to make a living doing something you once did just for fun.
Lisa Day |Contributing Writer