So you have this awesome hobby that might actually make you some money. Perfect! Before you draw up that business plan and withdraw your savings to get things off the ground, however, let’s chat.
Is this what you really want to do? I mean, you might love gardening, but do you actually want to own the farm?
Before you accuse me of being a naysayer or startup shamer or whatever, let me say that if the answer is unequivocally yes, you do indeed want to turn your passion into a career, then all the power to you.
As a matter of fact, if the answer is, hey, I’m truly passionate about this and I really want to see if I can make it work, again, I say go for it! I fully encourage you to follow your dreams (once you’ve created solid business, marketing and financial plans, of course, because dreams can’t become reality until you’ve actually, well, stepped into reality). If you’re unsure, however, I’d like to offer you some advice in the form of a personal story. And a picture of my dog because, why not?
This is Stella. I brought her home when she was an adorable puppy. An adorable puppy with the worst gas in the world. She also started to develop some skin and ear problems. After a couple of vet visits and careful experimentation with her food, it became clear that her diet was the culprit of all her problems. I started feeding her some special food, but I still had the problem of training her, plus I wanted healthy treats to reward good behaviour. So, as a long-time hobby baker and amateur chef, I started making homemade treats for her.
I developed some great recipes that agreed with both her taste buds and her body. I made them in batches and had a lot of leftovers each week. I began giving the leftovers to a friend who volunteered her time and talents to rehabilitating pit bulls. As volunteers have to purchase their own treats, she shared them with her fellow co-workers.
The healthy treats also helped the dogs who had food issues and it wasn’t long before volunteers at the shelter asked to purchase them, which I sold at cost. Soon, doggie foster parents and adopters began buying them. Being a marketer with a HUGE entrepreneurial spirit, I decided to do things properly. I registered a business, had the treats lab tested, and ordered packaging.
I’d been doing freelance work for a couple of years with a friend of mine, a web developer, outside of my day job. He would design websites, I would write web copy and sometimes create an online marketing plan for the client. I asked him to help me create an e-commerce site. A photographer contact I knew snapped some awesome pics for the website of shelter dogs (scoped out by my dog-training friend), while a graphic designer in my circle created a logo with one of the photos.
Thanks to my (pre-marketing) customer service background, I found that I was actually a pretty good salesperson. In addition to online, I booked booths at fairs and shows, and eventually found my way into a few retail locations, thanks to customers making requests at their local natural food stores, and me dropping off samples.
Everything seemed to be going great. I would come home from work, bake and package my treats, continue with my freelance work and maybe even get a few hours of sleep before waking up and doing it all again. Weekends were spent selling the treats at the booths and/or doing deliveries.
One weekend in particular, I had sold out at my first day at a booth. I had to stay up all night baking the treats, cooling them off, and packaging them. It was at about 4am when I realized I would be driving back to the fair without getting any sleep. And that’s when I had an epiphany.
I’M HAVING THE WORST TIME EVER.
I loved baking and cooking as a hobby, but since getting into this business, I had been eating out or ordering in almost every night. And, if I did the math, I was making less money per hour from the dog treat business than I was from either my day job or from my freelance work. After some careful reflection, I realized that while I was in the process of determining how to build my business, I did not once bother to question whether or not this was the business I wanted to build.
So I quit.
I finished up with the bookings and obligations I had and then handed over the business to someone and washed my hands of the whole, organic-spelt-flour mess.
Silver lining? Upon even more reflection, I realized that I truly enjoyed the freelance work that I was doing, which is why I kept accepting jobs even when I was beyond exhausted. And when I had been doing the math on the dog treat business, I found that I was actually making more money freelancing than from my day job – factoring in travel, expenses, etc.
So I quit my day job, too! I formed a business with the web designer who had traded freelance work with me. Together we built a solid company that we were both passionate about and we continued with it for about six-and-a-half years, until our passion ran out and we were ready to move on to the next thing. Hey, it happens! After all, life’s only an adventure if you make it one.
My hope is not that this story will completely dissuade you from turning a hobby into a business. As you can see, even if things do not work out how you expect them to, it doesn’t mean the experience lacked value. I do, however, believe that before you start a business, you MUST take a break from romanticizing what life will be like once your business is a success. Instead, stop and think about what kind of startup you want to run. Not just in terms of product or service, but in terms of your time, energy and focus.
Sometimes hobbies are best left as hobbies– and sometimes your true passion is not so obviously apparent.
Whatever you choose, I hope that when you’re ready to start your business, you will visit us at mystartup.ca. Our passion is helping your business succeed.