Should You Turn Your Hobby Into a Business?

Do friends just happen to stop in when you’re baking cookies or homemade pies? Or maybe you knit trendy hats and scarves to give as gifts, or fix relatives’ computers for free just because you can.

Most likely, people have often remarked, “With your talent, you should open a business!”

You smile and shake your head, answering, “I just do it on the side for fun.” But in the back of your mind, you’ve considered it. Wouldn’t it be great to chuck your nine-to-five grind and be your own boss?

Maybe it would. Then again, maybe not. While people often envy those who start their own businesses, being an entrepreneur isn't for everyone or right for every circumstance, though it’s important to note that any personality type can have a successful business. It’s just a matter of finding solutions for the parts of the job that don’t come as naturally to your personality type as they might to others. 

Here are some pros and cons to consider.

PRO: You already love the work.

Time passes so quickly when you’re pursuing your hobby because you love to do it. You could knit while watching TV, so it wouldn’t seem like work at all. If woodworking is your hobby, you’ve probably spent all day in your woodshop, in your spare time, sometimes not even stopping to eat because you’re so caught up in the project.

CON: Would you still love it when you have to do it every day, all day?

You play piano and can tune out the whole world when you’re deep in your music. Now you’re considering giving lessons full-time. You’ve taught a niece and several neighbor children in the past and enjoyed seeing them progress through your instruction.

But would you feel the same pride and have the patience you need to teach multiple lessons in a day? If lessons last 30 minutes each, you could easily teach eight to 10 students per day and have breaks in between them. Most piano students would be children – from the littlest ones with short attention spans and varying abilities and interests in music, to teens who have little time to practice and are as frustrated with themselves as you are teaching them.

Many creative people, including artists and others who create with their hands, are Intuitive-Perceiving personalities. Extroverts might feel energized by seeing so many people during the day, while Introverts might be overwhelmed by it and eventually find it tedious. Ask yourself, could I cope with performing my hobby all day, every day? Or is it better used as an energizer when I’m feeling depleted from my other responsibilities?  

PRO: You’d be your own boss.

It’s true that, as an owner, you can set your own hours and call all the shots. No more taking direction from managers whose rigid methods you disagree with, and whose scant praise and plentiful criticism makes you feel unappreciated. You’d be able to take time off for a doctor’s appointment without anyone raising eyebrows at you.

CON: Entrepreneurs put in many more hours than employees.

Though you set your own hours and can take time off when you need to, entrepreneurs quickly discover that if they want to have customers they have to put in the hours – typically many more hours than they did as an employee. ENTJs, who are often focused on their work, may not mind this, but those who prioritize family time or who need lots of down time just to think may hate it.

The home baker who now sells her treats has to make them as she did before – or train and pay others to do it – plus run the business. And until you’ve been in business for yourself, you can’t see what goes on behind the scenes, before and after business hours. The baker has to decide how to display the different pastries and breads, what to charge for each and how to package them for customers. She has to make sure all areas are sparkling clean and sanitized, every day.

Then there are decisions about bookkeeping. You’ll want to track daily sales so you know what’s flying off the shelves and what’s getting stale, as well as what to make for tomorrow and when to swap one out and try something new. You’ll need to keep a ledger of sales and expenses to know how much profit you’re making, and you’ll be wise to use computer programs for that so you can take advantage of all the financial tools, charts and comparisons they offer. If you’re not overly comfortable with computers, you’ll need to get familiar enough to use and understand the programs that are essential to running your business efficiently.

PRO: You’d have free reign to promote your business any way you see fit.

If your hobby is a creative one, you’re probably creative in other ways, too. If you’re good with words or ideas for zany promotions, you won’t have a boss to tell you your ideas won’t work and you can go wild spreading the word about your new biz.

CON: You won’t have anyone to tell you your ideas won’t work.

When you first start out in the business, you may be working totally on your own, having no one to bounce around ideas with (a delight for Introverts but frustrating if you’re an Extravert). Then, when you’re able to hire others, you may find that being the boss, especially the owner, puts you in a loftier position where all of a sudden, others are hesitant to tell you what they really think. No one wants to get on the boss’s bad side!

PRO: Hire experts to do what you can’t or don’t want to.

If you have the financial means or enough profits, you could hire pros to do the parts you’re not as comfortable with – like persuading people to buy your products if your personality type is introverted – leaving you more time to focus on your craft.

CON: It’s costly to hire experts.

While there are some experts you should hire – like an accountant to do your business taxes – you’ll want to carefully consider how much additional expert help you hire. Will you hire a cleaning person, for example, or do the cleaning yourself? Every pro you pay eats into your profits and leaves you with less money to expand or invest in the business or for living expenses.

PRO: You could hire and train workers to help make the products.

Let’s say you make detailed wooden lighthouses in your woodshop but they’re time-consuming to complete. Perhaps you might hire workers with woodworking ability – or whatever is related to your hobby – to do the more basic parts. A baker could teach others to mix the dough and possibly bake it, keeping the more artistic decorating for yourself.

CON: Hiring people costs money, and may not be feasible.

The cost of hiring includes not only salaries but also the cost of employment taxes and benefits if you offer them. Also, depending on your type of hobby, others may not do it as well as you do. For example, the lighthouse maker would need to find woodworkers who can handle something so intricate, even if all they make is the basic form. You’d need to either find someone capable, or accept that the work won’t be as good as yours, which would only be feasible if the differences were noticeable to your artistic eye but not to customers.

Should you go for it?

Part of deciding whether you could or should turn your hobby into a business is understanding your motivations for thinking of trying it. If it’s to share the joy of your hobby with others, most hobbies could become businesses where you set hours based on how much you want to work, so you still enjoy practicing your hobby and aren’t overwhelmed by the business.

If you need to turn a profit, though, be sure to do the calculations to determine how much profit you could reasonably make, and if that’s enough to meet your needs. And if it isn’t enough, how many extra hours would you have to work each day to make more profit?

Turning a hobby into a business has worked successfully for many people. Bill Gates parlayed his love of computers into a little software company called Microsoft. Mrs. Fields made a fortune from her chocolate chip cookies. And only her family and close friends know if the cookies at her many stores are as good as the originals from her own oven. If you’ve read this article and are excited about turning your hobby into a career then congratulations! It could well be the best decision you ever make.

Barbara Mellinger

Barbara Bean-Mellinger writes on business topics such as jobs and careers, marketing and advertising, public relations, entrepreneurship, education and more. Her articles have been published in newspapers, magazines, and on websites. She lives in the metro Washington, D.C. area and has recently taken up travel writing to highlight lesser-known sites in and around the capital.

Comments

chrisaraymond+truity@gmail.com (not verified) says...

A very thoughtful and informative article, Barbara! I recently started making some fabric based brooches, for a hobby. Then I started selling some and set up an Etsy shop. I found that my enthusiasm for making them lessened when I had "will people buy this" in mind. I may pursue this more purposefully after retiring from the workplace, but I definitely understand the work that goes into launching and running a handmade business!

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