According to Gallup, half of employees are ready to leave their jobs. Some of these individuals might even go on to start their own businesses. While statistics indicate that half of those startup attempts will be unsuccessful, right now the small business optimism index is at its highest level since its inception 45 years ago. If you have what it takes, maybe it’s time to start your own business — maybe it’s time to haul that hobby out of the garage and put it on the market.
So, what does it take? Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula that can guarantee you a profitable business, but there is certainly a rough recipe that the most successful startups tend to follow. Some of the ingredients in this recipe are easier to come by than others, but the more you can include, the better your odds of producing something that people want.
The Right Stuff to Turn Your Hobby Into a Thriving Business
If you’ve been thinking for a while about quitting your day job and striking out on your own, you’ve probably spent plenty of time polling family and friends about your idea. Really, though, you’re just looking for encouragement — otherwise, you’d be asking the professionals. The prospect of receiving truly honest feedback can be frightening, but it’s a necessary step. Early constructive criticism can help you avoid years of misguided struggling, and overcoming your fear of feedback is essential if you hope to one day make the bigger leap of relying on your current hobby for your livelihood.
Because you’re planning to turn your hobby into a business, it’s a good idea to try to monetize it before your mortgage is riding on it. While you won’t yet be able to give it your full attention, testing your idea as a side hustle stage will help you determine whether there’s a market need for your product or service. It can also give you the time necessary to get the word out about your offering using guerrilla marketing tactics. Low-budget marketing is useful, but it takes time for the message to sink in. On the other hand, if you’re planning to open your doors with a bang, you should budget a more significant dollar amount for big marketing efforts to fuel that buzz.
Finally, make sure you’re truly excited about the prospect of monetizing your hobby. If you came up with the idea yesterday, you might want to let it marinate for a few months. You’re in the initial stage, and it makes sense that you spend every waking moment thinking about your future business. If the weeks and months go by and your passion for the project hasn’t abated, it’s a good sign that you have the raw ingredients for an enduring business.
Do Your Homework
As you develop a plan, it’s a good idea to study those who have gone before you. Take all entrepreneurial success stories with a grain of salt and recognize that a lasting startup takes some skill, a lot of hard work, and a healthy dose of luck. Successful founders often have useful advice and cautionary tales that can save you heartache down the road. Here are just a few pearls of wisdom from those who succeeded in turning their hobby into a business:
Become an industry expert.
Thanks to his parents, Alex Miller started traveling when he was a kid, and as an adult he began leveraging credit card rewards to travel in style on a budget. He decided to turn his enthusiasm for travel into Upgraded Points, a business that helps other travelers use similar strategies to maximize their credit card points, rack up airline miles, and use rewards to enhance travel experiences. Proving their industry know-how, Miller and his wife recently took an eight-leg trip around the world (valued at more than $55,000) for less than $1,100 each.
Accept failure as a fact of business.
The possibility of failure is enough to prevent most people from ever starting their own business. Jennifer Hyman, CEO of designer gown rental service Rent the Runway, has advice for overcoming that fear: “I think people waste so much time strategizing about what they should do, rather than just going and doing something, making mistakes, and then pivoting. The goal of a startup should be: Launch as many things as possible, fail as quickly as possible, and then figure out how to move forward from there.” To Hyman, every failed attempt is another pivot point, and she enjoys encouraging others to press on in their own entrepreneurial journeys. For example, she chose other female hobbyists-turned-startup founders as vendors for her 2017 wedding.
Learn how to market yourself.
Craig Jenkins-Sutton knew that his lifelong love of gardening could only grow into a viable business if he could communicate his unique value proposition. “The tough part in landscaping is that it’s something a lot of people think they can do themselves,” he says. “What value do we bring? Being able to demonstrate that is really important.” In 2003, Jenkins-Sutton founded Topiarius, an urban gardening and landscape design firm. Door hanger ads were enough to generate customer calls at that time. After the recession hit, however, the farmboy-turned-businessman had to recalculate his marketing strategy. He shifted his focus from lawn landscaping to rooftop garden designs and custom containers for condos and townhouses in Chicago’s affluent neighborhoods, and the company’s revenue nearly doubled within three years.
It’s easy to fantasize about monetizing your hobby. The internet is full of supposed overnight entrepreneurial success stories, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that success takes quite a few more nights than people think. To turn your own hobby into a thriving business, learn from these successful startup founders before you take the leap.