We've all heard the familiar adage that if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. For many folks, that sounds more like a pipe dream than an obtainable reality. But I'm here to tell you, it's possible. I visited with a few entrepreneurs who successfully turned their hobbies into profitable businesses.
An avid martini aficionado, Kenneth Hamburger, founder of 1888, inherited his love for dirty martinis from his grandfather. He was disappointed with the lack of quality in pre-made martini mixes, so he set out to make his own olive juice out of pure pressed olives.
Wendy Piersall, a former freelance graphic designer, longed to be self-employed again after a brief stint back in the corporate world. In 2006, she launched one of the very first blog networks online. Soon after, Piersall decided to include her children in her entrepreneurial endeavors, so as a family they launched Woo! Jr. Kids Activities Blog, which became the launching pad for her illustrated series of Mandala Coloring Books for Adults.
Deb Kraemer was teaching early childhood education when her son's soap allergy and her students' interest in making things sparked her curiosity about how to make all-natural soap. What started as a fun project quickly took over her basement, and soon catapulted her out into the market as Abbey Brown Soap Artisan.
Here are their words of wisdom for anyone looking to turn a passion into a profit.
Experimenting is encouraged.
When Piersall found an online post about extra difficult coloring pages for adults, she decided to add 30 intricate mandalas to her kids' activities blog. Ulysses Press discovered them and offered her a book deal for mandala coloring pages for adults. When her second coloring book was featured on the Huffington Post, Piersall's life changed instantly. "The article was Liked on Facebook over 100,000 times and we sold out of the first print run in 48 hours," she marvels. Piersall's mandala experiment led to her transition from blogger to full-time artist practically overnight.
Don't be afraid to try something new even though it may not work. For Hamburger, nothing was up to par in the martini world. The "olive juice" on the market was actually a mixture of water, salt, and lactic acid. "I found a company with a wine press they weren't using and began to experiment with lots of different olive types until I came up with the perfect process."
And always be open to testing new ideas. "After I started selling my soaps at a local farmer's market, people began asking if I did other types of soaps, with herbs or essential oils, so I started experimenting and took a few classes," relates Kraemer. "Pretty soon, I had to hire someone to help me with the soap-making process as demand grew."
Pick the right tools to help you grow.
You have to be willing to take off your "crafty hat" and focus on running the business, according to Kraemer. "Remember, QuickBooks is your friend!" For her, that also meant taking business classes and turning to the local women's entrepreneurs association.
Hamburger also sites QuickBooks as one of his key tools, along with Artizone, an "Etsy" for artisan food-makers and foodies that gave him a distribution and delivery channel.
Piersall makes sure to invest in only the best tools for her business. "I spend an eye-popping amount of money on good quality art supplies," she says. "Also, all of my book illustration work is done in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop."
Grow at your own pace.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to your growth strategy. Expansion takes time and occurs at different rates for everyone, so you shouldn't gauge your success by other businesses.
Hamburger chose to jump in with both feet. "I received an order for 30,000 bottles, then had to find all those bottles. So I sold all my stocks, cashed out my 401(k), and reverse mortgaged my house to fund the business." On the other hand, for Kraemer, patience was key. "I wanted to be a 'grow as you go' company to avoid making any significant upfront investments." And that model works too. Kraemer has been steadily growing her business over the past 15 years.
Grow your dreams, grow your business.
"The best advice I've received in my 13 years of being self-employed is to look for the silver lining in every failure," says Piersall. "But until recently, I didn't realize how small I've been thinking and how much I've held myself back by not setting bigger goals. Thinking bigger really does lead to living bigger dreams."
Don't lose focus.
Every day, businesses with incredibly humble beginnings make it big. You have to remind yourself that all of this is within reach if you put in the elbow grease, remain determined, and keep your eyes on the prize. Make sure you celebrate and recognize each milestone to help you stay positive along the way. "My first 'putting on my big-girl pants' moment was when we moved out of the basement and rented a real storefront," Kraemer recounts. "That was when I truly felt I had gone from a hobbyist to a successful business owner."
Follow your heart.
It may sound clichÃ©, but following your heart and listening to your gut instincts are just as, or more, important than skills and knowledge. You can always learn new skills and grow through hard lessons. "Only your heart and gut can provide a compass to guide you from point A to point B," says Piersall. "Just remember that the route from point A to point B is never, ever, a direct route."
Most importantly, you have to make money.
"You have to build profit into your distribution costs. If you don't build enough money into the product, it's still a hobby," Hamburger reminds us. "Never compromise on quality, but fight for every penny on the cost of capital."