The pandemic has shifted the global economy in many ways, so you might have nixed your dream of turning a hobby into a career. But according to The Wall Street Journal, Americans are starting their own businesses at record speed: Applications for employer identification numbers have skyrocketed past 3.2 million so far this year.
Although the climate remains in limbo, now could be the perfect time to shake things up and do something you love. But before you take the leap, make sure your hobby-based business is sustainable. Not all hobbies translate into viable careers, so evaluating whether you can actually make it work is important.
First, you’ll need to identify your interests and research carefully. What activities do you excel at and could reasonably profit from? Of course, many creative careers require some formal training, so take that into consideration. Make sure you understand any risks involved with your hobby before diving into the world of entrepreneurship.
Then, do a gut check. Turning a dream into reality (or a hobby into a career) takes a lot of hard work and persistence. But if the past several months have taught us anything, it’s that life is too short to waste in careers we feel lukewarm about. Sometimes it really pays to branch out and turn your passion into your profession. So as you enter this new chapter of your life, follow these three critical steps:
1. Focus on financial feasibility. In his famous play “Pygmalion,” George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby.” Notice the phrase “make a living.” Businesses fail without money, and startup costs can be significant. Before you quit your day job to pursue your hobby, verify that market demand exists for the products or services you hope to offer.
Research your potential audience, determine its pain points, and figure out how you can distinguish yourself from competitors. Other professionals have taken this same approach while working their 9-to-5 jobs, including certified holistic health coach Liivi Hess. “Because I was enthusiastic about the subject matter, I was always keen to jump online and get learning, despite having already worked a full day at the office,” she says. “This, I think, was an essential component.”
When you’re ready, start working your hobby as a side hustle and prospecting for potential customers. Getting your first sale can be a challenge, but a few strategies can help. For example, you could let potential customers try your product or service for free in order to prompt interest. Uber used this tactic to initially generate buzz about its ride-sharing service. After Uber offered free rides during the South by Southwest conference, social media exploded with positive feedback about the brand.
2. Start advertising and marketing. Promotion pays dividends. Even if you don’t have a large advertising budget, you can do a lot with the technology you already have. “Technology has made it easier than ever to create, scale, and market a company to millions of people,” says Daniel Herz, chief revenue officer of Mission Control, a recreational esports platform. “For example, over the past few years, we’ve seen massive scale and growth in the emerging field of esports. Technology has allowed individuals to turn their passion for gaming into their full-time job.”
To start generating business, create a compelling website with essential information. Most people search the internet prior to making purchases, so they may end up on your website while deciding what to buy. Following search engine optimization best practices can improve your website’s visibility and pull in more traffic. Plan to perform keyword research and incorporate the results into your website’s content.
You should also develop your social media accounts and send out newsletters to facilitate customer engagement. Once you’ve established these foundational touchpoints, begin promoting with precision. Sponsored social media posts target your ideal customers and cost only between $40 and $70 per month. You can also gain a lot of traction through email marketing systems, which cost $20 to $50 per month.
3. Find additional team members. You’ll need help as your business scales, so start scouting potential team members early. Use social media, recruiters, and hiring events to find potential candidates. You can also look for possible vendors or interns that can supplement the “gaps” in your business until you can hire full-time employees.
Your first employee hire is a huge decision, but it’s a crucial investment for your company. The team at the startup talent firm ReWork recommends bringing on more employees as soon as you can afford them. “In many cases, founders who are reluctant to hire even when it’s clear they’re overworked end up kicking themselves later when they realize how much they weren’t getting done while they delayed,” says Nathaniel Koloc, co-founder and CEO of ReWork.
As you search for your next team member, don’t forget to design an official onboarding process that outlines your company culture and expectations. In the early stages, it’s tempting to let employees learn as they go, but this leaves significant gaps in understanding. You’ll all need to work together toward a common goal in order for your business to succeed.
Turning your hobby into a career might seem daunting, but you can create a successful long-term business with the right strategy. A little risk can lead to significant rewards. Just be sure to think carefully about your end goal and follow these three steps as you prep your hobby-based business.