Turn your hobby into a business

20 April 2016

Kickboxing has always been Carl Denne’s passion. He fell in love with the sport after taking his first class as an 11-year-old and has now taken his obsession to another level by turning his hobby into a full-time business.

For almost two decades, the 36-year-old spent his days working for British Telecom and his evenings teaching classes as the owner and head instructor of Hastings Kickboxing Academy (HKA), in East Sussex.

At the end of last year, he decided to concentrate on martial arts and insists it’s the best move he’s ever made with full classes, a string of private clients and a number of contracts signed with local schools.

“I’ve always loved the training and the adrenaline rush of competitions,” he says. “It’s a way of life and totally consumes you. In the end, I was feeling exhausted from trying to do everything and working 107-hour weeks, so something had to give.”

Carl had been talking about quitting his day job for a couple of years, but the offer of a redundancy package enabled him to make the leap. “The decision was whether to take the money or carry on as I was, running myself into the ground,” he recalls.

The academy had been growing, but being able to focus his entire attention on the business has resulted in rapid expansion. As well as training up to 450 people every week, he is now heavily involved with schools and looking for ways in which to develop the business.

“The number of people we have coming to us for help with their lifestyles has just blown me away,” he says. “My dream is to become an ambassador for anti-bullying, healthy living and anger management, as well as developing HKA’s competition team.”


Carl is one of a growing breed of entrepreneurs looking to enjoy lucrative income streams from combining work and play – and who wouldn’t be seduced by the idea of spending every day indulging in their hobby?

Freelance writers, jewellery makers, photographers, DIY enthusiasts and artists are among thousands of people to have made their pastimes into successful full- and part-time businesses over the past few years.

It’s one of the biggest growth areas among the 600,000 people every year that start their own business – and it’s easy to understand their enthusiasm, according to Emma Jones, founder of business network Enterprise Nation.

“People are looking to do something they enjoy during the working day,” she says. “Technology and social media also mean it’s perfectly possible to get things under way while holding on to your day job until the business is established.

“Lots of people stick with their jobs and build their businesses at night and on the weekends,” she adds. “When they make the leap, there are also financial benefits because they can save on the cost of commuting and are more in charge of how much they earn.”


Assess your goals

The first point is to be clear about your aims. Do you just want to earn some extra money or are you hoping that the venture will become your primary income? Is this truly a passion you want to follow or are you just unhappy in your existing job?

You also need to consider your personality. Are you happy making all the decisions or do you prefer to take orders? It’s a fiercely competitive world, and only those who have the grit and determination to get through the bad days stand a chance of making it on their own.

Then there is the state of your home life. Do you have dependants? If you already have significant financial commitments, you’ll need to establish how the bills will get paid while you’re trying to get your business off the ground.

The next task is to decide the nature of your business. Have you invented a product that you think will be a winner? Is there a gap in the market for a particular service? Are you planning to improve upon something that’s already available?

At the same time you need to consider whether you’ll still enjoy your hobby if you’re absorbed in it 24 hours a day. Is there a risk that you will find the added pressure of making money from your passion drains your enthusiasm?

Retain your passion

Kate Garrett, from Devon (pictured above), has managed to retain her desire for art despite running Baby Name Pictures (Babynamepictures.co.uk), a website through which she sells personalised name pictures for children that are painted using water colours.

“You have to commit to it and stop thinking of it as a hobby,” she says. “If you want to run a business, then make sure that you price your time and effort as if you have a real job. Also make sure it fits in with your life and don’t work all hours, unless that is what you want to do!”

Even though Kate, 45, always loved art – winning her first national awards for painting at just 12 years old – she opted to study biology instead of illustration at university and went on to become a secondary school teacher.

However, she never lost her passion for art and in 2006, after the birth of her daughter, she started to paint personalised name pictures for herself. Once she started receiving request from friends and family members, she realised it had the potential to become a business.

“The business started off very slowly, but with two small children it suited me to only work very part time,” she recalls. “Luckily, my business name helped me to be found on Google searches and that’s where I get most of my new business.”

Initially, she used to work through the school holidays but that proved too challenging with primary-school-age children, so now she puts in extra hours in the run-up to the holidays and then closes her online shop when she gets too many orders.

“I would love to expand and earn more but, as almost everything I do is hand-painted by me, I can’t really do much more ‘original’ work unless I can find another me,” she adds. “Therefore, to grow the business I will start selling more prints.”

Make a business plan

As with any business, the vital component is the business plan. This sets out your idea, what you’re trying to achieve, how you intend to go about it, ways to interact with customers, and the various challenges that you may encounter on the way.

The key is making sure it can make money, according to Enterprise Nation’s Ms Jones. “You might be doing well making jam for friends and family members but the only way you can turn it into a proper business is becoming commercial,” she says.

The simple rule is you need to make sales. “You have to put a value on your time, take into account the costs of the ingredients, and price it to make a profit,” she says. “If people pay for it and keep coming back, that’s when you know you’ve got the roots of a business.”

You also need to known where your venture will be based. Is it possible to operate out of your front room or will you need to invest in suitable premises? If you have a talent for painting, for example, you could consider converting your garage into a dedicated studio.

Finance is another tricky issue. Unfortunately, there aren’t many grants available these days but you can get a government loan for up to £25,000 at an interest rate of 6 (Startuploans.co.uk). Crowdfunding, which sees money raised from a number of individuals, is also a popular choice.

However, Ms Jones suggests the best way to develop the business is by using the cash flow that you generate. “The biggest mistakes we see are made by people who spend too much money and don’t generate enough sales,” she says.


Build an online presence

Irrespective of your type of business, you will need to have a proper web presence. In an age where social media is such an important way to communicate, it’s never been more important to get your website right, according to John Brunton, who runs BR Web Consulting.

“Most people turn to the internet to find what they are looking for and prefer to make their first contact electronically,” he says. “Without a website, potential customers have a much smaller chance of finding you – whereas rival companies may stand out online.”

Although there are plenty of free website- building tools, Mr Brunton advises not to do it on the cheap as it can weaken your brand.

“A website is essentially a sales brochure so you need to leave a good impression, make it clear what you do and how you can be contacted, as well as providing examples of your work,” he adds.

Top tips for writing a business plan

Be clear and concise
Don’t write an essay. All you need to provide is a summary of your business idea and how you expect to make money. Avoid jargon.

Provide full details
Don’t leave questions unanswered. Cover key issues such as describing your prospective customers and how you plan to differ from the competition.

Get the numbers right
A regular source of failure on TV shows such as Dragons’ Den. You must have a thorough understanding of your costs and predicted turn-over/income.

“We share in the ups and downs”

Another crucial factor is whether you have the support of your wife or husband, or partner.

Going into such an enterprise will require many hours locked away, poring over figures and business plans. If they are against what you’re doing, it will make the task a lot harder.

Of course, one option is to go into business together. Simon and Rebecca Kimber (pictured above) juggle the demands of two children with running Create.net, which provides the tools required to build and host websites at their operation in Brighton, East Sussex.

“Working together ensures there’s someone to share in the ups and the downs, as being in business can be pretty lonely,” says Rebecca. “You can provide each other with moral support, advice and companionship, which is especially beneficial in the early days.”

However, it’s not without its own problems. “You’ll have flexibility as a household and be able to take time for children or relatives should you need to, but it can also add additional stress to a relationship as there’s a never-ending list of things that need a decision,” she adds.

This is particularly the case when the business starts to grow.“Making the jump from working at home to being employers in an office was a big challenge but we couldn’t expand without making that leap,” she recalls. “We were interviewing people to join the team in our living room with our young son running around, and things needed to move on.”

“I just love the process of creating”

Martha Mawson (pictured above) has always loved jewellery, but it was only when she started making pieces after moving back to her native United States in 2008 to look after her mother in the wake of her father’s death that she saw it as a business opportunity.

“Despite more than 25 years in the publishing sector, I couldn’t find a job so I thought that making jewellery would be a way to distract myself,”she recalls.“I’ve always loved creating art in three dimensions and that’s how everything started.”

On her return to the UK two years later, it became her full-time profession. “I’ve never looked back nor been as happy with any professional decision that I’ve made,” she says. “If I didn’t need to make money, I would give my jewellery away. I just love the process of creating.”

Martha, 60, who lives in the North West of Scotland, now sells bracelets, necklaces and earrings via two websites: Selkieshaunt.com and Ailleasdesigns.com. The single biggest challenge she has faced is saturation of the market. “Making jewellery is a very popular activity and among those crowding the market are lots of hobbyists who are just trying to make their hobby pay for itself,” she says.

“There is also the cost disparity with those who use cheap, mass-produced components.” However, Martha still thoroughly enjoys her work and encourages anyone turning what he or she loves into a proper income not to lose the passion.

“If you find yourself no longer enjoying it because it has become a business, then stop,” she says. “The only way you can work in the face of competition and a challenged economy is to continue loving what you do.”