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Turning a hobby into a business (the pros and cons)

Ever thought about turning a hobby into a business? Well, let me stop you there: the problem with turning a hobby into a business is that you are, well, turning a hobby into a business. Think about that for a second. You take your HOBBY (the thing that you do for kicks n shizz) and morph it into a BUSINESS (the thing that keeps the roof over your head).

Now, I’m mouthing this as if you’re hard of thinking is because so few of us consider what it means. You can’t pick up a craft magazine without being assailed with images of women paying mortgages through the medium of cardstock or buttons. And it looks like a joy. What no one ever talks about, though, is the reality of turning what you love to do into what you have to do.

Giving up everything to sew, knit or paint all day is the stuff of dreams but it also creates a hobby shaped hole in your life. The dynamic of a hobby changes utterly when it’s accompanied by customer demands, HMRC forms and emails pinging at 11pm. Then when you want to relax, you have empty hands.

So here’s what I’ve learned about turning my own hobby into a business. Kraken Kreations is five years old this year (I think. It’s a blur of fabric swatches) but I’ve experienced enough pros and cons to make a see-saw throw up. Here they are…

Cons

Nothing to do

When my hobby became my business I was left wandering the house with nothing to do. Yeah, I sewed for a 40 hour working week but when I wanted to switch off I was lost. Worse, because I was lost I kept working to fill the time which exhausted me. It’s only in the last year that I’ve found new ways to chill out. I now do an hour of yoga every evening, read more, potter in the garden and hand sew (for myself so there’s no pressure). Balance has now been restored but it took time to get there.

It’s boring

At first my business was about making a teeny selection of things and that meant making the same items over and again. The problem? That unless I wanted every day to look the same I had to broaden my skills. You may adore making neckerchiefs for dogs but will you love it enough to make 20 a day for the next 12 months? Luckily I now love my business because I make such a wide range of items, from sweary hoops through to slouch bags. No two days are the same. But I’ve learned that turning a hobby into a business might make financial sense but if it won’t be fun, forget it.

Making to demand

Nothing can take the joy out of a well constructed seam on a caddy like knowing it has to be done by the next post. It’s one of the biggest issues I’ve struggled with. In fact there have been times when I wanted to chuck in this business just to sew without deadlines. My solution has been spacing orders to give me wiggle room but it took a while to get there. If you love your hobby so much that this won’t dent your joy, go for it. But if knocking out a last minute wine rack takes the shine off your woodworking, think again.

A hobby isn’t enough

Sorry. It’s not. Turning a hobby into a business means nothing unless you’re happy to get to grips with accounts, social media, marketing, product development, time management, self motivation, packaging items and chatting with customers. It’s taken me years to get my head around everything that needs to be done and I’m still at the foot of the hill. For soooo many people I know this is where the hobby – to – business thing falls down. Your embroideries may be boggling in their magnificence but unless you have the inclination to sell them, you’re buggered.

What if you’re no good?

I shudder at the thought. But what if you’re not? That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try but it does mean understanding how you’ll cope if you (pardon my bluntness) are shit at what you make. Ideally you’ll already have had feedback on your work otherwise you wouldn’t think about turning a hobby into a business. The problem is that if feedback is from people who want to be kind then you could be in for a shock. Find out how good you REALLY are before so you much as buy a business card.

Pros

You do what you love

See, I adore taking a 2D sheet of fabric and turning it into a 3D something else and I’ll happily do it every day for the rest of my, well, days. By the end of my working week I feel fulfilled, happy, excited for the next week and inspired to do more. Even not remotely earning the sort of money I used to won’t stop me. So few people look forward to going to work but because I’ve turned a hobby into a business, I’m one of them.  Yes, it makes me want to vomit out the smugness too.

You improve quickly

Nothing has improved my stitching quite like customer requests for things I’ve never made before. It’s because of you lot that I’ve mastered everything from washable facial pads to anatomical embroideries. In short, when you turn a hobby into a business you ramp up the time spent on it to the point that you become good at it. No more fannying about with an awkward stitch for the next six months. Do it three times a day until the weekend and you’ll have it nailed.

You immerse yourself

This shit is full on. Turning a hobby into a business means thinking about it all day, every day. Even when I’m not sewing I’m thinking about it, checking items in shops for poor seams, wondering how I can make that wild idea I had at 3am, stopping my car because I’ve seen a gorgeous print in a shop window… And because this all benefits my business I get to call it Research and Development rather than Fannying About With Buttons For the Fun of It. Believe me when I say that nothing justifies hours wandering around the V&A like insisting it’s a business investment.

Go in any direction

By turning a hobby into a business you’re building something from scratch. It’s a chance to think about where you want to go with it and how. Every year I plan what direction I want to go in, what I fancy making, what I think you will love and how I can marry the two. In fact there are moments when I panic because the possibilities are boundless. Then again, I’ll take that over being told to work late by a knobhead boss any time you like.

Earn to do more

One of the reasons why I started Kraken Kreations was because I had to justify what I was spending on fabric. It was hard to keep making bags when I had no need for 30 of them. Now that I make a healthy profit I can invest in my business and do more of what I want. In short, I’m investing in myself as a matter of routine and all without feeling guilty for pissing away another chunk of my Paypal account on fat quarters.

Find out how good you are

I can’t imagine ever getting bored of the messages you send me about your purchases. You tell me I’ve transformed your periods, given you hope, spared your car from dog toys or just cheered a friend going through a bad time. It’s one of the best reasons for turning a hobby into a business that I can think of. The trick is to get to this stage in the first place. For the first few months of my business, tumbleweed blew through it. But people not knowing who I am wasn’t the same as people hating what I made. I stuck with it and now I know and it’s been worth every stitch.