From the April 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

Spending your free time gardening, restoring classic cars or collecting antique jewelry can be a joy, right? It's the thing that renews your passion, the thing that makes you feel that all is right with the world. Wouldn't it be great to find a way to make money doing what you love? Turning your treasured hobby into a business will take hard work and a truckload of creativity, but the rewards are endless. You'll be doing what you love--and getting paid for it.

The benefits of starting a business based on your hobby are many, according to Rachna D. Jain, founder of business coaching firm Excel With Ease Coaching in Columbia, Maryland. "Many times you'll have a lot of knowledge about [your hobby] already," she says. "And the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who have a passion for the work they do.

Turning passion into profit takes serious work, though. Just because you love making pottery doesn't mean you know enough to create a profitable business from it. Experts and entrepreneurs stress the importance of researching any business idea before jumping in. Denise O'Berry, president of business consulting firm Small Business Edge Corp. in Tampa, Florida, notes that research is one of the most important first steps: "You need a full plan of how you're going to address your objectives. It's all that stuff everybody hates to do."

You may know everything about your hobby, but you only know it from a hobbyist's point of view. Think like a business owner by conducting a market analysis and a competitive analysis to see if existing businesses are similar to your idea. Is there a similar business in your area or nationally?

Next, find out if selling your hobby wares will sustain you. Jain echoes that sentiment: "Once you have a market identified, canvas Internet neighborhoods and invite people to meet with you [for focus groups]." You may even consider contacting a mentor who can point you in the right direction while you're researching your business plan.

Mentors can also offer guidance about what kinds of businesses are a natural fit for your hobby. To jog your brain for any possible business ideas, Jain suggests listing 20 ways you can use your knowledge, skills, talents or hobbies.

Beware of Burnout

Once you've found your passion and turned your favorite hobby into a profitable business, you're home free, right? Not quite. As many a hobbyist-turned-entrepreneur has experienced, burnout tends to set in. Think about it: Once you get your hobby-based business off the ground, you start to live and breathe that hobby 24/7. "You're no longer doing [the hobby] for your enjoyment," O'Berry explains. "You're doing it for your livelihood."

Before you make the leap, you should think long and hard about whether doing your hobby as a business will ultimately drain your enthusiasm for it. According to Jain, you'll have to ask yourself "If I never did this for fun ever again, how much would I miss it? Is it replaceable by something else?"

One way to avoid burnout is to continue learning new things about your hobby. Another is to spend your free time pursuing an entirely different hobby. That's what entrepreneur Steve Edmiston has done for years. In the early 1990s when he ran a law firm, game-making and writing screenplays were two of his favorite hobbies. When he chose to pursue game-making as a full-time business, screenwriting naturally took over as the fun outlet.

In 2000, Edmiston sold his interest in the law firm and launched a Seattle business that manufactured coffee table games. "I had that desire for game creation that had nothing to do with being a lawyer," explains Edmiston, co-founder of Front Porch Classics Inc.

It all came together after he met a few contacts at the local Young Entrepreneurs Organization, who also wanted to start a new business. Edmiston, 41, then decided to join forces with Mark Jacobsen and Mark Pattison, both 41. In 2002, their game, Old Century Baseball, earned the Toy of the Year honor from Disney's Family Fun Magazine.

Currently on Front Porch Classics Inc.'s agenda: marketing Dread Pirate, a treasure hunt game that Edmiston had originally created for his daughter's birthday a few years ago. With sales exceeding $1 million, the hobby has certainly proved to be more than just a game for this trio.

The Next Step

Now that you've done all your research, and you're sure that this is the business for you, how do you get going? Most hobby enthusiasts start their businesses part time.

But still, to project a professional business veneer, there are a few things you should do. Get a separate business phone line, for starters. Says Jain: "Marketing begins at the point of contact. You don't want your child answering [the phone]." You'll also want to set up a professional Web site and get a dedicated fax line (or an e-fax). And make use of some small-business Web site tools, such as those available from bCentral.com, Entrepreneur.com and Jian.com--there, you'll find how-tos and tips on everything from marketing your business to making your Web site e-commerce ready.

In terms of looking more professional, the experts suggest ditching the free e-mail services (such as Hotmail or Yahoo!) and instead paying for an e-mail address and Web site with your business name (such as Alice_Ent@GroovyPottery.com).

Looking professional, however, is not your only concern. Overcoming the skepticism about your hobby product or service will be a big part of your start-up strategy as well. Keep in mind that although you have a vision for the product, communicating that to investors and clients can be a challenge.

Case in point: When Angel Munoz started the Cyberathlete Professional League, an organization for professional computer game players, he faced skeptics from all sides, as investors and even players doubted his vision. This Irving, Texas, entrepreneur fought against disbelievers by remaining unwavering in his devotion to the concept and by surrounding himself with a core group of key people who did believe in his business idea. Because the interactive entertainment industry is so tight-knit, "you can't turn your back on the skeptics," he explains. "I stayed in contact with them and [let them know] about every milestone we accomplished."

This "show-don't-tell" mentality helped win over those early dissenters. When the players scoffed at the idea of a professional league, Munoz, 42, made certain to raise the professional level of events with state-of-the-art equipment and services. His strategy was so successful that his company and the league have grown solely by word-of-mouth.

Though it wasn't easy in the beginning, Munoz started the league to establish standards and rules of play--as well as make some money from his target market, the nearly 145 million Americans who regularly play video games, according to the Interactive Digital Software Association. Having structured his revenue plan around membership in the league, admission to events, sponsorship, and TV and broadcasting rights, Munoz has grown sales into the seven figures.

David Silberman is also a hobbyist-turned-entrepreneur who truly understands the importance of educating your target market about your hobby business. As the founder of Starfish Imports Inc. in New York City, his niche is importing Murano glass. When he started his business in May 2002, Silberman decided to market his concept to as many people as possible--to both Murano glass enthusiasts and the general public.

Silberman, 34, learned the art of purchasing his inventory with a careful, objective eye. For instance, he might choose an item that doesn't fit his personal style, but that he knows would make an interesting offering for his customers.

That willingness to educate customers as well as learn from them has helped Silberman grow a glass importing business based on his love for Murano glass stemming from his childhood. Today, he continues to glean new knowledge from customers. For instance, although Silberman initially focused his marketing efforts on people in urban areas, he was surprised to find orders coming in to his Web site from places like Arkansas. "I learned there are more customers out there than I previously thought," he says. To further expand his customer base, Silberman is looking into wholesaling to specialty boutiques as well as selling via his Web site. That wide range of customers has helped Silberman grow his business to about $120,000 a year in sales.

For More Information

Check out a few of these books and organizations to get the heads up on your hobby business.

Long Live the Passion

Once your business is up and running, you'll have to strive to keep your love of your hobby alive. Says Jain, "[It's about] constantly pursuing higher knowledge to keep it fresh." Visiting trade shows, conferring with experts and exploring new advances in your hobby can keep that passion burning.

Sara Brook was keeping her love for cooking alive long before the start of her Dessert Gallery Bakery & Cafe in 1995. A veteran entrepreneur, Brook has built three businesses based on her hobby. "Keep it alive so you'll stay great at what you do," she says. "For me, that may have [meant] taking classes, reading or trying new desserts or finding new recipes."

With a degree in computer science, Brook, now 40, decided while in college that baking was her love; she opened her first dessert baking business after graduation at age 21. Six years later, she sold it and created a chocolate sauce manufacturing company. Six years after that, she sold that business to try her hand at an entire bakery and opened the Dessert Gallery Bakery & Cafe in Houston. "Having had two successful businesses before, I felt like this would be the culmination of all I had learned," she says. "I like to think it's my best effort."

Brook's efforts to freshen her concept have included adding some peripheral items to a menu that once included only desserts. "[Those items] were really in response to customer demand. I certainly never dreamed in a million years that I'd have sandwiches and wraps and salads--'real food,' as I call it," says Brook. "It's opened a lot of doors for us because corporate catering is a huge market." With $1 million in sales projected for 2003, Brook's instincts have paid off.

As these entrepreneurs have found, a passion for a hobby can help you start a business. But ultimately, hard work and a willingness to handle the not-so-fun aspects of running a business are what spell success. Done right, your hobby business can provide you with a great living--and an even greater source of joy. "For seven years I've been running the company," says Munoz, "and I am as enthusiastic about it today as I was the day I started."

Not-So-Trivial Pursuits

Stumped about what kind of business your hobby might make? Check out these hobby-type businesses--they'll either work for you as they are, or at least get your creative juices flowing to help you make a decision.

  • ANTIQUE-RADIO COLLECTING:
    If you have a talent and passion for antique radios or record players, you can restore these pieces or sell your services to other less handy collectors.
  • COMPUTERS:
    If you love computers and the Internet, you can sell your services to help people set up their computers. You can even start a Web design business.
  • COOKING:
    Love to cook? Start a catering business. You might also specialize in one food--custom-made cookies or cakes, for instance.
  • EXERCISING:
    If you love to exercise, you could become a certified trainer and sell your services to help others reach their fitness goals.
  • FLOWER ARRANGING OR PRESSING:
    Try pressing flowers into pictures, picture frames, cards, stationery or other gift items to sell.
  • MAGAZINE COLLECTING:
    Do you hoard magazines such as Cosmopolitan? Peddle them on eBay--issues with a famous person on the cover can fetch high bids from fans.
  • PET CARE:
    If you love spending time with animals, open a dog walking business or a cat grooming service. People love pampering their pets but don't always have the time.
  • PHOTOGRAPHY:
    Sell photographs, create and sell greeting cards with your photos or sell your photography.
  • SCRAPBOOKING:
    Love putting memories together? You could sell your scrapbooking skills to others--make money while you preserve their memories.
  • VIDEO GAMES:
    Consider opening a computer gaming arcade, which is similar to an internet cafe, but with games as the main focus, not just the Net.
  • WINE COLLECTING:
    Sell a peripheral product (such as an innovative wine storage system) to other wine connoisseurs.