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.
- Association of Crafts & Creative Industries: a craft industry organization with information, statistics and more
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Making Money with Your Hobby (Alpha Books) by Barbara Arena and Phillip L. Reed
- Hobby Industry Association: sponsors the HIA Convention & Trade Show, a national trade show for hobby industry businesses held in January
- ihobbyexpo.com: the official Web site for information on the 2003 International Model and Hobby Expo, to be held September 11-14 in Rosemont, Illinois. The site also includes links to details of past shows.
- TheHobbyPortal.com: a directory of hobby industry Web sites with categories like antiques, arts & crafts, cooking and so on
- You Can Make Money from Your Hobby: Building a Business Doing What You Love (Broadman and Holman Publishers) by Martha Campbell Pullen