Snake Rock has recorded a number-one single and played alongside legendary bands at some of the hottest venues in the country, but the 46-year-old musician never imagined that his passion for rock 'n' roll would become a lucrative business. "I always thought I would work all day and play clubs at night," says Rock. "I never imagined that my passion would become my full-time job."
Entrepreneurs around the country are ditching the idea that hobbies are just leisure pursuits, opting instead to turn their passions into thriving businesses. "There is a wonderful trend that has [entrepreneurs] starting businesses that add meaning to their lives," says Nancy Anderson, a Larkspur, California-based career counselor and author of Work With Passion. "People are letting go of the belief that it is impossible to make money and also do what you love."
Rock eventually grew tired of working as a construction supervisor, and playing gigs in local clubs began to lose its appeal. He was convinced that playing with his band was the only way to feed his passion-until his wife and band manager, Karen, suggested an alternative. "Karen encouraged me to start giving music lessons so I could turn my love of music into a career," he says. "At first, I was a little intimidated by teaching, and I was worried that no one would sign up [for lessons]."
Fear of failure is common among almost all business owners, but Anderson believes that entrepreneurs who are passionate about their businesses are much more likely to be successful. "Working with passion is about more than just making money; it is about being fulfilled by your work."
Lay the Groundwork
Dawna Stone spent months researching the viability of a magazine for active women before launching Her Sports in 2004. In addition to holding focus groups to assess reader demand, Stone spoke with advertisers to gauge their interest and sought advice from people with experience in the publishing industry.
"I am so passionate about participating in sports and being active, and I wanted to take that passion to the next level and turn it into a business," says Stone, who used a combination of savings and loans from family and friends to start Her Sports. "[But] I did a lot of research to make sure it would work."
The risk paid off. Her Sports published its debut issue in March 2004, and the magazine has grown steadily over the past year. Sales, which reached $300,000 in 2004, are expected to more than double to $800,000 in 2005.
To ensure they were ready to open their own business, Snake and Karen Rock decided to offer music lessons on a part-time basis from their home studio in 2002. "Snake was teaching in the evenings and on the weekends, and it got to the point where we couldn't take on any more students," Karen, 49, recalls. "We had to make the decision to [keep] our regular jobs or take the leap and turn it into something bigger."
Before they started S&K Music last fall, the Rocks developed a business plan and spent a significant amount of time assessing the likelihood that their business would be successful. The couple evaluated the competition, talked to prospective customers and asked students for feedback about similar businesses. Based on this research, they created the plan for S&K Music, a full-service instructional facility offering music lessons, instruments, sheet music and a recording studio. Additionally, the couple chose a location in an up-and-coming area of Las Vegas where there was little competition. "In Las Vegas, the market is somewhat untapped," Snake says. "We did a lot of research and decided to take the plunge."
"A lot of would-be entrepreneurs have a passion but lack the courage to follow it through to a business," says Theresa M. Szczurek, a Boulder, Colorado-based technology and management consultant and author of Pursuit of Passionate Purpose. "There will always be people who want to rain on your parade and tell you all the reasons you can't do something. If you want to turn your passion into a successful business, you have to have self-confidence."
Get the Timing Right
Szczurek encourages entrepreneurs to research the market to ensure they are launching a business at the right time. "Before you take the leap, get feedback from the marketplace, create a business plan, and run the numbers to see if your idea will work," she says.
Stone, 37, started thinking about publishing a magazine for active women several years ago, but put the idea on hold because the timing was not right. "I was competing in the Ironman, and I started talking to a magazine publisher about the fact that there were no sports magazines targeted specifically to women. [I] joked that I should start one," Stone recalls. "But shortly after that, Sports Illustrated for Women came out, and I put the idea on the back burner."
But Sports Illustrated for Women was short-lived, and when it folded in 2002, Stone revisited her dream of launching a magazine. "The same day I found out that [Sports Illustrated for Women] was publishing their last issue, I went into my home office and didn't come out for hours," Stone says. "Later that night, I had a rough business plan and announced to my husband that I was going to start a magazine."
Stone quit her job as the chief marketing officer for a multimillion-dollar company and spent months working on putting all the pieces together to launch Her Sports from her home in St. Petersburg, Florida. Says Stone, "When the first issue came off the press... I literally broke down, because I had realized my dream of putting together this phenomenal magazine."
Timing is important, but Anderson warns that waiting for the right time may simply be a tactic to put off taking the next step. "Most people wait for everything to be perfect before starting a business," she says. "Turning a passion into a business means that you would be doing it even if you were not being paid for it. Getting paid for it is the next logical step, so sometimes you just have to go for it."
Learn From Others
Stone was confident that Her Sports would succeed in large part because she was careful not to make the same mistakes as other magazines that have failed. "One of the reasons the other magazines failed was because of costs," she says. "Most magazines spent millions to launch, whereas we spent almost nothing. They also had the overhead of Manhattan offices and hundreds of employees, but we have small offices in Florida and only eight employees."
According to Anderson, hearing success stories and learning about the challenges of the industry is an important first step in turning a passion into a business. She also recommends talking to potential suppliers and customers about their experiences with the industry, and approaching networking groups and small-business associations for guidance and feedback. "Talk to people who have experience and love what they're doing," Anderson advises. "Those are the people who will tell you about the challenges, but they will also highlight the positives so that you are getting balanced advice."
Capitalize on Consumer Demand
David Young has had a passion for playing pinball since he was a little kid, but he never imagined that he would grow up to own a leading international gaming company. In fact, selling pinball machines never entered his mind until a passerby stopped to ask about a pinball machine being delivered to his Florida home in 2002, and he realized that his collection was in high demand.
"He stopped to talk to me because he thought I sold pinball machines," recalls Young, 44. "I said, 'No, I collect pinball machines.' He wanted to know how many I had and then asked if he could check them out."
Minutes later, the passerby offered Young $5,000 for the pinball machine that had just been delivered. "I only paid $2,000 for it, so of course I agreed," Young says. The passerby returned with the money and a friend to help move the machine, and by the time the pair left, Young had sold them $15,000 worth of arcade games.
At the time, Young owned a successful computer-chip distributor, but curiosity about the potential revenue stream that could result from selling his collection of pinball machines led him to learn HTML and launch BMIGaming.com in Boca Raton, Florida, as a side venture. "I put together a simple website, I made my first sale 48 hours later, and in the space of a few weeks, I sold all of my pinball machines," Young recalls.
Though Young is still involved in his high-tech business, his primary focus is on growing BMIGaming.com. His efforts have paid off: The company expects sales to top $8 million in 2005. "I have been excited about every venture I have ever [started]," Young says. "But I have never done anything like this that combines a passion that is also highly profitable."
Let Passion Guide You
There are enormous benefits to starting a business based on a passion, but experts warn there are also potential drawbacks-including the danger of losing enthusiasm for a passion once it becomes a nine-to-five job. To avoid burnout, Anderson encourages entrepreneurs to schedule downtime, set boundaries and continue to engage in their passions outside of work. "Instead of letting work diminish your passion, devote time to it outside of the office in the same way that you did before it was your job," she says.
Initially, Stone worried about the impact starting a magazine would have on her personal passion for fitness. "I was [taking] something that used to be my stress relief from work and turning it into my work," she says. "But I still love working out and being active, and I am even more passionate about it now than I ever thought I could be."
Snake and Karen Rock are still passionate about music, and the couple projects sales of more than $350,000 in 2005. "I had no idea that I would be able to parlay my passion for music into a career, but now we are growing so quickly that we can barely keep up," Snake says. "A lot of people wouldn't have the guts to try something like this, but I'm glad we did."
Are You Ready?
Can you turn your passion into a business? Ask yourself these important questions:
- Are you prepared to take the risk? Not only does starting a business require an investment of time and money, it also entails turning your passion into your job, which may not be right for everyone.
- Have other entrepreneurs been successful in the same field? Researching similar companies and talking to others who have experience in the industry is an important first step in determining your own likelihood of success.
- Is there a demand for the business? Check if there are similar businesses in your area, and try to gauge the demand for their product or service. You may also want to see if similar businesses have failed.
- Do you have the skills required to turn your passion from a hobby to a business? Perhaps you know how to restore antique cars, but have no idea how to market your services or use accounting software. If you need to develop additional skills to get your business off the ground, consider taking classes at a community college, asking the SBA for advice or volunteering in the field.
Jodi Helmer is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.