Get All Access for $5/mo

Do What You Love; Get Rich Can you really make a living doing what you love? These entrepreneurs prove it's not only possible, but profitable.

By Jodi Helmer

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Snake Rock has recorded a number-one single and played alongsidelegendary bands at some of the hottest venues in the country, butthe 46-year-old musician never imagined that his passion for rock'n' roll would become a lucrative business. "I alwaysthought I would work all day and play clubs at night," saysRock. "I never imagined that my passion would become myfull-time job."

Entrepreneurs around the country are ditching the idea thathobbies are just leisure pursuits, opting instead to turn theirpassions into thriving businesses. "There is a wonderful trendthat has [entrepreneurs] starting businesses that add meaning totheir lives," says Nancy Anderson, a Larkspur,California-based career counselor and author of Work WithPassion. "People are letting go of the belief that it isimpossible to make money and also do what you love."

Rock eventually grew tired of working as a constructionsupervisor, and playing gigs in local clubs began to lose itsappeal. He was convinced that playing with his band was the onlyway to feed his passion-until his wife and band manager, Karen,suggested an alternative. "Karen encouraged me to start givingmusic 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 [forlessons]."

Fear of failure is common among almost all business owners, butAnderson believes that entrepreneurs who are passionate about theirbusinesses are much more likely to be successful. "Workingwith passion is about more than just making money; it is aboutbeing fulfilled by your work."

Lay the Groundwork

Dawna Stone spent months researching the viability of a magazinefor active women before launching Her Sports in 2004. Inaddition to holding focus groups to assess reader demand, Stonespoke with advertisers to gauge their interest and sought advicefrom people with experience in the publishing industry.

"I am so passionate about participating in sports and beingactive, and I wanted to take that passion to the next level andturn it into a business," says Stone, who used a combinationof savings and loans from family and friends to start Her Sports."[But] I did a lot of research to make sure it wouldwork."

The risk paid off. Her Sports published its debut issue in March2004, and the magazine has grown steadily over the past year.Sales, which reached $300,000 in 2004, are expected to more thandouble to $800,000 in 2005.

To ensure they were ready to open their own business, Snake andKaren Rock decided to offer music lessons on a part-time basis fromtheir home studio in 2002. "Snake was teaching in the eveningsand on the weekends, and it got to the point where we couldn'ttake on any more students," Karen, 49, recalls. "We hadto make the decision to [keep] our regular jobs or take the leapand turn it into something bigger."

Before they started S&K Music last fall, the Rocks developeda business plan and spent a significant amount of time assessingthe likelihood that their business would be successful. The coupleevaluated the competition, talked to prospective customers andasked students for feedback about similar businesses. Based on thisresearch, they created the plan for S&K Music, a full-serviceinstructional facility offering music lessons, instruments, sheetmusic and a recording studio. Additionally, the couple chose alocation in an up-and-coming area of Las Vegas where there waslittle competition. "In Las Vegas, the market is somewhatuntapped," Snake says. "We did a lot of research anddecided to take the plunge."

"A lot of would-be entrepreneurs have a passion but lackthe courage to follow it through to a business," says TheresaM. Szczurek, a Boulder, Colorado-based technology and managementconsultant and author of Pursuit of Passionate Purpose."There will always be people who want to rain on your paradeand tell you all the reasons you can't do something. If youwant to turn your passion into a successful business, you have tohave self-confidence."

Get the Timing Right

Szczurek encourages entrepreneurs to research the market toensure 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 ideawill work," she says.

Stone, 37, started thinking about publishing a magazine foractive women several years ago, but put the idea on hold becausethe timing was not right. "I was competing in the Ironman, andI started talking to a magazine publisher about the fact that therewere no sports magazines targeted specifically to women. [I] jokedthat I should start one," Stone recalls. "But shortlyafter that, Sports Illustrated for Women came out, and I putthe idea on the back burner."

But Sports Illustrated for Women was short-lived, andwhen it folded in 2002, Stone revisited her dream of launching amagazine. "The same day I found out that [SportsIllustrated for Women] was publishing their last issue, I wentinto my home office and didn't come out for hours," Stonesays. "Later that night, I had a rough business plan andannounced to my husband that I was going to start amagazine."

Stone quit her job as the chief marketing officer for amultimillion-dollar company and spent months working on putting allthe pieces together to launch Her Sports from her home inSt. Petersburg, Florida. Says Stone, "When the first issuecame off the press... I literally broke down, because I hadrealized my dream of putting together this phenomenalmagazine."

Timing is important, but Anderson warns that waiting for theright time may simply be a tactic to put off taking the next step."Most people wait for everything to be perfect before startinga business," she says. "Turning a passion into a businessmeans that you would be doing it even if you were not being paidfor it. Getting paid for it is the next logical step, so sometimesyou just have to go for it."

Learn From Others

Stone was confident that Her Sports would succeed inlarge part because she was careful not to make the same mistakes asother magazines that have failed. "One of the reasons theother magazines failed was because of costs," she says."Most magazines spent millions to launch, whereas we spentalmost nothing. They also had the overhead of Manhattan offices andhundreds of employees, but we have small offices in Florida andonly eight employees."

According to Anderson, hearing success stories and learningabout the challenges of the industry is an important first step inturning a passion into a business. She also recommends talking topotential suppliers and customers about their experiences with theindustry, and approaching networking groups and small-businessassociations for guidance and feedback. "Talk to people whohave experience and love what they're doing," Andersonadvises. "Those are the people who will tell you about thechallenges, but they will also highlight the positives so that youare getting balanced advice."

Capitalize on Consumer Demand

David Young has had a passion for playing pinball since he was alittle kid, but he never imagined that he would grow up to own aleading international gaming company. In fact, selling pinballmachines never entered his mind until a passerby stopped to askabout a pinball machine being delivered to his Florida home in2002, and he realized that his collection was in high demand.

"He stopped to talk to me because he thought I sold pinballmachines," recalls Young, 44. "I said, 'No, I collectpinball machines.' He wanted to know how many I had and thenasked if he could check them out."

Minutes later, the passerby offered Young $5,000 for the pinballmachine that had just been delivered. "I only paid $2,000 forit, so of course I agreed," Young says. The passerby returnedwith the money and a friend to help move the machine, and by thetime the pair left, Young had sold them $15,000 worth of arcadegames.

At the time, Young owned a successful computer-chip distributor,but curiosity about the potential revenue stream that could resultfrom selling his collection of pinball machines led him to learnHTML and launch BMIGaming.com in Boca Raton, Florida, as a sideventure. "I put together a simple website, I made my firstsale 48 hours later, and in the space of a few weeks, I sold all ofmy pinball machines," Young recalls.

Though Young is still involved in his high-tech business, hisprimary focus is on growing BMIGaming.com. His efforts have paidoff: The company expects sales to top $8 million in 2005. "Ihave been excited about every venture I have ever [started],"Young says. "But I have never done anything like this thatcombines a passion that is also highly profitable."

Let Passion Guide You

There are enormous benefits to starting a business based on apassion, but experts warn there are also potentialdrawbacks-including the danger of losing enthusiasm for a passiononce it becomes a nine-to-five job. To avoid burnout, Andersonencourages entrepreneurs to schedule downtime, set boundaries andcontinue to engage in their passions outside of work. "Insteadof letting work diminish your passion, devote time to it outside ofthe office in the same way that you did before it was yourjob," she says.

Initially, Stone worried about the impact starting a magazinewould have on her personal passion for fitness. "I was[taking] something that used to be my stress relief from work andturning it into my work," she says. "But I still loveworking out and being active, and I am even more passionate aboutit now than I ever thought I could be."

Snake and Karen Rock are still passionate about music, and thecouple projects sales of more than $350,000 in 2005. "I had noidea that I would be able to parlay my passion for music into acareer, but now we are growing so quickly that we can barely keepup," Snake says. "A lot of people wouldn't have theguts to try something like this, but I'm glad we did."

Are You Ready?

Can you turn your passion into a business? Ask yourself theseimportant questions:

  • Are you prepared to take the risk? Not only doesstarting a business require an investment of time and money, italso entails turning your passion into your job, which may not beright for everyone.
  • Have other entrepreneurs been successful in the samefield? Researching similar companies and talking to others whohave experience in the industry is an important first step indetermining your own likelihood of success.
  • Is there a demand for the business? Check if there aresimilar businesses in your area, and try to gauge the demand fortheir product or service. You may also want to see if similarbusinesses have failed.
  • Do you have the skills required to turn your passion from ahobby to a business? Perhaps you know how to restore antiquecars, but have no idea how to market your services or useaccounting software. If you need to develop additional skills toget your business off the ground, consider taking classes at acommunity college, asking the SBA for advice or volunteering in the field.

For inspiration, log on to The Coach Connection LLC or W@W.


JodiHelmer is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

Jodi Helmer is a freelance writer living in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her online at www.jodihelmer.com.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business News

'We Pulled Off An SEO Heist': Entrepreneur Stole 3.6 Million Pageviews From Competitors — And Your Business Could Be Next.

This has huge implications for businesses that rely on Google's organic traffic for revenue.

Business News

Wells Fargo Reportedly Fired More Than a Dozen Employees for Faking Keyboard Activity

The bank told Bloomberg that it "does not tolerate unethical behavior."

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Starting a Business

Spend Less Time Worrying About Your Company's Runway — And More Time Rethinking Your Strategy. Here's How.

Perceived short runways leave founders in angst. It does not have to be this way; the best way to extend the runway is the right strategy.