Turning A Hobby Into A Business: 3 Real Stories of Self-Made Success

Some successful entrepreneurs get into the game with a specific purpose. They research the market, find an untapped niche, and capitalize on it.

Others don’t take such a direct path. Rather, they realize through hard work and social feedback that something they’re passionate about has business potential.

The following three entrepreneurs didn’t take up a hobby as a means to make money. They found something that fulfilled them creatively and eventually discovered that they weren’t alone, that there were other people who shared their passion, enough to make up a customer base. Here are their stories.

Ivana Kurilic, Owner of Artful Haven, an Art Journaling Blog

My Hobby

Art journaling is a combination of making art in a journal and journaling about your feelings, thoughts, and ideas. It’s like a diary with an artistic touch, allowing you to grow artistically and personally at the same time. 

My love for art and emotional expression first drew me to the practice. I’d had a diary, but I always felt it was “dry.” Then I started adding doodles and collages, and found that it gave me the freedom to create without the pressure of painting on a canvas. Creating something in a notebook or journal instantly removes the stress of perfectionism, and once that barrier is gone, you can freely explore your art with any art supplies you have, and make whatever you feel like making.

Having an art journal has helped me overcome the perfectionism paralysis. It’s that powerful.

My Business

Creativity has always been a huge part of my life, and I’ve always wanted to engage myself in the artistic world. It’s what led me to become a teacher and a photographer, which helped scratch that itch, but it still wasn’t enough. I wanted to find a way to share what I’d learned and help others on a larger scale.

This gave me the idea to start a blog, but it took me a whole year of thinking about starting it before I buckled down and actually did it. I also hit some financial turbulence and needed extra income, so that finally sealed the deal.

When I started Artful Haven, I didn’t know anything about blogging or online businesses, and found the technical side of it all very challenging. So I invested in a few online courses, includong the Elite Blog Academy and Stupid Simple SEO. These courses were extremely valuable and without them, I’m not sure I’d have come this far. They helped me reach the point I’m at today, where I’m monetizing with affiliate marketing, my digital products, and ads. Soon, I’m planning to release online courses and monetize even more.

My Expectations

While my imagination and dreams are endless, I’m also a realist when it comes to business, so I didn’t expect wonders. My first goal was to make my blog a side hustle where I earned a few extra bucks a month. However, I surprised myself this year when things began growing to the point that I’m making a full income from my blog.

I’ve even grown Artful Haven enough to be able to quit my teaching and photography jobs. Sometimes it really sounds unbelievable and surreal, and I have to remind myself that I made it. Not only did I meet my expectations, I’ve gone even further, and I’m grateful for it every day.

My Advice

Taking online courses helped me a ton, and I would encourage others looking to turn their hobby into a business to do the same. Without the knowledge I gained through those courses, this journey would be a lot slower and more frustrating, and less profitable.

Also, when your hobby becomes your job, you need to find a way of balancing your hobby with the business around it. If you don’t do that, you might end up hating the hobby because the business part is sapping all your energy and time. Leave some time to enjoy the hobby without involving your business in it. 

Justin Blase, Owner of Ted’s Vintage Art, a Purveyor of Digitally Restored Vintage Maps

My Hobby

I first got into vintage maps while researching my family tree and learning where my ancestors lived back in the late 1800s. As a graphic designer of almost 20 years, I decided to try recoloring a map of my great grandfather’s township, and discovered that I really enjoyed the meticulous process of recoloring and restoring. I also enjoyed being able to bring new life back to an old document and preserving it for the future.

My Business

After restoring and displaying my first map print, a number of friends and family asked if I could do something similar for them. From there, I realized there was some demand for the product, and that if I partnered with a third-party printer, I could actually make a bit of a profit. With 20 years of web development under my belt, buying a domain and building a site just seemed like the next logical thing for me to do.

I didn’t have much of a business plan at first. I had a few different ideas and strategies in mind for marketing and scaling production, but what helped me the most was making, and learning from, mistakes.

For example, once I started getting consistent sales, I found that I was spending most of my time on tasks I didn’t really enjoy, such as manually processing orders and handling customer support inquiries. I wanted to spend more time on graphic design, web design, and digital marketing, not these other tasks that were boring and monotonous. 

To combat this issue, I ended up using apps like Zapier to make my order fulfillment process nearly 100% automated. Additionally, I built out a customer support platform that manages all messages from all marketplaces in one location, making it much easier to handle customer support inquiries.

My Expectations

Initially, my hope was that I could generate a little bit of extra cash to use for savings or a vacation fund. I never really imagined it could lead to me being able to quit my full time job and provide the same level of income.

I also didn’t expect the level of customer interaction I’ve had, which has really helped the business. For example, I used to get tons of emails from people asking if a certain landmark was on a particular map, so I ended up rolling out a “deep zoom” feature allowing users to zoom way in on a print and see everything in great detail before purchasing. That change has really increased time on site and conversion rates.

Also, I used to only offer unframed prints, because I thought the frame options provided by my print-on-demand partner looked cheap. But I heard from a number of customers early on that it would be nice if I offered frames, so I decided to risk it. Ever since I added frames as an option, my profit per order has nearly doubled, and I have not had a single complaint about frame quality.  

I’ve even heard from a few map collectors, cartographers, and total map nuts who love that I’m helping preserve this part of history and putting it in front of younger generations.

My Advice

I think turning a hobby into a business is a great idea as long as you’re able to continue spending  time doing things you enjoy. When you make a career out of a hobby, it can make the ‘fun” seem like “work” at times, so it’s important that you really love what you’re doing. I also recommend leveraging automation or freelancers to manage any of the areas that are not “fun” to you.

Afoma Umesi, Writer & Editor of Afomaumesi.com, a Middle-Grade and Young Adult Book Blog 

My Hobby

Books have always been an escape, a lifeline, and a source of joy. I read a lot of children’s books and I love how hopeful they are. They provide me with a gleaming mirror or a wide window into the world. 

Books are a gift, so it was natural for me to start blogging about them. For me, blogging was, and still is, about writing and self expression. I started my first blog when I was 16, and used it to share poetry and fiction. It then transformed into a lifestyle blog before finally becoming the book blog it is today. 

My Business

I decided to turn my blog into a business out of a sense of necessity. I was spending at least ten hours every week working on my blog, and balancing that with  part-time freelancing was nearly amounting to a full-time schedule. But my paycheck wasn’t reflecting that.

I’d seen other book bloggers like Jen at Pop Goes the Reader monetize their sites through sponsored posts or interviews, so I decided it was finally time. I didn’t have a business plan, but I knew that I did not want readers to ever pay directly for content. I also did not want to rely heavily on posts sponsored by authors, because I wanted my site to continue to support authors as it always has. So I was left with ads and third-party sponsored posts, with the occasional author/publisher-sponsored post.

It was a tough road in the beginning. I was initially hesitant to ask for money, but as with any business, reminding myself of the value I offer to partners helps me to charge what I’m worth.

I also hated the look of many ads on the website, so I seriously customized their appearance. As time has gone by, I’ve become more comfortable with them.  

My Expectations

My initial goal was for the site to pay its annual hosting fees and now I earn nearly twice as much every month! It’s still not a lot, but much higher than $0. This is a unique business because I never want the hunt for money to compromise the fun and value I bring to readers.

My ultimate goal is passive income that will supplement my current earnings. I am currently still exploring more monetization avenues, but I’m working to increase my blog traffic, which will naturally raise my earnings. I also would love to partner with more clients for sponsored posts and links.

My Advice

Only do it if you want to. But know that it can be done, and making money doing something that only 15 percent feels like work is fun and refreshing. Learn as much as you can, and treat it like a business. It can only reward you when you approach it with seriousness.

Whatever Your Thing Is, Was, Or Might Be

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