For most people, hobbies and business don’t mix. After all, isn’t a hobby generally something you do to forget about work? Something fun?
Yet, when you have a passion for something that’s so strong that it takes hold and won’t let go, sometimes you simply must follow it wherever it may go…which is exactly what these eight natural-born entrepreneurs did, turning part-time hobbies into full-time careers.
From a Venting Mommy Blogger to a Sought-After Content Writer
Michelle Dempsey shares, “A little over a year ago, I was a bored, anxious, stay-at-home mom on the verge of returning to work and feeling terribly upset about it. I loved to write so, as a hobby, started a mommy blog for all of my friends and family to read – and as a way to vent.”
This got Dempsey noticed (both on her blog and social media) and “within months I was invited to begin contributing for a few motherhood magazines,” she says. “As the content on my blog grew more into the realm of personal development and empowerment, I began receiving interest and contributor invitations from multiple big-name publications.”
In less than 12 months, Dempsey turned her blog into a writing business (Michelle Dempsey, LLC), indicating that she now has “clients all over the globe” that she supplies with blogs, email marketing, content strategy, consulting, and more. “I was even offered my own radio show,” she says, hosting it weekly “to help spotlight other female entrepreneurs in the South Florida area.”
Comic Book Enthusiast Turned Million-Dollar Dealer
Vincent Zurzolo’s passion for comics began long before he could even read. Then, as a young boy, he’d “routinely excavate” his parent’s couch, hoping to find enough spare change to buy his favorite books. At 16 he decided to turn his passion into a business and started to sell books he’d acquired, formally taking his street dealership full-time in 1993, selling to stockbrokers exiting the Exchange on Broadway.
Fourteen years later, Zurzolo and his partner, Stephen Fishler, launched the online auction site, Comic Connect, which currently holds five Guinness World Records for most expensive comics and related collectibles bought and sold (we’re talking books upward of $1 million each, with the most recent purchase being $3.2 million). Zurzolo is also the co-founder of Manhattan’s Big Apple Comic Convention and has since appeared on TV shows ranging from Fox News and Bloomberg News to episodes of Hollywood Treasures and Buried Treasures.
Nature Photography for Fun Led to Wedding Photographer for Hire
Although Peter Greeno initially spent his days working as a forester, he says that he’d always dreamed of being a landscape photographer. Therefore, he’d capture picturesque nature scenes throughout some of “America’s great western landscapes” that he worked in, just for fun.
Then, in 2012, Greeno was asked to join a friend who was shooting a wedding, which is when he “fell in love” with the idea of capturing these types of precious moments on film. This also happened to be the same time the recession hit the real estate market…and forestry in kind. So, Greeno says he “took the opportunity to begin looking at finally going into business and taking my hobby on as full-time work.”
The first couple years as a destination wedding photographer serving Cape Cod, Boston, and Maine were slow, says Greeno, making him feel like it “would again be a photography dream un-realized.” However, that all changed by the fourth year, and he now shoots dozens of weddings annually.
His advice to people thinking of turning a hobby into a business? “I think that to make the transition, you have to work twice as hard,” says Greeno. “You also have to jump knowing that your income will take a dip. If you don’t accept that income loss for a few years, you never fully commit the time and the hard work to building a solid, steady business.”
Teenage Blemishes Leads to a Glowing (and Growing) Skin Care Company
Daisy Jing is now CEO and founder of Banish, a multi-million dollar company that provides an entire line of skin care products, yet her business began as a result of spending her free time exploring solutions to her own skin-related issues. “I was bullied in my younger years because of my acne,” says Jing. “I had no one to run to, so I found comfort in YouTube.”
It’s on this social media site where Jing would post reviews of the different products out there, eventually gaining a big following over time. “I became a trusted source of information when it comes to skin care,” explains Jing, further admitting that she really didn’t expect it to go any further than that.
“I never intended to start my own line,” says Jing, whose sole goal was simply to clear up her own skin issues. During the process, however, she started making her own products and people soon noticed the difference, asking her what she was using.
This made her consider the idea of selling her products, but it wasn’t until she quit her consulting job and started working for an e-commerce fashion business that she gained the confidence to start her own business. She saw that the person she was working for didn’t have a college degree and was able to start his business from scratch, so she decided to take the leap herself.
“Because of that constant hobby of posting videos and non-stop learning about skin care, I became an instant entrepreneur without putting too much effort on it,” says Jing. But she also warns that “You really have to want it; you need to always have that fire” if you want to succeed.
Jing said that she initially faced a lot of negativity when turning her hobby into a business, as well-meaning friends and family members would remind her that “98 percent of new businesses fail.” Instead of heeding their warning though, she blocked the negativity out and chose to not compare herself to others.
That’s also her advice to others intent on doing the same. “Focus on putting one foot in front of the other,” says Jing. “Keep doing that for a long time and you’ll get there.”
Video Gaming for Fun, Then Profit
William Davies says, “I’ve been an avid video gamer since the age of around eight,” further admitting that “the awe-inspiring landscapes and compelling storylines are something that still invoke emotions and intrigue me 16 years later.”
But Davies didn’t turn his hobby into a profitable business until the advent of Twitch.TV. “Twitch.TV is a platform where you stream yourself live playing video games,” explains Davies, who goes by the name Ceradore on this site. “Once you build an audience, people donate or tip money to your live video stream to show appreciation and to support the content creators.”
Davies says that, by taking this route with his gaming, “profitability was instant.” He goes on to share that “some of the larger channels are making tens of thousands of dollars a day, simply playing videos. It’s a rapidly growing industry.”
Side Vintage Jewelry Collector Becomes Full-Time Seller
Leah Buller says that she’s always loved the “seek-and-find” nature of locating and acquiring vintage costume jewelry. However it wasn’t until about 10 years of actively collecting that she decided to turn it into a business called Haute Bauble, giving her the opportunity to engage in her hobby every day and sharing it with others who have the same passion.
At the beginning, Buller says that she sold pieces from her own collection as well as some she’d created herself on sites like EBay and Etsy. “Every sale was exciting,” says Buller, “but also a learning experience. It wasn’t until I decided to quit my job and stay home with my young children did I think I could turn this hobby into a business.”
Although challenging to juggle a family and a company at the same time, Buller says, “I wanted to show my children that anything is possible if you work hard enough.” Plus, now that her children are school-aged, she is able to focus more on her business and growing it in size.
“Looking back, there was a lot of trial and error,” admits Buller, “but one thing I wish I had done sooner was learn SEO and list building. Those are two key elements to running a successful online business. You can’t just throw up a site and expect people to buy. I think I learned that the hard way.”
Building Tiny Houses Leads to Big Business
Jeremy Weaver reveals that he has been a hobby carpenter (or “tinkerer” as he calls it) for most of his life. Then he became “obsessively interested” in tiny houses so, at the end of 2014, he and a friend decided to take that interest and turn it into a business. They did two tiny houses that first year, “one for him to live in and one for me to live in,” says Weaver. This led to a few commissioned builds, which has ultimately turned into a full-time gig.
The company is called Wind River Tiny Homes and Weaver is the system designer and business lead for the company, besides owning a third of it. “We have built 16 tiny homes to date,” he says, and they’re also projecting between 10 and 12 houses next year. In fact, the interest is so great, Weaver says they “can’t currently keep up with requests in our email inbox.”
His advice if you’re considering turning your own hobby into a business? “I always recommend that people start by turning their hobby into a side business,” says Weaver, “while keeping their day job…until they have proven they have a viable model before jumping in with two feet.”
Then there’s the financial side of starting a business to consider too. “We bootstrapped the business from the beginning which has allowed us to avoid any major debt or investment,” says Weaver. “Also, the fact that my business partner and I were both in the construction industry to begin with meant we already had a lot of the knowledge and equipment to start the parallel tiny house business without a lot of up-front cost.”
Long-time Soap Maker Turns TWO Hobbies into Simultaneous Careers
Anne-Marie Faiola has had the hobby of soapmaking since she was 16 years old. “It’s a funny thing to start making it when you’re that young,” she says, “but I’ve always been a crafty girl.” At that time, Faiola would sell her product at the local hardware store in her small hometown of Chehalis, Washington. “I sold it at the gym,” she adds, while also making customers out of “my Mom and all of her friends.”
Through high school and college, Faiola kept selling her soap. “It was my side hustle,” she says, “the way to earn much needed cash.” It also helped her financially when her career plans didn’t exactly work out. “I was a terrible correctional officer,” says Faiola. Yet she still had a clientele of people buying her soap, so she made the decision to make, sell, and teach soapmaking for a living. Thus her company Bramble Berry Inc. (where she is currently CEO) was born. But she didn’t stop there.
“Since 2011, I’ve been leading online health challenges for fun,” says Faiola. It started out as something she did with friends but, before she knew it, she was leading six of them a year, all while working full-time as an entrepreneur with two small children. “After one of my challenge participants lost over 40 pounds and went from needing knee surgery to running a half marathon, I realized that there was something more in there for me,” she says.
Faiola went back to school to get her Nutritional Therapy certificate so she could “start helping women lead lives where making the choice to ‘choose happy’ every day is a natural outcome of healthy lifestyle habits.” She does this through her second hobby-turned-business, Best Day Ever.”
Her advice? “I think it’s important when you take a hobby to a business that you make that hobby your side hustle for as long as you can,” says Faiola. “This means, working nights and weekends on your side hustle (aka: your hobby) until it’s clear that you have customers, some revenue stream, and a clear path forward to profitability.”
Also, “test the waters on a small thing and in a small, low-cost way before diving into entrepreneurship full time,” says Faiola. “As for me, I’m still straddling my full-time job and my new baby start-up and I couldn’t be happier.”