There's a new small business startup boom sweeping across America. It's not about high-tech, or venture capital, or any of the usual startup suspects we've seen in recent decades. This boom is all about "personal businesses" -- the one-man or woman shops with no employees that are sprouting at a record rate, and often begin as hobbies.
This boom is about people with a passion for making something -- dubbed the "Maker Movement" -- armed with the smarts, low-cost startup tools and the drive to turn their hobby into a revenue stream. Today's passion-driven hobbyists are tomorrow's entrepreneurs -- otherwise known as hobbypreneurs, who successfully combine their passion for a particular hobby or craft with pragmatic business smarts to create new revenue streams for themselves and their families.
The trend was spotlighted in a new Future of Small Business research report just released by Intuit. According to Intuit, these hobbypreneurs -- both knowledge- and craft-based -- are leading a new generation of American entrepreneurs who are increasingly taking the leap to turn something they find fun into a profit-making activity as well.
These passion-driven hobbyists are intent on making something. For example, Always Quilting, an online quilting supply business with a new storefront teaching facility in San Mateo, CA, offers high-end, programmable quilting machines that let quilters create their handiwork in hours instead of weeks or months. The owners, Kit Morse and Julie McAuliffe, are both tech-moms turned quilters who built their biz to provide tech tools for making quilting faster.
The maker movement is catching fire, says the Intuit report. They create, adopt, tweak and innovate to design ingenious things in their garages, basements and backyards. "Makers are part of the new do-it-yourself movement of crafters, digital tinkerers, green advocates and others looking to move beyond mass-produced goods," says Intuit. Unlike earlier do-it-yourself movements focused on home improvement and fixing things, the new DIY entrepreneurs are about inventing and making.
As a group, the new breed of hobby entrepreneurs are tech savvy and nearly all use websites to connect with potential customers. They run solo businesses, have a few partners or build operations with a handful of employees. Typically these ventures start as a hobby or passion and only later evolve into a business. Hobbyists often create a part-time business merely to test markets to see if there is enough demand to warrant something larger.
Most are not trying to invent a blockbuster new technology. Rather, these individuals focus on alternative uses, re-uses and unique combinations of existing products and technologies. This approach allows them to keep production costs low. Here are six reasons hobbypreneurs are thriving right now:
1. Making things has become easier and cheaper: High-tech tools such as laser cutters, milling machines, 3-D printers and computer-aided design tools have become affordable even for very small businesses. Many hobbypreneurs use outside services such as Ponoko (www.ponoko.com) to do the work for them.
2. Starting and running a niche business is also easier and cheaper: Web-based services such as free online billing and bookkeeping, along with low-cost e-commerce sites and a variety of other tech tools have made it easier than ever to set up a business.
3. The recession is driving a need for part-time and niche businesses. Due to a lack of jobs -- both now and in the next several years -- niche and part-time businesses will be the best employment option for many people.
4. Social networks and specialized websites help hobbyists plug in. Such sites, networks and forums have become meeting places where hobbypreneurs exchange ideas and methods.
5. Older Americans are turning their hobbies and passions into small businesses. More people than ever may have a financial need to work beyond traditional retirement age. Many are eager to try new things and pursue interests through a hobby-turned-business.
6. There is a growing marketplace for customized goods. Small and personal businesses are often in the best position to meet demand for customized products.