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4 Keys to Building a Growing Customer Base for Your Hobby-Turned-Business

ByNathan Sheets,
business.com writer
|
Aug 29, 2019
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> Business Basics
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Turn your hobby into a thriving and growing business.

  • Nearly 84% of consumers put the most trust in small businesses.
  • Find a support community that shares your hobby, and you'll be 25% likelier to monetize your side gig.
  • Start by growing the hobby in self-sustaining ways that require no additional financial investment from you.

Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life – the blessed truth for the few hobbyists who had the right combination of ambition, fortune and vision to turn their lives' passions into professions. What factors drive that ambition, lead you to create your own luck, and give you the foresight to succeed?

A recent study of 400,000 hobbyists on Ravelry.com found that only 1.5% of those interested in knitting and fiber arts started selling their goods. However, if users met with a support group of fellow hobbyists, they were 25% more likely to delve into entrepreneurship.

I appreciate the value of this study's insight and felt it in my own life as I transitioned from a hobby beekeeper to making honey my full-time job. Encouragement within your community and network is necessary for handling the emotional challenges that occur when switching from hobby to business.

New entrepreneurs often feel guilty about charging for what they've previously done for fun (and for free). On top of that, the first employees of a hobby-turned-business are often close friends and family who support your efforts and your passion but can create challenges as you balance what's best for those relationships and what's best for your business.

And then there is the daunting feeling of confronting the unknown.

At Nature Nate's Honey Company, I managed through these experiences. We've grown my beekeeping hobby into a business with the top-branded honey product across the country and continue to learn lessons as we expand into new products and adventures. 

At some point in a hobbyist's life, a spark ignites: "Hey, could this be viable? Could this be a realistic platform to sustain my life? Is there a way I could do this more? Is there a way I could actually start to create some income to pay for my hobby?" Questions lead to answers, which lead to more questions. Excitement builds.

The first step is determining whether you can grow the hobby without incurring greater financial commitment. And then, as you continue to progress down that road, the next big hurdle is figuring out how to monetize it. 

All of a sudden, you go from this hobby that you do because you love it, to then monetizing the experience. You have to add the discipline to do it because you feel a little guilty about charging money at first. But now, you're trying to turn it into a viable business.

Going toe-to-toe with giant companies in the same market can be intimidating, but a hobby-turned-business has an advantage that most corporations don't: a human face. Consumers trust small businesses far more than corporations. The Better Business Bureau found that 84% of consumers trust small businesses most, and the main reasons ranged from supporting local business and better customer service to convenience and the uniqueness of the products. That's where you come in.

A friendly face with a strong message and a fresh product or service can take a new company a long way, especially when people can feel connected to a person and a cause. Don't buckle to pressure to be on a par with the big boys; your smaller stature is not a detriment in today's highly fragmented world where a zillion options exist for every product. Be uniquely you and start getting in front of future customers with your story.

Here are four actions that any hobbyist with business aspirations should take. 

State your message clearly.

Hobbies are opportunities for people to explore and learn on the fly. But dabbling is counterproductive in small business where focus is required to stand out. Consider your hobby, your company and your values, and try to distill all three into a singular message. Workshop your company's message with as many team members and interested parties as you wish, and then resolve to hammer that message home at every opportunity. 

Tell your story boldly.

Defining your mission and your message will set you apart from most hopeful hobbyists. Taking your business to the next level requires amplification.

There are endless ways to get the word out about your company. Social media is a low-cost marketing tool that any small business should be using. Open accounts on as many appropriate platforms and start spreading your news. But for a local hobbyist, getting in front of their community is still a top strategy: An Alignable survey of small business owners revealed that 85% said word-of-mouth was the best way to get new customers.

Therefore, get your product or service ingrained in the local community. Set up a table at a farmers market, or sponsor a local event and start building those relationships. The possibilities for connection are virtually endless.

Make a great product.

Perception is important, but your product is paramount. Hobbyists typically start selling only once they're confident in the quality of what they're making. But as business picks up, the quality of a product can decline with the number of orders or as business owners are pulled by different demands.

It's critical that quality keep pace or even increase as your business explores efficiencies. Analyze your operations, supply chain and quality assurance to create opportunities for improvements, and work to employ experts in those fields to ensure you continue to make a product that you're proud of and that keeps you ahead of the competition. 

Hold on to your passion.

We stick with hobbies because we enjoy them. But when a hobby starts to become a business, numbers can become more important and the passion that got you into your hobby can start to wane. Holding on to the excitement and wonder of your pastime is key to succeeding in business as well.

Consider the story of Michael Kittredge: When he was 16, he melted down some crayons and made a candle for his mother for Christmas. He enjoyed making candles and experimenting. It was only after a neighbor offered to buy a candle for $2 that Kittredge started thinking bigger.

Flash-forward 50 years and Kittredge's teenage hobby has turned into Yankee Candle, a retail empire. Walk into any Yankee Candle today, and you'll find that Kittredge's love of experimenting and gift-giving continues with a constant rotation of new scents perfectly packaged as presents.

So create ways to work your passions into your daily life; you will find the necessary time if it's important enough to you. This could take many forms, such as picking up a part-time job that caters to your passion, volunteering with an organization that benefits from your talents or playing around with your hobby in moments of spare time. Share your goals with others so they'll hold you accountable. You'll be more likely to keep plugging away at your hobby and less inclined to quit.

The transition from hobbyist to entrepreneur is undoubtedly rare and can be difficult. But with a prudent approach and an enthusiastic outlook, your passion can turn a profit.

 

Nathan Sheets
Nathan Sheets
See Nathan Sheets's Profile
Nathan Sheets is the CEO and chief steward of Nature Nate’s Honey Co., the number-one branded honey company in the U.S. and producer of 100% Pure, Raw & Unfiltered Honey. Nathan embarked on a mission to nourish lives by creating high-quality products for a higher purpose. After starting his own agency and serving the Lord through mission work across the world, Nathan turned his entrepreneurial spirit to contributing to communities in need through a “give to grow” business. Through his guidance and the dedication of employees, Nature Nate’s gives back by investing in bee health through university programs committed to sustaining healthy hives, supporting organizations such as the National Breast Cancer Foundation through lasting partnerships and donating to local and national communities who need it most, and providing education about the benefits of natural foods like the awesome goodness of honey.
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