Small Business Guides

How to turn your passion into a business

6 min read

Ever dreamed of turning your passion into a business? It can be a rewarding way to make a living. Emma Chapman of A Beautiful Mess did it, so we asked her what to consider when building a business from a hobby.

Time to monetise your hobby?

With the rapid growth of online shopping and affordable ecommerce platforms, some of the traditional barriers to launching a small business are gone. You can potentially make sales without buying a shop or giving up your day job. Perhaps it’s time to monetise your hobby and turn your passion into a business?

Emma’s the perfect role model. She and sister Elsie started a blog during quiet times in their Missouri antique store, and made it into a thriving online business. A Beautiful Mess attracts 1.5 million unique visitors per month, supports five full-time employees and sells everything from stationery to online courses.

Emma has some tips for people thinking about following in their footsteps.

1. Be prepared to lose some love

Once you turn your passion into a business, you’ll never feel the same way about your hobby again. The idealism of doing what you love for a living will collide with the reality of:

  • tracking sales and cash flow
  • hitting targets
  • managing inventory
  • watching competitors
  • filing taxes
  • finding the right staff

Emma backs the decision to launch A Beautiful Mess but admits it’s changed how she feels about her passion.

“I get to do something I love for a living but it’s a job now. Maybe you want to protect your passion and keep it more as a hobby, for your own personal fulfilment.”

2. Balancing creativity and commercialism

When you create something for personal fulfilment, you can make it however you like. But when that creation becomes a service or product, you have to work within boundaries.

You have to ask:

  • how long does it take to make?
  • what does it cost to produce?
  • how much do I need to sell it for?
  • how much will it cost to ship?

It’s a very different approach to creativity. You should also remember that the thing you want to make might not be the exact same thing your customer wants to buy. Be practical about it. Changing your offering to meet market demand is not selling out, Emma says, it’s the reality of running a business.

If you’re going to turn your passion into a business, be prepared for compromise.

3. How do you monetise your hobby?

You’re enthusiastic about your hobby and the business idea that flows from it. That’s a good thing. It means you’ll have a lot of energy to pour into your new venture. But don’t assume your market will be as excited by your product or service as you are. When you turn your passion into a business, it can be difficult to keep perspective.

Emma recommends testing ideas with your market to find out what works and what doesn’t.

“A lot of people say ‘I have a great idea and I’m just going to go for it’, but you should really try to solve a problem or find a product that already exists and find how you can improve on it.”

A Beautiful Mess began by taking standard stationery products and redesigning them for readers of their blog. It was a simple value-adding exercise. Now they sell apps and online courses as well.

Every time they consider a new product, they check in with their readers to make sure there’s a market for it.

4. Building your brand with free content

If you want to start your business online, as Emma did, content is a great way to find customers. Just be prepared to build slowly. She and Elsie ran their blog for more than two years before they started pitching products.

On the plus side, they were able to do that groundwork while holding down day jobs. They only went full time into A Beautiful Mess after it was making more money than their antique store. They say the blog has been fantastic for market research.

“The main thrust of our business is content creation – connecting with our readers, finding out what services or products they want and trying to create those for them.”

5. A pragmatic approach to social media

A Beautiful Mess created a social buzz without doing a lot on Facebook or Twitter.

Emma says you don’t have to be active on every platform. She recommends finding out where your audience spends their time and focusing there. It sounds obvious but this simple piece of research can save hundreds of hours of lost effort.

With an audience that’s really visual and predominantly women, Emma says Pinterest and Instagram were the most relevant social media for her business.

“I think it’s just a matter of figuring out the areas that work for you and investing in those areas more heavily.”

6. What you should think about when hiring staff

Emma says it was a big moment when A Beautiful Mess made its first hire. Suddenly, they were responsible for other people’s livelihoods – not just their own. The decision about when and who to hire was driven by three factors.

  • Make payroll
    Emma and Elsie decided they could afford to make a hire when there was enough money in the bank to cover three months’ salary.
  • Grow revenue 
    They started by filling positions that could add revenue. A rep was hired to sell ads on their blog, creating income that could finance additional hires.
  • Add capability 
    While it’s tempting to hire staff that will do the jobs you don’t like, it’s more important to hire people who have skills that your business lacks.

7. Separate your personal and professional goals

When you turn your passion into a business, it’s easy to lose track of time. Both the passion and the business soak up a lot of energy – making it hard to get your work-life balance right.

Emma says she and Elsie were guilty of letting A Beautiful Mess drive their lives. “You get excited and you want to grow things. Business is very addictive.”

But it’s important to remember your personal goals. If you want to travel, start a family, or just spend less time working – try to plan accordingly:

  • Hire people who can take work off your plate.
  • Give up control and delegate tasks to your staff.
  • Don’t feel obliged to pursue every business opportunity – turn some down.

Turn your passion into a business

Turning your passion into a business is an exciting prospect. Just be prepared to have a different relationship with your hobby when things get going. It’s also important to:

  • test and refine your idea with your target market
  • prepare for compromise – you may need to tweak your vision
  • prepare for a long haul

It’s probably wise to hold onto your day job while you find your feet. Once you’ve put in the time, however, the rewards can be great. You could earn money doing what you love.