From side hustle to small business: simple tricks to make your passion project fly

Illustration: Chris Bianchi/Guardian

Illustration: Chris Bianchi/Guardian

Article written for The Guardian by Emma Sheppard

At what point does a hobby become a fully fledged business? Industry experts share their helpful strategies

Andy Carr has always had a love for bikes, but it wasn’t until 2012 that he first tried to make one. Fast forward seven years and the former marketing director is now the owner of handmade bike company Spoon Customs, with his own shop in Brighton. Spoon Customs recently won the public vote at the UK Handmade Bicycle Show, Europe’s biggest handmade bike show, and is on track to make 30 bikes this year. It’s a reality he describes as an “impossible but wonderful dream”.

“I always had my eye on building bikes professionally, I just didn’t know how that would happen,” Carr says. “The ups and downs [of starting the business] have been crazy, but the reward is getting messages from customers saying how stoked they are to be riding one of my bikes.”

A study by Start Up Loans Company and YouGov for Guardian Money in 2017found 28% of British adults have considered turning a hobby into a business, although less than a third of them have done so. Those who do say they’re happier – 86% believe they have greater job satisfaction when compared to their previous employment, although many will start such enterprises while still working for someone else. A 2019 survey by Vistaprint found almost a quarter (23%) of Brits have turned a hobby into a side business alongside their career, and a further 56% aspire to.

Business coach Emma Jefferys says it’s a trend she believes is down to two factors: employees feeling pushed out of the workplace when they need more flexibility, and the desire to find a better work-life balance. For those tempted to make the leap, here’s how to turn a passion into a fully fledged business.

Be clear on what the vision is
The first step is to define what the business will be. “Ask yourself questions such as what the business will look like, what it will do for your lifestyle, how much money you’re going to earn, what your days will look like, and who you’re going to be working with,” says Jefferys. It’s also important to identify the reason you want to do this, she adds. “If you can connect with your inner motivation, the real driving force … that will give you enough energy and motivation to carry you through the tough times.”

Take yourself seriously
Entrepreneurs who are turning a hobby into a business often struggle to take themselves seriously as a founder, says Jefferys. “They often use language that keeps what they’re doing small, such as: ‘I just do this on the side, this is something I do for fun’.” She encourages clients to print business cards and use a professional signature on emails from early on. “Seeing your name as the founder or CEO next to the business name on print can really help bring it to life for you as well as others.”

One of the big themes psychologist Sara Perry discovered as part of her research into hobby-job entrepreneurs was these founders are often guilty of squeezing the new business into their existing lives, which causes stress. “A lot of people don’t explicitly make time and space for this [type of] business … so they feel more stressed because they were trying to cram it into [other] spaces.”

Focus on the work
Another common concern Jefferys says some founders have is feeling overwhelmed with the job at hand. “People get frozen by the amount of different jobs that need doing, whether it’s setting up a website, building a brand, or looking at pricing. It can feel very overwhelming, particularly if they’re not your specialisms … They start to see it as this huge journey and think: ‘I don’t have the energy or the guts to go there’.” Drawing on mindfulness practices, she advocates focusing on today and the work that needs to be done in the short term. “We always bring it back to: what’s the next step you can do to bring this business forward? If you just keep showing up and doing the next action, and the next, and the next, you’ll get there.”

Seek help when needed
Burnout is something Perry has found can be more common among these types of entrepreneurs. Those who thrive find other hobbies to do to relax, or find time to enjoy their hobby without the pressure of work. Outsourcing the parts of the business they don’t like or know how to do also alleviates the pressure. “The things that stop people succeeding are the business side of running the business, the things that are different from the hobby itself,” she says.

Seeking help for your business is something Jefferys also advocates, particularly when it comes to advice from other entrepreneurs. “Just knowing that everyone has issues setting their pricing or dealing with customers or stock delays – it’s helpful to know you’re not alone,” she says. “We can also get very stuck in our own head and perspective, so when facing challenges it’s great to have someone look at the problems you’re facing through a different lens.”

Don’t wait for perfection
Finally, Jefferys urges entrepreneurs not to wait for perfection before starting the business. “If you think it’s absolutely perfect by the time you launch it, you’ve left it too late,” she says. “The idea of making it real, getting out there and doing it is the first real step. You will grow, you will change, you will get better. But you can’t do that when it’s on a piece of paper and you’re hiding behind it.”

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