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How three entrepreneurs turned a hobby into a profitable business

Should you start a business based on your passion or hobby?

A recent survey suggests that one in three people in Britain plans to turn their hobby into a business, with 15% of those polled already making money from their hobby. Is turning something you love into a business a good idea? We speak to three small business owners who have turned their hobby into a business.

The Stationery Start-up

Tessa Sowry of The Stationer, London-based “provider of wares for the desk”: “Like many children, getting a new pencil case was the highlight of starting a new school year and I never grew out of that. I still like that feeling of potential when I start a new notebook, and the joy of using new pens.

“I started a blog in 2014 - All Things Stationery - to share what I was using, while exploring stationery brands from around the world. I was surprised by the community of stationery enthusiasts online and by how many people liked reading my blog.

“After writing about stationery, in 2016 I decided to start selling it. The business isn’t full time; I also work at a London university, which means I’m often packing orders in the evening, making trips to the post office before work, Instagramming during lunch break and working weekends.

“I’m not too worried I’ll end up not enjoying stationery any more because I’ve turned my passion into a business. Stationery has taken over so much of my leisure time that it would be nice to make it my job, so I could have time for other hobbies!

“If it’s viable and you have enough time, I’d recommend trying to earn money from your hobby. It requires motivation, but if you’re already passionate about something, that should come naturally. Obviously, it’s something you need to consider carefully before taking the plunge.”

The Jam Maker

Catherine Piddington of London-based artisan, luxury jam company Piddington Jam: “I’ve always loved jam. Even as a child I’d pick fruit and turn it into jam. About ten years ago I started experimenting with flavours. It was exciting and indulgent, so when I started Piddington Jam, I wanted to incorporate a sense of fun, mischief and nostalgia.

“I was working for a building conservation charity, which was fun, but I wanted to start my own business. I realised I’d hit upon a great idea when I was bowled over by the results of combining strawberry and vanilla into a jam. I tried other combinations. Soon, others were requesting my jams, so there was business potential.

“I left my last job in 2012 and spent a year learning about the jam market, while working on branding that reflected my ethos. I attended my first Christmas market and many other food markets after that. In October 2013, Selfridges invited me to pitch and placed an order. Things have grown significantly since then and we now sell online and via stockists in the UK and overseas.

“True passion drives you forward. Running the business hasn’t made me love jam any less. I don’t eat it every day, unless I’m batch testing, but I never get sick of it. Is starting a business based on your passion a good idea? Absolutely. It involves hard work, but it’s the most satisfying feeling I’ve ever had. People buy into your passion - it helps to sell your products.”

The Guitar Innovator

Felix Byrne of Wiltshire-based Acoustic Guitar Innovation, designer and maker of sustainable acoustic guitars and Eco-leles®: “My business allows me to combine three passions - product design, music and sustainability. I’m a product designer by profession and did my degree in that. I’ve played guitar for as long as I can remember, I write songs and still perform live with my wife, Jackie.

“I’ve always been passionate about sustainability. Partly, it comes my father, who was great at making things out of reclaimed materials and was doing that in the 1970s - he was a forward-thinker.

“I’d wanted to make my own guitar for years, tried a few times, but other things got in the way. Three years ago, I made a more serious attempt. I wanted to create something innovative with low environmental impact. My guitars are made from off-the-shelf materials and reclaimed timber, but they’re high quality and look and sound great. They’re very comfortable to play and can easily be taken to pieces and reassembled - they can be high-quality travel guitars.

“I made my first prototype in 2013, then more; each one better than the last. In 2015 I started selling my guitars. My business has grown steadily, but I now want to concentrate on marketing to really take my business forward. I’m even starting to get passionate about that aspect now, which I never imagined would happen.

“I haven’t experienced any downsides to basing my business on my passions. I love what I do - it doesn’t feel a like work. If you love your work, you don’t mind other less enjoyable business tasks. If your passion isn’t genuine, it shows. The challenge of growing my own business is exciting. I’m delighted with my product, others love my guitars, now I just need to let more people know about the business.”

If you’re interested in starting a business, whether based on your passion or simply an idea you’ve had, there’s a range of helpful, related resources below.

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How to come up with and test business ideas

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