How to Turn Your Hobby Into a Successful Hustle

You already know that your hobby has the potential to be a lucrative side gig. Now meet four self-starters and get their tips for earning a profit from your passion project.

August 15, 2019
Related To:

Photo By: Kayla Fletcher

Photo By: Kayla Fletcher

Photo By: Kayla Fletcher

Photo By: Kayla Fletcher

Photo By: Kayla Fletcher

Photo By: Northern Native Photography

Photo By: Northern Native Photography

Photo By: Northern Native Photography

Photo By: Northern Native Photography

Photo By: Northern Native Photography

Photo By: Ox & Opal

Photo By: Ox & Opal

Photo By: Ox & Opal

Start With Your Inner Circle

An elementary school art teacher and talented watercolor painter, Lauren Hitchcock launched her online shop, Blush & Honey Paper Co., back in 2015. Now, in addition to teaching four days a week, she sells close to a hundred custom portraits every year — and partially attributes her early success to sharing her work with friends and family members.

"I posted photos of these paintings on social media, and had an overwhelming request for paintings from friends and family," says Hitchcock. Over the years, many of these people have become repeat clients who continue to spread the word about her work.

Set Up an Online Shop

If you're serious about selling a product, consider opening an online shop where other people can find and purchase your work. Since you're just starting out, this step could also help you explore different ideas and see which pieces perform well. In Hitchcock's case, setting up an online shop helped her discover her niche: pet and family portraits.

"I began listing custom wedding dress and cake paintings because I had just gotten married that summer and was still in wedding mode," she explains. "[But] soon I received requests to paint pets and family members. I am an obsessed dog mom myself, so I leaned into that."

Learn How to Take Quality Product Photos

It pays to use high-quality photos of your work, too. If you want your product listings to stand out from the masses, Hitchcock suggests either investing in professional photos or learning how to take some yourself.

"I researched all I could learn about taking great photos with my phone," she says. "I learned a lot about finding the best light, avoiding harsh shadows and using apps like Lightroom to adjust white balance. I am by no means an expert, but I learned to take higher quality photos."

Hitchcock adds that you could also partner with a local photographer, perhaps even one who's developing their skills. Their work will make your shop look more established and ultimately increase traffic.

"I have traded paintings for amazing photos," she says.

Use Social Accounts to Attract New Clients

Don't forget to create an official account for your side business and share those photos on social media. By regularly posting images of your work and including some relevant hashtags, you'll develop an online presence that will catch the eye of potential clients.

"Consistently posting and engaging on Instagram has played a huge role in finding my ideal clients," Hitchcock says. For reference, she posts about once a day to her account, @blushandhoneypaper, and has almost 14,000 followers. Not too shabby for a side gig!

Look to Local Business Owners for Guidance

If you've never run a business before, plan to do some research. Hitchcock recommends listening to podcasts, borrowing books from the library and even seeking the advice and support of local business owners.

"I think it is incredibly important to surround yourself with [the] creative community," Hitchcock says. "I was a co-leader of a creative small business group in Knoxville, Tenn. I met so many fellow entrepreneurs through this group and they pushed me constantly to learn more about business and try new things."

Shadow Someone in Your Industry

Connecting with local business owners helped Miranda Crace, the founder of Detroit-based event planning company Spoke Events, transform her hobby into a successful hustle as well. After planning several bridal showers and weddings for close friends, Crace contacted an established event planning company to find out what the work would be like on a professional level.

"I decided that if I wanted event planning to be my future, I needed to see if I enjoyed planning for people I didn’t know," says Crace. "I reached out to a local event planning company [and] told them I was interested in starting my own event planning business [...] I worked an event season with them and realized that I loved it!"

In 2016, she officially launched Spoke Events. Since then, Crace has planned a variety of holiday parties, pop-up dinners, workshops and weddings, all while working full-time at one of the nation's largest mortgage lenders.

Collaborate With Other Creatives

Once you feel fairly confident in your skills, get in touch with other creatives in the area to make new contacts and potentially collaborate on a project. For example, if your craft happens to be hand-lettering, you could partner with an event coordinator like Crace to host a calligraphy workshop, where you'll both get to practice and promote your talents.

"One of the first things I did when I launched Spoke was collaborate with other business owners for a styled shoot," says Crace. "I was able to build relationships with vendors in my area and in my community. Our shoot was also featured on a wedding blog, which was the cherry on top."

Another benefit? Crace adds, "People I’ve networked with have even become some of my closest friends."

Florals By: Studio Terrain
Design and Styling By: Spoke Events

Consider Attending a Conference

Likewise, attending a conference like INBOUND or Alt Summit could also help you meet other people in the industry and help you build up your side business. INBOUND brings together thousands of content creators every year and offers different strategies for digital marketing, while Alt Summit connects female influencers and entrepreneurs, with a focus on growth and innovation.

"I’ve been to INBOUND in Boston," Crace says. "It’s a fantastic marketing conference and the first conference where I felt like I truly learned something."

Florals By: Studio Terrain
Design and Styling By: Spoke Events
Calligraphy By: Plume & Proper

Dare to Delegate

As your side business starts to gain momentum, be open to the idea of divvying up the workload and delegating tasks, so that you can focus on what you do best. For example, an artist might benefit from having a team to package and ship her work so that she can continue to sketch in the studio, while an event coordinator like Crace can use a crew to oversee some administrative duties.

"We recently expanded the team and hired three more coordinators to help spread out the day-to-day work," Crace explains. "Which will give me the space to work on other things that can help grow Spoke Events to more of [a] lifestyle brand."

Don't Worry About Always Being "On Brand" — Just Be Yourself

While your work should have a general look and feel that draws people in, don't agonize about putting together the perfect presentation. Instead, let your authenticity add that special touch to your side business that clients can't find anywhere else. This approach helped Crace redefine her work and alleviate some of the pressures of hustling hard.

"Sure, we have our brand colors and fonts and our own personal style, but instead of caring how unique it is, I just want it to be real," Crace says. "We post a video of us dancing, photos of me hugging our brides as they come down the aisle or hiding out with them in the lobby with some coffee because it’s a long day and sometimes you just want someone to not talk to.

We share photos from the day that remind us of those moments. [...] That’s Spoke’s brand. It’s not about our color palette or how fashion-forward or non-traditional we are. It’s about love and encouragement and community and I hope that’s what people see when they look at Spoke Events."

Create More of What You Want to See

And if you don't see exactly what you're looking for in your industry? Take a page out of Detroit-based photographers Cassie Tackett and Erin Hannum's book and do it yourself. Recognizing a lack of alternative styles and inclusive sizing in the wedding industry, the two women decided to launch their own boutique bridal shop that represented women of all sizes, shapes and backgrounds. They named their hustle Ox & Opal, as a nod to the hit show Parks and Recreation.

"We were tired of seeing so many women we had come to know and love have a tough time finding their dream pieces," says Tackett. "So Ox & Opal is made for everyone. [...] We’ve worked incredibly hard to provide a range of sizes, styles, and even price points with our pre-owned and vintage line to make sure that no one is overlooked."

For reference, their shop is filled with flowing tulle skirts, bold silver boots, vintage beaded clutches and chic modern jewelry starting at around $20.

Invest Back into Your Business

On that note, if you're selling a product and wondering how to set the price, consider factors like the cost of your materials, how much time it takes to make or source the item and the price for similar pieces on the market. And, of course, look for ways to invest back into your business.

"Determining the price of our items is pretty simple," says Hannum. "Occasionally we have small mark ups to cover our costs and make a profit, which in turn goes right back into purchasing new designs.”

And Finally, Don't Be Afraid to Fail

Transforming your hobby into a hustle might seem intimidating at first, but Tackett and Hannum agree that it's well-worth the reward.

"We spent many hours researching where we should even begin. Even googling 'How to start a bridal shop'. We actually spent about nine months working on everything before we officially announced Ox & Opal," says Tackett. "[...] Our preparations included calls to the government, website building, mundane legalities and the worst part, shopping for pretty things."

And yet, their willingness to work hard and take a leap has already proved successful.

"The support for Ox & Opal has been overwhelming," says Hannum. "Between other wedding vendors, friends and family and fellow creatives, we have had great organic reach in a short period of time."

Paper Installation By: Meaghan Keck of Birch Affair
Makeup By: Brittney Ounanian

Shop This Look