How to Turn Your Hobby Into a Booming Business
From art to storytelling and embroidery, find out how these women have transformed their passions into businesses.
Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.
Starting a business has its fair share of challenges, but with passion leading the way, it makes for a fulfilling journey and successful long-term career. Just ask Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy's resident trend expert, who knows all about the makings for a flourishing business—especially in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. "With more time spent at home now more than ever, people are unlocking their creativity and learning new skills," she says. "We've seen a rise of shops being opened and current Etsy sellers have pivoted their businesses to support the demands of shoppers [like face masks and DIY kits]."
Johnson's tips for turning a hobby into a business? "I would encourage creatives to consider setting specific goals: Identify small milestones that would lead you there in a manageable way, such as [making] your first sale in three months," she says. Also remember that simply getting started and completing your products one by one can get the ball rolling, adds Johnson.
Here, we share the stories of three entrepreneurs who built their businesses from the ground up, and how they are using their platforms to forge ahead in their industries.
Liana Farmer started sharing her modern paintings through social media—and in turn, she is creating a booming business, too. While she explains her approach to painting as starting with a figure and a mood, and then building the moment—one specific moment can't truly define when she originally embraced art. "As cliché as it may sound, I've had an interest and love for art as long as I can remember," says Farmer. The mixed-media artist's brand evolved as people began asking for custom pieces within the last few years: "They say 'just put yourself out there and see what happens'—bylianarae is a true manifestation of that," she adds.
Today, she sells original paintings, prints, and more, but another passion also keeps her busy: teaching elementary school art. "I started teaching art because it made sense to bring together my two passions," says Farmer. "In my classroom, I don't expect each and every student to grow up and decide to be an artist. Rather, I hope to facilitate a path of self-expression, critical thinking, and reflection."
Regardless of your path building your own business and juggling your everyday tasks, Farmer recommends embracing the challenges as they come. "Learn your own strengths and remain open to unexpected turns. Write down your ideas, even if they are fleeting, and revisit them," she notes. As long as you trust your vision, your finished products can come together beautifully, too. "I paint what I love, what I feel, and what I experience," Farmer says. "Toni Morrison spoke (much more eloquently) about fighting the white gaze and creating literature that she wanted to read. I take a similar approach in my work and try to create images where Black people can see themselves."
Meenal Patel, owner of Meenal Patel Studio, started her career working for a design and branding agency before launching her own children's books and designs. "During that time, I continued outside of work with my love of making art with clay and also wrote and illustrated a children's book," she says. "My time at that job taught me how to work with clients, develop my aesthetic, and push myself creatively." Patel built her passion for visual and written storytelling at a young age by studying graphic design in college—giving her the tools to further connect with others.
Now, with an array of products featured through her online shop like art prints, cards, books, and more, she still looks to connect with others—and her inspiration always hits close to home. She created her first children's book, Neela Goes to San Francisco ($16, etsy.com), when her niece visited her in San Francisco. Her niece's joy seeing a character like her gave Meenal the push to make representation commonplace in every piece she creates. "Neela's reaction made me think more about how powerful imagery is for kids and how important it is for them to see themselves reflected in the imagery and stories around them."
When creating a business, Patel recommends that entrepreneurs keep passion at the forefront. "Running my own business means wearing all the hats and it's easy to get mixed up in the day to day business-y things," she says. "I try to remember that I'm doing this to make art, so I need to make time for that." In all, the journey is always worthwhile, and from Patel's experience, taking the time to embrace the hiccups and push through no matter what makes a difference, too.
Rebekah Marshall of Bek's Stitches started her business out of the desire to take time for herself with a creative hobby. Not only did she find hand embroidery to be somewhat therapeutic, but it also gave her the freedom to create stunning designs she could share with the world. She got her start simply by watching online tutorials, and after mastering the technique, she started her own Instagram platform to share with family and friends.
But between balancing an office job and managing a full-course load of online classes, her hobby-turned-business came more unexpectedly than planned within the last couple of years. As her loved ones encouraged her to sell her pieces, her online presence continued to grow, allowing her passion to become a space for others to enjoy her work. "My mission is to continue creating and adding color into people's lives daily," says Marshall. "I love being able to post every day, answer messages, and interact with the people who are following along either to try embroidery themselves, or just because they enjoy the art!"
For those who are taking the steps to launch their own brands, Marshall recommends interacting with those who inspire you first. "If you look at the people around you, doing the same thing as you as a community, rather than your competition, it's fun and rewarding, she notes. "You meet people you can chat with and be inspired by, and you can be that source of encouragement." Her other tips to managing your platform? To post on your social accounts and engage with your community often. And while she is still taking her business in stride, the embroidery maven recommends others to remember the joy and purpose in why you started your business.