How to turn your hobby into a business

Joanne Hawker tells us how she started a small business off the back of her favourite pastime—designing!

In 2010 I left the comfort of University armed with a First Class Honours Degree in Graphic Communication and my portfolio, ready to dive into the world of graphic design. I applied for many jobs and had many interviews. However, I didn’t hear back from around 90% of my applications, which just goes to show that great grades don’t always get you a job straight away. In the end I got bored of the monotonous activity that became job hunting and just thought; ‘pffft, I’ll just do what I want instead, who needs a boss?’

I’d been working on a few freelance projects alongside my day job for some time but in the gaps between projects I found myself scribbling away on various ideas and ended up with quite a few designs that I didn’t really have a home for. This is how my first online shop was born.

Setting up an Etsy Shop was a breeze and the content management system is so quick and simple. I started off with a few prints of my illustrations but it was a really slow start and I almost gave up (thankfully I didn’t). When things don’t go your way perhaps the most destructive thing that you can do is to compare yourself to someone else or another business. People only show you what they want you to see. You don’t get to see the blood sweat and tears that went into their success. So stand up, brush yourself off and just think about what you can do better.

It wasn’t until I decided to apply to sell with that I realised the importance of decent, well-lit photography. You have a very small window of opportunity to grab the customer’s attention and first impressions really do count. You’ll be pushed to find someone who is attracted to badly lit, fuzzy and unthoughtful photos.

Getting the most out your descriptions is also massively important (another thing I learnt the hard way). Using keywords and making sure that everything has been SEO’ed to the best of your ability is really important because otherwise people may never find you and the products that you've worked so hard on. It makes sense really.

Even though Twitter and Facebook are not necessarily selling platforms with working checkouts they serve as a great place to build up a customer base. I started out with Twitter and found many opportunities in re-tweets or directly from people and hashtags that I was following. A great one to follow is #TALKT, which happens every Tuesday and is full of like-minded creatives showing you what they have been designing and making. All it takes is one person to re-tweet something that you have posted to gain a sale or a new fan of your work. However, you need to ensure that your feed is varied enough to retain viewer interest and isn't just a constant barrage of 'sale sale sale!'

Social media is also a great place to build up customer relationships so that you’re not just another faceless organisation. There are some really lovely people out there who are always willing to share their knowledge if you get really stuck with something. It’s a great little community to be a part of.

Setting up a business Facebook page was a little daunting at first because I was so worried that people wouldn’t like it or interact with it and that I’d just be talking to myself. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I made! It acts as a second shop and is a great place to engage with people, get opinions on what works and what doesn’t, share stories and again, build up relationships with the people who support you and your work. Flash sales, market nights and Facebook exclusive deals are a great way to bring in a few more sales when things get a little quiet.

I am by no means an expert on selling online. If anything, I started my business as something to do, a bit of pocket money and just because I love creating fun new things. Year on year my little business is slowly growing at a rate that I can manage by using all of the platforms mentioned and I am now on track to finally be thinking about quitting my day job. 

I'm not aiming to take over the world with my shop, I just want to offer people the chance to own something that I've lovingly crafted that might make them smile and brighten up their day a little.


Have you ever thought about turning your hobby into a business? Maybe you’ve already taken the plunge? Leave a comment below and get the dialogue going!


17 Jul 2014 15:26
Hi there my name is Kat! I saw your post on Facebook and had to come and check this out!

I run a website and Facebook page called House of Jack.

I specialise in Personalised Art Prints but also create Personalised Paper Bunting, Greetings Cards and personalised gadget cases too, I will also be branching out into edible cupcake toppers and invitations very soon.

I've worked within the graphic design industry for over 10 years now. I landed my first design job straight from college and I've never looked back.

I have finally taken the big leap into freelancing :-) which by the way I'm loving - it's great to be able to march to my own beat and I'm learning about myself as a designer and what it is that I like rather than what my client wants me to be - its so different than what in used to!

Anyway whilst I was on maternity leave I decided to set up my own business creating personalised art prints to get a little pocket money for when I move house and its suddenly really taken off and looks like I may be able to make it work as my own business - a dream come true!!

Well done for taking the plunge into doing something you love! And having the compassion and drive to turn you're hobby into work :-) it's great when a plan comes together isn't it!
Tracey witts
17 Jul 2014 16:08
What a lovely read, I have watched your business grow and it's very inspiring x
17 Jul 2014 20:53
I love reading stories like this, as I recently launched my own wedding stationery and paper goods business, Pear Paper Co.
It's inspiring to see others take the leap with an idea and succeed! Good luck with your business! x
David Brookes
17 Jul 2014 23:07
Its hard work but defo worth it
jill cham
18 Jul 2014 10:50
lovely post!
Sharon boyd
18 Jul 2014 16:41
Thanks for this, loved reading it. I was having a real down week, feeling like my stuff wasn't good enough and how my stuff is too different maybe, but reading this has made me think not to give up on what I love :) to turn my hobby into a business and to carry on and hopefully the hard work will pay off one day :) xx
Stuart Glegg
20 Jul 2014 10:57
Great work, brave step and glad it's working out for you.
Alex Wilkie
30 Jul 2014 12:04
it only makes sense to have your work be something you enjoy
Su Mwamba
08 Aug 2014 21:22
Lots of great, down to earth advice here - thanks!
Lauren Parker
13 Aug 2014 11:03
I love this post, I can definitely agree that there has been times when i've thought of giving up on my small business but I kept at it and i'm so glad I have. Thanks for this post, very inspiring for people who are thinking of giving up on turning something they love into a full time thing!
22 Sep 2014 11:11
Great read! Some really good tips and advice :-)
08 Dec 2014 16:21
oh if it was that easy... ;)
08 Feb 2017 09:03
i can relate to all of this, great blog
Bryony Bishop
11 May 2017 17:23
Great blog, some really great advice in here!

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