Money & Career

How to turn your passions into a home business

By: Yuki Hayashi

Author: Canadian Living

Money & Career

How to turn your passions into a home business

By: Yuki Hayashi
Tired of the daily grind? Consider becoming your own boss. Increasing numbers of Canadians are self-employed: nearly 2.7 million in 2010, according to Statistics Canada, with women now making up 35 per cent of the self-employed.

Benefits of working for yourself include flexible hours, greater responsibility and the satisfaction of running your own business. If business takes off, you may earn more than you did at your last staff job. If not, saving on transportation, takeout meals and work wardrobe costs may still make it worthwhile.

Here's how to turn your passionate hobby or pastime into a home business.

1. Identify your niche
Your best chance of success is to start from something you love. Think about your hobbies: how can you make money from them? If bird watching's your passion, creating and selling custom birdseed blends or e-tailing bird feeders, bird whistles and birdhouses may be a logical business choice. (Writing a book about birds or becoming a birding guide may be equally fun, but less profitable.)

The more dedicated you are to a subject, the more prepared you'll be to tirelessly promote your company, keep up to date with industry news and put in the long hours required to grow a small business.

"When your passion is your work, it's hard to see it as work," says Claudia Hung, in her third year as owner of a wedding photography business in Toronto.

2. Research the industry

Get the lowdown on running a business in this industry. Conventional wisdom says to call up someone in the field and ask if you can pick their brain. Having been on the receiving end of this approach many times, I'd advise against it. People are busy, and expecting something for nothing is presumptuous and borderline rude.

Sign up for a course or workshop instead. By paying to learn travel writing, fashion marketing or sommelier training, you're supporting an expert – and gaining access to his or her expertise. Be a good student, and benefit from introductions to people in their Rolodex, too. Your first freelance assignment or product order may recoup the course fee!

3. Intern or apprentice
If you're interested in working in a creative field, augment your experience by assisting or interning with industry pros.

"I spent time assisting on photo shoots to get a glimpse of the day-to-day life of a photographer, from dealing with clients, organizing photo shoots, managing a set, building a portfolio and much more. I also interned at two major Canadian publications in the art and photo departments, which gave me insight into photography work from the inside out. Interning made me aware of the standards of the industry I wanted to work in," says Hung.

Search university, college and industry association websites for internship and apprenticeship opportunities.

Be prepared to "lose" money during this period, though; Most internships are unpaid or poorly paid.

Another "loss" that's actually an investment is networking, promoting your services, and building a portfolio through free work. Want to be a writer? You won't start by writing for magazines that pay $2,500 per feature story. Write for free for your community newspaper, small websites or for a charity's annual newsletter. A portfolio is the only way to build up to paying assignments. And the more you work, the more your fees will climb.

4. Start small and grow organically
Starting too big can sap your savings or credit. Opening your own dressmaking atelier? A dining room or spare bedroom can double as studio space until sales justify renting an actual studio.

Need a space to meet clients or investors? Many cities have office facilities you can book by the hour, complete with reception staff, board rooms, work stations and teleconference facilities.

5. Find good help

"There comes a point where outsourcing certain aspects of your business is key to freeing you up to do what you're passionate about. I'm passionate about taking great images, not accounting. Therefore, I leave all major accounting matters to an accountant who knows the ins and outs of that side of business," says Hung.

Outsourcing also frees up time for your loved ones (remember them?) "Instead of me spending hours getting frustrated and throwing my calculator out the window, my accountant handles my taxes while I spend time with family," says Hung.

6. Keep your eyes on the prize
Every small entrepreneur goes through crises of confidence where we wonder: "OMG what did I get myself into?!" This is normal. (Joining an industry association or unofficial club can provide you with a support network.)

But the rewards are enormous. Foremost, a job you love: "The worst thing about working for yourself is there's no nine to five and no Monday-to-Friday per se. For those who love what they do, it can easily lead to a very unhealthy work-life balance – in which there is none," says Hung.

Although this is a better alternative to dreading Mondays, it's important to know when to shut-off for the day. Turn your BlackBerry off at dinner: Work can wait until morning.
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Money & Career

How to turn your passions into a home business