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Beyond the canvas


Hobby to business

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

There are so many success stories I have been reading lately where someone who was made redundant or went through a painful time losing a job and having no money, went on to discover that their hobby of making baskets or crafting was like sitting on a gold mine and now had a healthy turnover of 3 million pounds per year. Needless to say, everyone enjoys a good success story and as inspiring as it sounds, it is not without its share of hard work and disappointments along the way.

There is research done by Axa which showed that a majority of people who developed their business from a hobby in the past 3 years didn't earn enough to do it full time, then why is there the allure to turn a hobby into business. The joy of autonomy and the creating process aside, I want to talk about the mega pitfalls that no-one really tells you about when considering turning a hobby into a business. I certainly don't want to be sounding pessimistic but these are some of the things that I have encountered and learnt along the way and hope this might help some new buddying hobbyists considering turning their hobby into a business.

Most of you who already follow my blog might know that I have a full time job as a hospital doctor and another as a mum of two boys and didn't really need a third job. I started painting last year as a way to encourage my boys to do art at home during the lockdown period and it just ended up with the boys on their iPads playing games and me exploring ideas with the paintbrush. Before I knew it, it started with a set of watercolour pencils and then within months, I turned my loft into a studio with jars and jars of brushes, paints, mechanical pencils, burnishing tools and drawers full of all sorts of paper of different thickness and colours. I knew it became something serious when I would say up till 2am completing a piece of artwork, not because I had some deadline to meet but because it would take all my focus and there was a personal desire to see it completed. At this point, I was starting to get commissions and I was so flattered by it all that I said yes to almost everything. Therein was my first big mistake! For days, I stressed for hours and had sleepless nights over how to draw the subject matter and slowly the joy out of drawing started to dissipate. I also started to realise that after days of painting and the use of my materials, I didn't want to over charge for my work and ended up making the equivalent of a pound per hour and sometimes even ended up losing money over it, which was so disheartening.

I then had a light bulb moment, whilst speaking to another mum at the boys' cricket training I decided turning my designs into greeting cards. So, I got to work and started making the designs that I wanted to make without any pressure and the joy of painting suddenly came back. I was full of ideas and although couldn't get them down fast enough, I was enjoying the process again. The next problem was the selling and marketing bit which I knew nothing about. It was lockdown number two so crafts fairs and markets were being cancelled and there was no real method of showcasing my cards except online, so, I set up a website (gosh that's a blog in itself) and for almost two months, I made next to no sales. I started to doubt my work and had moments of quitting it altogether but I am obstinate and I absolutely dislike failing at something so I just kept going. I made posts of my designs on social media, created time lapse videos and painted new material almost daily for months. I even approached local art shops to stock my cards but sometimes the competition was so rife, that rejection was a bitter pill that I just had to learn to swallow.

It was however, just before Christmas that things began to slowly change for me and my Christmas wildlife card collection started to sell and I got some favourable testimonials from customers. I started doing commissions again but this time making sure I priced it all properly. It’s important to factor that not everyone’s budgets are the same and there are clients out there that are prepared to pay handsome amounts for your hard work and it was then that I knew I had to create a brand to sell.

The sales that I was making came mainly from word of mouth rather than from social media sites. I was fortunate that I had family, friends and colleagues who supported my little business. I have learnt that the traditional 'word of mouth' still remains the best method of attracting customers, despite the digital marketing age. I connected with so many artists through social media and their stories were very similar. Some even put their successes down to being somewhere at the right place and time after months or even years of grafting with little to no effect.

So the designs looked great and print ready but it never stopped there. With it came the added expense of designing logos for the brand, the packaging, the endless subscriptions and emails as well as hours of time invested in PR to boost the brand that became a real headache.

For those who have a business background, the transition would definitely be easier than it was for me. After discussion with many trained artists, I found out that the business aspects are virtually amiss during art school. At the end of the day, it’s a business and even if you are producing amazing pieces of design and artwork, it’s futile if you cannot make a profit.

The underlying theme of all the success stories in art, craft and design always however seemed to be perseverance. I have to admit that one year later and whilst I am still learning/battling with a plethora of social media marketing and business terminology to generate a steady and viable business from my hobby, I am sticking to the theme of perseverance and hopefully this will serve me well in a year or two and my brand will be one of these success stories that inspires others to turn their hobby into a business.

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