With the unemployment rate careening toward 9% and companies doling out forced furloughs and pay cuts, the search is on for alternative sources of revenue.
The good news is that you don’t need to look beyond your own workbench, sewing kit or crafts closet to find it. More and more people are finding that with a bit of cultivation, a favorite hobby can provide a steady stream of income
Etsy.com, an online marketplace for handmade goods, is a testament to the trend. It took the company two and a half years of hard work to finally hit one million users by January of 2008, but only nine moths later, that number had already doubled. And in each month since, Etsy had added over a hundred thousand new buyers and sellers to its community.
Adam Brown, a spokesman for Etsy.com, says these days consumers are more inclined to buy homemade items.
“Lately, people are more aware of the social and environmental costs of things that they buy,” Brown says. “Handmade objects also have an intangible value…The person and story behind the item. I like to use this story: ‘If your house was on fire, are you going to run in and rescue your stereo, or the dress that your mother made for you?’ ”
MainStreet spoke to four people who have capitalized on this trend, successfully turning their hobbies into earnings:
Jessi Walter has always loved baking. When she lost her job as a vice president of credit strategy at Bear Stearns, she didn’t despair. Inspired by kitchen lessons she had given her boyfriend’s young nieces, Walter started Cupcake Kids, a small business that provides children's cooking classes (and not just on cupcakes). Now, Walter's classes regularly sell out and she is looking into opening a second location.
MainStreet: What is the most challenging aspect of running your own business?
Walter: Being in charge of everything! If you don't do it, no one else will. It's exciting to have so much control and involvement in what you are creating but it's also a constant challenge to keep up with my ideas and vision for Cupcake Kids.
What is most rewarding?
It's amazing to see the company grow. I love looking at how we're expanding each month and how we're improving in every area of the business. It's also wonderful to work on generating new lines of business.
What have you learned?
The biggest insight is that it's hard. I'm so glad that I made the decision to pursue Cupcake Kids, but it's been a lot of work. Many more hours than Wall Street. My head brews with ideas from morning to night!
What tips would you give people looking to turn a hobby into a business?
Love what you are going to do. You have to embrace the whole process (not one specific element of your business). If I only liked teaching kids to cook, I wouldn't be very happy right now. I enjoy the marketing and the business planning, etc. You have to be in it for the whole package. You also need to be realistic about your goals and whether or not they are attainable. Budgets are very hard to do but they really help!