two florists using tablet
Three entrepreneurs explain how turning a hobby into a business means loving what you do for the rest of your life. — Getty Images/Pekic

You’ve probably heard the saying: “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Many entrepreneurs have followed that wisdom by creating businesses inspired by their favorite hobbies and interests.

According to a survey by Guidant Financial and LendingClub, 23% of small business owners said they went into business to pursue their own passion, and among owners of profitable businesses, 42% said they did so to find personal satisfaction in their work.

But just how do you turn a personal passion into a profitable business? To find out, CO— spoke to three entrepreneurs who started successful companies based on lifelong hobbies. Read on to hear their stories and best advice.

[Read our full story on healthy ways to manage the stress of being an entrepreneur]

Michael Sims, founder, Hook+Gaff Watch Company

Hobbies: Fishing and golf

Background: Raised on a 90-acre lake in South Carolina, Sims developed a love for fishing as a kid. “I learned to throw a baitcaster by seven years old, and by eight I was fishing nearly every afternoon,” he recalled. Sims also enjoyed golfing from a young age and earned a scholarship to play for Clemson University, where he helped the team win the National Championship during his senior year.

Sims’ active lifestyle revealed the need for a watch that was both elegant and comfortable enough for outdoor activities. “I kept running into the same problems—traditional crown placements on my watches were irritating the back of my left hand,” he said. “I also noticed the stainless-steel bracelets and casing of most watches became extremely hot in the summer.” Sims decided to create watches with special features better suited for outdoor enthusiasts, including a left side crown orientation for increased comfort and titanium casing, which is lightweight, anti-corrosive, and doesn’t get hot in the heat. His watches also have a classic aesthetic that make them nice enough for a night out.

Best Advice: “I truly believe that you have to bring something unique to the market,” said Sims. “If you are simply replicating what other businesses are already doing in an attempt to turn a passion into a business, I don’t think you’re going to be very successful.” Sims said that it’s a good idea to look for a problem that needs to be solved. “We identified what we determined to be a problem with a traditional product,” said Sims. “Watches are usually worn on the left hand and our left side crown orientation allows anglers, golfers, hunters, and outdoorsmen to enjoy life outside with no hindrance of a burdensome and painful traditional crown placement.”

I truly believe that you have to bring something unique to the market.

Michael Sims

Vincent Zurzolo, founder, Metropolis Collectibles, ComicConnect.com, Metropolis Gallery

Hobby: Comic book collecting

Background: “I loved comics since before I could even read,” Zurzolo said. “I remember looking at my big brothers’ collections and just being amazed and astonished by the colors, action and art. I started buying and selling when I was around 15 with a neighborhood friend.”

When Zurzolo graduated from college, he contemplated getting a marketing job, but was more excited by the prospect of buying and selling comics. He started small, selling comics on the streets of Manhattan and at conventions and through mail orders and private sales from his home office. “I steadily grew my business and moved up the ladder by continually bringing great books to the market,” he said. Today he runs three successful comic book businesses: Metropolis Collectibles, a vintage comic book dealership in Manhattan; ComicConnect.com, an online consignment and auction company; and Metropolis Gallery, an art gallery in Manhattan dedicated to comics and fantasy art.

Best Advice: “The most important thing to do in life is something that makes you happy,” he said. “Most people spend more time working than anything else except sleeping, so you might as well make it something you enjoy.”

Zurzolo said it’s also important to tune out negative comments that might come your way. “When I was in my twenties, I always got asked what my real job was and if I could really make a living doing this,” he said. “It put a chip on my shoulder, but I don’t get asked that question much anymore. There are so many ways to make money. I’ve seen people make a living selling all types of collectibles, from Pokémon cards to matchbox cars.”

Roxi Olivas, Lana Rae Handmade

Hobby: Sewing

Background: Olivas grew up learning to sew from her mother and grandma. “My first big project was when I was about nine and my mom helped me make a purse out of a pair of jeans,” she said. “There’s so much I love about sewing, like making something out of nothing.”

Olivas worked as a teacher after college, but when she lost her job due to budget cuts, she decided to focus on her true passion. “Around this time many of my friends and family members were asking me to sew items for them,” she recalled. “I got really into making bags and decided to open my own Etsy shop in 2011.” Since then, her business has grown into mostly leather bags and purses with fun textures, patterns, and fabrics thrown in. Today Olivas’ items can be purchased on her website and Etsy shop and in select boutiques in the United States, Kuwait and Panama.

Best advice: While turning a hobby into a business can be exciting, Olivas said that it isn’t all fun and games and you should be prepared for a lot of hard work. “You will be crunching numbers, handling spreadsheets, doing tons of PR and marketing, and dealing with customers, vendors and suppliers,” she said. “If you don’t put a lot of time and effort into the business side of things, you will most likely be creating tons of products that no one sees.”

[Read our full story on 3 big challenges every female entrepreneur should prepare for]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published February 03, 2020