If you’ve ever considered, then rejected the possibility that you can turn a hobby—an activity that by definition is performed for pleasure—into a moneymaking business, perhaps you should re-consider that position now. Many people have successfully boosted their earnings by “going public” with a hobby, and there’s a good chance you can, too!
Take, for example, the case of Trevor MacDermid, owner of Underground Signs.
Subway sign creation: From a hobby and into a business
MacDermid’s innate appreciation for good design standards and what it takes to implement those across hundreds and hundreds of New York subway stations led him to begin making subway signs as a hobby. “I loved the idea of fabrication, of making things by hand and having a product of my own,” MacDermid says.
MacDermid, who had spent much of his work time in front of a computer, found working with his hands a joy. He loved getting into the vinyl and the paints, trying to figure out whether he could substitute galvanized steel for aluminum, going out and meeting with different fabricators who had different approaches both energizing and fun.
The financial markets’ drop at the end of 2009 gave MacDermid the impetus to transform his hobby into a business. A computer consultant and Web content strategist, he found himself with fewer clients requesting his services. “Fewer people were building ambitious websites and needing content,” he says. “When budgets get cut, it’s among the first things to go.”
Starting a sign painting business: Trial by Fire
MacDermid describes his initial foray into serious sign production as a trial by fire. “I had to do something to keep busy, so I made signs and hoped to make a few bucks as well,” he says. His sign business prospered, and when the markets began to improve, MacDermid found himself with two jobs instead of one. “It became a matter of hiring more hands to build signs and doing a better job of managing,” he says.
His sign business suffered a setback of sorts after a Brooklyn newspaper ran an article about it that alerted New York authorities what MacDermid was doing. He hadn’t gotten permission from the city to reproduce the signs, which are copyrighted material. “When I first got started, the signs were just a little side project,,” he says. “I thought it would be somewhat under the radar.”
Instead, he landed smack on the city’s radar screen and got a notice of copyrighted infringement two days after the article ran.
MacDermid decided to play nice rather than trying to fight city hall. He managed to convince authorities he intended no harm, and succeeded in obtaining a licensing agreement that allows New York city to share in profits from sales of his subway signs. “It‘s just giving a royalty and credit to the owner of the brand,” he says. “I just got the New York licensing agreement by begging forgiveness instead of asking for permission.”
The experience served MacDermid well: When his sign company later obtained licensing agreements with city authorities in Boston and Chicago before ramping up production, things went much more smoothly. Now he owns an entire family of licensed sign products.
The transformation from a tenuous startup into a thriving business
When he began, MacDermid had to use most of his earnings from sign sales to buy more sign-building material. “For so much of the time, it was just reinvesting and reinvesting,” he says. “But the bigger things got, the more economies of scale appeared.”
However, MacDermid has found that his sign business is somewhat cyclical. A year ago this summer, sales dropped before picking up again in the fall and holiday season. “There’s that whole back-to-school thing, people start nesting again and often redecorate, and then we’ll have a great push around the holidays. But, as time goes by and the business gets bigger, the troughs are not as low, and that’s rewarding.”
Building a business from a hobby is also a matter of building a brand and a reputation, MacDermid observes, adding that a number of his customers have come to him through referrals from other customers. “Maybe they saw one of my signs at a friend’s house, or in the lobby of a store,” he says. “It’s really very cool.”
Turning a hobby into a non-profit venture
Lawyer by day and hilarious improv philanthropist by night, Jonathan Goldberg is an attorney and partner at the NYC law firm, SNR Denton. Looking for a break from his serious day-job, Jonathan tapped into his lighter side eight years ago when he began taking improv comedy classes. Quickly realizing laughter really is the best medicine, he co-founded the non-profit organization known as Cherub Improv four years later.
The group brings comedy to hospitals, homeless shelters, retirement homes, and hospice facilities, and other places where residents usually don’t have the opportunity to attend off-site performances to smile, laugh and take a break from the challenges they have to confront daily.
And while Goldberg may be an actor by nature, it is the impact his work has on these audiences that truly drives him. Cherub Improv has conducted workshops and put on performances in the Hamptons, NYC and throughout the tri-state area.
How to earn extra money from your hobby
Those of you who may have something made as a hobby that you’d like to start selling should check out Fiverr.com, a global marketplace where people can buy and sell goods and services starting at just $5. Fiverr lets people turn their hobby into a paying gig – and more than 14% of users are using Fiverr as a primary source of income. Featuring anything from SEO enhancement to singing banana videos, Fiverr users are in 200+ countries and list nearly 1 million gigs on the site.
Finally, the recently-launched Quickable app is offering a new, better way for people to sell and buy items using their mobile devices—across multiple marketplaces, classifieds and social networks—all in one place.
If you sell your “hobby” products online and want to be mobile while managing your new business, the Quickable app for Android phones can connect you to potential buyers through a variety of platforms, including eBay, Craigslist, Facebook, as well as the Quickable Mobile Marketplace. The Quickable app currently is available for Android phones through Google Play; the iPhone version is planned for later this year.
Written by: Julie Crawshaw