How to profit from your hobbies, interests

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Elliot Raphaelson

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could spend your time on your favorite hobbies or interests and actually make money doing it?

Plenty of people do, but how can you? The first step is to identify how your avocation, and the skill and expertise you bring to it, matches an opportunity in the marketplace.

About 20 years ago, a close friend of mine needed a way to generate more income for her family. She had always been interested in the food business — desserts in particular. She started out by distributing baked goods prepared by another acquaintance, but then took on the baking herself, in her garage.

A key to her early success was research: She talked to local stores, restaurants and hotels to find out what types of desserts were popular and to determine the latest trends.

As her business grew, and as she expanded her product line, she understood that her success depended on keeping on top of national trends. She started attending national shows in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles that emphasized the latest trends in high-end desserts.

So, for example, she recognized early the latest trends in large cakes and was able to provide them to her customers first.

Her ability to recognize opportunity has served my friend well, as she now has more than 40 full-time employees and a thriving Internet business (www.anniepiesbakery.com).

Her products, a full line of cakes and pies, are so popular that they are featured in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog.

Get discounts for your know-how

Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to develop a full-time business out of your hobbies, you can still take advantage of existing opportunities if you use your creativity.

Several years ago, my wife and I took a Caribbean cruise. The trip was very enjoyable. It was not cheap, however, costing close to $3,000.

I noticed that there were many activities on board led by individuals who were not full-time ship employees. I talked with several of them and discovered that many of them received either free passage or discounts for their participation.

Contract bridge happens to be one of my favorite hobbies, and it’s a popular activity on most large cruise ships. Many cruises feature bridge lessons and tournaments.

Knowing we would eventually move to Florida, where a number of cruise ships originate, I became a certified bridge director so I could direct games and conduct lectures on board. I became a bridge director on a Norwegian Line cruise to the Caribbean, and the cruise cost less than $500 for both my wife and me.

Score some assistance

If you choose to make a business out of your hobby or interest, identifying opportunity is only the first step. Making your business viable, avoiding fatal mistakes and helping it thrive are challenges you’ll face.

A great resource for any budding entrepreneur is SCORE, a nationwide organization of experienced business professionals, mostly retired, who volunteer their time to assist owners of small businesses and those who would like to start one.

SCORE has 364 chapters throughout the United States and 13,000 volunteers. I have volunteered for SCORE for 10 years.

SCORE provides two basic services: comprehensive seminars at nominal cost, generally $50, for two members of a business, and one-hour counseling sessions at no cost.

The basic seminar covers issues such as forms of organization, financing a business, basic marketing and seeking professional services.

Other seminars go into more depth about building a business plan, finances and marketing. Visit www.SCORE.org for more information.

Have a story about how you turned your hobby into a business? Feel free to share it with me at the address below.

Elliot Raphaelson welcomes your questions and comments at elliotraph@gmail.com.
© 2011 Elliot Raphaelson. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.