Could you turn your hobby into a business?

Angie and Stuart Harris with a working beer barrel cake, made for an 80th birthday celebration

Angie and Stuart Harris with a working beer barrel cake, made for an 80th birthday celebration - Credit: Archant

Two million British people started new businesses in the past three years - and many turn to their hobbies for inspiration.

Designs by Ipswich-based custom cake maker

Designs by Ipswich-based custom cake maker - Credit: Archant

More than two million people have started their own business over the past three years: the most rapid rise in self-employment ever seen in the UK. A new study from Ipswich-based business insurer AXA reveals that far from just gliding smoothly from in-house to freelance, most actually start a business in a field unrelated to their previous jobs, increasingly drawing on their hobbies for inspiration.

Relatively few people start a business based on their current occupation, according to AXA’s study.

For most, the story is far more complicated: 67% of startups under three years old said their new business is not directly related to their past jobs. Indeed, a good chunk – 47% – say their new business is in an entirely different field of work.

Appetite for radical change rises with age, and is particularly marked among those on the cusp of retirement (over 55s), where 88% of startups break into a new field of work.

The transition is least smooth for women, who are almost twice as likely as men to branch into something new when they start up.

This is perhaps related to the fact they are also twice as likely to start up after a career break/unemployment (32% of women versus 18% of men.

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This trend has been accompanied by a boom in hobby-based business over the past three years.

Forty per cent of 2016 startups said they developed their business out of a hobby, compared to just 17% of those who started up five years ago or more.

Ipswich mum Angie Harris turned her hobby, cake-making, into a new business Angie Scott Cakes - making bespoke themed and working cakes for customers, including a working beer barrel and model cars, with the help of husband Stuart.

Online retail is the fastest and most popular way to make money out of a lifelong passion, and is the route chosen by one in five hobbyist start-ups. Many of those surveyed had specialised in highly niche products: vinyl records, rare books, dog treats, collector’s stamps and vintage bags, to name but a few.

After retail, the most popular hobbyist business areas are: Arts and crafts, Writing (typically, commercial copywriting, blogging), Games development, and Photography and multimedia editing.

The hobbyist start-up making most money in AXA’s sample was a vintage car restorer, who reported take-home pay exceeding £4,000 per month after two and a half years in business. Others earning in excess of £3,500 per month included a wedding caterer, games developer, carpenter and greeting card retailer.

Despite these success stories, the study offered a note of caution to anyone thinking of ditching the day job.

Just four in ten of those who started their business from a hobby in the past three years have managed to make a full-time job out of it – most remain spare cash or part-time businesses.

The average income from a hobbyist startup is £762 per month, compared to £1,113 average across all other businesses started in the past three years.

Gareth Howell, managing director, AXA Insurance said: “British people are living through a time of great transformation in the way they live and work. The economic pressures that fuel the gig or freelance economy are well-documented, but our study highlights that there is a very real pursuit of happiness and liberty going on here too. People want to do something that gives them a sense of pride and craftsmanship, as well as to make money.”

“Many people can eventually earn very well out of a passion or hobby that has been developed to a high level of sophistication. But, as our research also highlights, making a living wage out of such a startup is often a long, hard road, and many remain ‘spare cash’ businesses around a part-time or full-time job.”

AXA’s Top Tips:

1 Find a mentor. Seek advice from someone already working in your chosen field (preferably outside your area who won’t view you as competition!). People with a passion for their craft or trade are often very happy to collaborate and cultivate newcomers.

2 Give yourself time to grow. It takes an average of six to nine months to turn a profit from a startup. Keeping a day job or having a part-time job too, where possible, is advisable in the early days.

3 Professionalise. Consider backing up a self-taught skill with a formal qualification from a registered educational body, and take advice from a relevant professional body on the regulations, tax implications and financial protections you may need.