Mistakes Made In Finding Products To Sell: How My Wife Lost Her Favorite Hobby

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One of the pieces of entrepreneurial advice that I hear the most often is to start a business based on something you are passionate about. Pick a niche based on something you enjoy doing and turn it into a business.

Whenever I hear this advice, I start to roll my eyes because it’s not that simple. Sure, passion is important, but passion comes with the territory once you starting kicking butt. Passion comes naturally once you start seeing some traction and progress.

The problem with picking a business idea based on what you enjoy doing during your leisure time is that you may not enjoy doing it anymore once you start charging for it.

Something fundamentally changes when you get paid and you have to cater to customers. All of a sudden, you are not acting on your own terms anymore.

You must listen to what your customer has to say. You must change the way you do things based on what your customers want and are willing to pay for.

Separating Business From Pleasure

The main problem associated with starting a business based on what you enjoy doing is that you have to abstract out the fun part with what actually makes money.

And more often than not, the two don’t fully coincide. Sure, you can run your business based on just the fun parts but more than half of the time, the fun part has this way of interfering with profits.

And if you have personal biases towards the way your business should be run with respect to your hobby, it makes it that much more difficult to achieve profitability. Even worse, if you go too far just for the money, your business could turn into just another job.

A Personal Story

My wife and I started the personalized linens portion of our online store because my wife was passionate about embroidery. We owned an embroidery machine (a birthday gift from me to her) and she loved stitching our initials on practically everything we owned, towels, pillowcases, bibs…you name it.

Some of her embroidery designs were extremely intricate as they used many different thread colors and fancy stitching patterns. And because of this, producing a single personalized item would often take over an hour.

But the end result was always beautiful so we thought it would be a good idea to sell some of these designs embroidered on our own products. After all, people would definitely pay extra to have their products personalized.

What ended up happening was a complete disaster. Once we started offering personalization and custom embroidery, customers wanted designs that were all over the place.

Some customers had really tacky taste and wanted my wife to create some truly heinous designs and some customers were extremely anal and picky.

Most orders required several iterations of back and forth correspondence and all of this customer interaction took a toll on my wife’s psyche. What was once fun for her became a chore. She wasn’t creating designs for herself anymore.

Instead, she was catering to customers for a couple of extra bucks. While she did get pleasant customers every now and then, during this short period my wife was constantly complaining about the picky and unreasonable demands her customers were making.

What was worse was that nobody could help her out in this department because she had all of the expertise. Her skill set was not easily transferable in a short period of time.

And because her time was so valuable, the money wasn’t worth it and there was no way the business could grow in this way.

Ultimately, we decided to cut out as much customer interaction as possible and started offering canned embroidery designs that customers could configure themselves online on our website.

While this wasn’t as fun for my wife and didn’t take advantage of her creative skills, it was a heck of a lot easier and far more scalable as a business. Essentially, we were offering a dumbed down version of her hobby, a compromise in order to cater to the masses.

Unfortunately however, we made these changes too late and my wife had already become jaded with her once relaxing hobby. Today, she doesn’t deal with our personalized linen offerings at all and we now contract out our large orders to local embroiderists or have someone else fulfill the orders.

Don’t Make A Business Out Of Something You Do For Fun

I’m sure you can probably come up with many examples of entrepreneurs who make money doing things they enjoy, but keep in mind that there are many tradeoffs involved as soon as you start accepting your first dollar.

Because customers are paying for something, they will feel entitled to give you their opinion. And acting on their feedback may lead to greater profits for your business at the expense of your free will.

Everyone needs a hobby and a relaxing activity to unwind. Do you really want to sacrifice your enjoyment by turning it into business? If so, be prepared to make some concessions because your hobby may not scale with your business.

A better way to approach finding a good niche for your business is to research what is profitable, easy to sell and go on from there.

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20 thoughts on “Mistakes Made In Finding Products To Sell: How My Wife Lost Her Favorite Hobby”

  1. “The problem with picking a business idea based on what you enjoy doing during your leisure time is that you may not enjoy doing it anymore once you start charging for it.”

    This is so very true. Unless you maintain a hobby mentality to it, you will no longer enjoy it as a hobby. There is nothing wrong with that, by the way. A hobby that earns a small amount of income is better than a hobby that costs a few thousand a year. Yous till get all the fun, but you also get some revenue.

    However, that is not a business, that is not an income, and for most hobbies you would need to do some pretty non-hobby things to make them replace a full-time income.

    1. @David
      The other tendency with hobbies is that proper documentation is not usually kept so the numbers are often wrong or not kept at all. Business is about catering to the masses which tends to have an adverse effect on the fun of the hobby

  2. Hi Steve,

    Good stuff as always – and quite the reality check. When I first started getting the idea to work for myself, I was also adamant on finding my “passion.” But as I learned, once I realized how much work it would take to turn my “passion” into a business, that “passion” mysteriously fizzled out with the quickness. I’m learning, reluctantly, that a passion doesn’t just fall on your lap but is built after hours of dedication and focus. Passion also doesn’t always mean what we think it means or want it to mean.

    It is a hard pill to swallow for me, because I wanted everything to come easy – as it theoretically should with a passion. I feel you because, my reader is filled with posts that say you should follow your passion and now my eyes just glaze over when I see them. I’m going to need to do a clean out of my reader, that’s for sure.

    Instead now, I am just trying to focus on a mixture of what I am GOOD at doing and what I am moderately interested in. That way, I can focus more on what is effective instead of letting my feelings and moods cloud over. I am also not losing myself in the process if my client doesn’t agree with me. I have to remind myself to focus on what matters every day because if I don’t… well, you know.

    Thanks Steve! Good to see you and your growing family are doing well. :)

    1. @Valerie
      I’m a big believer that you can be passionate about anything. Once you get good at something or see a little bit of success, the passion will come. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. This makes a lot of sense. I used to love to draw until I got into my college level drawing class and had to churn out multiple drawings every week. It took the love away for me.

    1. @Carmen
      It’s funny. Once you are forced to do something on a schedule, the fun goes away

      @Tyler
      That’s true. If there’s anything that requires passion, it’s customer service. Word of mouth is more important than ever now.

  4. The other problem with focusing on your passion is that it takes away the emphasis of the business from where it belongs, satisfying the customer’s wants and needs. We need to develop the passion for customer service, because that’s what we’re paid for.

  5. I figured that if I’m going to create a business, I should at least enjoy it, because what’s really the point? How can I work a business for an ungodly number of hours a day/week if I’m not even passionate about it?

    Thanks for putting things in prospective. After almost two years in business, I know exactly what you’re talking about now! 😀

    1. @Carla
      Well your cause is a good one. If everyone did their part for the environment, then we’d probably live in a better place or at least a less wasteful one.

      @Jeremy
      Most entrepreneurship blogs emphasize passion but as you’ve said, planning and profitability is more important. Passion comes with success.

  6. Hi Steve,

    I am so glad to have the opportunity to read your honest writing. So many people out there are trying to sell the idea (and their products such as books, cd’s, etc.) that you too can follow your passion like they do. But I’ll tell you what their passion is…. Making money off people trying to follow their dreams.

    If you have read the millionaire next door they do note in that book that millionaires often do extensive research on the most profitable businesses to start and then just follow through with a detailed plan. Maybe we all could do the same…

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

  7. Hobbies are not passions! What you are passionate about HAS to be something scalable business-wise. For everyone I have read about that made a gagillion bucks because they loved crafting, I have met a small business owner who did have a passion for something practical like sales, marketing, accounting, real estate or other commercial pursuits. Mostly they just needed to niche down their occupation so that it dealt with only the bits they liked and then refer or hire out the parts they don’t like. THEN they could focus on growing their business!!!

  8. Hi Steve, there have been a lot of experiments that show people will do something for fun and then as soon as you pay them for it they see it as a grind.

    1. @Stephen
      Well my wife and I can certainly attest that these experiments are indeed valid:)

  9. Steve, I can so relate to this, I was doing my hobby photography and I started having people want to pay me for photoshoots. the money was good and I liked it for a little while. But then people wanted to do shoots tat were uninspiring to me, or things that I would NEVER put my name on. The next thing I realize I’m running a photography business and I’m doing all the jobs of the designer, the project manager and the photographer as well, and it wasn’t much fun anymore.

    We just had our second daughter and while she’s the apple of my eye, I sometimes find it hard to take out my camera because I’m so burned out on it.

    It wrecked my hobby for me, so now when people want to give me money for my work I say no thanks I already have a day job. No if I want to make money from my photography I sell eBook or I sell prints and posters.

    That and I’m just to into what I want to shoot these days instead of stuff other people want

  10. Great point. Reminds me of the point that Micheal Gerber made in his popular book “The E-Myth”

  11. Scott says:

    Great article. I’ve been arguing this point for a long time now. I was an airline pilot that saw countless other pilots depressed and burned out because they followed the career advice of “do what you enjoy and you’ll never work a day in your life.” While most of us enjoyed sunny days and getting to hand fly they plane into La Guardia. Bad weather, mechanical problems, days away from family and low pay overtook the enjoyment many of us once obtained from flying.

    What’s more, is that the large number of people vying for a few positions drastically lowered the value of our skills and training. Something I think will be realized by anyone pursuing a hobby career.

    I’m a stay at home dad now enjoying my children. I occasionally miss the cockpit and pride I obtained from being a Captain, but I don’t miss much else. Family over rules everything. Now I just need to find a profitable niche to exploit. Thanks for all the great information on your site.

  12. Sophie says:

    You have a great point, and I enjoyed reading the comments as well. I am looking to open an online business sooner than later, just started to do some basic research into entrepreneurship. Thanks for the information!

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