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 Money spinning hobbies

How to make money from your hobbies


I feel lucky to be earning a living doing something I love


We meet some older workers who have turned their hobbies into a valuable source of income, from gardening and sewing to flying microlight aeroplanes.

Joan Mulvenna spent 25 years working as a maths teacher at a busy secondary school in Greater Manchester. But her real passion was gardening, which helped her relax and unwind after a busy week in the classroom.

She was forced to retire from teaching in 2006 after being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Once she had recovered from the illness, Joan seized the opportunity to set up her own garden design company.

The business, called Garden Design Manchester, is doing better than she ever expected. This year the green-fingered 55-year-old won a gold medal at the Royal Horticultural Show in Tatton Park for her show garden “See the Wind”. Joan has gained over 60 clients in the past 5 years, including the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. For her complete garden design service, Joan charges upwards of £500.

"I’m really busy at the moment and I’m thinking about how to expand. Right now it’s just me – I hire a part-time gardener to help out but I’d love to employ someone full time.”

The growing number of self-employed over 50s

Older people are working for longer and a growing number are choosing to set up their own business. Almost 2m workers over the age of 50 are self-employed, compared to 1.5m in 2009, according to the Office for National Statistics. Around 43% of all self-employed workers are now over the age of 50.

Two years ago Tracey Marshall was made redundant from her role as a customer services operator. She had spent more than two decades working in call centres for various companies.

The 52-year-old enjoyed sewing in her spare time and was passionate about arts and crafts. She would make children’s clothes, toys and accessories like play mats and tote bags for family and friends.

So with the support of her daughter and husband, Tracey decided to buy an embroidery machine and specialist software. After a year of preparation, she launched her business Thread Squirrel . The 52-year-old now sells embroidered cushions, bags, pillow cases and aprons around the world via online marketplaces Etsy and Not on the High Street.

"I had done a lot of sewing before but I had never used an embroidery machine. I spent a year learning how to use it and had lots of help from my daughter and husband.

“I feel incredibly lucky to be earning a living doing something I love. The business has been steadily growing and I’m now getting around 20 orders a week and should sell around 300 items over Christmas.”

Getting support to set up a small business

Both Tracey and Joan received support from The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise ( PRIME ), which offers advice and guidance about how to set up a business tailored to people over the age of 50 out of work or looking for new opportunities. The charity runs courses and workshops, as well as training and support for existing older sole traders.

Nicky Templeton, Prime’s director of partnerships, said: “There are a significant number of over 50s who have been pushed out of work through a combination of redundancy, ill-health and ‘forced’ retirement. This not only means that their personal circumstances are reduced, both health and financial, but is a missed opportunity for businesses and the economy.

“Enterprise presents an alternative route for over 50s to get back into employment and people like David, Joan and Tracey are great examples of how using an existing hobby could become a profitable venture. So if you want to try something new or are having troubles finding new work, then we can help you start a business through our online services, workshops and events and provide you with the enterprise skills that will help your business succeed."

Get help with your business plan and cashflow forecasting

David Buck, 60, set up a business offering microlight flying lessons and experiences after quitting his job as a fitness instructor due to a knee injury.

He had been flying the aeroplanes for 25 years and realised he could turn his life-long hobby into a lucrative source of income. He charges £89 for a 60-minute flight from his base at the Sheffield Aerodrome. Full details can be found on the microlight website .

David found Prime and began to work his way through the information packs on the charity’s website. David said: “The business plan and cash flow forecasting templates helped me feel confident in my first steps towards self-employment.”

Four years after he first set up the business, David’s venture has really taken off. He plans to employ someone to deal with the extra demand but hopes to carry on flying long into his retirement.

“I want to keep flying for another 5 or 6 years. After that I might have to step back and hire a flying instructor, but I’ll still run the company. I don’t want to stop doing what I’m doing.”

Find out more about the benefits of cashflow forecasting .

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