A woman wearing an apron holds two spatulas covered in icing in a café

Turning a hobby into a business

Make a career out of your passion

Burgeoning baker or keen crafter? Find out how you could earn a living doing something you love, from the people who’ve already done it.

One in 6 small business owners started out by turning their hobby into an income, research has revealed 1. We meet 3 people who have done just that, transforming passions for baking, gardening, and even flying microlight aeroplanes, into booming businesses.

Rising to the challenge

‘Friday nights were always baking nights in my house. I grew up around my mum and granny baking and have loved it ever since.’

But it wasn’t until 2012 that Sarah Jameson thought about turning her much-loved hobby into something more. ‘I was sat in a café in Sheffield with my mum when I turned to her and said, ‘I’d love to do something like this.' 

And so she did. Sarah transformed a small greasy spoon into a café all about afternoon tea. 

It didn’t take long for Sarah to outgrow the small café, moving to a larger space, with 80 seats. 3 years on, cake is still at the very heart of all she does – with 22 different types being served each week. Her husband is now chief baker, while Sarah manages front of house. ‘We’ve tried to take it back to a 1940s style. I try to make sure we give each customer a real treasured moment.’

Sarah is now about to open her second tearoom, in Leeds. ‘I’d like to continue expanding but I always want it to remain a personal, family brand.’

From teacher to garden designer

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 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. Last year, Joan won a gold medal at the Royal Horticultural Show in Tatton Park. She has gained over 60 clients in the past 5 years.

‘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.’

Fit for take off

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

He’d been flying for 25 years and realised he could turn his lifelong hobby into a lucrative source of income. He charges £89 for a 60-minute flight from his base at the Sheffield Aerodrome. 4 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.’

Tempted to turn your hobby into an income? 

Here are Sarah Jameson’s 6 top tips to becoming an entrepreneur:

1. Recognise the importance of excellent customer service. We find that rewarding customer loyalty with personal added extras goes a long way, too

2. Build an online presence and use social media to spread the word and attract new customers. We now receive online orders for gift vouchers from all over the UK

3. Swot up on the business side of things. I went in blind and learnt on the job, but in hindsight, I wish I’d known more before I started. Look for beginners’ courses in your area or check out Barclays Business start-up hub for help getting your business off the ground

4. Recruit the right staff. It’s important to make sure they are people you can trust and have the same passion as you do

5. Always ask for advice and feedback – from friends, family and, most of all, your customers. They’re the ones you want coming back and enjoying what you’re doing

6. Take a step back and be sure about your commitment. If you’re 80% sure, then really you’re 100% sure – there’s always going to be an element of risk, so go for it


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