While most of us have a hobby, only a lucky few can say that they’ve turned their passion into a career. Johnny Wallbridge has been obsessed with surfing since he was 14, and is eight-time Guernsey Surf Champion – and it's there that he noticed a gap in the market: Guernsey had no dedicated surf shop.
Fast forward to 2016, and Johnny's the owner of leading surf store Yakwax, and today, he talks us through how you can turn your passion into a successful business, however old you are.
Become an expert
There are many ways that you can turn a hobby into a career, but before thinking about that, you should decide on what it is that you love doing. Try everything that you have an interest in, and don’t waste time on the things that you don’t. Young people should spend their time trying to experience and learn everything they can while their minds are still fresh and open to new things.
When you find the thing you’re passionate about, whether it’s an activity, a sport, or even a collection of items, become obsessed with it. Find out everything you can about it and become an expert. You should do some research into your sector of interest and find someone who works within it – if people are working within it, there’s obviously money to be made one way or another. Try to get experience at a business like this, or think of ways that you could possibly improve on their model.
Purchase a magazine or visit a website that covers your industry. If you find an article you like or found informative, make a note of the author and let them know your thoughts and feelings on what they said. If they are writing about a specialist industry, the likelihood is that they feel impassioned about it, just as you do, so they will appreciate your discussion on the topic (as long as you are polite!).
Learn from other experts
Find a business that already exists within your industry and do some research into its history. If there is no information out there (on its website, company listings, etc.) then feel free to ask someone from the company yourself.
All you have to do is drop them an email: the worst that can happen is that they don’t reply, leaving you no worse off than when you started. Try to find out how they started up, and think of ways you could improve upon their original strategy given the position they are now in as a business.
If your passion corresponds to something you could study at university, try emailing a course lecturer from one of the top universities in the country. Explain to them your situation, be honest, and ask if they could recommend any reading around the topic that could aid you in your journey.
Any educator that sees a young person taking an interest in their subject won't be able to resist helping. Remember, though, that knowledge is not power: application is power. Make sure you understand everything you read to the extent that you could teach someone else about it. This usually indicates that you can put it into practice yourself.
Learn relevant skills
If you are to eventually become self-employed, a good idea may be to start learning the skills needed to run your own business. If I could go back, I would have learnt about the accounting side of the business before taking the plunge into starting my own enterprise. There is also a lot to learn about marketing that you could get a head start on. Every business or venture needs to be marketed, and if you can save money by doing this yourself, you have an even greater advantage.
Learn how to send out both physical and digital promotional materials. Flyers and posters still work a treat, and there is a lot to be said for direct marketing, especially if you are immersed in a subculture that you aim to market your business at. Digital marketing tools such as press releases, mail shots, and social media banners can all be produced by first following a template and then crafting your own from there. You will find that the more information you put out there, the better you will get at producing it, as well as knowing who to send it to.
Start building contacts
I was active in the surf scene before I opened my own shop, and this benefited me greatly when I eventually did start my own business – I already had a network of contacts who would be interested in using and helping my business, so I didn’t have to build this network as such. If you are in a similar position and your passion has its own subculture, fantastic. If not, use this time to familiarise yourself with the influencers and heavy hitters within your field.
For the time being, focus on building a relationship with an industry influencer, rather than trying to get something out of them. Industry influencers are the type of people who dedicate their lives to their industry and are well respected because of this. They will typically have large followings on social media and any information they broadcast will have a massive reach. In an ideal world, you will use people like this to further your own cause. The problem is, everyone else is trying to do the same thing – don’t jump the gun and start asking for favours before they even know who you are!
Find a piece of their work and comment or ask them a question about it. The key thing is to communicate your passion for the sector, as they will no doubt have a passion for it as well. If you do manage to build a relationship this way, you can use that contact to further your own efforts once you have something set up. Showing your passion now will make the influencer actually want to help you with your request, as opposed to feeling hassled.
I suppose the key to turning your passion into a business is to become the best at it. Immerse yourself in that world, and make it so you never have an excuse to do anything other than that with your life.
If you've got big ideas and reading Johnny's advice has whetted your appetite for the world of business, find out how you can turn your passion into a career.