Woman holding paint brush and a pallet of acrylic paints of multiple colours
Careers

7 expert tips for turning your creative hobby into a career

Do you want to turn your passion project into a legit full-time job? Polly Vadasz, the founder of the stationery brand, Sighh Studio, has done just that. Here, she shares how she went about it and everything she’s learnt along the way.

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What did you do over lockdown? After making enough banana bread to feed a small elephant, binge-watching Tiger King and nurturing a sourdough starter, lots of us used the extra time at home to start a hobby. 

From baking and nail art to gardening and painting, lockdown gave people the time to really pursue their passions and a lot of people have realised the hobby they picked is something they’d like to do professionally, too. 

record number of start-ups began in 2020, with around 407,510 being formed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In the year where FOMO was non-existent, many people used the time they’d usually spend socialising to put their skills to good use and, as a result, now run their own small businesses doing what they love.

As we know, though, hobbies turned into careers is not unique to 2020 – the highs and lows of the side hustle have long been a part of our collective vocabulary – and it’s actually a process that may take longer than you think. Polly Vadasz, the founder of the stationery brand Sighh, can vouch for this. She started creating phone cases for fun while she was at college. Eight years later, Polly runs her own successful business, employing multiple people.

“I realised what I’d built wasn’t a hobby anymore, it could be a job,” Polly says of Sighh. Having successfully transformed her hobby into her career at such a young age, Polly has some invaluable guidance for people who are looking to do the same; from practical tips including how to register as self-employed and how to build your social following to how to navigate work-life balance when you start to make money from doing the thing you love.

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Figure out if you’re passionate enough about your hobby to make it your job 

Doing something you enjoy for three hours or so a week is one thing, but doing it for 40 hours per week is a whole new level of commitment. You have to decide whether you feel passionately enough about your hobby to commit yourself to it professionally. Polly struggled with this at first but someone asked her, “would you stay up all night drawing?” She realised that when she answered affirmatively, her passion was enough for her to turn her hobby into a business.

Polly also explains that she felt the most vocational towards drawing and designing, another important thing to consider. Sure, you might enjoy baking on the weekends – but does baking for strangers and planning the logistics of that appeal to you too, for example?

“The second I start washing dishes, my brain goes to [illustrating] - that’s what I find fun,” Polly says. Polly explains that she doesn’t see herself as an artist, rather, a designer who designs things for a purpose. This purpose and intention that came with her designs is what helped clarify Polly’s ability to monetise her hobby. “Don’t feel pressured into selling if you don’t want to, if it takes away from the creativity,” she says. “But for me, I want to earn money in a way that I love and I love creating things.”

Be prepared to take on multiple different roles 

“Think about how many hats you wear as a small business owner,” says Polly. “It’s everything. It’s admin, accounting, marketing, photographer, designer, merchandising.”

Part of your job will actually be doing the hobby that you enjoy – in Polly’s case, designing collections – but running a small business requires you to take on a lot of roles that might appeal to you less, so it’s crucial to decide whether those elements are a) something you can handle and are able to do and b) something you are willing to do in order to make your hobby into your career.

Realise that your hobby won’t be something you do for fun anymore 

Although it’s amazing to do what you love, it can be difficult to strike a good work-life balance when your hobby becomes your career. Polly suggests setting boundaries so you’re not working on your passion outside of set hours and finding other hobbies that you can do in that time. “I started pottery, painting, cooking,” she says.

Put yourself into your product – that will be its unique selling point

“I can’t design things that I don’t like,” Polly says. “If I don’t like a product, I won’t market it properly.” Polly’s genuine passion for her products is what has made Sighh so successful and this has also allowed Polly to continue to find creativity and freedom in her job.

“Think about what [you] actually want to see in the world,” is Polly’s advice for creating products that you like but that will also appeal to other people. 

Register as self-employed as soon as possible

The threshold for which you have to pay tax as a self-employed person is £12,500 – this includes income from other jobs combined with what you make from your small business – but you still need to register as self-employed if you are making over £1000 per year.

“It will make you feel really established if you do it,” Polly says of registering to be self-employed. “Don’t feel worried about it. Thousands of people do it monthly.”

Polly does recommend getting an accountant as soon as possible, as they don’t cost much money for your business but make a huge difference in terms of effectively managing money and your stress levels.

Don’t overthink working with suppliers as a small business 

If you are creating a product that requires you to work with suppliers, like designing clothing, candles or, in Polly’s case, stationery, you may feel intimidated by having to buy the materials you need in bulk. But Polly explains that the process is simpler than you might think. “Finding suppliers is literally typing ‘custom space printing, ‘custom notebook printing’ into Google and then looking at all the websites.”

“Think about what you want to make,” is Polly’s advice when it comes to finding the right supplier. “Do you want a really shiny sticker? Do you want a notebook with lined pages? Do you want to design your own pages?” These kinds of details will help you narrow suppliers down.

Polly also advises considering which places offer the most affordable minimum orders, recommending AwesomeMerchandise as a good supplier for independent brands who are just starting out.

In terms of quality, Polly recommends investing in the best quality materials you can afford but adds that it’s totally fine to upgrade your products’ quality as your business grows. “I always try and get a sample before I place an order,” she says, explaining that lots can go wrong with physical products so it’s good to check that you actually like what you’re making before ordering it in bulk.

Polly started Sighh using a pre-order model, which she recommends, as it meant there was no upfront fee and she could also ensure she was ordering the correct amount of product from suppliers. Polly also stresses that your upfront costs don’t have to be high straight away in order to turn over a high profit, “[The first] upfront costs for my business were about £70 and within a year, I took £70 grand.”

Make your marketing personal 

Polly has two Instagram accounts: a personal page where she documents her daily life and an account for Sighh that is limited, for the most part, to content about the business. She explains that her approach to marketing is very personal, “I have an idea about something I want to see and then I show everyone how excited I am about it.”

“I’ve always been the main influencer for my shop,” Polly says. “This is where personal, small businesses differ from large businesses.”

Big businesses want you to buy into the lifestyle of their brand, Polly explains but with small businesses, the consumer often buys into the person behind it. “I live my brand because my products are so me and that works,” she says.

Build a community of people on social media who love your brand  

“Encourage customers to take photos of their products and post them,” says Polly, explaining that you can do this by re-posting their photos on your business’ social media page and including a compliment slip with their order which encourages them to take a photo of their order and tag the brand on social media.

“I would do giveaways for the best customer photo of the week,” Polly says. “Just think about [giveaways] as investing - that’s your investment. […] Giving away free products doesn’t cost very much for the business.”

Practice caution when it comes to making your hobby your full-time job 

“A really normal path is to have a full-time job or a part-time job and then do this on the side,” Polly explains. “And then slowly, you need to take the risk of winding down those hours and focusing on your [small business].”

“But you shouldn’t take a risk unless you see it growing,” Polly continues, adding that, in order for you to leave your job or reduce your hours, you should get to a point where you think you can no longer manage both and then consider what your priorities are and, then, if you feel passionately enough about your business, take a risk on it.

Although Sighh is Polly’s full time job now, she spent a long time working part-time and also had the safety net of university early on in her small business journey. Taking small risks has got her where she is now but so has carefully saving and ensuring she has safety nets to fall back on and both are equally important for establishing your small business.

Want to learn more about transforming your hobby into your career? Find Polly on social media to follow experience of being a young business owner and you can also head to Stylist.co.uk’s dedicated careers section for more advice and tips.

  • Polly Vadasz, founder of Sighh

    Polly Vadasz headshot in orange t shirt and midi skirt

    Polly Vadasz is an illustrator and the founder of the stationery brand, Sighh, based in Manchester, UK. Sighh sells products including greeting cards, desk pads and mirror decals and the shop has a dedicated community of fans on Instagram.

Lead image: Getty

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