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When Your Hobby Becomes Your Business

When Your Hobby Becomes Your BusinessBy Elena Adams

I got into an argument with my husband right before Christmas. His friend had asked for a quote on a custom necklace and, as with all custom items, I priced it to match my other stock with consideration for the time and materials that go into it. My husband, thinking it was too high, haggled with me.

Aside from feeling a little offended that he wouldn’t think my work was worth the money, the basic argument came down to this: my husband expected that a job for a friend would fall under “mate’s rates”; that is, I would give a buddy a good deal. My main argument was that the majority of my business comes through referrals and if I’m giving them all great deals, I devalue my work, and I can’t cover the costs of business beyond the actual jewelry.

Convincing your friends and family that you’re running a real business and not just playing shop is a serious challenge for all small business owners. Anyone with a talent for computers finds themselves doing free tech support for everyone they know, photographers are expected to provide free family portraits for all their relatives’ holiday cards, and jewelers get trapped doing free repairs and underpriced designs. As a jewelry designer, it’s not uncommon for me to hear from friends, “I don’t mind paying for materials”.

My specific issue is this: when friends and family see you take a lifelong hobby and turn it into a viable business, it’s difficult for them to understand the value of your time. Whether they constantly ask for freebies and great discounts, or they show up for long lunches unannounced while you’re trying to work, there’s a simple lack of respect that seems to be a huge blind spot for most people. I’m probably just as guilty of similar offences, despite being so painfully aware of what most home-based business owners go through.

So how do you get around it?

Avoid doing favors and deals altogether, and sidestep creating false expectations.

Trust me, it starts out with simple things like switching ear wires and clasps, and suddenly you’re rewiring entire necklaces with no mention of payment. Having that conversation so far into the relationship is almost impossible, and if you don’t handle it with kid gloves, it can cause irreparable damage to a friendship.

If friends complain or try to haggle beyond what would be acceptable from a regular customer, stand your ground and politely explain that you simply can’t cover your business expenses like that. While I was so shocked that even my husband saw fit to haggle with me, it was an excellent opportunity to talk about our expectations for my business. Your friends most likely don’t realize the full extent of the time you put into your work, and have trouble seeing beyond doing it for the love of it, and doing it to make ends meet. While they might consider your time to be free, that’s time you could put into new making new designs, updating your bookkeeping, or promoting your business. Once you can make them realize the value of your time, they will see a greater value in your product.

On the other hand, don’t turn into a miser.

Your friends and family are the best free PR you have, so realize that they’re going to push the boundaries occasionally and don’t risk swerving into rude-shopkeeper territory. Be willing to discuss how your pricing works, consider working in trade, and don’t be cold when they’re disappointed that they can’t afford something. When it comes to holiday and birthday gifts, showing a little generosity can go a long way in making them feel like they’re not just another customer to you.

Elena Adams is a jewelry designer based in the Bay Area. With nearly a decade of experience, she offers a range of handmade, sterling silver jewelry at She is passionate about updating the look of classical chain maille for the refined woman, and teaches jewelry technique and photography classes around San Francisco.

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3 Responses to “When Your Hobby Becomes Your Business”

  1. 1
    Kari Day says:

    This is very good advice for all of us trying to be taken seriously in business. Too many times I’ve heard from friends or relatives “oh, so you think your going to make a living at this?” Like they are surprised that I would be taking my “hobby” so seriously. I ususally respond by “no, I don’t think I’m going to make a living, I AM making a living doing this.” They are usually surprised. But tend to take me more seriously after that. Thank you for the great post on a great subject.

  2. 2

    Really good read. I agree with you completely.

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