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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 07:19 GMT 08:19 UK
'I turned my hobby into a business'
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online business reporter

Many people dream of quitting the nine-to-five and turning their hobby or sideline into a business. BBC News Online spoke to two women who took the plunge.

Liz O'Hanlon always felt like a fish out of water at work.

She had a successful career as a recruitment consultant, but felt more at home helping out during weekends in her husband John's pub in London's Clerkenwell.

There are easier ways to make money
Liz O'Hanlon
When the opportunity came up to turn their brewing sideline into a full-scale business, she jumped at the chance.

Seven years later, after countless sleepless nights, rows with the bank manager and a relocation to Devon, she insists she has no regrets.

Although, ask her if she has any advice for people thinking of turning their hobby into a business, and she says "don't go into brewing".

And she is only half-joking.


Running a small business can be hard enough at the best of times.

But when you are dealing with a product or service you care about passionately, the problems can multiply.

It is difficult to retain the sense of detachment vital for sensible business decisions when all you can really focus on is the quality of the product.

It can also blind you to advice from professionals, especially when they tell you it will never work.

The plus side is that you will be likely to devote even more passion and commitment into making sure you get it right.

'Tough market'

Liz and John O'Hanlon first set up shop in a dingy lock-up beneath railway arches, with John doing the brewing and Liz doing the sales and marketing - despite having just given birth to her second child.

"I was doing sales from a back room in a pub, sitting between the fridge and the freezer, while feeding a baby!

"It was extremely tough. We were completely new.

"London was an enormously tough market place to crack for a small brewer."

But the biggest problem the couple faced, as with so many small businesses, was the attitude of the bank.

"It was very frustrating. They kept changing their structure so we kept being told the person we were dealing with did not have the authority to make a decision."

Export drive

Winning an award for their wheat beer in 1999 proved to be a turning point for the business, helping them to secure a contract with supermarket chain Safeway.

They decided to relocate to Devon, where they bought a brewery and house on the same plot of land.

But what really saved the O'Hanlons' business was Chancellor Gordon Brown's decision to cut tax on small brewers.

At a stroke, the couple were able to take on four extra staff and go for an export push, tapping into America's burgeoning taste for expensive export ales.

With the benefit of hindsight, Liz says the business should have been better capitalised from the beginning.

"Don't deal with the banks if you can help it," she advises, "they are bullies."


The firm has managed to find local backers, who are willing to support the O'Hanlons' vision.

"There are easier ways to make money because you are so heavily taxed and it is a very competitive market.

"But it can be huge fun and hugely satisfying. I don't think if I'd have stayed within my industry, I would be nearly as satisfied with my lot as I am now.

"We do feel like we have achieved something," she tells BBC News Online.


Get properly organised - especially if you have a family

"Also, you have to look at all aspects of the business.

"It's not just about having a quality product. You have to look at marketing, distribution and finance."

Necessity was the mother of invention for single mum-of-three Ann Herbert.

She decided to turn her hobby into a business after being made redundant from a well-paid job in marketing.

Anne Herbert
If I don't get it right there is a danger I won't survive
Ann Herbert
She has always loved painting and had recently bought a large format digital printer to help with her work, which she occasionally hired out to artist friends "for pin money".

News of Ann's service spread through word-of-mouth and the internet, eventually enabling her to turn it into a full-time business, Photoartistry Ltd.

Two years later, the experience has made Ann look at her passion for art in a new light.

"It is all the more important to me now that I am doing it full time.

"If I don't get it right there is a danger I won't survive."


She has to pay rent on a small business unit, and has two members of staff to pay each month.

But she adds: "I don't think it has taken the fun out of it. It is my brainchild, it's what I do.

"I have the freedom to determine the direction I want to go in.

"And it's nice to see when you make a strategic decision and it all works out how you planned.

"The scary thing is, I have to make a living out of it.

"You have to have a lot of drive and determination to make it work."

The next stage is to expand her customer base, increase the product portfolio and, she adds, "make a bit of money".


Seek independent advice

"It is easy to go to friends and ask them what they think, but they will often just tell you what you want to hear.

"Look for a mentor, someone who can give you objective advice about how to run a successful business.

"Talk to people who have already done it, if you can."

Have you turned your hobby into a business? Or are you thinking of setting up on your own? Here is a selection of your experiences.

During the internet boom I fell into web design through a family member wanting a website. From there I setup and ran a small web design company, along with hundreds of competitors doing the same thing at the time. I survived on a growing client base for around two years, before I started to do in-house freelance work for a couple of different companies. I threw my hat in with one of the companies working for them initially on a part-time basis and now full time (also a start-up internet firm) and have kept my consultancy going on a part-time basis. I am now a director of this new company and two years later am seeking to move on and go it alone again, primarily due to clash of personalities within the director structure. Beware! I have learnt that once you have a taste of the independence and exhilaration which running your own companies affords it is very difficult to subsequently kowtow to others with more shareholder power whom you do not agree/get on with.
Julian, UK

We have just started a recruitment company recruiting people from the UK to come and work in Dubai. Setting up the business is the easy part, it's the getting it off the ground that is hard especially as it's an international and also finding the right balance of capital needed - whether you through a lot of money at it and get it going quickly or build it up from nothing. My advice would be to never go into business with good friends or if you do, make sure everything is down on paper first. Still we have generated a lot of interest and our website www.budgerecruitment.com goes live in a few weeks.
Stuart Walsh, UK

I have loved playing video games since I was a kid and felt a little guilty that at 29, I was still paying a lot of money for video games and consoles. But, seeing how many other people of the same age also played video games I did some research into the size of the market, decided to find some extra money and in April this year launched my own business selling discount video games on the internet (www.thegamenetwork.co.uk)! This is run on a part-time/evening basis, whilst the 9-5 job continues to pay for all the essentials. With a baby on the way in December, the pressure is really on to ensure that the business is running smoothly and is at least paying for the small monthly expenses that the business incurs. I know only too well that I am only one miniscule part of a massive industry and know that I can't compete on the scale of the amazons out there, but the freedom to make decisions on my own, for my own benefit or detriment is one of the most exhilarating feelings I have known in my profession life! If you love it, live it!
Paul Fabretti, England

After 18 months of running a small catering enterprise from home I gave up my job and went full time in September. I went out of business in June this year. I was underfunded when there was a big drop in demand for my products and services and I couldn't meet the overheads on my premises. My advice to anyone thinking about going alone would be do take as much advice as possible from professionals, do not rely on banks, have a large cushion of money to support you when times are tough, do your market research and stay up to date and be prepared to change direction if the market changes. All in all I lost about 35,000! Such is life. I'm still self-employed and at least I'm not in debt and things are looking up again now that the millstone of my former business is no longer around my neck.
Debbi Figueiredo, UK

I have recently launched a website which aims to reunite old travel and holiday friends around the world. Twenty five per cent of any money made on advertising is to be given to world development and animal charities. The inspiration behind the site is from my couple of years spent travelling around South America, India and Israel. I met lots of fantastic people on my travels and often wonder how and where they are. I have worked as a web designer for a few years now, and decided on a site that not only reunited holiday and travel friends, but also operated a 'Give Something Back ' policy. It is not only the adventures you remember, but also those who live there, who aren't so lucky to be able to travel around, but who are merely struggling to survive from one day to the next. Developing the website itself has been brain bashing stuff, although I have been working as a web designer, the programming side had always been 'over-the-head' stuff, and left to the programmers. Not for this site unfortunately - so after a bucket load of weekends and evenings playing the 'nerd', I have finally sussed out how to get the front end of the site to interact with the backend - so to speak. I have had a lot of help from lots of 'invisible friends' on numerous web development forums. It's fantastic - running the risk of furthering my image as a Geek Nerd - I have to say - "I love the Internet!" I'd be here on the little old Isle of Man, tearing my hair out for hours over a bit of coding, I'll write my dilemma up onto a programming forum, and within no time at all, some fella in California, I have never met, will write back with an in depth solution. Smashing! The site has been 'live' now for a few months, it's growing slowly but surely. Oh and the site's address: www.earthreunion.com
Anne Marie Curtis, Isle of Man

I have recently started my own Pet sitting business, having been an underwriter in the finance industry for a number of years. I was sick of commuting on the M25 and the general gossiping of office life. I am a single parent and own two dogs, so it seemed a logical step to incorporate the dogs into a new venture. I offer dog boarding and walking and pet visiting, including cats and small animals. Since I am a single parent I cannot, as yet, offer house sitting - but once my son has flown the nest I shall probably add that to my list of services. I joined the National Association of Registered Pet sitters and obtained liability insurance and produced my own business cards and flyers. I put the cards in pet shops and vets and also made sure I had plenty of cards to hand out on my dog walks. I have recently placed an ad in Yellow Pages and have also designed my own website, with the help of a hosting site (www.woof-petsitters.co.uk). Business is steadily increasing and over the school holidays I was fully booked on the dog boarding side. I walk up to 8 dogs per day (not altogether!) and hopefully this will also help to keep me fit! I have several repeat customers already, which is an excellent sign. The dogs themselves are my best recommendation - they run up my path to see me & go mad if I meet them in the local parks! During the hot weather last month, I was walking at 7.30am and 8.30pm, which made for a very long day! I have made some mistakes along the way, but the only major error so far was letting my son name the business. He decided that Woof! was a good name & I agreed, but it is too much a 'doggy' name and people are unaware that I can visit other animals. I go to bed at night happy and tired. Previously I was stressed and irritable the whole time. I don't regret my decision one bit!
Ann Cooper, England

I'm planning at the moment to leave the nine-to-five in the City. Mixing a combination of freelance IT work over the net and by going back to college to learn massage which is some thing I've always wanted to do. I've just resigned and started college last Monday. Building up a client list and getting used to not commuting!
Jerry, London, UK

I used to enjoy helping people by listening to their problems and offering advice and wisdom. At the time I was working in the computer industry. Since then I have trained to become a psychotherapist specialising in the use of clinical hypnosis. I supervise and train other therapists. It hasn't been easy but it has been tremendously worthwhile. I wouldn't want to do anything else. If there is something out that you want to do then test the water, take a small affordable risk and see what happens- you never know until you give it a go.
Peter Adamson, uk

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