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Full-Time Hobbies: How the Pandemic Turned Our Hobbies into Jobs

As the Great Resignation rumbles, wages continue to rise below inflation, and we’re ordered back to the office, it’s no wonder many of us are considering turning hobbies to part-time into full-time jobs.

The attraction of turning to self-employment is obvious.

You have the freedom to make your own hours, choose your own workspace, and get paid to do what you love.

But how do you go from a side hustle to your main gig?

Rob Ballentine, 54, lives in Hampshire with his wife and teenage daughter. He found drawing “incredibly curious, mysterious and stimulating” as a child and continued throughout his adult life.

When a friend was devastated by the death of his dog during the first lockdown, Rob drew the dog in pencil – and was stunned by his friend’s reaction.

“It was such a touching moment for my friend that he posted it on Facebook,” Rob told “I was overwhelmed by the amazing comments.”

This was the birthplace of Rob’s wife, who posted his art on a local Facebook group, and RobBallentineArt, a business offering beautiful pet portraits.

Rob made the leap from a job earning £80,000 a year to focus on painting, which he had always loved (Picture: Rob Ballentine)

For Rob, this was a radical departure from his work as a consultant trainer in the military, defence, government, healthcare and telecommunications industries.

When Covid-19 and lockdown hit, Rob had just quit his job, where he earned around £80,000 a year, to start his own training business – but soon found himself out of work.

Now in demand for drawings, he expects to double his former salary over the next two years, charging £450 for an A4 drawing and £750 for an A3 with more depth and detail.

one of rob ballentine's animal portraits

He has been encouraged by overwhelmingly positive feedback on his work (Photo: Rob Ballentine)

When asked how he handled the transition from employment to self-employment, Rob thinks that at the start of the pandemic there was so much uncertainty and fear about everyone’s fate that not doing something was scarier than doing it.

“It brought the face of death closer and closer and more unnerving, that ‘could be me,’ he tells us. ‘It brought back the ‘I’m not as invincible as I thought I was. “closer to home.

“When a person’s life is in view of their possible demise, everything else takes a back seat, including the fear of starting a new business, especially one where my skills were still in their infancy.”

The popularity of the portraits helped the decision.

Rob Ballentine holding a pet portrait of a gray horse

It was a scary decision, but the pandemic made it clear to Rob that he had to act (Picture: Rob Ballentine)

He adds: “Without these comments, the decision to go all out would have been much more risky and perhaps reckless.

“One must tread carefully and wisely through the snow covering the frozen pond, no matter how much the other side beckons.”

Kendall Platt, 35, from Reading, found her regular gardening sessions helped calm her overworked brain.

In December 2018, she led four crown-making workshops that incorporated techniques designed to aid relaxation, as a calming passion project alongside her primary work as a medical examiner.

She soon realized that her side hustle should be her main hustle, telling herself that she realized life was too short to stay in a job that made her “miserable”.

kendall platt gardening

Kendall discovered that gardening was good for her mental health (Picture: Kendall Platt)

In 2020, Kendall focused on her business, Adventures With Flowers, and in March 2022, she launched The Mindful Gardening Club; a gardening and floristry subscription which costs £19 a month and already has six members.

His new business is more than just a job change. Kendall credits freelancing with restoring her confidence.

Having endured bullying by a co-worker, maternity-related discrimination when she was pregnant with her daughter, and twice fired, Kendall’s self-esteem was at an all-time low. This was gradually restored as she slowed down and gave herself time to think.

She tells us: “Gardening for mindfulness had such a positive impact on how I felt about myself and my relationships with my loved ones, that I had an irresistible urge to bring it to more women in situations similar to mine.”

Kendall Platt takes care of the roses in her garden

Kendall’s self-esteem was at an all-time low after being made redundant – gardening gave her confidence (Picture: Kendall Platt)

Turning your hobby into your business can be a lucrative decision.

Sophie French was a project co-ordinator and PA on around £29,000 a year. While still living with her mother, she founded Anvil And Ivy in 2014, making handcrafted modern heirloom jewelry in the garden shed. Five years later, she moved to a high street outlet in Maldon. Now living the dream with her fiancé and dog on a houseboat in Essex, she hit her £100,000 sales target and doubled her income in the last year.

Sophie’s jewelry adventure began after an evening class in 2014. She loved craftsmanship so much that on the train home she was already ordering tools and materials to make more.

sophie french with her dog

Sophie fell in love with jewelry after just one evening class (Photo: Sophie French)

After a few years of making jewelry in all her spare time, she started gifting items to friends and family. From there, she gradually gained confidence and started selling her pieces, starting from just £500 she had set aside to buy silver.

After starting with smaller items costing upwards of £36, it has now expanded to making bespoke engagement rings and pieces, costing up to £2,800.

sophie french jewelry making

She has now doubled her income (Picture: Sophie French)

engagement rings made by sophie french

Sophie now makes stunning bespoke pieces (Photo: Karen Young)

It may sound dreamy. But beware, this type of switch requires a lot of work.

“Turning a hobby into a business is not a get-rich-quick scheme,” advises Lisa Johnson, who helps people make money online through their passions. “It takes time and consistency to show up and let people know you have something they want.”

For 20 years, Priya Velusami, 42, has worked in several different roles, including what she calls ‘the dream job’ of sourcing fabrics and textiles for John Lewis, earning up to £75,000 per year.

When her niece was born, she started making evening dresses from her mother’s sarees and soon began receiving compliments on her unique and comfortable designs.

Priya Velusami sewing at home

Priya started experimenting with making clothes for her niece, using her mother’s sarees (Picture: Prithi Brinkley)

little girl wearing a pri dress pri designs

People loved Priya’s designs, so she started selling them (Picture: Kiera Fyles)

Priya started listing styles on eBay for between £9 and £35, and soon after her Pri Pri brand was born – she now sells colorful upcycled accessories and children’s clothing using pre-loved vintage sarees.

On course to generate over £30,000 this year, money isn’t Priya’s main driver.

“Working the hours I want without the cost of childcare, doing something I love, and also being able to give jobs to people who might not have had the opportunity otherwise, is a invaluable,” she said.

“The flexibility and impact I feel I have more than offsets the slight change in revenue and the business is on an upward trajectory.”

priya velusami with her creations

Priya is earning less money than before, but she still believes investing in her hobby was worth it (Photo: Prithi Brinkley)

Inspired by early memories of sewing with her sari-clad grandmother, who instilled zero waste values, she says, “I love being able to bring beautiful textiles to life while helping people and the planet and being with my two young children.”

Priya used to make everything herself, but now she partners with an Indian charity that designs her designs and helps upskill and empower underprivileged women through sewing training.

Jade Jemma, sales coach and strategist, founder of Freedom Zest, has worked with FTSE 100 companies and startups for over a decade.

She says there’s a common trait for success: “Those who become market leaders love what they do, live their brand values, and come from a place of sincere service.”

Asked what advice she would give to people looking to turn their hobbies into businesses, Sophie wishes that in hindsight she had taken the time to properly evaluate the items: “Having the confidence in my work and my business that I do now would have been very useful at the time.

“It’s hard to get out of that ‘amateur’ headspace and into a business mindset.”

And for anyone looking to start a new business, Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden emphasizes environmental and sustainability concerns, telling us, “The good news is that consumers are increasingly making their purchasing choice within the framework of their value system and sustainability is at the forefront.” .

“This gives start-ups a huge advantage when it comes to environmental impact, because they can design their business to be more sustainable from the start…without having to change existing values ​​and embedded systems.

“They also don’t carry the baggage of legacy, which can be difficult to move in the eyes of the customer.”

Lisa recommends immersing yourself in social media – “look for people who are already making money from their hobbies so you can see what’s selling well” – but cautions against comparing yourself to others!.

“Start building a following on social media, giving helpful advice on what you know,” she adds. “You have to start by showing that you can help people.

‘Don’t give up and be consistent!’

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