We pick up hobbies for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it’s passion, sometimes it’s catharsis, and sometimes it’s just for the sake of passing the time.
No matter why you picked up your hobby, you’ve probably had that one fleeting thought: “I wonder if I could make some money from this?” If you’re into a hobby, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s some market for your niche skills.
Before you do anything else, you need to figure out if there’s a market for your hobby. There are a few questions you need to answer to determine this.
What’s the ROI of Your Hobby?
Before you get too emotionally invested in turning your hobby into a business, will your hobby make money?
ROI stands for return on investment. It’s how you determine if something is actually profitable. If you plan on selling cross stitch designs, for example, you need to at least sell your designs for more than the cost of materials and your time spent making your products.
Is Your Hobby Scalable?
“Scalability” is a word you hear a lot in business but almost never in the general hobby world. The idea of scalability is that as demand increases, a business can grow to accommodate that demand.
For businesses, this often means hiring more people. If you’re just starting out with your hobby, this probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon. But as demand increases for your product, how are you going to be able to meet demand? Can you speed your process up? Is there a way to automate cross-stitching? Is there something else that you can sell that is a one-time creation that you can sell over and over?
If you can’t find a way to scale your new business, you might run the risk of lost revenue down the road due to sold-out products or from closing commissions when you have more work on your plate than you can handle.
Are You in a Profitable Niche?
You probably already have a good idea what niche your hobby falls into. Most people already look for like-minded folks who share their hobby, whether that’s cross stitch, researching family trees, woodworking, local sports, or more.
A lot of entrepreneurs even combine their hobbies when starting their small business. Take, for example, cross stitch and cats, an example we’ll follow throughout this piece. How do you know if your niche is popular enough to make money from? You can look at keyword research, Amazon searches, social fandom, and Google Trends for guidance.
The Social Fandom of Your Hobby
One way to determine the popularity of a niche is to look to social communities like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Facebook is especially helpful here because Facebook allows users to create Groups that like-minded individuals can join.
We don’t have to search Facebook groups to know that cats are popular on the internet. The dozens of cat videos you probably see in your social feed every day is probably indicative enough of that.
But what about cross stitching? There are dozens of Facebook groups dedicated to cross stitching, some with over 20k members.
And they’re not all grandmas who are interested in traditional designs. One group with over 11k members that boasts over 10 posts a day (making it very active) is called Snarky Craft Stitching with Subversion and takes a younger, more humor-oriented approach to cross stitch.
Whether your cat cross stitch designs are traditional or modern, it looks like there’s a cross stitch group that fits your style. That means there’s a potential audience for your product. The members of these groups might not be looking to buy finished cross stitch products, but cross stitch patterns are likely something they search for and purchase.
Keyword Research for Your Hobby
Keywords are the search queries people use to find whatever they’re looking for. There are two main things to consider for keywords: their volume and their difficulty (also called competition).
Volume is the approximate number of people searching for a keyword over the course of a month. Higher volume means it’s a more popular search. Lower volume means not as many people search for it in an average month. The difficulty is how easy or difficult it is to appear high up in Google search results for that keyword. Typically, higher volume keywords are more difficult to rank for.
Though fewer people search lower-volume keywords, they can still be valuable. People tend to narrow their searches after looking for big “head” terms because they don’t quickly find what they’re looking for. Those looking for cross stitching patterns probably aren’t going to find patterns just by searching “cross stitch.” However, they can look up “cross stitch patterns” or narrow it down further to “cat cross stitch patterns” to find exactly what they want.
Looking at the free keyword planning tool Wordtracker, we can see that “cross stitch” has high volume as well as high competition (also called difficulty). “Cross stitch pattern” has more than 22,000 monthly searches, but still a high competition number. If we look at “cross stitching patterns,” we can see a similar volume to “cross stitch pattern,” but a much lower competitive number.
From this chart, it looks like there’s interest in cross stitching patterns and there are certain keywords for cross stitching that aren’t very competitive. This means that there might be room for new entrepreneurs to enter the cross stitching pattern space.
If you want to narrow down even more, you can. When we look at the keyword “cat cross stitch,” we see that monthly volume drops to 40-480 monthly searches and competition becomes almost nonexistent.
This lower volume isn’t necessarily a bad thing! There might only be approximately 500 monthly searches for “cat cross stitch patterns,” but if you sell cat cross stitch patterns, your product is exactly what those users are searching for. If you manage to sell a $5 pattern to half of those people, that’s $1,250 per month for work you only need to do once (making the pattern).
The keyword “cat cross stitch” provides another opportunity. Not everyone searching for that query is looking for a pattern. Some of those users are looking for completed or commissioned cross stitch of cats.
If you offer custom cross stitch in addition to patterns, you could make even more. If you sell 10 custom cat cross stitch pieces for $100 each, that’s another $1,000 in monthly revenue just for doing something you love.
Google Trends tells you about the popularity of keywords over time. Using this free service, you can pit two or more keywords against each other to compare their popularity.
For example, the below chart shows “cross stitch pattern” compared to “embroidery pattern.” If you’re capable of creating and selling both, this chart might make you choose one over the other.
Cross stitch edges out embroidery across the chart, which pulls five years of data. “Cross stitch pattern” isn’t currently at its most popular (the peak of its popularity was Jan. 2015), but it has consistently been searched for more frequently than embroidery patterns. That tells us that cross stitch patterns have a larger market than embroidery patterns and would be the better hobby to pursue.
It’s worth noting that Google Trends doesn’t give you any insight into the competition or difficulty of certain keywords. It’s most helpful for looking into the general popularity of overall umbrella terms.
Searching for Similar Products
Keyword research and Google Trends will give you a good idea of demand, but won’t tell you how many competing products are out there. How many brands are out there trying to sell to the same people? Five? 500? 5,000? What does their product look like and how can you differentiate?
That’s an answer best solved by searching Google and popular marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy for the competition.
If you’re thinking about selling cat cross stitch patterns and commissions, Etsy is a clear starting place for your search. Etsy is a marketplace where people sell handcrafted and vintage goods, and it’s extremely popular with consumers and creators alike.
“Cat cross stitch pattern” might see only 500 searches a month on Google, but there are over 8,000 results for that exact same search on Etsy. Amazon boasts over 7,000 results. That’s a crowded marketplace.
Those results could be discouraging, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your business. You might find it easier to stand out by creating your own website where you don’t have to fight the Etsy hordes.
Building a Website
You don’t have to sell your cat cross stitch patterns on Etsy or any other crowded marketplace. If you build a beautiful website that outperforms other sites, you could find yourself with more success. On Etsy, you’re one in 8,000. If you build a website with the goal of ranking for “cat cross stitch pattern,” you’re one in 94. That’s how many sites currently rank on Google for that keyword.
It has never been easier to start an online store, or add a store to your blog, to sell the fruits of your hobby. You don’t have to be a developer and designer to build a functional website. Solutions like WooCommerce are affordable, easy to use, and offer thousands of themes that fit any brand aesthetic.
And you don’t have to build your online store alone. Managed hosting solutions offer support and a wide range of features, like cart abandonment software so you can email customers who didn’t complete an order. Plus, hosted solutions like ours are made to be fast and great for SEO.
Whether you’re looking for a little extra cash or to build a new career, a hobby is a great place to start. It’s something that you already know how to do and are passionate about. Michael Kittredge turned his candle-making hobby into Yankee Candle Company, a billion-dollar brand. Nicole Snow took her love of knitting and turned it into Darn Good Yarn, a million-dollar company. It takes time and perseverance, but earning income from your hobby is an attainable goal.