The Brits who left a steady job to launch a hobby business

A new wave of professionals are turning their hobbies and passions into careers, according to research. In this piece, we speak to some of those who made a success of it.

Many people are considering quitting their day job to pursue a hobby business

Many people are considering quitting their day job to pursue a hobby business

The urge to quit your nine to five and set up that crab shack or tennis coaching job you’ve always dreamed of is a vision shared by a significant chunk of the UK population.

A study by Samsung Electronics UK, in association with the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) and YouGov, has found that more than one in ten (12 per cent) British workers have left previous jobs to pursue a hobby business.

These ‘funtrepreneurs’ expect to make an average of £22,594 in their first year of working, with this figure set to rise by 50 per cent to £33,845 in the space of five years.

Such passionate entrepreneurs are currently contributing a collective £165 billion to the UK economy, based on wages, taxes and profits, with this figure set to rise to £228 billion in five years’ time.

Alasdair Cavalla, senior economist at the CEBR says that many small, dynamic businesses may never have been set up were it not for people taking this risk to pursue work that they care about.

‘The economic benefits don’t stop at the founding of the business; compared to whole-economy averages, we found clear evidence of fewer sick days, higher productivity and greater job satisfaction among people following their passion,’ he adds.

A trade-off between necessity and preference

James Exton worked for a law firm in Oxford Street prior to starting bodybuilding business LDN Muscle. In addition to the legal work, the fitness fanatic juggled personal training as an additional income early mornings and evenings.

‘It’s always a trade-off; one is a necessity (paying bills) and the other is preference (job satisfaction),’ he says. ‘The ultimate aim is to obviously be able to do both at the same time, but this is rarely a reality.’

Exton’s approach was always to keep a ‘safe base’ line of income, while using his spare time to pursue the secondary job which gave the most satisfaction. ‘The resentment of spending your spare time working on another venture is small when it’s something you have a passion for and find satisfying,’ he says.

Leaving the law job wasn’t ‘hard’, more nerve-wracking, he says. ‘Having worked extremely hard for four years to qualify as a barrister, making the leap of faith into this type of business had a large opportunity cost. Deep down I knew I had the determination and drive to make it a success, even more so given what I was leaving behind,’ Exton adds.

At the outset LDN Muscle began as a blog, with no saleable products or revenue streams, but the company began to charge £1.99 for a single workout, delivered in a digital format. The company has since seen exponential growth, doubling its revenue year on year, and diversifying into other areas including education and supplementation, going from turning over £50 a week to £150,000 a month in the space of three years.

Exton says there is always an element of doubt for anyone who has left a professional background to pursue a dream. ‘You say goodbye to the benefits of employment (pension, guaranteed income, health insurance and other benefits) and say hello to the risks of being self-employed. When you have a slow day or week of sales, it does leave you feeling vulnerable, however it just drives you to work harder and succeed even more.’

Continuing in the same vein

It is often the case that entrepreneurs start up in the same, or similar sector as their day job. In 2013 Holly Jade O’Leary quit her job as manager of an independent theatrical costumiers to do her own thing in textiles and performance art.

‘While we had an incredible client list I was concerned that working for someone else I was not earning the equivalent rates of someone in a similar role in a less creative company, and the hours and level of responsibility were consuming,’ she says.

The high stress levels experienced lead O’Leary to believe that she could perform a similar role for herself within her own company, and at the same time pursue her dreams. She left London in 2013 to create her own conceptual events and performances. ‘I wrote a play, made costumes for the characters using recycled materials and found objects to create ‘Stardust Couture’ and cast from my friends and associates in the performance industry,’ she says. Hollyjadeoleary.com, a boutique specialising in textile tapestries, stage wear and unique vintage goods, was launched.

While many entrepreneurs are grateful to say goodbye to working for someone else, O’Leary retains a fondness for her former job. ‘Every time I return to the boutique where I used to work I feel a sense of matriarchal, managerial pride, diligence, affection and responsibility that has ceased to fade,’ she says.

Was it right for me?

While many entrepreneurs are happy in retrospect that they chased their dreams, there are always reflections to be made on life choices.

Suraj Sodha left a trainee solicitor role to become founder of WPMaintain, which offers website design, video production and online marketing services. He says, ‘I have no regrets at all but I do sometimes think what might have been if I kept my ‘steady’ job and climbed the corporate ladder instead.

‘Running my own business came with freedom to travel, work for myself, make my own decisions and work as hard as I wanted to earn the money I wanted to. With a fixed salary there was a ceiling but with my own business the more effort I put in the higher I can earn, much faster than in a traditional job.’

Further reading on starting a business

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