Escaping the nine to five: Can I turn my passion into a niche business?

Harley Davidson, Mattel, Disney. What do all of these brands have in common? It’s not just that they are all iconic names that grew to dominate in their industry. Each of them also started out as what’s known as a “garage business”.

By this we mean they were started by individuals who took a skill, talent, passion or hobby of theirs and put it to work on a small scale. They then developed it into something much bigger. Doing what you love can certainly be a wonderful motivator. However, it takes more than passion alone to achieve success in your chosen niche. So what else needs to be thrown into the mix? This guide aims to help you find out.

Does the public share your passion? Finding out if a niche exists

Harold Matson and Elliot Handler started out selling picture frames from a garage workshop. As an enjoyable sideline, and a way of putting their talent to work, they had the idea of crafting dollhouse furniture from frame scraps. Soon, they found that the furniture was more profitable than the picture frames — and the toy specialist, Mattel, was born.

The side project approach

Whether it’s handmade toys, or amazing graphic design, you might have an inkling that there’s a market for your craft, but you can’t always be sure. Adopting an approach similar to the Mattel founders can be a great way in for any entrepreneur looking to explore their passion.

You might want to escape the nine to five eventually, but it’s usually safer not to abandon the picture frames completely until you know that customers actually want to buy your dollhouse furniture.

Investors like evidence

Scaling up gradually in this way can also help if you want to get investors on board, or secure a loan or grant. With a niche offering, it usually becomes harder to tap into market research or other evidence that suggests whether your business is bound for success. In this situation, investors invariably want to see a track record. This is evidence to show that you have been able to attract customer interest, even if it’s still just a part-time, small-scale enterprise.

Attracting financial backing: using your passion to your advantage

Whether you are seeking a bank loan or trying to get external investors on board, a well-worked and thorough business plan is a must-have. Your aim is to inspire confidence, to satisfy your audience that you have a vision for your business, and a clear idea on how you are going to achieve it. You can read more about this in our guide on the subject, “How to write a business plan”.

Let your enthusiasm show

Although you are working with reasonably dry material like projections and analysis, your plan and pitch should reflect the passion you have for the business. Enthusiasm is a good thing. For one, it helps to separate your offering from the rest of the crowd. This establishes your unique selling point as a potential recipient of funds. What’s more, provided that it’s backed by solid evidence, your enthusiasm can help to reassure investors of your willingness to work hard and realise a profit for those investors.

How crowdfunding can help

Take a look at successful businesses on platforms such as Crowdcube. You’ll find that they tend to combine a great business idea with a compelling story, and plenty of enthusiasm. This is one of the reasons why crowdfunding is worth serious consideration as a means of funding. Especially if your business is driven by passion.

How to use your passion to dominate a niche space

With passion usually comes curiosity, knowledge, and opinions. If you have an interest in something, you are likely to have your own perspective on it. This can be used to your advantage when it comes to promoting your business. x

Become an expert

If you are offering a niche service to businesses for instance, although you might not have the resources of larger competitors, you can compensate for this by establishing yourself as a specialist. Use your personal interest in your chosen area to establish your credentials as an expert in it. You can do this by posting articles via LinkedIn, or contribute to debates on Twitter, for instance. These are great areas in which you can build a personal authority on your chosen subject. They can go a long way in helping you gain the trust of potential clients.

Combining personal authority and passion

Personal authority and passion can be used in a similar way if you are selling to consumers. Climbing and outdoor specialist Patagonia is a great example of this. The business was set up by a climbing enthusiast who started producing his own equipment. That was over half a century ago/ Patagonia is now a leading name in its field. However, it’s clear that this is still very much a company that was formed by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts.

Tell your story

Through telling — and selling — your story on your website, and by expressing your expertise in the way you describe your goods or services, you can demonstrate your personal investment in the company. This will go a long way in showing customers that you are a name to be trusted in your field.

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