Female entrepreneurs

From Hobby to Business, Moms Take Their Pastimes Full-Time

Learn how winners from the 2009 Leading Moms in Business competition turned their hobbies into thriving businesses.
Latest posts by Rich Sloan (see all)

When MaryBeth Reeves launched Atlanta-based Scrapbookmamma, ranked No. 23 in the 2009 StartupNation Leading Moms in Business competition, she wasn’t looking for a new job. She actually had a full-time job with Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and had been working in the industry for the past 20 years. “I loved my job and the lifestyle that it provided me,” says Reeves, 40. “I traveled all the time, met a ton of people and was always doing something exciting.”

In 2003, she married her “soul mate” and created a photo book out of the professional pictures from the wedding. It was at that point that she casually picked up scrapbooking, setting into motion a part-time hobby that would ultimately become a career as a business owner.

Despite the popularity of her first photo book, three years passed before she put together another one. In 2006, she gave birth to quadruplet daughters, and “like all new parents, I was obsessed with taking pictures of my babies,” Reeves says. “And I had four of them to focus on!” As a way to share pictures of her daughters in an organized and creative way, she created photo books as Christmas presents for family members. “People loved them,” she says. “Everyone commented on how unique they were and how great it would be to have a photo book with their pictures if only someone would do the work for them.”

At that moment it hit her, and over the next eight months, Reeves wrote a business plan, launched a website and snagged her first order. Although the hobby was clearly presenting itself as a viable business, she still loved her job and continued working full time. Scrapbooking didn’t enter the realm of “full-time career” until she was laid off from Starwood last December. Recalls Reeves, “It was sooner than I had planned, but I jumped in with both feet working for myself and decided to make a go of it.”

As mentioned in Thomas Friedman’s best-seller, The World is Flat, “change” is only a bad thing if you’re unprepared for it. How smart of Reeves to have a side project ready to ramp up in the event of being pink slipped.

Hidden Gem

For Wendy de Pénasse, founder of jewelry line Nature’s Gems (ranked No. 64) in Nashua, New Hampshire, it happened a little differently. Despite a creative gene and interest in design, she wasn’t always into gems and jewelry making. It took a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she was jaw-dropped by the beautiful gems and jewelry. Her purchases were a hit back in the States, too. “I received so many compliments from family, friends and complete strangers, I felt like there might be an opportunity for a business,” says de Pénasse, 40. She pondered the idea of importing the jewelry to sell, but ended up dismissing it. It wasn’t practical given the limitations on the variety of designs she’d have to ship and inventory.

“A friend suggested importing the stones and creating my own designs,” says de Pénasse. “Designing and creating the jewelry interested me, so I took a jewelry making class at a local bead shop.” She was a stay-at-home mom at the time, so she was able to make all the jewelry and run the business out of her home. Even today (two years after launching), she still makes all of the jewelry in the Nature’s Gems line. And her heart is in it, completely.

Love What You Do

You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Part of the appeal of a hobby business for moms—and all entrepreneurs, really—is that they’re getting to do something they love and would be doing in their spare time anyway. Most don’t ever consider the idea that it could become more than a pastime and could potentially be a profitable business.

“At first it was just a hobby and a way to make a little extra diaper money because I worked full time, in addition to raising quadruplets,” Reeves explains. But people’s reactions to the books and her layoff from corporate America forced her to reevaluate her interest and skill in scrapbooking.

Though it’s reasonable to assume many of the scrapbooking businesses out there started as hobbies, Reeves believes having a passion for the hobby gives her an advantage over other entrepreneurs. “Starting a business that involves something you love to do has an advantage,” she says. “Looking back, I did enjoy my former career, but now I realize what loving your work really means. I get to be part of the celebrations in people’s lives, which is an honor.”

De Pénasse agrees: “A hobby can flow into a business opportunity. When you start with something you are familiar with and enjoy, this can lead to a moneymaking opportunity. It’s really about taking advantage of your talents and skills to turn it into something profitable and enjoyable.”

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