How to Turn Your Pet Hobby Into a Business Venture

Woman working at laptop with Beagle on lap
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Many of us have dreamed of turning our favorite hobby into a full-fledged business venture, but making the transition is almost never easy. Here are some things you should consider if you're hoping to turn your pet-related pastime into a full-time career.

1. Shift From a Hobby Mindset to a Business Mindset

Remember that your hobby is now a business, and as such, you have to run it day in and day out. You must now be responsible for all sorts of business-related duties. That means you must keep track of expenses, record all sales, and handle a wide variety of administrative tasks. You will also be responsible for other aspects of running the business, including customer service, advertising, and storefront (or web page) design.

2. Realize That It Will Take Time to Build Sales

Set realistic goals for sales and customer acquisition, especially in the early months. It can take some time to build a client list through advertising and positive referrals. Providing exceptional service to the pets and their parents can help you generate repeat business and those coveted referrals.

You might also consider starting a customer loyalty program, something along the lines of "buy 10 of my homemade cat treats and get the 11th free." You can set up an app-based program with Clover or use old-school punch cards.

3. Be Realistic With Profit Expectations

Don’t overestimate the immediate potential profitability of the new venture. There are many overhead costs associated with starting a pet-related business, including insurance, workspace rental, and supplies or equipment.

In the first year, focus on increasing your revenues and reinvesting income back into the business. In your second year, you should begin focusing on making a profit. By the third year, making a profit is crucial, as the Internal Revenue Service expects a business to have earnings in three of the past five years if it is to be considered a legitimate business and not a hobby.

4. Establish Competitive Rates

Be sure you are charging a price that is in line with a similar product or service provider in your geographical area. An easy way to determine that is to call around for quotes or check out a competitor’s retail or web location. You don’t want to be overpriced or underpriced for the local market.

If it is a web-based business, compare your prices with major competitors in your specific niche market. For example, a gourmet pet food business should compare prices with other gourmet vendors, not big-box pet food stores.

5. Consider Starting on a Part-time Basis

You may want to open the business on a part-time basis at first (testing the waters with the new venture) while hanging on to your full-time position. For example, aspiring dog groomers or pet photographers might begin by seeing clients on evenings and weekends. Those producing pet products might attempt to sell them in small quantities to see if there is enough demand to justify a stand-alone business.

6. Offer Related Services or Products

Consider supplementing your primary line of business, such as pet photography, with other income producers, such as teaching photography classes or offering products that are personalized with the pet’s name and image. A pet bakery business could offer pet parties, custom pet “birthday cakes,” bake-at-home mixes, and regular lines of pet food. It usually is beneficial to include a few sideline offerings to boost earnings.

7. Market Yourself at Every Opportunity

Create an inviting website for your business to attract new customers, and increase engagement with your website through social media, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Consider joining your local business group as well as organizations that can help you learn more about your particular line of pet business.

Ask local veterinarians whether you can display business cards or brochures in their offices. Many vets allow this so long as they don't offer the same service—for example, canine teeth cleaning.

8. Work for Someone Else First

If you are not ready to open your own business, consider making a career change and working full-time for an established company that deals in the area you were interested in as a hobbyist. A pet sitter, for example, might work for a reputable agency in the area to get a feel for the business while having the security of being on the employer’s payroll. Working for another business can help you to gain valuable hands-on experience while observing its practices and methods.