“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” Mark Twain once wrote. But with all due respect to Mr Twain, is that really true? The idea of turning your passions into a spiritually (and financially) fulfilling career is certainly appealing – but venturing out on your own can be risky (not to mention stressful).
To try and crack the secrets of successfully turning your hobby (or side-hustle) into a full-time job, we spoke to the owners of three businesses who’ve pulled it off: Sammy Clark and Alini Allen, co-founders of Anti Future, an independent screen printing studio; Tantri Mustika, the creative force behind Tantri Mustika Ceramics; and Joey Kellock, the founder of 1800LASAGNE, a lasagne delivery service and recently opened restaurant.
Here, our brainstrust shares what they learnt from the multitasking, risk-taking and energy-zapping-but-always-worth-it steps they took to build a career out of doing the thing they love.
You can learn (and grow) as you go
All three businesses started small, with deliberately low overheads and expenses. “At the start we took things day by day,” Anti Future’s co-founder Alini Allen recalls. “There wasn’t too much business planning. We bought the equipment that we could afford and used it to get by.” Sammy Clark, Alini’s business partner, agrees. “I can print with my eyes closed, but I didn’t really know how to run a business.”
It’s a sentiment that ceramicist Tantri Mustika echoes. “Over the space of a year and a half, I went from hairdressing four days a week and doing ceramics one day, to hairdressing two days and doing ceramics every other moment. It was a lot of multitasking and hustling, doing random things to make money so I could dedicate the majority of my energy to making ceramics.”
For Joey Kellock, getting 1800LASAGNE up and running was a matter of using what he already had at his disposal. “I was cooking at my tiny little home kitchen in Carlton for the first few years. I used to make lasagne and not leave enough time for it to cool before delivery, so I’d be portioning out molten hot serves into containers – just stressing. At one point I was delivering 180 a night,” he laughs. From that humble beginning, 1800LASAGNE has grown into a 120-seat dine-in bar (although you can still order lasagne to your door).
This sort of plucky approach helped all three businesses find their feet without overwhelming financial risk. “Don’t dump all your money into something if you can get by on a shoestring for a bit,” Tantri suggests. “You have to balance the risk and reward.”
Use your existing network
Similarly, leaning on your existing relationships can play a massive role in getting the ball rolling in your business’s early days. For the team at Anti Future, initial jobs saw them printing merch for friends’ bands and clothing labels – paving the way for the larger orders that followed. “Look at who you’ve got around you first,” Alini recommends. “You need to use your networks to get anything started.”
Joey subscribes to the same outlook. His distinctive 1800LASAGNE logo – featuring a skateboarding chef – was created by a close friend. “He knocked it out for me in an afternoon. It was pretty amazing,” he recalls. “I was lucky to get it – it’s become iconic.”
Tantri agrees. “Talk to people around you and ask for their advice. If you have a friend who’s a photographer, ask if they want to trade your time or skill or product for photos you can use on your website.”
Say yes to opportunities
When you’re launching a new business, opportunity can come in many forms – and not always with the best timing. For Anti Future, that sometimes meant accommodating big orders with rudimentary gear. “There was a lot of stress trying to get stuff working, and a lot of long hours,” Alini recalls. “But when we got that first big pay cheque, we didn’t run off and buy a car, we got a new machine that would make our lives easier. We’ve grown as a business, and our equipment has grown with us.”
Tantri’s decision to open a customer-facing shop in 2020 presented a calculated risk. “I had this idea that having my own shop would be cool, but it was a five-year plan,” she says. When the opportunity arose much sooner than that, she jumped on it. “I thought, I’m going to say yes and then figure it out. You have to be a ‘Yes’ person. You never know what an opportunity might turn into.”
Be kind to yourself
While many people would consider pursuing their passions to be the ultimate alternative to a nine-to-five, it’s important to acknowledge that every business has its less glamorous side. “There can be a lot of pressure to be positive all the time,” Tantri says. “But sometimes there are just bad things that need to be done. I just spent a week wedging stinky, mouldy clay to get things ready. I think it’s good for people to talk about that side of things.”
Joey stresses the importance of making time for self-care. “It’s about finding balance and doing the emotional housekeeping you need to not burn out,” he says.
Sammy subscribes to a similar philosophy. “You’re in control of your own destiny. If you need to take some time and get away to recharge, you can do that.” Still, pursuing his passion isn’t something he’s willing to trade. “The flexibility of doing what you want to do completely outweighs the stress that it brings along with it.”