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By Laura Schaefer
MoneyMix Contributor

Wouldn't it be great to spend your workday baking cupcakes? How about taking pictures or planning parties?

Many individuals are turning their favorite craft or hobby into a small business. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Washington, D.C., there are more than 29.6 million small businesses in the U.S. Whether your passion is baking, planning weddings, dancing, or brewing tea, there is a way to make it your full-time job. These folks have done just that:

laura malischke photography, madison, wis.

Malischke, 31, has always loved glamour. As a theater arts major in college, she enjoyed contributing to her university's productions by serving as a stage manager. Later, she began learning the vintage swing dance called the Lindy Hop. When Malischke traveled to dance competitions, she was ready to swivel and wow judges with her authentic 1940s wardrobe and hairstyles. This visual sensibility served her well when she began her own Madison-based photography business in 2007. 

Since then, Malischke has mounted several exhibitions and honed her skills as a wedding photographer and glamour portrait artist. She counsels new small-business owners to "realize that there is a lot of 'behind the scenes' not-so-fun stuff to deal with. You can't be proficient at everything and might need to outsource some of your business tasks." She suggests marketing exclusively on the Web: "Learn the tricks to get your Web site posted highly in the search engines, and target a specific niche rather than being too broad."

cake eater bakery, minneapolis

SheelaFor Sheela Namakkal, 34, the best part of running her own bakery with partner Emily Moore Harris is simple: going into the kitchen to create something she's just dreamed up. Some of her most popular cupcake creations include limoncello and a delicious little concoction called "chocolate surly coffee bender."

Namakkal is influenced by flavors from both her Indian and Midwestern family backgrounds. She began working in the food industry as a young teen and came up with the idea for a cupcake catering business while working on her MBA. With a new permanent location, the cupcake biz has never been better. Her advice for someone who'd like to make frosting a regular part of their workday? "Apprentice with someone whom you get along with well, and get a good pair of clogs."

top shelf weddings, madison, wis., and fort worth, texas

Angela Dupont, 30, emphasized professionalism when she started her wedding planning business, Top Shelf Weddings, five years ago. She began by researching professional organizations and associations that could help her network and give her both education and experience.

As an established entrepreneur about to launch a new branch of her company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Dupont highlights the importance of sound training to keep a small business alive. "You may be the best basket weaver in the whole town, but if you don't know how to market yourself, keep your accounting, and manage employees, your business will fail. Your passion alone cannot keep it alive."

She got started by using the Internet to her advantage. "I used it to research how to write a business plan, to find graphics to use for my logo, to find the professional association I joined to gain knowledge, and to build and market my Web site and company."

dax hock, rhythm chef, los angeles

Hock, 28, says his career as a dance instructor and champion competitor found him and couldn't be ignored. However, his natural talent on the floor isn't enough to explain his long and successful career.

Hock has advice for other talented people looking to make a living in an unusual way. "Don't be lazy!" he says. "Don't take the easy route and 'sort of' succeed; put in tons of effort and be exceptional. Never stop developing your craft and your business will never die." He adds, "Your career literally begins once you engage early adopters or fans. These people will sell you better than you ever will alone. Engage a few and the rest will follow. If you fail to find this early support, then it will be a very rough ride."

cha cha tea, madison, wis.

When Maleah Moskoff, 35, attended the World Tea Expo seven years ago, she saw that her love of tea could be more than just a healthy interest. "I was always a fan, but the expo opened my eyes to the business of tea," she says. Now her company sells tea directly to consumers via its Web site and offers tea solutions for restaurants, offices, and boutiques.

Moskoff recommends that others interested in starting a business like Cha Cha Tea slow down, do plenty of market research, and get advice from all types of mentors.

She also advocates a mindset that dovetails nicely with tea culture itself: balance. "Self-employment means freedom from the typical grind, but not the grind altogether. Being your own boss means you need to set limits—when to work, when to break, when to say no. It's really easy for me to think about [my business] 24/7 and get close to burning out if I don't unplug."

To launch a small business, perhaps the smartest thing you can do is use all the resources available to you. Get started with these:

Starting a small business requires dedication, research, and hard work, but the payoff can be totally worth it: making a living doing something you're passionate about. The people at your credit union are passionate, too, about helping members, so consult with them for help launching your idea.

Published November 16, 2010

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