Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Oops! I Started A Business

accidental entrepreneur
Whoopsie! There I go, starting a business again!
I'm an accidental entrepreneur. What does that mean?

It means:
  • I find something I enjoy doing. 
  • I do it.
  • I learn how to do it better.
  • I try to be the best at it that I can be.
And without realizing it, I turn my hobbies into businesses. Here's an example.

When I was 13, I thought it would be fun to be in a movie. I found an ad for unpaid extras to be in an indie film shooting near my hometown. They needed students, so I fit the bill. I showed up with my dad and a friend of mine who agreed to come along. It was my first time on a set, but it was the final day of filming for the crew, so everyone was in high spirits. I ended up being a "featured extra," with a close-up and some interaction with the lead actress. When we wrapped for the day, everyone on set applauded. It was awesome!

After that, I researched other film opportunities online. I read books about film acting and auditioning for the camera. I interned at a casting agency. With Christmas money, I hired a makeup artist and photographer to take professional headshots. I wrote my acting resume and auditioned for other projects.

Thirteen years later, I've held 2 leading roles, 2 supporting roles, and been an extra in dozens of student, indie, and studio films. I've done 4 commercials, an industrial video, and a TV pilot. And yes, many of those roles were paid. In a small but legitimate way, I became a professional actress. And I did all this without missing school or quitting my day job. It was a hobby-turned-side-business, and the product was me.

The key here wasn't that I wanted to be a movie star. I didn't dream of seeing myself on screen -- in fact I dreaded it, and I still do, to a degree. But I enjoyed the process of working on a film. I was motivated to participate in the action, not to chase after the result.

indie film
Movie Poster for indie film "A Separate War." I'm the glowing heroine in the center. I'm 14 in this photo. 
1930s woman
At 18 years old, in full period costume on the set of The Great Debaters
21-year-old me as female lead "Libitina" in Emerson grad student film "Lizard the Mod." 

Here's another example. A year and a half ago, my boyfriend and I went to 'goth prom.' It's a yearly event hosted by Excess Boston, an alternative nightlife producer. They rent a Boston nightclub in May where guests dress up in goth formal wear and dance to vintage goth music.

"What does a goth wear to a formal event?" my boyfriend asks. I answer, "black button-down shirt, black pants, black boots...and how about a bow tie?" I bought a red bow tie at a dollar store and glued some black rhinestones onto it. When he wore it to goth prom, it was a huge hit. People flocked to him with compliments, asking him where he got it. My business sense was tingling (there's demand!).

I had a lot of fun making the bow tie, and since so many people were interested, I considered making more and selling them. I visited a local costume shop and asked on a whim if they offer consignment of goods from local vendors. The owner said yes, what have you got? I told him I bedazzle bow ties, and he proceeded to offer me access to bulk orders of rhinestones and bow ties at wholesale rates, as well as shelf space for my product.

A year later, I've got my bow ties in 2 shops, I've got a Facebook page and business cards, and I've vended at craft fairs, live shows, and even the Boston Pride Festival (special rainbow bow ties!). My bow ties have been worn by professional circus performers and dancers.

Oops, I started another business.

rhinestoned bowties
One recent order from a repeat customer

Let's break this down very clearly:

What's a hobby? It's an activity you enjoy doing for the sake of doing it.

What's a business? It's something you do to provide value for others and make money.

I ask you: why not do both? If you're an entrepreneur, you love what you do, and if what you do happens to help others and earn money in the process, you've succeeded. I tend to do this accidentally.

If you have a story about starting an accidental business, please share it in the comments.


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