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If you've been making cookies for a while, chances are your friends and family have said on more than one occasion, “You should start a business and sell those! You're so talented, you'd make a fortune!” You then listen to that phrase (sometimes over and over), and you start to dream about your little cookie shop. You can see the pink and white-striped awnings over the windows, the vintage mismatched tea set you're going to serve things on, the little corner where mothers can bring their children to have a play and enjoy some beautifully decorated treats. Some people will follow the path and make those dreams into a reality, and others will decide it's not for them – while a third group will want to make the dream happen, but will only see obstacles in their way.
Having myself been the dreamer, then the doer, and now the business adviser, I have experienced and seen lots of businesses open to great fanfare. Some succeed and some do not, but the interesting thing is how many of them started with the owners not really intending to be in business at all. I've seen some “businesses” and "professionals" selling some pretty terrible products, and some “hobbyists” and "amateurs" whose talent is breathtaking.
So what's the difference between all those terms? Let's start with this - what makes someone a "professional" and another person an "amateur"? In some industries, there are actual rules about this: a pro must have participated in so many events at a certain level, or be eligible through the rules of some industry governing body. In the cookie world, we don't have any such measure, as talent and skill in this industry are so subjective and we have few, if any, real governing bodies. Personally, I think the difference is in decorating skill level, and also in teaching skills - if you're at a level where others seek you out to teach, I would consider you to be more professional than amateur.
The term “hobbyist” is an interesting one because I've seen it used to drag people down - “What would you know, you're just a hobbyist!” And I've seen people use it as their excuse for not operating correctly - “I'm selling my cookies, but I haven't registered my kitchen because I'm really just a hobbyist.” It's a term that I think gets very emotional on both sides of the equation, because we somehow equate being a hobbyist with a certain level of skill. To me, being a hobbyist has nothing at all to do with skill. A hobbyist is someone for whom making cookies is NOT about making money AT ALL. This means they don't take money from other people for their products, they don't have business cards, and they don't have a Facebook page or website from which they sell. Making cookies is, for them, just a source of joy and fun - a hobby in the traditional sense of the word, meaning that's how they spend their time outside of their work hours.
A business owner is different. She is selling her cookies to other people, exchanging money or services for her creations. A business owner might be someone content to only have one order a month, someone who only sells to her family, or someone who is working on her dreams of opening that pretty store. Skill level does not come into it at all – it's about what is happening to the product after it's made, not the product itself. I've met some incredibly talented cookie makers whose skills could in fact be sold, but who choose not to go into business because they simply aren't interested in the responsibility that comes along with it. They really enjoy their “day jobs” and have no desire to leave them, no matter how wonderful their cookies are or how much joy decorating brings them.
The point I'm making here is: you do not have to be anything you don't want to be. No matter how much your sister says you should sell those cookies, it's perfectly okay to say, “You know, I love doing them, I just don't want to be in business with them,” and then just smile when she tells you that you're crazy for missing the opportunity. There is no shame in being called a "hobbyist", as the term is not a reflection of your skill or passion – it's just a word used to define the boundaries you place around your desire to go into business.
So, are you in it for love or money - or both? This is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself if you're considering taking the leap from "hobbyist" to "business".
Michelle Green is the author of The Business of Baking, the blog that inspires, motivates, and educates bakers and decorators to pursue their sweet business goals.
Photo credit: Michelle Green
Note: This article expresses the views of the author, and not necessarily those of this site, its owners, its administrators, or its employees. To read more Cookie Connection business posts, click here or here.