Do you ever wish that you could turn your favorite pastime into a full-time job — one that earns you enough money to, say, pay the rent, eat well, maybe even hit J. Crew from time to time? I suspect the answer is yes, particularly if you're reading this hunkered inside your cubicle sometime between the hours of 9 and 5. Even though I love what I do, part of me would also love to open a bakery ... or a wine store. I know other people who dream about making their living teaching dance classes, running a barn or opening the last great independent bookstore. Back when she sat in the cubicle next to mine at “Working Woman” magazine (we were both assistants, answering phones, hoping to land a story in each and every issue), Laurel Touby simply wanted to throw parties. Fabulous parties for all of her friends in the media industry who — like her — were looking for that next great contact or that next great job. She couldn't afford to buy drinks for all involved, so she told guests to buy their own. Nobody minded. Because that wasn't fabulous enough, she threw on a big pink feather boa. The venture became mediabistro.com, a popular Web site where media professionals can find jobs, classes and industry news (it's one of the few Web sites that I find useful enough to visit every single day). Touby just sold the company to Jupitermedia for a whopping $23 million. We caught up recently when I asked her to share a couple of tips to help you forge your own way and turn your interests, whether baking or dancing, into a successful business venture.Be confident
Maybe you've never owned a business before and have a lot to learn about foreign concepts like capital and marketing, but the process will be a lot easier because the focus is something you're passionate about. “The big mistake a lot of people make is psyching themselves out and thinking they need more education to get somewhere. Just fake it till you make it. I've seen so many successful entrepreneurs who did a really great job because they winged it, not because they were the most knowledgeable person,” says Touby. Now that's not to say you don't need a strong, well-thought-out business plan, because you do, but having the confidence to follow your instincts and take a few risks is almost as important. Make like a spongeThe concept here is pretty simple: Your business is going to be supported by customers, so it makes sense to listen to what they want. Touby says some of the most popular features of mediabistro.com, like the jobs and classes, were spawned from requests made early on by the site's users. As the owner, it's hard to look at your business — your baby — objectively, so suggestions from outside parties are priceless. Soak them up. You can't make everyone happy, but you can sure try. Get some helpYou can launch your business in your bedroom, solo, like Touby did, but once it starts to grow, do yourself a favor and bring in some reinforcements. “There is sometimes a real reluctance to reach out for help, and people tend to wait too long — often until there is a crisis,” explains Mark LeBlanc, author of “Growing Your Business!” (Expert Publishing, 2003). Face up to the fact that you're not going to be good at everything, and even if you are, you won't have time to do it all well once success sets in. The sooner you surround yourself with a team that can tackle things like the bookkeeping and legal issues, the better off you'll be. Consider it an investment instead of just another expense.Watch your paycheck
When you set your own pay, it can be pretty tough to strike the right balance. “Owners tend to either take too little or too much, too soon,” says LeBlanc. “They either sacrifice themselves in the hope of some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, then work around the clock for little to nothing and burn out, or they drain the business of cash.” It's true that you may have to make some sacrifices to keep the business afloat, but don't deprive yourself for too long. By the same token, too many people leave high-paid jobs to start their own businesses, and then expect to replace that income right off the bat. That's just not realistic.
Get out and tell people about your new venture, then find out how they can help. Touby says she raised the capital to start mediabistro.com through investors she met while working the room. But while most of the people you talk to won't be willing to hand over a check, many can offer something that's even more valuable.
“Don't be shy about asking experts for free advice,” urges Touby. “Lawyers, accountants and all kinds of experts will give you free advice if you just ask them.” Invite them to lunch, then spend the hour picking their brains.
Have an end goal in mind
Do you want to eventually sell, like Touby? (She knew selling out would be the endgame as soon as she took on investors.) Would you rather start a franchise? Buy up the competition? No matter how you envision things panning out, it's important to have a set strategy to keep you focused.
With reporting by Arielle McGowen.
Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at “Money” magazine and serves as AOL’s official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC’s “Today” show and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including “Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day” (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .