A few things to do with your hobby before taking the plunge into turning it into a business.

Staff Writer

Turning what you love into a business is the surest way to lifelong happiness. As Steve Jobs once said: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

In the last twenty years, nearly every industry rapidly evolved to keep up with the opportunities offered by the web, including cottage industries. Social media can take a passion for fancy cake-baking or jewelry making to a thriving business.

Do you have what it takes to turn your hobby into a lucrative income? Here are five things to do before taking the plunge:

1. Hone your craft.

No matter how passionate you are, your skills may not meet professional standards. The web opens up an array of learning opportunities in nearly every field of interest.

Look for tutorials, blogs, and more formalized learning environments, which range from hobbyist YouTube videos to online college degrees to interactive, expert-led community environments like that found on Learning with Experts, where you can hone skills including antiques, gardening, craft beer, jewelry and photography, get your project critiqued by a renowned expert, and participate in small groups, called tribes, for inspiration and encouragement.

At Khan Academy, you can take plenty of recorded lessons on STEM and other academic subjects, and it’s all free. Of course, you learn completely on your own.

Treehouse.com offers lessons for building websites, again through self-directed study. They have a community where students can get answers from other students, but the untimed structure doesn’t foster small-group interaction.

2. Build your social audience.

Social media is a boon for small businesses. It provides free advertising, and the opportunity for you to widen your fame beyond your friends and family.

It also makes you visible. It puts your business on the map for businesses and celebrities to find. Sound farfetched? In 2011, Cake Pop Princess was a tiny home-based business started by a mom who made cake pops to amuse her kids. When Bianca Benn posted her creations on facebook, people asked about ordering.

Then Jimmy Choo hired her to make pops for an event. In an interview with Facebook, Benn credited 95 percent of her business to her Facebook page. Since then, she’s catered weddings, corporate events, and made pops for the members of One Direction at the behest of talk show host James Corden.

3. Identify influencers.

Influencers are social media stars. They don’t necessarily have giant audiences, but they do head a lively community with a focus on your interests.

Influencers can be found on any social media site, and where you focus your efforts depends on what type of business you’re in and where people who talk about your industry hang out. Home decorating is wildly popular on Pinterest, and your most enthusiastic audience for photography might be found on Instagram. Facebook is very food-friendly; you have the room to write about your dishes and post recipes, videos and pictures. If your dream is to create video games, you might want to join the Steam community.

4. Get proof of concept.

Building your social media also offers you insight into the market usually reserved for businesses with deep pockets who can afford to invest in focus groups and testing. The enthusiasm and spread of social media audiences will give you clues about the quality of your work and whether you will be successful.

Social media also offers you the opportunity to find people locally that can help you with every aspect of the business building process. For example, Eric Rea, Co-founder and CEO of Podium, used social media to find some of his first employees, partners, and mentors while turning a simple online review invitation tool for his dad’s tire shop into the leading customer interaction software with over 100,000 users.

5. Make a strategy.

While some people just seem to get lucky, good strategy usually means the difference between success and failure. Learn all you can about marketing a business on a budgetand be prepared to promote yourself without overt selling.

Because there are so many options to create your own online store or sell products directly through social media, this is the best time in history to turn your hobby into a business. Today, you have unprecedented access to a global or local market, and free tools to grow your customer base.

Getting there requires time and patience. With all the competition in the market, your opportunity rests on how well you communicate your value to your audience. Don’t quit your day job until your audience is growing fast and fully engaged.