Starting a Business Accidentally

At the Nearly Impossible conference, some of the (impressive!) speakers confessed to starting a business ‘accidentally,’ and I talked to many business owners who didn’t intend to have a business when they were pursuing what was a hobby at the time.

A nicer way to describe this is to say that a business sprouted up organically. It’s a story that seems common with our favorite kind of businesses. The business owner had a talent or an interest, and before they knew it, they were running an actual business.

I have just started thinking about this, and I’m interested in your opinion. I’m going to ask people this at conferences: how purposefully did you begin your business?

Starting a Business Without a Business Plan

There are pros and cons to starting on accident, without a business plan or a goal. It seems that if you were doing something personally enjoyable which became a business, you’re likely to continue to enjoy your work (or have you experienced a decrease in enjoyment when play becomes work?).

There is so much boring business-y work that goes into a business (especially when it’s new and you can’t afford help), that someone who wasn’t out to start a business could get easily overwhelmed and burnt out.

I’ve talked to many people who just want to create and then find themselves saddled with materials sourcing, shipping, inventory management, coordinating with manufacturers, creating website content, marketing, accounting, hiring, and they feel like it isn’t what they signed up for!

Conversely, there are those of us (such as me & Sam on our team) who find ourselves enjoying running the business more than we enjoyed the making. My gut tells me that this is going to be the more sustainable scenario, but you tell me:

  1. Was your business accidental or purposeful?
  2. Do you enjoy the “boss” work or the creative work more, or is it about equal?
  3. If you could wave a wand today, and have a perfect staff to take care of your to-dos, what part of your business would you remain in charge of?

And then a #4, just for yourself: What could you do today to take a step toward a goal of #3?

Thank you for doing this exercise with me! Please share your answers in the comments.

About the Author

Arianne Foulks is a popular educator and small business enthusiast. As a champion for creative brands, she has a 15+ year reputation for thoughtful redesigns that help businesses level up. She loves having a problem to solve, and has focused throughout her career on building online homes for fascinating people. She is raising boys, will walk any distance, always has a pile of novels by her bed, and was once bitten by an elephant seal.

View more articles written by Arianne >

  1. 1. Accidentally on purpose? I didn’t know if it would work but I didn’t have any other options. I owned a bricks & mortar yarn shop with two friends, and because of the economy we had to close (this was summer of 2010). At the time my husband had also been laid off about ten months previously and still hadn’t found a job. He was so infinitely more skilled (computer programmer) than I (dreamer and retail worker with a degree in Behavioral Science I’d never used) so I thought we might be homeless and eating cat food before I found a job. So I fell back on a life-long hobby – ceramics – taught to me by my grandmother, who had had a studio in the 50s and 60s. I brought in two things I’d been doing at the yarn store, also; hand-dyeing unique and luxury yarns, and making soap. Opened up an Etsy store after six weeks of prep-work, and within a year outgrew it and moved to the Shopify platform. Now we’re buying a bigger house with a large workshop so I can move my hobby/job out of three spare rooms in our house and have a proper studio. I guess it’s working?!

    2. Both…? I’ve never in my live NOT wanted to Make things. But I’m also really good with people, hearing what they’re saying and helping them with problems (hey, maybe I *am* using that Behavioral Science degree) and it’s been very rarely I haven’t been able to smooth over customer issues. I also almost even like balancing the books — especially when there’s money left over!

    3. All of it. I know that makes me sound like a control freak, but I like remaining small enough that my hand is on everything. Having said that, there have been holiday times when I’ve been so busy I’ve reached out for help from friends with things like wrapping soap, stamping my logo on boxes, or winding yarn. But I love what I do – I never want to do anything else. There are things I’ll be doing soon with access to a larger, more functional workspace that will help enough with my work flow that I’ll be able to shave down some work time (and pull in a little more profit) but I never want to get so large that there’s something going on with my work that I’ve not got a hand in.

    • Wonderful, Lorena, I absolutely love your story! I’m so glad to hear it’s working out and that you love it.

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