Turning hobbies into careers

On any given day, Connie Turner can be found playing with pit bulls, snapping shots of Shih Tzu’s or making Pomeranians pretty.

Yes, hers is a real job.

Turner owns Picture Purrfect Petz, a Columbus-based pet photography and grooming business. Last year, the former healthcare administration worker turned a hobby and passion — photography, pet grooming and animals — into a full-time job.

And today, she says she would have it no other way.

"It's the best move I ever made," she said. "I love coming to work each and every day to see all the dogs. What better job is there than that?"

Turner is one of a number of business owners who make a living off something once done only in their spare time.

"Most people don't do what they love," said Stephen Diorio, partner at Profitable Channels. "Any career counselor will tell you, start with what you love to do. Start with what you're good at . . . If you do what you love, the money will come."

Hobby to business

In March of 2006, Turner opened Picture Purrfect Petz for business.

"I never had the anxiety when the doors opened on the first day. I just went with it," Turner said.

Forget the meetings, conference calls and business-casual attire. For Turner, now it's all about the pets, squeaky toys and "hooty sounds" — what Turner said she has to make in order to snap shots of the animals.

At the business, pets are photographed against a variety of backdrops, including beach, window and outdoor scenes.

She has two employees — one full time and another part time — to help with grooming services.

When Turner first entered the workforce, however, her job had nothing to do with pets.

Much of Turner's work history has been in the Medicare arena. She worked as a data match supervisor at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia for nearly five years.

After that stint, she inked a two-year contract with Consolidated Information Systems. There, she worked as a business analyst maintaining the Medicare system.

Turner groomed pets — a skill she had learned about 15 years ago from a local groomer — in her spare time. She worked out of her garage and catered to family and friends.

She first began experimenting with her other hobby, photography, about six years ago.

"It's my husband's fault, really," she said.

Her husband, Jay, bought her a digital camera and "it skyrocketed from there."

Turner bought newer camera models over time. In 2004, she took a photography class to sharpen her skills.

As the end of Turner's Consolidated Information Systems contract neared, Turner decided she wanted a change.

"I didn't want to get into the corporate world again," she said. "And I loved animals so much."

About six months before her contract ended, Turner began doing her research and meeting with an attorney to discuss incorporating a business.

While this may not be the case for everyone, Diorio said for a number of people who decide to turn a hobby into a business, it's usually at a turning point — unemployment, having children or a mid-life crisis.

That is not always a bad thing. Diorio said one may be able to make more money pursuing a passion because "you're more productive at it."

Working with pets

Growing up in Columbus, Turner had plenty of dogs around. She remembers having canines at the house "as long as I can remember" — collies, cocker spaniels and other mixed breeds.

"I've always been one to sneak pets in," she said. "I was always bringing strays home and taking care of them."

When Turner was 11 years old, she remembers sneaking a cat into the house. She hid the feline and litterlittle box in her closet.

Her mother, Ursula Reynolds, soon discovered the pet when it wandered into her bedroom.

Turner doesn't have to worry about hiding pets now.

Almost every day, her two small dogs — a 4-and-a-half month-old Shih Tzu named Otis and a 1-year-old Maltese called Lillie Mae — accompany Turner to work. Her third dog — 7-year-old Sonny, a Bull Mastiff — stays at home during the day.

Turner said employees get quite close to the dogs — and vice versa.

"I have one dog that comes in and hugs me," she said.

Fender, a 2-year-old pit bull, puts his front legs around her when he comes in about every three weeks for a bath.

"He gives pit bulls a good name," she said.

It’s "customers" like Fender that make everything worthwhile.

"Deep down inside, I feel that this was my calling," Turner said. "Everything just fell into place and felt so natural. I felt that it was the right thing to do."