Tuesday, May 21, 2024

From Fan To Founder: How Fans Have Turned Their Passion Into Business

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This is another guest piece from writer and fan analyst Amanda Winstead

The fandom industry is booming at the moment. Just a cursory glance at sites like Etsy and Shopify shows that you can buy all manner of merchandise and goodies based on your favorite TV shows, books, bands, and movies. 

Founding your own small business can help you connect with the community and get more from your passion, too. Using your creative talents to create shirts, pins, and artwork can quickly become lucrative and help you build a profitable small business. 

However, before you start selling goodies, you’ll need to take a few steps to ensure that your business is both legal and profitable. This will protect your long-term financial goals and help you build a brand that is trusted and loved by your fandom. 

The Legal Side of Fandom

Immersing yourself in nerd culture can be deeply fulfilling on multiple levels. You get to connect with others who share your love for anime, films, music, or books and will be among the first to hear about events like live shows and meet-ups. This can support your passion for your favorite fandom and deepen your understanding of your favorite writers, artists, and actors. 

However, no matter how much of a fan you are, you cannot legally sell merch using someone else’s intellectual property. Sites like Etsy are clear about folks who break intellectual property rights rules, too. They use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to determine whether an infringement has occurred and will contact you to delist the item. 

Fortunately, some fandoms have made their IP available under common copyright laws. This is the case for Dungeons and Dragons, which makes its Systems Referencing Document (SRD) available under Creative Commons. You cannot necessarily sell “DnD” merch (as DnD is trademarked) but can create and sell items that draw inspiration from content features in the SRD. 

If you’re passionate about creating and selling fan-generated content, it’s worth getting in contact with the legal representatives of your favorite fandom. They’ll be able to tell you what you can or cannot do and will give you a clear route going forward. 

If you fail to delist an item, or repeatedly sell merchandise covered by IP law, your selling account will be banned. This effectively ends your ability to run a small online business and is hard to get around. It’s worth pointing out that selling fan-made merch may detract from your favorite show or books, too. So, rather than siphoning funds that could go towards supporting an artist, consider using your fan art to build your brand and sell your unique wares. 

Developing Unique Goods

So, you probably can’t sell merchandise directly related to your fandom. However, that doesn’t mean you need to stop producing fan-made art, shirts, or pins — you just can’t sell them. Instead, keep yourself safe from legal trouble and use your fan art to connect with your community online. This can help you build a following on sites like Instagram and Facebook, too. 

Rather than infringing on IP, consider crafting and creating your own unique goods and designs. For example, if you have a passion for sci-fi consider creating your own worlds, aliens, planets, and spaceships. This will give you plenty of inspiration for your designs and help you create a fandom of your own. 

You don’t necessarily have to use fictional worlds as inspiration for fandom content, either. Rather, follow in the footsteps of creators like Charlie Martin, who use their personal life and community connection to create unique jewelry for their online store. 

If you’re still struggling to find IP-free inspiration, consider utilizing some brainstorming tools like virtual whiteboards. A virtual whiteboard can help you integrate ideas from all over the web while storing your creations on a centralized platform. This can be particularly beneficial if you have some co-collaborators who want to pitch unique ideas. Digital whiteboards are customizable, too, meaning you can create brainstorm maps like: 

  • Concept maps
  • Mind maps
  • Brainwriting boards

These tools can help you keep track of existing projects and create new content as your business grows. They’ll also help you track the business side of your fan-made merch, as brainwriting boards can easily double as workflow platforms. 

Business Know-How  

Running a profitable small business is all about minimizing your expenses while growing sustainably. However, as a creator in the nerd-culture world, you may suddenly find that your business booms thanks to a viral video or a much-loved t-shirt/mug. 

If you do create your own fan-worthy world, consider getting in touch with small publishers like Blind Eye Books. Blind Eye Books typically promotes LGBTQ+ fiction that may struggle to find its way into the mainstream. They’re a traditional publisher, meaning they take care of the heavy lifting and can help you focus on creating a captivating world, mystery, or protagonist. 

You can learn how to respond to shifting market trends in fandom culture by developing your own business intelligence. Developing your business intelligence will help you collaborate and delegate when your team grows and will ensure that you have the logical mathematics to run a financially viable small business. 

Building your skills can give you the emotional intelligence (EI) to connect with customers, too. This is crucial if you want to sell unique designs in the fandom space. Emotional intelligence can help you predict trends and identify growing fandoms quickly. This is crucial when you experience setbacks and failure, too. Tools like Feelings Wheels help you recognize the root cause of your disappointment and start working towards productive solutions. 


Founding your own small online store is a great way to make some extra cash from your creative streak. Folks like Shannon Gradwohl, of Sunshine Avenue Beads prove that creating your own store filled with unique merch is a great way to earn some extra income and become your own boss. Just be sure to stay clear of any IP laws that may restrict your ability to sell merchandise and look for fandoms that have made a portion of their IP available in Creative Commons.

And don’t forget some of our favorite Fandom Businesses like Found Familiar Coffee (Use Code Faeforge at check out for 10% off your order!) or Green Leaf Geek (Use Code FAEFORGE on checkout for 10% off your order. *Does not apply to Custom Dice Orders*)

Images via Unsplash

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