The Real Poop
Do you suffer from athophobia? Belonephobia? How about entomophobia? (That's a fear of flowers, sharp objects, and insects, respectively, if you were wondering.) If you do, you may not want to bother reading further. See, at a certain point—an early one—in the arc of your beekeeping career, you're bound to encounter all three.
That being said, if the issues mentioned above don't relate to you, we're probably okay to move on.
Being a beekeeper is an honorable trade going back nearly 15,000 years (source). But while we human folk have always loved the sweet nectar of honey, more than a few things have changed since we started collecting it. One such example (whew) is the pay structure.
This may surprise you, but modern beekeepers no longer trade their wares for three twigs, a back scratch, and "that one rock Ug found yesterday." These days, beekeepers earn a whopping $73,210 a year (so long as they're good at what they do and live in the right state, of course) (source). Benefits include all the honey and acupuncture you could ask for.
To be a successful beekeeper, you've first got to understand bee behavior. That's a whole topic in itself, and one you should know well before you don your first beekeeping suit.
Melittology (the study of bees) tells you all about how bees keep themselves healthy, what sorts of bees there are, their communication and navigation skills, and their social structure. You'll also need to learn a bit about the business of keeping bees, and how to keep swarms of things that can sting you happy in tiny cages.
Often, this isn't so complicated that it requires a four-year degree—though many beekeepers do have degrees in entomology or botany—but taking at least one formal course can be a big help to any aspiring beekeeper.
Often, you can find programs to help get you started at public colleges with solid agriculture programs. After that, it's simply a matter of scrounging up the money to buy your equipment (and some bees—don't forget those).
You'll also need to ensure that your county, city, and neighborhood association—you know, the one that doesn't even let you hang your laundry out to dry for longer than two hours a day—allows beekeeping in backyards or rooftops. This is key if you want to sell (or even give) the honey you produce to neighbors, local farmers' markets, or independent grocery stores.
The best way to check is to contact your city council person and ask. Most places in the U.S. do allow beekeeping, but better to know ahead of time. Finding out too late can be kind of a—that's right—buzz kill.
Of course, buying and maintaining your bees is only half the battle. Building what often begins as a hobby into a veritable honey empire is going to take a lot of effort, business savvy, and creativity. Honey isn't exactly a novel product, nor is it difficult to come by, so you're going to need a solid strategy to make sure it's your bees' butt jelly sitting in your neighbors' pantries and not someone else's.
Local farmers' markets are a great place to start, as are local grocery stores—basically anywhere people buy food. Especially local food. Once the sales start coming in, you'll need to get smart about how much of your profits are, well, profits, and how much you can spare as an investment. Do you buy that PlayStation 4, or invest in adding another hive to the property? At some point, you may even wind up needing to upgrade the property itself.
Like many jobs where you're working for yourself, there's a lot of risk involved...and no, we don't mean from the stingers. Colonies contract illnesses, local markets close down, and roving flocks of hungry summer tanagers descend upon your helpless little bee friends by moonlight while you sleep. Admittedly, some of these things happen more frequently than others.
Still, despite potential difficulties, those of you who love bees, honey, and endlessly answering the question "yeah, but how many times have you been stung?" will have a hard time finding a better job. Helping nature, your bank account, and people's tea taste better all at the same time? Pretty sweet if you ask us.