Mail Order Craft Home-Based Business
Craft Business from Home
I am writing this hub to let you know there are ways of operating a business from home without having to physically be there all the time. It is called mail order...a term almost everyone is familiar with.
The traditional form of mail order still exists, where catalogs are sent out to a mailing list and customers place their order...then wait for the items to arrive in the mail. With the power of the internet, orders can be placed quicker and paid for using either a credit card or electronic cheque. The items still arrive via the post office in most cases (some are shipped UPS or some other overnight delivery company), but the whole process takes a lot less time than the traditional 6 - 8 weeks.
I personally used to run a fabric/quilt supplies business from home strictly mail order. It was great! I would get my orders, and fill them at night when my children were sleeping. I also sent my customers a monthly newsletter, which I always had fun putting together. Business was good, and I am sorry to say I got greedy. I opened up a storefront downtown thinking my business would increase, but with the overhead I was paying, my business eventually failed.
My advice is to start small...and stay small. You can have a room in your basement or a corner of the guest room for your supplies, and add to your inventory as time and money allow. I started out by buying fabric on sale and cutting charm squares. Eventually, I was able to purchase bolts of fabric and offer more selection. My first catalog was 8.5"X11" sheets of copy paper bound with plastic spines...and actual fabric swatches enclosed. I advertised in a couple of magazines, and sent catalogs to those who requested them. I slowly built up a customer list, and even if they didn't order right away I still sent them a copy of my newsletter.
I eventually found a supplier for fabrics and another for notions, and soon had a nice little business going. Hindsight is 20/20, and if I had known then what I know now, I would have kept operating from my home and never opened up a storefront. I had much more flexibility then, and was not tied to a tight schedule. If my children needed my attention, I could give it to them. I didn't have the overhead of a babysitter or have to worry if they were being taken care of properly. I could go for walks with them during the day, and work while they napped.
What You Will Need
All you need to set up a mail order craft business is a small supply of items, which can easily be obtained through a wholesaler. Often, eBay is a good place to start looking. Another place is Etsy.com, where all items are craft oriented. I strongly suggest you try this one first. As you become more familiar with these, I encourage you to look into other suppliers as well. Sometimes one place doesn't have all you want, so finding additional suppliers is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with wanting to stay loyal to one supplier, but keep in mind they also go where the best deals for the products are...these savings are sometimes passed on to you.
With the power of the internet, you can almost bypass having a printed catalog. The decision is up to you though, as you may be passing up some big orders if you do not have a printed catalog. Even though we live in the electronic age, there are still many people who do not have computers or internet service. Scanning your fabrics and taking pictures of your other supplies with a digital camera makes catalog building much simpler. I recommend using PrintShop software to design your catalogs...I have used it for several projects, and am very pleased. They can be printed on your home computer, and you only print as many as you think you will need. Save your catalog on your computer or on a memory stick, and make changes as time goes on. This way, you will not have to redesign the catalog each time...just make the necessary changes and print off the finished catalog.
Along with your catalog, you may wish to have a website. These can be designed quite easily with either a free web hosting service (Webs.com) or by contacting your ISP provider and paying a monthly fee for a website. I personally have used Webs.com, and was very pleased with the results. It takes only a little while to set up, and editing can be done at any time. If you are pleased with the results but do not want the ads rotating on your site, they also give you the option to pay a monthly fee.
As I said before, I started with selling 5" charm squares and built up my business from there. I was eventually able to stock a lot of bolts of fabric, as well as many notions. You can do the same, and yet have the freedom and flexibility to give your family the time they deserve. If you wish to open to the public as your business grows, it is entirely up to you. I wish I had stayed small...not tried to go too big too fast. It was a hard lesson learned, and I have my regrets. On the flipside though, I did learn a very valuable lesson, even though it cost me all I had.
It is a good idea to have an assortment of envelopes and small boxes on hand for shipping orders to your customers. If selling only fabric squares, Kraft envelopes will do nicely. If shipping other items, padded envelopes or small boxes available at your post office will work nicely. Be sure to have proper padding in place for more fragile items.
Keep track of your expenses and income. There are software programs on the market for this, but you may find it just as easy to use a columnar book and a ledger. Either way, it is vital you keep accurate track of your expenses and sales. You can also claim part of your housing expenses as a business expense...if doing this, it is vital you have a certain area of your home set aside to do business. The square footage of your office/shop space comes into play when figuring out how much you can claim on your taxes.
In addition to keeping track of expenses and income, it is a good idea to keep accurate track of supplies and inventory as well. That way, you'll know exactly where you stand at any given time. For example: you receive an order for 20 necklaces, but only have 15. You can immediately let your customer know how many you have on hand. You can give the customer the option of having the order shipped with the remainder to follow (with free S&H), or give them a date when you will be able to ship the entire order at once. Your customer will usually appreciate the honesty and will more often than not wait for the entire order.
Wrapping It Up
As you can see, operating a mail order craft business from home will allow you to earn an income without costing you a fortune. It was a hard lesson for me to learn, but I am now able to share my mistakes and try to prevent others from making the same ones.
I do hope this has been helpful...if you have any questions, please post them in the comments section and I will do my best to answer them. Good luck to all who have been inspired to start a mail order craft business!