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Tips for Setting Up a Home-Based Craft Business
A popular choice for many setting up a one-person business, is to make and sell products using your creative talents.
It can be daunting setting up a home-based business and yet it can also be very rewarding, and not just financially! If you like the idea of turning your hobby into an income, whatever your craft, you can find a large network of creative support and you get to do what you love for a living.
Just like any business though, it is not a way to get rich quick, but with patience and focus you could make a successful career from being crafty and meet like-minded people from around the world. There are many aspects of a craft business to consider and I have outlined the main ones here, to help you decide if this is the type of business for you.
OK let's start with the obvious one first. In order to make a profit~ which by the way there is nothing to feel guilty about, we all need to eat!~ you need to keep track of your outgoings.
With crafts these can be, not complicated, but certainly easier to underestimate than in many businesses and many forget to include the cost of tools and materials.
Things to remember include:
- Medium materials. These could include fabrics, threads, beads, clay, paints, varnishes etc. Anything that will be a part of the finished piece.
- Tools. Don't forget this would even include things like needles for sewing, template pattern paper, electronic equipment etc. They may last a long time but you still invested in them and they all take wear and tear.
- Fuel. If you're using tools that require being powered~ e.g. sewing machine, lampworking gas etc.~ and you have to either go and buy materials or have them delivered (unless you get free delivery of course) these will eat into your profits.
- Marketing. From getting business cards printed to buying ads in magazines or online.
- Selling fees. These will vary depending on where you sell your work. If you sell online it will be your listing fees or web hosting rent. If you sell in markets etc. it will be your rent and insurances.
- Displays. From buying a digital camera for photos to stands to show off your work at it's best taking in posters and table covers along the way (if your selling at markets/shows that is :P)
- Shipping costs. When you sell an item you not only have to take time and fuel to go and send the parcels, you also need to pay for packaging, labels and invoices.
Now I know it sounds like a scary list but please don't be put off! The point of working out these figures is to make sure you actually make a profit and it is worthwhile for you. MANY people selling handmade don't charge enough for their products. What they don't realise is they are dmaging the whole industry of handmade by doing this. The point is to sell quality and people don't mind paying what something is truly worth if it is well made and have a good experience with you.
From these costs you can then work out what you need to charge and if possible find ways to make improvements. Yes silk drawstring bags can make pretty packaging but it will really eat into your profits. Would your work also look stunning with a simple twine tie and cute label?
What To Sell
Now you may already have an idea of what you want to sell but before you start making in bulk, a little research goes a long way.
Is there any demand for your product? Are you selling what you want or what your customers want? If you have an audience already, ask them a few questions they wont mind. If you're starting from scratch have a little look online and at fairs. On Etsy and eBay check out others feedback to see what they've had success with. I'm in no way saying copy (always a no-no!!!) them but you can certainly see what the demand is for. There is a huge difference between what others have for sale and what they have sold...some items may have been sitting there stagnant for months.
Also check the latest trends through things like the Google Keyword tool and Etsy & eBay top searches lists.
Know What You Will and Won't Accept From The Beginning
Will you make items to order? Will you personalise items? If so will you accept returns on these items?
All of these questions need to be considered as well as the topics of wholesale, shipping costs, contact hours, returns, handling complaints, turn-around time (especially if making items to order) and shipping times.
It's easier for you and your customers if you can get clear on these as soon as possible, so you are ready when these topics will crop up, saving you time and stress.
Have A Clear Brand
One of the biggest mistakes many people do when they are working from home is not create a clear brand. By this I mean having a consistent and recognisable image through graphics, colours, style of writing and so on. It's your business's personality. If you were to suddenly and regularly change your look, the way you spoke to people and your likes and dislikes would your friends and family know you or know how to respond to you?
Your branding must be a part of everything you do as a business and in part even outside of it. By selling handmade you are your business, you represent it. So your website, blog, business cards, facebook page, labels, Etsy shop banner and even to an extent how you dress and speak (especially if involved in face-to-face selling) must all be in line with each other. I can't tell you how many blogs I've seen with a completely different style to the company's main website~ so much so you're not sure if you're on the right site or not.
Your brand will also serve you well. It will help keep you focused and help people remember you. Don't assume your work will be all they need to remember you by. We live in busy times and you need to remind people how good you are (more about that under marketing).
Where do you like to sell most?
Decide Where to Sell
Is selling online or face-to-face better for you? Or is it a combination of both even?
The main choices for selling handmade from home these days are selling on handmade marketplaces, your own website and stalls at markets and shows.
Take into consideration the size, weight, strength, feel and look of your items. Stalls can be a wonderful way to gauge responses to your products but they can also be expensive and hard physical work. Selling online is harder to get a clear idea of how your customers are responding, it's harder to get across just how beautiful your product is without them being able to pick it up and feel it but it's much easier physically and with less overheads.
Learn From Others
One thing I have learnt is that the craft world in particular are always happy to help...especially if you are new.
Ask people you admire for advice. Ask in groups, forums, social networks and at shows.
But of course everything in life needs balance, so also be prepared to give as much as you get. If you can help others in any way, go for it! This is not only good for them it will earn you a reputation as someone to trust and who is generous.
Know Your Marketing
I cannot stress this one enough!!!
I do not mean this as an exaggeration....Marketing will make or break your business.
Gone are the days of being able to list an item and just sit back and wait for it to sell. In fact many people spend more time marketing then making their products.
Marketing involves what you say in your listings, your photos, packaging, what you tell people online and off, networking and making friends in groups and social networks. This in many ways goes back to your brand~ your business's personality~and is what goes into how to convince your audience that they should buy your product. Business is personal these days. If people like what you have to say, trust your judgement, agree with your opinions they are more likely to spend money on what you have to make. But please be genuine...there's nothing more off-putting and obvious as when someone is just out for your money. This tends to be easier in the craft world as you are already passionate about your craft.
Chances are~ particularly at the start of your crafty adventure~ that you will at some point be working for free. This is where it's good you're working on something you love as it takes the sting out of it.
A business will not run itself and while I believe there's no need to work long days, there is still a need to be productive.
Also always be on the lookout for ways to improve your productivity. Research quicker and cheaper ways to make your product (without losing quality of course), send it, package it and so on. A great way to same some time and money is to re-use packaging from items you have bought...this is also much kinder to the environment :)
Are you spending a whole day at the fabric store when you could save time (and fuel) by buying it online? Is there a way to cut out templates quicker?
Last but not least and I'm sure you don't need telling this but be original. By having a unique style you will be helping your brand and lowering the chances of anyone saying 'you copied that from me!'.
Creatively speaking it is difficult to come up with something truly original and in fact there are many philosophers that claim there is nothing original in the world just cycles. But there is also a difference between being inspired by something and outright copying. Find what makes your products stand out and use it to generate your style that makes you stand out across your whole business~ from products to marketing.
I hope this list has helped you feel more confident about starting out as a designer/maker. It can be extremely fun and rewarding and personally speaking anything that encourages people to buy more handmade and less mass produced is a good thing!!