Starting a crafts business can be difficult, but the main difficulty I found when starting up was the lack of information available. There are a lot of places you can go to read about tips and tricks, but there are very few one-stop resources. While I won’t be able to fit a one-stop resource into this article, I do want to run down some of the most basic tips that often get overlooked by first-time handmade business owners. I believe from my experience that if these things are in place you’ll have a much better shot at success, no matter which path you take for your business.
Love What You Make
One thing that makes me sad to see is when handmade artisans go into business and then essentially give up everything they love to create in the hopes of selling. They look at what’s “in style”, do analysis on what will sell, try to come up with their target market, and so on, and by the end of it all they don’t even recognize their own creations anymore. Not only that but their love for the craft is often times diminished. This happened to me, as well, so I know that the pressure to “make what sells” is overwhelming. I’ve even seen books supposedly in existence to help artisans start their business give the advice to essentially set aside what you love to do and create for your audience. Sure, you need to create for your audience. But – news flash – your audience is you! Telling someone to put aside what they love to make to create for an audience is like telling them there’s nobody else on the earth that likes what they do, which is not only silly but a statistical improbability. Make what you love – you are your target market. If you lose your love for what you’re making, it’s all over.
Don’t Compete with Wal-Mart
Big box stores pose a competition, right? Actually, I would disagree. This is a lesson I learned the hard way, again, by trying to compete price-wise with big box retailers. But then I started thinking about it, and I realized that the people who are shopping for whatever I make at Wal-Mart are not my target market. Shopping for a cheap item you know will probably fall apart in a short time just because you want to save a buck is fine, but if that’s a shopper’s mindset they will likely not be shopping for handmade items anyway. Shoppers that frequent craft fairs and art shows and shop online at places like ArtFire aren’t looking for quick and cheap; they’re looking for well made and personal.
Not only should you price higher for handmade work, but I’ve actually found that pricing lower deters customers who know what to expect when shopping handmade. I’ve had several would-be customers tell me they love my items but because they were so inexpensive they thought I’d purchased them elsewhere and engaging in resale. No joke. I’ve also found that by pricing higher you give the item value, and you attract the right kind of customer. If you can sell a hand-knitted cashmere afghan for $40 without the customer raising an eyebrow, that customer likely has no respect for or knowledge of your work and what it’s really worth. That is not the kind of customer you want.
You are not a big box store. You make all of your items by hand and that’s something to be proud of. Let your price reflect the value of a handmade item. By competing with Wal-Mart pricing you not only undersell yourself, but you undercut every other handmade artisan asking reasonable prices because it sets a precedent for lower pricing. Don’t do it.
Experiment with Venues
I’ve done online selling, craft show selling, and I’m currently in the process of pitching my items to boutiques, art galleries, and so on. I think you should definitely make a habit of feeling out different venues and figuring out which ones you love. For instance, I hate selling online. I do it sometimes, but I really don’t like it. It’s cold, impersonal, and it takes so much time! The hours I spent writing product descriptions, conforming to SEO standards, taking pictures, editing pictures, editing some more, selecting boxes on the submission forms, answering e-mails, etc., etc., I could have made more items for my next craft show. I do recommend having an online gallery, just so people can see what you do and find you at your next venue, but that’s a simple webpage with pictures. I’m not telling you not to sell online – for some people it works wonders – but I’ve never once had success doing it. In what I spend time wise and financially online I’m losing money. But paying for a craft show booth and using my standard setup is far less expensive for me. Try out all your options and see what you like, and stick to that. I know many artisans who seem to think if they can’t make it online they’re not successful, but that’s simply not the truth. I know just as many people who make their annual salaries doing weekend craft shows. Finding what works for you is the key.
Not So Much Mind
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise, but there’s a point in the movie when he’s learning to fight and one of the samurais tells him “Too much mind,” and goes on to tell him that he cares too much about what people think, that people are watching, etc. and tells him that in order to be successful he has to have “not so much mind”. I feel the same way when it comes to owning a handmade business. It really comes down to being confident in your work and not caring what other people are doing for their own business. It cracks me up to see books offer advice to people that basically say look around at what everyone else is doing and try to keep up with the style. Are you kidding me? Your style is your own. Whatever you make is your style. It goes back to doing what you love. You really have to be confident in your work, love what you do, and have a passion for the items you’re creating. What everyone else is doing doesn’t matter. I’m not saying not to take advice from others, I’m just saying to weigh that advice against what your heart tells you to do. The handmade business is not like corporate business, and people who try to make it the same are setting themselves up for failure. People shop handmade to get away from that kind of vibe, so don’t get caught up in the hype. Do what you love, be you, and that’s what will attract your customers.
There is no one way to have a handmade crafts business. I know people who do it full time and spend their days crafting and their weekends selling at shows. I know others who have a full-time job and have very successful online businesses and ship/create after work. And I also know people who sell through boutiques and that’s that. In between these options are a myriad of choices you can choose from when it comes to how you set up and run your business. But the non-negotiable basics, in my opinion, are loving what you do, understanding that you’re not competing with big box stores, valuing your work, discovering what works for you, and not caring what others are doing if it doesn’t mesh with how you want to run your business. I hope this has been helpful to you, and I wish you luck on your journey!