Starting a new craft business is daunting, but also exciting. You have taken the first important steps such as sorting out insurance and informing the taxman, but now you want to get stuck in, make the sales and create a profitable handmade business you can be proud of.
In this post I am sharing with you my top tips – or rather dos and don’ts on how to achieve that goal. I have made loads of mistakes in my six years of trading – so you don’t have to!
- Don’t spend a fortune on branding.
Every marketer will tell you how important branding is and some people might also tell you to spend a fortune on a logo, stationary, website – the works. No, you don’t have to – not when you are just starting out. Of course creating your brand is important, but to me this is a process. A brand can evolve and change, just like your business does. When I had my first website I didn’t really have a logo and only a vague idea of what my brand should look like, when I revamped it for the first time I made my nautilus into a logo, mainly because people liked it and it was a best-selling product. I didn’t hire anyone to create that, I simply took a photo of it. Last year I revamped my website again, because I wanted everything to be in WordPress and my old website just didn’t have the functions I needed. I was five years into my business and had a clearer idea of what my website, logo and overall brand should look like. I didn’t hire anyone for my logo, I created it myself and asked friends and fellow crafters which of my various logo ideas they liked best. And because I love cats and sell a lot of cat related products, the logo had to be a cat of course. If you don’t trust your own design abilities you can find affordable logo designers on Fiverr or Etsy. Some sellers even offer you a whole package with FB cover, stationary design and other features.
- Spend time developing and road testing your product.
When you start out it is very tempting to create and make new products, after all this is the fun part of your craft business. However before you go wild and end up with a lot of handmade products that nobody will necessarily buy, road test them first. Develop your product and make a prototype rather than producing loads of the same item. Ask your friends and folks on Facebook what they think of it. Take it to craft fairs to see if it attracts any interest or sells. If you get positive feedback you can start thinking of making variations of if or more of the same.
- Don’t spend a fortune on craft supplies.
Now this is a biggie – and trust me I have done this. It is very tempting. I design jewellery and it’s one of those crafts where you can learn and play with many techniques and materials. It is so tempting to buy new beads, tools and craft kits and play around with these things. This is fine, if you can afford to do this, but at the start of your business money is generally tight and ideally budgeted. Choose a few materials instead and hone your skills. Experimenting is fine as it can help you finding and defining your niche or specialty. I started out mainly using semi-precious beads and seed beads, but found seed beads too fiddly and discovered polymer clay, which is currently my favourite material to work with, because of its endless possibilities. However, working with polymer clay isn’t cheap and comes with a huge variety of other craft materials and tools that you end up using. The temptation is always there for me to try out new things. If you find that you have materials that you don’t use – sell them on. Facebook has a lot of destash groups for crafters like this one which I run.
- The customer is not always right.
Yes, you read this correctly. What I mean with this is – often customers, or rather would-be customers, ask you “Why don’t you make xyz?”. And then you go to your bench or craft table and create it, only to find that there’s no interest or market and the person who asked for it doesn’t buy it either. Usually people have asked me in the past to make things that are fashionable at the time for example someone suggested I should make Shambhala bracelets (which I don’t like) or “50 Shades of Grey” charm bracelets (I haven’t read the books and am not remotely interested in them). I didn’t make those, because in the past I had been encouraged to make lots of foot thongs that nobody wanted to buy and learnt my lesson. These days I only make something like this on commission with money upfront, so I know this particular item will sell. I have to like what I make and following trends isn’t what my own business is about, because I don’t want to copy designs and ideas already out there.
- Make it harder for copycats.
Copyright infringement is a huge issue and I have seen posts in FB groups where people bitterly complain about their photos being stolen and their items being copied. I actually don’t know if this has happened to me as I don’t spend time googling these things. I am sure there are people out there who do this. I watermark my photos as a deterrent, however copycats can always find a way around this. I am also very generous with what I am sharing and often show my work in progress. If someone copies my stuff, there’s not an awful lot I can do about it other than to make it harder to copy and simply make my creations more unique and uncopyable. Ideas can’t be copyrighted – techniques, however, can be copyrighted. Copyright is a bit of a minefield. I am always worried that I will inadvertently copy someone else when I don’t intend to do so. When I work with a technique I learnt from someone else I point this out and acknowledge it. So in a nutshell – don’t copy other people’s work, be original and make it harder for others to copy your work. For more information about copyright check out this website of the organisation DACS .
- Learn and improve new or existing skills
Continuous professional development (CPD) is important when you run any business. Go on courses to improve your existing skills or learn something new related to your chosen craft. I have been to a lot of courses such as silver-smithing, PMC (precious metal clay) and several polymer clay workshops. Going on these courses is great because you don’t just learn new skills you can also meet nice people and make new friends. I have also attended a PTLLS course where I learnt how to teach other people, which is quite useful too. If you find going on courses is too expensive you can try online courses instead as a cheaper alternative. I can recommend CraftArtEdu where they teach all sorts of different crafts. CPD is not just about learning new craft skills though. You might find other areas in your business where you need to improve such as photography, bookkeeping and of course marketing or how to teach your craft online. I have actually done Nicola’s Teach your craft online course with the intention to eventually teach others, but haven’t got around to creating my course yet.
- Don’t just rely on social media for your marketing.
Social media is great. It’s mainly free and you can create a following. However not everyone is on social media and Facebook, still the most popular one, keeps changing the goal posts making it harder for micro-businesses to reach their fans or “likers”. If you find Facebook works well for you – great. However, don’t dismiss other more traditional ways to reach a new audience. Why not reach out to publications and pitch them a feature idea that involves your business? Or offer a prize for the readers and a discount. PR is hard graft and not easy. It takes a while until you will finally find an outlet that will say yes. Make sure you know the publication that you are targeting and its audience.
Another way to reach new audiences is to write a guest post on a blog which attracts a big audience. Winning competitions is also great PR for your business, why not find a competition that you could enter – and by that I mean juried competitions.
- Use quieter times wisely.
There are times when business is quiet and you will find that sales are dropping. Mainly during the summer months when everyone is on holiday or when you are ill. Of course you could take the opportunity to go on holiday too, but if you don’t go, there are a lot of things you can do for your business. Such as develop new products, read business related books, overhaul the look of your social media accounts, declutter and destash, write blog posts, learn a new skill and so much more. I have actually written a whole blog post on this very topic which you can find here.
- Support other crafters.
Crafters often tend to end up being friends with other crafters and seek out support groups, which is great. Sharing advice and helping others not only feels good, but also will help you in the long run. Some people, not all of course, will remember you and give back. I have interviewed a lot of fellow crafters and also edited interviews with crafters for UK Handmade which certainly has helped their business. I am also happy to share what others make on my social media and make sure that I comment on and like the pages that I follow. I know how hard it is these days for FB page owners to get seen. I am also happy to share advice wherever I can in groups. Eventually this will pay off.
- Don’t give up quickly!
Here’s the thing. There are some craft business owners, who are an instant success within a year. They sell loads, they get a lot of coverage on social media and simply lucked out. The right idea at the right time or other factors might be in play. However for most of us success doesn’t come over night and you might find that in your first year you only sell very little and make a loss. Believe me – I have been there and my sales are not where they should be now. Of course I blame austerity and the fact that in the last three years people really struggle financially and can’t afford to buy something that isn’t really essential. However I am still trading and continuously looking for new ideas and ways to improve my business and get the sales. I have invested too much in this to give up quickly and am in it for the long haul. So don’t get disheartened after the first year. Experiment with marketing strategies and find out what works for you and ditch things that don’t work for your business. This year I have decided to no longer list my jewellery in my ETSY shop, because I concluded it’s not the right fit for me. This decision has freed up head space and I can fully concentrate on my website.
I hope these tips are useful to you. Don’t forget to enjoy what you do. After all that’s why you started your business.