If you make crafts as a hobby, you may have daydreamed about turning it into a money-making business.
But there’s no reason to assume it has to stay a daydream; there are many examples of people who have managed to achieve just this.
One example is that of Louise Walker, who expects to turnover £80,000 this year from selling knitted animal heads in the style of wall-mounted hunting trophies.
Another making money from their craft is Kate Broughton who is able to pay herself a salary of £20,000 from creating handmade greetings cards.
The thing these two stories have in common is that both these entrepreneurs started their business using the website Etsy. This website allows individuals to sell craft items through their online shop and there are many more people who have been able to monetise their hobby.
With Etsy now reaching close to a million online stores, there is a lot of competition for business and it might appear to be a crowded marketplace. Other websites can offer a similar service, or alternatively, you might want to consider teaming up with a local business to sell your product in their store for a percentage of the sales price.
Whichever route you go down, there are a number of things to consider if you want to try to become one of these success stories.
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Choose your outlet(s)
There are several options for websites to sell your wares on. As well as Etsy, Amazon and eBay both offer online shops, but they all charge a fee for listing your items (so you pay a small amunt regardless of whether someone bites) and take a percentage of your earnings from anything you do sell.
You could go it alone and set up a Facebook page for your business - it's a bit more hands on as you'd have to manage any sales yourself by either invoicing or sending them a link to your Paypal, but this could end up more profitable in the long run.
Kickstarter has a craft project section and this has the benefit that will be able to gauge demand before committing yourself to a product range, as well as knowing you’ve got guaranteed sales before you start producing your items.
Teaming up with a local business, such as a coffee shop or bookstore, gives you a substantially different experience.
Small businesses usually offer 'Sale or return' which means they essentially 'borrow' your stock to display in their shop, and if it doesn't sell, you have to collect it again. If it does sell, they take a cut, usually around 40%. Alternatively, they may want to buy your stock from you at trade prices so they can make more of a margin when they sell - usually on smaller ticket items like cards, as it becomes too much hassle to keep a record for sale or return.
You might also be able to have conversations with customers about what they like about your product and get ideas for possible improvements. There is also the benefit of being able to market it as locally produced which could prove to be attractive to buyers.
Support your local community
In June 2018, an independent bookshop in Harrogate called Imagined Things Bookshop sent out a despondent tweet that read 'We only took £12.34 today... if anyone was thinking about buying a book, now would be a great time! Things have been tough recently - today the worst day ever. A card, a book, anything makes a huge difference to a small business like ours. We'd be very grateful for your support.'
It caught Twitter's attention and at the time of writing had received almost 6,000 retweets, and people placed orders in droves.
It echoes the sentiment of the Just A Card campaign, which promotes the sale of just a card - in other words, if you go into a local bookshop, art gallery or coffee shop and you like what you see, but you don't want to spend a lot - just buy a card. If everyone did that instead of buying their cards at big supermarkets, hundreds of local businesses would be able to carry on trading.
And if they're still trading, then you'll be able to ask about selling your crafts with them, too - what goes around, comes around!
Knowledge is power
Make sure you do your research.
This includes looking at the different outlet options to assess:
• What sort of competition is out there
• What is selling
• How to market your item in terms of photographs, descriptions, customisation options and almost anything else you can think of that makes your product stand out from the crowd.
Quality not quantity
Having seen what else is in the marketplace you will know if your proposed product is able to compare favourably to what else is on offer.
If not, you will have to consider your options - you could work hard at improving your craft to meet the level of the marketplace or look at doing something very unique and unlike anything else available.
If you can create a product that no-one else is producing you will definitely stand out and make sales – assuming there is demand for it.
A rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you would buy your product. If the answer is no, then you may have picked something a bit too out there and you might need to go back to the drawing board.
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Patience is a virtue
It’s important to remember that most businesses do not make a profit in their first year, and the same will apply even more so with a small business if you have to buy any tools or bulk purchase materials.
The more you put in, the more you are likely to get out; you’ll need to gauge at what level you are comfortable operating.
You may be just looking to sell one or two items a month simply to allow you to continue with your hobby; if that’s the case, you only need to put in as much time as you have available.
It’s all about the money, money, money
You need to ensure you price your product appropriately.
Remember that turnover does not equal profit, and you will need to take into account all of your costs.
This will be the obvious costs, such as materials, postage and any fees you need to pay to your chosen outlet.
You will also want to add on costs for wear and tear on any equipment you might use or even rental costs if you need to hire a room or storage, plus a little extra for profit for yourself.
The profit element will probably be dependent on where you want to position yourself in the market place, which you’ll need to judge from your research.
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The customer is always right
Make sure you treat your customers well, especially in the early days when you only have a few orders.
Word of mouth and recommendations on websites will be vital to increasing your sales.
Ensure that when your items are delivered, they are packaged well and not likely to be damaged in transit, and ensure they are sent out in the advertised timescales.
Smell what sells
The ability to analyse your sales is very useful.
Some online stores will allow you to do so, but if this is not an option then you should log your sales as much as possible.
Viewers of The Apprentice would have heard Alan Sugar telling contestants to “smell what sells.”
If you have more than one product or outlet then knowing where you are making your sales will allow you to allocate your products more profitability.
Remember why you're doing it
Turning a hobby into a small business always runs the risk of turning something you love into a chore.
Make sure you know why you want to start selling your products.
Is it to make money? Then fine, but bear in mind that at some point it might not be as enjoyable as it was previously; the financial reward will become the goal.
If it is just so you can continue your hobby and share it with others, then make sure that stays at the forefront of your mind and that you don’t overwork yourself trying to keep up with orders.
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