Wednesday, 7 October 2015
My Top 5 Tips For Running a Successful Handmade Business
Let me start off by saying that I - in no way - consider myself a business expert.
However, I am often asked by business owners, or aspiring entrepreneurs, if I have any tips on how to succeed in today's over-saturated handmade marketplace (because apparently they deem me a success, which is quite flattering!)
Considering that it seems to be a popular question, I thought I would gather some of my thoughts and put them all into one place for your reading pleasure ;)
And as I tell everyone who asks me for advice, there is no one way to succeed; and following a set of guidelines will not equate to a flourishing business - these are just some of the things that I feel have all worked together to create a business that works for ME, and one that I am proud of.
1. BE DIFFERENT
If you do not have a unique product, or angle on the market (be it your awesome customer service, or your fancy hand tied packaging..), you will inevitably blend in among the thousand other crafters trying to make a go at this.
Potential clients are inundated every single day with new handmade businesses (I think I notice at least 3 new painters listing on Kijiji each week!), and unless you have something unique to offer, you won't get their attention.
True, you may be doing something that a lot of others are doing, but you need to find a niche that is specifically "you"- a local crocheter called "Hook Me Up" for example, has a very stylized way of photographing her items, and I can recognize them instantly on my newsfeed.
Here is an example of her work:
2. BE QUALITY
Things stick out to me for different reasons - they are either really awesome, or really poor quality to the point of being offensive!
I don't know about you, but personally I would prefer the former!
Quality comes in 2 different forms for me - quality in terms of presentation, and quality in terms of product.
In my opinion, quality presentation comes from someone who has taken the time to learn how to properly edit photos, stage photos, and brand their photos.
You may be a small operation, painting by the light of the moon at your kitchen table each night, but you can still have some stellar branding!
Vistaprint and similar websites have made it super easy to create professional logos and cards, etc, however, even if you aren't tech savvy, its very affordable to have someone help you out with this.
I personally use ARROWcreative when I have logo design needs - and Shelley can whip something up that's not only fantastic, but well within a small business budget!
You can check out her services here:
Next, quality HAS to be there in your product - if you attract someone with your fancy logo and professional presentation, but your product leaves much to be desired, you will lose that customer.
That being said, I have most definitely screwed up along the way, but for the most part, I try my very best to bring my attention to detail into each piece.
No one is 100% perfect every time, but it is usually the best bet to go above and beyond what you would normally do - then listen to feedback from your clients, your business depends on them!
A product you are selling should be at least 1 or 2 steps above a "DIY"....a quality that comes from a professional, and not that leaves the client saying "sheesh, I could have easily done this myself!"
Go that extra mile, it pays off.
3. BE HONEST
I can't stress this one enough....your clients know when you are fooling them (even if you think they don't).
Be honest about your limitations so that your clients don't expect something that is above and beyond what you can deliver.
Don't tell them that you can upholster if you're planning on watching a YouTube video to learn how to do it before they drop their chairs off!
You are setting yourself up for a tonne of stress, and potentially a disgruntled client.
Don't offer a service unless you are confident you can do it to the best of your ability.
Be honest about the condition of your pieces - if your product is vintage furniture, people understand that these are not brand new, and may come with quirks, HOWEVER, as the seller, you should be expected to disclose as much as you know about its condition before they agree to purchase it.
Does one drawer stick? That likely isn't an issue to the potential buyer if they love the item, but you don't want them to be upset when they get it home and realize that after the fact - lay it all out for them and be honest about its condition.
Be honest towards other businesses - do NOT undercut your fellow crafter and do not steal ideas/photos/customers.
This is bad business and I can tell you for a fact that these people earn themselves a bad reputation very quickly.
4. BE SOCIAL
Do you still think that social media isn't important for your small business? Think again.
Facebook is hands down, the heart of my business.
That being said, I have spent MANY MANY hours not only posting and responding, but learning how to read and interpret my page insights.
Haven't checked your page insights before? You are definitely at a disadvantage! Set aside some time to educate yourself.
Also, people think that Facebook is free advertising and it just "runs itself"....sorry to say, this is anything but true. I have to work HARD to keep up my Facebook views, and often times my posts only reach 1% of my followers.
Facebook determines where your page with show up in your followers newsfeeds, and in order to stay at the top of the pack, it can be pretty cut throat!
Expect to spend up to 4 hours a day on social media in order to boost your views and gain the following that's required to generate sales.
Facebook also isn't "free", as businesses do need to fork over some dough if they want to gain an edge on their competition. I am NOT talking about "buying" likes, I am talking about paid advertising...
Just like in the good old days, when businesses used to take out newspaper ads, Facebook offers pages the opportunity to purchase ad space on their potential clients newsfeeds. If the potential client
sees the ad, and is intrigued, they will visit the page and hopefully give them a "like"!
If you want to have greater exposure and just aren't reaching enough people on your page currently, I would highly recommend a good ad campaign (but as with any good advertising, expect to pay!)
5. BE REALISTIC
Do you think running your own creative business is a "dream job"? An easy way to make a living doing something you love?
Although I LOVE what I do, and feel blessed every single day to be able to work for myself, I know that this business has required more of me than I have ever given to any other full time job!
Running your own successful creative business will require unending effort as you go through the start up phase and beyond.
Have you noticed that many of these small crafting businesses appear and then seem to disappear overnight? I believe this is why - they do not have the time is requires to fully invest themselves into making this a career.
There are those people that are totally content to run their business as a pseudo-hobby, selling a few items/pieces here and there, with no real pressure if things don't sell.
I'm referring more so to people that want to make this their full-time job, and think that perhaps they can put in 40 hours a week and their business will take off.
I start my day at 6 am answering messages from my bed, and end the day in the same fashion. I am at the studio generally 8 hours a day, but am working almost steady outside of those hours as well.
You also need to be realistic about income - there is no in between for me, either I go at it full force, or I cannot go at it at all (and would need to get another part time job for steady income).
For the first year or so, my estimations put me at netting about $500-800/month after expenses....and that was working about 50 hours a week....I don't even want to do the hourly math!
YES, I loved it and that's what kept me going, but if finances are an immediate concern for you, please be realistic about what you can bring in doing something like this.
It is only within the last year that I have been able to charge more of what my time is worth, and in essence, make enough to keep myself in business and justify the enormous amount of time and effort I put into it!
If its about the money for you, better just pack it in right now!
Expect nothing in the beginning, and you will be much better prepared to deal with some of the financial strain that can come.
There are a lot of crafters out there - offer a quality product and is DIFFERENT and recognizable. Build a brand. Get a logo. Take good photos. Show your customers that you take your business seriously by investing time into professional presentation.
Be an honest business owner and member of the artisan community - don't be a jerk and steal other people's ideas, this will catch up to you.
Don't expect to work 10 hours a week and make 50k/year....expect to make nothing in the first year, and be ok with that. Anything extra is bonus! If you can do what you are doing for free, and still enjoy it, then you're on the right track and all your hard work will pay off :)
Thanks for reading!!