This is a subject I am really passionate about – I love small handmade business ventures for so many reasons.
After giving up my traditional career to raise our son, I felt lost. We had just moved again (one of the downsides of marrying into the military), I had no job and no friends and not much of a clue of how to find them. I was also up to my neck in significant intervention for our son, who had received an autism diagnosis a year prior. I was lonely and sad and obsessively researching all kinds of information that might help him. My husband was concerned. I was concerned.
He pretty much told me (and I am not exactly the submissive type) – “Get a hobby” and he also included the caveat of “that doesn’t have anything to do with autism”.
I thought about my bucket list… as a child I had loved watching Torvill and Dean, so, given that we now lived in a town with more than 5 ice rinks, I enrolled in adult figure skating classes. I can’t say it was super successful, other than I can now competently make it around the ice without clinging to the side, but, it felt good to try something new.
My next idea stemmed from a necklace I saw someone wearing at a conference – it was really unusual – made from ‘fused glass’, and, with a few clicks of a mouse (putting those research skills to good use) I found a local glass studio that offered classes. I signed up for an introductory one and was hooked!
However many years later, I have a real handmade business!
During that first few years, I acquired a second-hand kiln and did a few local, holiday craft fairs, and now I have a website, an online store, still do events, but, more importantly, I have a purpose. It brings in income, gives me a sense of identity and the best part of it, for that lonely stay-at-home parent – I have a little ‘village’ of crafty friends, some of whom have moved on from Colorado, or moved on from crafting businesses, or both, but we still remain connected through that shared interest.
How can you start your own handmade business journey?
Firstly – you need a hobby! Whether it’s glass art like me, or knitting, sewing, painting, it has to be something you enjoy and if you’re intending to sell your creations, you have to be somewhat skilled at it. If you’re just starting, then use opportunities to practice your craft, or maybe take a class to improve your technique. When I first started glass fusing, I took a couple of extra classes, and I also made gifts for friends and for our son’s teachers.
What about selling at events?
When I was ready to start selling some items, more than anything to see whether anyone would actually buy what I created, I partnered with a friend. There was a craft fair at a local church, so we decided to split a booth (luckily they allowed this, not all fairs do however). This allowed us to split the cost and also the space. She made wonderful handmade cards, so, we weren’t competition for each other. Sharing made the day more fun, but also helped us because we didn’t have to fill the whole space with inventory. As my business grew, I started applying for larger fairs and booths by myself. I also worked on my display and increasing my inventory.
In my opinion, the best place to find local craft fairs looking for vendors is Facebook. Check local mom, crafting or event groups. Local churches and schools often host handmade and vendor events.
If the event allows booth sharing, see if a fellow crafty friend is interested in joining you, but choose non-competing items. This might be soap and crochet, or jewelry and paper crafts, like I did.
Keep in mind that many categories, like jewelry, may have limited spots and are filled quickly. I found it helpful (and cost effective) to start with smaller fairs. This way my cost to rent a booth was low and I was able to learn how to best display my items, what was popular and how to actually sell without breaking the bank. Some events even allow you to rent a table if you don’t have your own, but, if you find after a couple of fairs that you are both having fun and making money, you’ll want to buy your own. Walmart, Costco and Target all sell them.
Can handmade businesses thrive by selling online?
There are so many ways to sell online and today’s social media culture has made it even easier than in the past. Many people sell their creations on Facebook, Instagram, Ebay, Etsy and even on their own websites.
It is super easy to start a handmade business page or group on Facebook . You can share your creations, ask friends to join in as your initial support and grow from there. There are also tons of groups already in existence where handmade items can be sold (although be sure to follow their posting rules, many groups have a specific format), as well as Facebook Marketplace.
If there isn’t a local ‘craft fair’ group in your area, consider starting your own.
Many crafters also sell via Ebay, although, Ebay buyers aren’t always the target market for handmade goods – and don’t auction your items, sell them as ‘buy it now’.
Instagram is another wonderful way to get your goods out there in front of potential buyers – being a visual platform, if you have great pictures, it can be a great way to sell your goods. Instagram utilizes hashtags in its search algorithm, and if you can find some that match your products and ‘brand’, go for it!
The most well known, online platform used in the US for selling handmade goods is Etsy and is the one I personally sell on. Etsy offers a unique marketplace experience for handmade sellers, with reasonable costs and a super easy interface for sellers to navigate. It also offers the ability to purchase shipping labels at commercial rates, saving you money and hassle when it’s time to ship out your handmade business creations to their new homes.
It is easy to set up a store on Etsy – and here’s a link to set up with your first 40 listings for free. Usually, you will pay 20c per item you list to sell on the site, then you’ll pay a percentage of your item when it sells. Be sure to read the seller handbook on the site for any directions you need, but, it’s pretty intuitive.
Personally, I would wait to set up your own e-commerce site until your sales levels make a fee-based platform such as Etsy uneconomical. With your own webstore, you will need to consider how you will receive credit card payments (all providers charge a fee) and how to best integrate shipping options. You would also want to ensure you have a method to drive traffic from the web to your store – and this takes research and work – and time.
Can I do this?
Yes! You can. Whatever your desired level of income and time commitment, a handmade business is a real option for those looking to build a business, a supplementary income or just a hobby that pays for itself.
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