The Business of Handmade - Part 1: A Primer To Start Your Business

I have been very fortunate to find my creative journey and do what I love every day. I am truly living my dream. It is always magical but isn't always easy. It is TONS of hard work, even MORE mistakes than you can imagine, and some days I would rather play with a pile of yarn than be a business owner and do paperwork (I really loathe paperwork). And the truth is, by my own standard, I am not really that successful. I have SO MUCH I want to do and eventually land with my very own yarn shop with a classroom in the front for people to learn and share fiber love and an after school yarn program for neighborhood kids. Ah... I have so far to go. But I will get there.

And, while I am by no means a business guru or authority, I love sharing my journey and what I learn because it feeds my own success as much as it helps others. I get a LOT of emails, messages, tweets and posts asking for help on how to start a crochet, knit or creative business or open an Etsy shop. It is incredibly humbling. But... The truth is that this is a very difficult question to answer. There is no easy, "hey do this and you will be a success" formula. Every creative business is different.

You have to determine your own goals and road map. Hopefully, with this series: The Business Of Handmade, I can help you do that. Over this series we will talk about:

A Primer To Start Your Business (this post)
What Kind Of Etsy Shop Is Right For YOU
Do You Want A Business or A Side Hustle
If You Don't Love It Don't Do It

So let's get started!

Like I said above, there is no quick cookie cutter formula that I can give you to say do this and you will be a success. Having said that, here are 5 steps I took that may work for you and help you get your path started.

1. Open an Etsy Shop
Though the bulk of my business has moved off of the platform, joining Etsy was the best decision I ever made. Truly. Etsy gave me a place to get started, test the waters, learn about internet marketing and online sales without the burden of developing a full eCommerce site. It is SO EASY to use and setting up my shop took a matter of hours. When you join Etsy, it is not a magic wand and poof you will have sales. It takes work. You can use this link to get started with an Etsy shop and get 40 free listings!  (disclaimer: if you use this link, I will also get free listings as part of the easy affiliate program)

The next post in this series will dive into WHAT kind of Etsy shop is right for you.  Here are my general Etsy Starter Tips:

Join the Etsy Success Team. This is a team headed up by Etsy Admin for the community to discuss, exchange and explore ways to succeed

Read the Etsy Seller Handbook & Etsy Blogs. They are a wealth of information. Take the info and apply it to your shop. Not everything will apply. Go in baby steps. Do what you can so you are not overwhelmed.

Learn SEO. You do not need to become an SEO behind the scenes wiz. But it would be in your best interest to take time and learn the basics. Etsy has wonderful blogs and teams about SEO and how to make it work for you.

Take great photos. You don't need an expensive camera or to hire a photographer to get started. I still use my iPhone and some great photo apps sometimes. Show all the angles (front, side view, back view, etc.) and remember: Most shoppers are visual. Make your photos appealing.

Give all the information that you can without too much fluff in your item descriptions. That's not really the place to show off your creative writing skills. Give the facts: size, measurements, materials, use or functionality, etc. Check out my photo hacks here.

Use ALL the Etsy features. Etsy offers some really great shop features (About, Profile, online presence links). Use them ALL. Take some time to really think about telling your shop story in the About section but then maybe a little more about you as a person in your profile. Use the links to social media. I cannot say it again, Etsy makes it so easy why not use these areas?

2. Build customer relationships.
Social Media is an amazing overwhelming thing. I get it. But it is essential to grow your business in modern times because it IS your storefront. There are lots of different approaches to social media. You will have to work to find what's best for you and your business. Personally, I have more than one social media account. Some I use specifically for business, some I use to engage with other crocheters and others in the fitness community and other areas of interest.

I also started a blog as a way to take customers behind the scenes in both my design and creation process. It is a fun way to interact and share the backstory. I also offer free patterns and special coupons and articles like this that may be of help to my blog readers. We will be launching an in depth Social Media Series in two weeks.

3. Find your market.
In addition to my Etsy pattern shop, I also sell my patterns and designs on Ravelry and Craftsy. That is where my audience is. So if you know where your target market is, go there and sell to them. And look for new places to find them.
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4. Build your own online presence.
In addition to my Etsy shop, I have my own stand alone website. This allows me freedom of design, content and inventory variation and control. It took some time to find the right platform. For me, I have a shop with supadupa and one with squarespace. BOTH are fabulous and offer incredible customer support. I have nothing but good things to say about them. I have been with each since they launched. Read Toni of TL Yarn Crafts talk about why this is important here.

5. Try new things.
My biggest tip is that you have to try new things. Some will work. Some will fail in epic proportions. But that is the best way to learn what works for your business. I cannot tell you how many things didn't work. But finding out that something doesn't work is not always bad. It often leads to something brilliant that does work.

Track things you try. Don't just haphazardly throw things at the wall hoping something sticks. Be deliberate and consider what will get you where you want to go. If something doesn't work, take a beat. Look at WHY it didn't work. Maybe it was an ad that just needs some tweaking. Maybe it was an ad that needs art and photos. Maybe it was the wrong demographic. There is ALWAYS something to learn from failure.

Finding those lessons and takeaways is how you will also find success. This is number 5 on the list but probably the single most important tip I can impart to you. Failures and mistakes are ESSENTIAL for success.

So there it is. My five tips to get you and your road map to a successful handmade business off the ground. The one thing I didn't mention (because I assume if you are here you know this) is you have to do the work. You can't be lazy. It takes lots of work and long hours but the joy and fulfillment I have found and continue to find is immeasurable. I work weekends. I work late at night. I work early mornings. I work! But I would not trade a minute of it and could not imagine it any other way.