Should I make my hobby into a business?

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing this blog post for a while. In fact I actually sat down and wrote these thoughts in my notebook, then put it aside because I wasn’t sure whether to post it online. Why am I in two minds about this? Well basically I have read so many fantastic blog posts and articles about how to turn a hobby into a business; all written by amazingly talented crafters who have successfully turned their passion into a business. I love reading these; they inspire and encourage me. They are always full of great advice. However, they do give the impression that as long as you put enough work in and you believe in it enough, you can achieve your dream. There is a lot of truth in this but it is also true that many people who start a craft business, don’t make it or don’t make it as big as they hoped. This can lead to people feeling discouraged and wonder where they went wrong.

This blog post is for anyone thinking about whether they should try and sell the things they make; not from someone who has made it but from someone who hasn’t (yet!!). I often get approached by people who want advice on starting to sell their wares, which is great but if you are in that situation hopefully this will give you a few things to think about, that you may not have thought about first. They are things learnt through trial and error. I hope it won’t put you off making the transition from hobby to business but will give you a few ‘reality checks’ and make you more prepared.

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  1. What is it that you really want? Now for someone who hasn’t made it, you’d be surprised how many time people come up to me and ask my advice on selling their handmade stuff. It’s fine, I try and help as much as I can. The first thing I try to find out is what they really want. What is it that they hope to gain? Some people are looking for an easy way to make a bit of extra cash; others are bored in their jobs and want to make a career change; others want to do something extra while they are at home with their children. All of them have thought about why they want to craft for a living but haven’t actually thought about what they want. It’s a business. What do you want it to look like? How much time can you put into it? This is not something you can do as a hobby. Do you want to sell primarily online? Do you want to go around the craft fairs? Do you want to try and sell in local shops? Do you want to have your own online shop or try selling to an online retailer? These are all things you need to think about. In today’s world you need to have an online presence even if you want to sell at shows. People live online. You will need Facebook pages; email; Twitter; Pintrest; Instegram etc. All of this takes time to keep up. If you like blogging, it’s helpful to have a blog so people can get to know you and can see what you’re up to. How is this all going to fit around what you are already doing? Do you really want to put this much energy into something that might not work? Are you going to run workshops to supplement your income? It’s hard to make enough from selling handmade items.

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2. What do you want to sell? This probably seems like a no brainer. Obviously you want to sell what you are already making…..who doesn’t? Now I sew, knit, crochet, spin, draft my own patterns and have taught one to one and a few small classes in my time. I could really go into any of those areas if I wanted to….in fact, if you look back over my blog, you’ll see I have, with varying success. So why I have chosen to focus on spinning? Or rather why haven’t I focused on knitting? Most people who tell me that I should sell my stuff, think it’s my knitting that I should sell. I explain to them that I don’t mind doing one off commissions but it’s nearly impossible to make money from knitting. People don’t want to pay you for your time. That’s the reality. They might love your work, they might really want to buy what you’ve made but if it’s too expensive, they just won’t buy it. You are running a business and one way to keep costs down is to choose something that can be made quickly…….or just acknowledge that you won’t be able to charge for your time and make what you love, in which case, like me you probably fall into the ‘hobby’ camp that tries to sell the surplus and so get it out from under hubby’s ever patient feet 😉                                                                                                                           IMG_20150428_214810

3. I’ve said this before but think of it as a Business and that means trying to be objective about what you are selling. As artists (and we’re all artists really if we create things) you will love what you create. they are like our babies. they are special. For a lot of us, it’s just something that has to flow out or we feel stifled and agitated. However, we have to remain objective. I chose this picture because I love natural colours, especially the grey and brown but it turns out, no one else shares my love of these, they prefer my dyed skeins. Now I could get upset that no one else has got my passion for the natural beauty that reflects nature in all her glory (ok I may have gone a bit far there…..) or I could give the people what they want and enjoy doing it (for the record, I sell more ‘rainbow yarn’ than anything else and I love the colours and how it knits up). Does this mean I can no longer be creative or be passionate about the colours nature gives us? No! It just means that I keep my business hat on and use natural colours at home instead.

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4. Price carefully. Pricing is really hard. I don’t know if I’ve actually got it right yet but I do know there are a few traps it’s easy to fall into. To start with try not to price your time. I know that goes against every other blog advice out there but I have a very good reason for saying it. When you first begin you are not quick. It takes you a long time to do something, then the more you practice, the quicker you become. Now take these harma bead coasters. They took me ages to make! I had to sort through the pot to find the colours, I have to pick each one out, position it, tweak the pattern to get it exactly how I wanted it etc etc. If I sold these and charged for time I would have to sell them for over £10 each. No one in their right mind is going to buy one tiny plastic coaster for over £10 (and that’s not taking into account postage and packaging either….which you need to think about if you are selling online). It’s not because they don’t appreciate the hard work that has gone into it, they just won’t pay that much and to be honest, if I hadn’t made them, neither would I. I speak to too many people who time themselves and proudly announce that they deserve x amount of money because it took them so long to make and their time is valuable. Fine. If you can sell it for that much, great. But I know I can make it in half the time and charge half the price. If you were the consumer, whose would you buy? I know it sounds harsh but people buying your stuff don’t know you, they don’t care about protecting your feelings. They want to see something, fall in love with it, take it home and enjoy it. They will buy what they feel is best for them. Do your research, find out a good price that still means you make money and try that. You can always play with pricing later.

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5. Make sure you are offering something different. There are hundreds of people selling the same things. They can be really nice, really well made items but if the market is flooded with the same items, you may struggle to sell. People either make impulse buys or they go back to someone they know (and trust). Do research. Go to local craft shows to see what other people are doing. Look on Folksy and Etsy (although be careful with Esty now as since it sold out, it now lists items that aren’t handmade so competition is hazy) Is your stuff different enough? If not, maybe try somewhere else.

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6. Try a few craft show. It really is worth trying a couple of craft shows. You learn so much from even having 2 or 3. You learn what people are interested in; what the competition is like; how to market yourself and your product (yes you do have to market yourself if you are a handmade crafter); how other people deal with pricing and how you might want to brand yourself. I know you have to pay for tables etc but if you are serious about making a business, it’s really very cheap for the kind of market research and advertising you are able to do. I want to sell mostly online but I have found doing a few shows very important for guiding my products. A quick note here. You probably make more contacts through craft fairs than actually selling, so don’t be discouraged. Make sure you have your online contact stuff set up first so people can contact you after the show/fair.

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7. Finally, don’t sell to your friends. That’s right, I said don’t sell to your friends. For that matter, don’t ask them what they think of your products. I’ve left this one until last because I think it’s one of the most important points but also the point that offends most people I talk to. The reason I say this is very simple. Your friends (and family….lets throw them in there too) love you. They really want to encourage you. They want to support you. They won’t want to offend you. They won’t be objective. As a Mum I can tell you that I think whatever my little ones draw is brilliant. I am so proud of them. I tell them that all the time. However, I can safely say that if I was to try and sell their pictures, no one would buy them. Ok they are very young at the moment but I’m pretty sure that my wanting to encouraging them in what they are doing will continue as they grow up. Friends and family will tell you your stuff is great even if it’s not. They may even genuinely think it’s great because they think you are great however that does you no favours in the long run. I have had people in the past show me their stuff that they want to sell to ask what I think and have been very angry when I have in (I promise) a nice way said that the may need to work on it a bit first; because their Mum and their friends think its great. The problem is that when they come to try and sell it, no one wants to buy a wonky donkey toy that looks more like a rock (ok that is not what they made but you get my point). The disappointment that leads from this is really hard to deal with. These people genuinely thought they had a good idea, put money into it and have nothing to show at the end. I’m not saying that is you, most people I talk to are really good at what they do. I would suggest though that you take the brave step and (with the encouragement and support of friends and family) try a few craft shows. See what people who don’t ‘care’ about you think of your work. Hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Ok so why not sell to your friends? Well in my experience this creates a false bubble. I’ve seen it happen too many times where people throw parties to sell their stuff (I’m now thinking more about the latest ‘trend’ rather than crafts) and rope their friends in to ‘support’ them. The problem is that your friends will only buy until they feel they have shown their support enough. Then they stop buying from you. You, in the mean time have been thinking that this is brilliant, you’ve sold loads, this must therefore be a great idea; everyone seems to love it! However when you take a tentative step into the world of strangers buying your things, you realise that it’s not that easy, people don’t buy as much as you thought they would and now you feel discouraged. I strongly recommend that you bravely step forward on your own and see how things fair in the real world. Things will grow a lot slower but the growth will be more sustainable because it will be more real. By all means sell to friends if they show an interest but don’t rely on them to make your business for you.

That’s all really. I hope its’ been some help!

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