Discover how to take your crafting hobby from downtime to big time.
It was a logistics question Lorrie Veasey was reluctant to answer: How was she going to cart two tables and $1,000 worth of pottery from her Brooklyn brownstone apartment to the craft show 20 blocks away? She was alone, had no car and couldn't take the subway. So she did what any self-respecting New Yorker would do: She walked.
It was 1984, and Veasey, like many other twentysomethings in the city, was just trying to make a living selling her crafts. She started selling pottery from the stoop of her apartment to pay for college classes at a studio nearby. Soon after, she migrated to other parts of the city as art fairs invaded the streets.
Today, Veasey is the 44-year-old founder of the $6 million handmade-craft empire Our Name Is Mud. But she's quick to recount her days as a struggling crafter in New York City. It was there that she learned how to take her love of crafts and turn it into a successful business.
"When I first started out, I literally had a Post-it note above my [potter's] wheel that said, 'Stay focused,'" says Veasey. "I looked at it every day just to remember where I wanted to go and what I wanted to be doing."
The crafting world has changed quite a bit since 1984. A 2007 study by the Craft & Hobby Association found that crafters make up a $31 billion industry, a figure that has grown exponentially over the past decade.
Today, crafters have a palette of options to choose from before creating a plan that will turn their hobby into a successful business. It's just a matter of finding equilibrium between two age-old rivals: business and art.
Ready, Set, Sell
For many crafters, the idea of being artistic and entrepreneurial is a foreign concept. But starting a craft business doesn't necessarily mean turning in your paint and scissors for a suit and tie. It takes an ability to juggle creative talents with analytical skills while maintaining a passion for crafts.
"You still have to fire people, hire people, get loans and negotiate real estate," says Veasey. "It's business at the end of the day."
Although handling business affairs may not be as much fun as creating your art, it does require an element of creativity that most crafters can appreciate. Here are some points you should consider during your startup phase:
Marketing: In a market where uniqueness is the norm, standing out can be a challenge. So when it comes to marketing your product, everything from packaging to mailing materials should convey a message about your business. Keep a detailed mailing list to alert customers about new products or business happenings, and explore the marketplace for unique opportunities. Give people a reason to talk about your art. Word-of-mouth is a crafter's greatest tool.
Patents: On top of the general marketing, packaging and mailing that go along with any business, crafters should also focus on legal concerns such as obtaining patents and a seller's license. Advice on how to obtain a patent can be found at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website (uspto.gov), and a local courthouse can offer information on acquiring a retail tax permit, which is essential for selling at craft shows.
Pricing: Harnessing your business side also means deciding on reasonable prices. "The number-one mistake for people just getting started is pricing [incorrectly]," says William T. Lasley, a guide for arts and crafts business for About.com. "They might put $10 worth of wood into a bench and sell it for $12, and then they're not paying themselves for their time."
Lasley recommends monitoring the pricing habits of other crafters in the same field to get an idea of what's reasonable. In general, prices should be high enough to cover production, operations and craft casualties, but not so excessive as to make customers turn to Target or Wal-Mart or a generic product at half the cost.
Selling: Explore various sales venues and test the market. Common venues include craft shows, church bazaars, house parties and online marketplaces. No matter what sales forum you choose, set yourself up to accept credit card payments from your customers. You can find more information about credit card payments at entrepreneur.com/payments.
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