Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advice for a crafter

I received an email from a reader named Denise as follows:

Hi Patrice:

Unfortunately I am home from work with the flu which means a day of wages lost. I will keep my story as brief as possible.

As a stay-at-home mom and only a high school graduate, it suited me fine. Living high on the hog (and very grateful) with my husband of 24 years and four children ended abruptly when my husband died of a massive heart attach at 48 yrs. young. That was six years ago.

I am in the work force now, which is fine, but I love being home and crafting what ever pops in my head. I believe I can make a living once I find my niche.

Where do you begin?

I definitely won't quit my day job at this point. Any advice?

Thank you,


I sent Denise a copy of my ebook The Home Craft Business and asked permission to post her email on this blog in order to garner additional reader input. I figure, many heads are better than one.

Thoughts off the top of my head: Not quitting her day job is an excellent idea. It would be foolish (especially in this economy) to quit her only source of income until such time as a different income can replace it. As for finding her niche, and without knowing what kind of crafting she does, I would advise her to concentrate on which crafts seem most marketable. After all, the concept of starting a home craft business is to be able to sell your products in order to make a living, so making things that no one wants to purchase is counter-productive.

So, dear readers, what other advice do you have for Denise? Be generous with your assistance and let's give her a hand.


  1. Denise,
    It's time to start looking at the "stitching beneath the beautiful quilt". Research is going to be the key, visiting craft shows, talking to others about what is selling and what is not and digging into the actual numbers of various niches. Like Patrice said, if no one is buying what you want to sell it will be difficult to make a living at it. Start lining up vendors where you can get your supplies at a discount in bulk later in the process once there is a need to make make, but the precursor to this would be to start small and test the market and venues to see what works.

    What type of crafts are you thinking of producing?

  2. Make things people need not want and sell on etsy.com.
    Patrice have you thought of cutting boards and kitchen utensils? Again Etsy! Good luck!

  3. When I thought I could make money with my crafts - handmade and decorated vine wreaths, stuffed toys and matching card for babies, knit baby blankets - I visited as many craft shows, church bazaars, etc as I could for 6 months especially over the Christmas holidays. I watched what sold, what prices were charged. I then priced out the materials I used, the hours it took to complete an item, my labor charged at minimum wage (way too low) and computed the price I would charge. Turns out only the toy and card would be profitable and frankly, not much fun so I didn't do any of them.
    From a knitting blog I read it seems people are not willing to pay the price for a handknit item, say a baby blanket that cost $10 in yarn and 8 hours to make, because a commercially made one will cost about $10 and handkit will cost about $25-$35.
    My sister is a gifted watercolor artist and does sell alot of cards, printed from her original artwork, at $5 a piece but it just covers the cost of printing, envelopes and cellophane sleeve. Her paintings start at about $350 for a 12x15" but those sales are few and far between. To do a show, she's done 3, she must have a minimum of 20 original paintings, 50 cards and a couple dozen of prints. Tons of work and she won't be doing another but she will take orders at most 1 a month. She considers it a hobby not a business but has fun painting.

  4. Etsy is a great place to sell handmade crafts. It would be useful to study the Etsy marketplace for a few days, see what kinds of things sell best (you can tell by the number of reviews) and go from there. Just do a lot of research on Google on how to market your Etsy shop. If she has teenage children I bet they would love to learn some about online marketing and help her out with that. Other than that, sell at local farmer's markets and craft fairs. Good luck!

  5. I believe that the Lewis family business' success is rare. Not many could repeat it. It is based on a few specific points, though.

    1. The product is aimed at a specialty market of people who are willing to pay for the uniqueness of the mugs.The re-enactors are already doing something quirky. Buying a quirky mug kind of goes along with that mindset. Pick your market carefully.

    2. The business is truly a family business. There are people working in it who aren't getting paid a monetary wage. Without help from the family, Don couldn't produce the same large number of mugs. Then there wouldn't be as much income. Even if your product would sell, would you be able to produce enough items to support your family?

    3. The Lewis family supports itself through other means, too. They raise their meat, grow vegetables, etc. These activities save a lot of cash. This is a significant addiiion to the money that comes in from the mugs.

    In other words, making a living from a craft business isn't only a business process. It is also a lifestyle process. Can you match that ?

    1. I totally agree that it is a lifestyle process. My husband will be quitting his full-time job next summer to do his "hobby job" full-time. He however has also been doing the hobby job on the side for quite a while and has a market for his products. He also makes quirky things that fill a niche in the market and sells at some local places, farmer's markets, and various specialty things like ren faires, plus word of mouth. But it is something we are undertaking as a family, given I don't work. I can't help with what he is doing, but I do sew items out of leather or fabric that can be sold along side his stuff and it helps with the income. And then I also am in charge of dealing with our animals, we raise a few extra goats and rabbits each year that well sell to pay the feed costs for our other animals, butcher our own animals, and I raise a huge garden and can/dry everything. So we end up spending very little out of pocket at the grocery stores for food. We also buy almost everything else second hand. We know that we need to set money aside because with your own business, its feast or famine, so you need to plan ahead of time for that. If you depend solely on your income based on crafts, what happens if you sell nothing for a few months, without some income set aside you could really have some problems.

  6. I seen another poster comment about selling stuff on etsy. I just wanted to give a warning on that. In the past I made/sold ferret bedding and other items I sewed on etsy. I on average did 2-5 sales a week and on average each month was making around $500 on there. A nice supplement to the income but just selling there isn't enough to make a good income for a person, unless they are selling really high end items which is really risky to do online. I stopped selling on etsy as did many of my friends because it started to turn into a situation like ebay where the buyer is always right. On average 1 out of every 5 sales would end up with the buyer saying they never received the package or it wasn't what they ordered, which means etsy would refund their money, take the money away from me and I'd be out the money, the item, and all the time I had put into it. Even with insured shipping, signature required, and all that, if the buyer says they don't get something, they get their money refunded and you get screwed. Which that really adds up depending on the price you are selling items for.

    My husband will be quitting his job after this year to do his side job which is currently a hobby. He however has been doing this for a couple years on the side and has made connections with places to sell. He has agreements with several local places to sell his items, he will be attending farmer's markets, and also various other special festivals around the area. He does have a webpage advertising, but does not do any online sales, because even his hobby community says they have lots of problems with people saying they don't get their items, and when you are selling items for $100+ each, you don't want to deal with that.

    My best advice though, not knowing what the gal crafts is to go to various farmers markets and other places in her area to see what places are selling, if you are making a similar product to what others are already selling, it might be hard to make it in your area. Be very wary about selling online especially on sites like etsy, because there are many bad people out there that will rip you off and not think twice about it. And then talk to businesses that might be interested in selling your items.

  7. As a married twenty something, I can tell you that I am looking for more green products.

    There is a lot of competition in the cloth diaper/ mama cloth area. So that might not be the best place to start.

    However, I am looking for re-usable pot covers, snack bags, and other things the replace disposables. I care about the environment and being a good steward; however, my main motivation is saving money.

    I would look at things that solve a problem. Something where the quality is more important.

  8. hey I had thought about doing the crafting business, but I do know
    from my mindset, I don't want to have to pay alot for something.
    And I do think that alot of people are like that. A freind of my about
    10 years ago, was sending her kids to a private Christain school.At Chritsmas the parents had to help out at the craft fair.This friend bought a zizsaw and got her lumber like at the lumber stores, but they were the bent peices of lumber that no one else could use. So she could keep her prices down that way.
    She also got a mazizne that gave her ideas at the time what was
    sellling. I think that the paint was her most expensive item. But she was able to make a profet on those cute wooden things. She
    made cute llawn ordments etc.
    I don't know if this is any help, but she could work a couple of hours a night and then weekends go to craft fairs, etc and see if
    it will really work

  9. I tried before, and either went to moderation or deleted it...

    In our area, especially this time of year schools, churches, VFW's have craft fairs. They charge a low table fee (it is how they make their money) and run several days. It requires merchandise, (if you are crafting anyway, stockpile for several months before a fair) and patience. You have to be there for 12-16 hours. In my neighborhood, or civic association sponsors an annual 1 day garage sale. They don't allow them any other time of year. People set out tables, vendors come in special for the sale. It is a neighborhood of 800 high end homes and it was how I clothed my kids with designer stuff inexpensively.

  10. i make quilts, aprons and other things that are all unique, original, and high quality...i am currently renting small booth spaces in three diverse places...an antique store, a fabric store, and a museum gift shop made up of all Mississippi arts/crafts. everything i make is signed and there is only one of anything-i never make look a like items. been doing it for five years since being laid off from my job...and i am grateful to this day that my husband has an income that keeps us ...between the booths and the art/craft festivals that i attend each year i do make enough to supplement our household income and buy extra things like short vacation trips etc.. keep your day job as long as you can is my best advise but keep an interest in doing what it is you like to do.

  11. I think for most people, it is a "don't put all your eggs in one basket." I have raised registered puppies, maybe 1 or 2 litters a year, and did my homework. It did bring in decent $$ but there are a lot of expenses like keeping dogs all the time. You can't count on it to pay the mortgage, but it did inject cash into our budget which helped tons.

    Looking myself for an at home idea as well. I do some Ebay, but it seems to me stuff is harder to sell than it used to be or I really have to drop the price to get it sold. Sometimes I feel like the only one making $$ is the post office and ebay.

    I do think identifying a need and filling it is the best bet. I have toyed with the idea of selling jams, jellies, and homemade baked goods at a flea market, but haven't taken the plunge yet. I saw a lady on craigslist selling quarts of her home canned stuff for $5.00 a quart. Don't know if she planned it that way or was in a $$ emergency.

  12. I have a hobby that some of my friends do as a business. For my part, it involved washing, combing, and spinning wool from my fleeces just so I would have something to do with them. It's time consuming, though, and I quit because it just took too long.

    My friends that do it as a business do the same thing BUT they spin wool at various medieval and historical events for which they are paid $25 plus per hour depending on the venue. They also give classes in spinning, dying, warping, weaving, etc., say $25 per person, ten person minimum, for a 4-hour class. They also write (paid) magazine articles for various magazines on their art/business.

    All of these things I have done as a volunteer and never monetized it. If you are very good at what you do, whether sewing, knitting, carving, quilting, gardening, etc., there will be somebody that will be willing to pay you to learn. There will be organizations that will pay you to appear at their place of business to give classes and answer questions. There will be special interest publications that will publish your articles (and you may do it for free to get credibility).

    We have friends that make more money from farm field trips than they do from farming.

  13. Making money in crafts, or just about in any field, in this economy, is difficult at best. My husband and I are advocates of multiple streams of income to supplement the day job. This also means being very very busy.

    I am an artist, earning money with freelance work. It is hit or miss because I do not promote myself. I also earn money as a private art teacher, although currently I am not out of choice. My students did well. I also am skilled in other areas. In the past, I had a small craft type business that provided a nice, but small income. This also included being a vendor is some "interesting" venues. My highly skilled husband has been self employed for quite a number of years now. Unfortunately, the company he is working for as a contractor is being dismantled shortly.

    The bottom line is that there is nothing you can make or do that someone in (another country) is able to make, using the most up to date machinery, producing a quality product, at the lowest possible price. With computers, and cheap overseas labor, our "cottage industry" product(s) become redundant. The exception is the niche market.

    We are heading, as a country, into uncharted waters with our economy. We should pray that it isn't the treacherous waters of the NYC harbor! Many say it will end badly. Whether it will or wont, It will not end to our favor. But that does not mean that all is lost. The self reliant, highly skilled individual who is willing to work hard, meet a need or void, and understand that making a profit doesn't mean $20 and hour can keep afloat.

    The best, and first option to make money is to reduce expenditures. This is the same as cash. With nine grandchildren, my husband and I save a good bit of money making birthday and Christmas presents. We are skilled and make a nice product. We reduce expenditures **many** other ways as well, and I work hard at continuing to add more saving measures to the "list."

    I know someone who has machine skills and loves antique oil lamps. He makes parts for these lamps and sells them online. He has a full time day job.

    My SIL makes different crafts and sells them to the employees of her per diem job. Her sister who happens to work in a bank in NYC sells them for her as well. Not all businesses allow this, but word of mouth can work around this.

    My niece went to culinary school for pastry. She has a day job, but through word of mouth has a good clientele for cakes and pastries. She also has a dog sitting service and watches dogs in their house, along with my SIL. She is very very busy.

    One of my art students majored in fashion. She has two day jobs, but also has a thriving clothing repair/alteration business on the side.

    As you can see, it can be done. But it is hard work, and the income isn't $20 and hour. You must love what you do, because the profit margin is low.

    The government is not kind to small businesses, even a small craft business. Be aware.

    The Proverbs 31 woman made it sound so easy! :))

  14. I have had 3 business in a city of 100 thousand people. The first was offering rental space to various crafters to sell their wares in which I would also collect a small percentage of their sales.

    I could not make a living wage and out of 30 or so vendors only one lady made over a $1000 each month making painted wood products. She made outdoor decorations, potato onion boxes, plus whirly gigs and other unique objects. She sold well at Christmas and when Chinese vacationers came in.

    But as time went on these items became like most fads and were small sales like the rest of the vendors.

    The second business was a spice shop and cost of overhead was not my friend and that is when I discovered the service based business model to maintain a wage. I started a portable pole dancing business for women ONLY. I would do mostly bachelorette parties or graduation. $250 for 2 hours work.

    We moved to a much smaller town half way across our country and it is mostly older people who reside here so pole dancing got tossed. I am now considering a delivery business this spring to supplement our income.

    One girl I knew would go to second hand stores looking for high quality kids clothing and resell them on ebay. She did quite well doing that. And years ago a girl I worked with did house cleaning during the day and waitressed at night once a week just to get out of the house and enjoyed the tips she made.

  15. 1. IT CAN BE DONE! Have faith! Read Mrs. Lewis' book.

    2. Identify your strengths.

    3. Do the legwork.

    4. Take it seriously.

    5. Work hard. It WILL become work, even if it's a beloved hobby right now.

    6. Have FUN! Even if you aren't having fun, pretend you are. Other people want to be around someone who's having FUN! When Mrs. Lewis posts her photos of the big annual show in Portland, doesn't it look like she's having FUN? I can guarantee you, she goes home completely exhausted.

    Just Me

  16. "Last and most important get God in Christ Jesus involved in your life and finances, with him all things are possible."


  17. I work full time making jewelry from recycled items. I do art fairs and a small amount of gift shop/gallery sales. The best advice here is to do your research. Yes, keep your dream, but don't be a fool. I work my ____off and make about 1/4 of what I did as a sales rep. Oh, and get a book on how to sell!

  18. Everyone has fabulous ideas, but also consider starting a blog to show off your items and document your life and work. You can monetize a blog to bring in a little extra while you make more personal connections with your readers/potential customers Just a thought. Good luck!

  19. Everyone had great ideas, but I wanted to offer the idea of starting a blog to document your life and work/crafting. It's a great way to make a little extra money (by monetizing it) while making more personal connections with your readers/potential customers. Good luck!

  20. I would encourage the crafty person to develop their ideas and designs, and learn how to document/publish them. You can sell each physical item you make only once, but you can sell the pattern over and over again. Digital delivery keeps costs way down, and it is a way to build a brand identity beyond your geographical area. As you are starting, I would see this not as "instead of" doing markets and shows, but "in addition to".
    People who really love and appreciate handmade items, are also the type who might not buy a handmade item - because they could do it themselves! I am like this, but I will buy patterns or books of patterns if I like a crafter's look.
    Heather Ross (I have her book "Weekend Sewing") and Amanda Soule (I have her book "The Handmade Home") are both doing very well with blogging, design, and publishing their ideas. You can also check out Amy Karol - she blogs & publishes, but also does mailorder of paper crafts and kits.