Business Advice From Handmade Business Owners Like You
Written by Alyssa Ficcaglia
Allow me to preface this post by saying it may be one of my absolute favorites. One of the best things about owning and growing a handmade business is the handmade community itself. I have said this before and I will say it a million more times, the maker community is your greatest resource when starting and growing your handmade business. Creating and building a strong community of support can make a world of difference in the success of your business.
For this post, I reached out to fellow makers in my community and asked each of them to share one piece of advice they would give to someone just starting out. Some are my mentors, some are my friends, and some are my inspiration. They are all at different stages of their unique individual journey. Some are just starting out while others have been at it for a few years. We have Etsy shop owners who have surpassed the 500, 1000, & 5,000 Etsy sale milestones. One has their own brick and mortar store, others have gained large social media followings. Some are mothers and some still work full time jobs. One thing they have in common is they have all found success in their own sense of the word.
Each maker in this post has shared what they feel is the key to getting started on the right track. I hope you walk away from this post having the tools and confidence you need to go out and start or continue your handmade business journey.
Erin- WillowBee Signs
"My one piece of advice pertains to comparison. When I first started making signs, I was always comparing myself to other makers and always sizing up my "competition." In doing this, I created such a negative attitude towards other makers and always felt like my items would never be good enough or better than theirs. I realized this was a totally WRONG way to approach the maker community. Actually engaging with fellow makers and realizing that there is power in numbers totally changed my attitude.
I have gained so many new friendships from realizing that even though we all may be selling a similar product, actually helping each other out has positive impacts for all of us! Whether that's giving advice, sharing someone in IG stories, or even purchasing from them. There are so many benefits to creating positive relationships with fellow makers instead of playing the comparison game.
So cheers to all of us and supporting each other when we can!"
Charlee- Wolf Mountain Co
“I think, as a small business owner just starting out, I would have loved to hear two things. First, we have to remember not to compare ourselves. Our picture of success may be modeled off of another already-established business’s profile and curated feed of polished product photos, but it’s important to use that as inspiration — not as a comparative point off of which to measure our own progress. It’s too easy to be discouraged, and feel “lesser than” when we fall into that sort of trap: we think, “they are doing so well, why can’t I be at that level of success? What am I doing wrong? I’ll never make it there.”
More often than not, small business growth is slow and in small increments. Befriend people who are in a similar boat as you are — find the accounts of makers with the same range of followers so you can collaborate and grow together, instead of pinning yourself against people who are at a wildly different point in their business journey.
Second, just DO the thing. It doesn’t have to be all at once, but take steps towards the vision you have of how you want your business to develop. Don’t be held back by lack of experience, or because you’re intimidated by comparison.
Maybe you’re looking at someone else’s work, and it’s inspiring and beautiful and you’re thinking, “Hey, I wish I could be that good at doing/making _____.” You can be. How do you think they got there? By trying.
Just because your following is small, or your shop is new, doesn’t mean you can’t start breaking down bigger goals by starting now. There are so many things I wanted to try — and stupidly held off on for so long — because I was afraid to fail, or not be as good as this person or that person at something. I was waiting to be better before I started something, instead of seizing the opportunity to improve whilst doing. I wish I had known to have more confidence in myself that I’d learn and grow — and that I was allowed to be imperfect and develop my skills, and show people that.”
Kaitlyn- Simply Kait Designs
“One piece of advice I’d give to anyone first starting out is actually simple. Don’t doubt yourself. There will be people who don’t understand what you’re doing or why you’re doing it and that’s okay. If you have something you’re passionate about then keep working towards whatever goals you have. Of course there are hard parts and hard days about owning a business, but it’s important to focus on the positive things! There’s always room to keep growing and improving and nothing beats looking back on your progress and seeing all you’ve accomplished!”
Brianna- Words By The Heart
“Don’t compare. Set goals, but don’t compare. Success looks different for each person and timing is never predictable. Put in the hours. Work hard, believe in yourself and don’t give up. It took me 20 years to get to where I am! Comparison is the thief of joy and it only slows you down. Keep finding ways to improve your product while being true to your core values. Try to enjoy and not stress, you will get there. Celebrate victories and don’t stress about the small stuff!”
Jenny Lou - Crafty Little Market
"One piece of advice I would give someone starting a small business would be to never give up. I struggled when I first started my small business. If it wasn't for all the encouragement from my family, I don't know if I'd still be a small business owner. Try to always stay positive and keep moving forward.
I also want to mention what a huge part social media plays in a small business. It really helps to have a business page where you can show your creations and talk about them. Make sure to post good clear photos of your items. I didn't know what a big difference a good photo would make until I started getting better at it.
Hashtags are important too. You should always use hashtags if you want people to find you. Take a good look at the photo you're posting and use hashtags that correspond to it. Followers lookup hashtags a lot to find certain items.
Try to post at least once a day. Being consistent really helps in getting noticed and helps you gain more followers which leads to more customers.
And last but not least, always interact with your followers/non-followers! Try to like and comment even if they aren't following you back. Eventually they'll notice you and will want to follow you.
Kellie- K&J Wood Displays
“I have three pieces of advice to anyone just starting out. First, one of the most important things you can do within this community is build healthy and organic relationships with fellow makers. Second, everybody will go through some sort of rough patch. Own your everyday and don't give up. And finally, It's super important to listen closely to your fellow makers. Pay attention! We share tips and tricks all the time and one might be the answer as to why something's going wrong.”
Stephanie - Sawdust & Sweet Tea Crafts
“I think success, in any regard, comes down to one's willingness to be a courageous learner. I say courageous not to mean an absence of fear or having an absolute certainty that things will "work out", but it's feeling the fear and stepping forward in faith anyway. Secondly, in my experience, when I have taken time to research and learn about a certain business aspect, Etsy SEO for example, it has fared far better than when I have just gone with what I intuitively thought should be done. A huge part of learning is asking for help when you need it! So don't be afraid to reach out to someone who seems a little farther along for advice.”
Debra - The Whimsical Door
“After 7 years in this handmade business that has now become our full time business, let me start by saying it is not for the faint.
When I started I came in with no business plan, I did not track my expenses. I had a general concept of what I spent VS what I sold but at the end of the year my accounting was a mess and I realized that I made less money than I thought.
Tip 1: balance your books at the end of every month. Keeping a P&L ( profit and loss) sheet to track your COG (cost of goods) is going to help you tremendously.
Tip 2: set your pricing based on what your cost is and charge for your time. Do NOT price your pieces based on what other people in your market are selling theirs for.
Know there is value in what you do and don’t be afraid to ask for it.”
Jennifer - Hidden Valley Farmhouse Felts
"My one piece of advice for someone starting out is to trust your heart and instinct to move forward with your business...don't second guess yourself! Sometimes we can overthink things to a point that prevents us from achieving our goals! What do you have to lose?!"
Christine- The Suburban Farmhouse
“Two things. First, make sure you really know how much shipping costs before selling. There’s nothing worse than fulfilling an order, going to buy shipping and your profit is little to nothing. Second, If something goes wrong in your process; sometimes it’s better to just start over rather than try and fix it.”
LeAnn - Rader Rustics
“Be Original! For the love of God don’t copy other makers. Nobody wants to go on Etsy and see 1000 listings that all look the same. It takes zero talent to copy. Set yourself apart from the rest and your shop will succeed.”
I want to take a minute to thank all the beautiful, strong, talented women listed above for taking the time out of their busy days to participate in this post. Each one provided tips and advice based on their own experiences that I hope will help make the journey for you a little less scary.
Check out their social media pages and feel free to add them to your "maker community" if you feel like you connected with them. What I love about this group of women in particular is they are all willing to lend a helping hand and go above and beyond to make others in their community feel valued.
To the outside world, pursing a handmade business as a career seems far fetched. At times you may feel judged like what you are choosing to do with your crafting or business isn't important. Handmade businesses are often times cast aside by the entrepreneur community. It is perceived that a handmade business isn't a real business. It can be a lonely journey, so finding others brave enough to embark on the same journey you are is empowering. The maker community is unlike any other. We rally behind each other because we are all working to achieve the same thing. We are all just trying to showcase our art, make a living, and build a life we love.
Go out and start building your community, your craft, and your confidence.