I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I won the Etsy Awards. Time has flown by and my small business has grown so much. Winning the awards has really changed my life and has taken my brand on a journey that’s constantly growing.
There are so many small businesses in the handmade world trying to make it, who dream of having a studio and a small team around them. Sincerely Louise has taken those steps over the last few years and I've learnt so much through my triumphs and mistakes. So I thought I'd put together a list of tips for anybody looking to take this journey and move their crafts from a hobby into a small business.
The first thing you need to know about running your own business is it’s a lifestyle, not a 9 - 5 job. There are times you might end up working through the weekend or night. I remember frantically wrapping orders at 3am (whilst watching live gambling the TV), just so I could take the next day off for my birthday. It’s also hard to switch off, especially with emails and messages come through to your phone instantly.
On the upside you can run your business to suit you and you can go on holiday whenever it suits you. Although I work most weekends, I tend to spend longer visiting family or take a few extra holidays a year. Be prepared to work harder than you would for anyone else, but know the rewards of doing something you love are absolutely amazing .
One of the most important things you need to decide is your target market. Imagine who is going to buy your products, how old are they, how do they dress, where do they shop? Sit down and make a list of all these attributes. You need to tailor each part of your business to this customer, including the social media you use, the platforms you sell on and the craft fairs you exhibit at. It’s also okay to have more than one target customer, or an aspiring customer base. Fun fact, most brands come up with a name for their target customer.
Take inspiration from everywhere, it’s your business and your chance to be creative. At university I studied photography, specialising in fashion editorials, we were always told to not look at fashion images as they would directly influence the work were making. Instead we found inspiration from other imagery which made our work more original and interesting. I try not to look at other knitters work as I know I could end up subconsciously copying them.
A big no no is copying other people’s work. I’m always finding people on Etsy selling my finished pieces, despite having all the copyright information on the pattern explaining that finished pieces are not for re-sale. There are designers out there who don’t mind this and if that’s the case then fab, but remember to respect the designers who don’t allow it.There are so many places to sell your work and it’s about finding the ones that are right for you. I started selling my finished pieces on Etsy whilst at university and eventually adding my first line of knitting kits in September 2014. A few months after this my fox head kit was featured on the Etsy home page and I couldn’t believe it. The traffic was incredible and the orders started coming in. I continued selling on Etsy because it was a friendly interface and I’d began to build my sales and reviews.
When you start your own online shop start with one platform and direct your customers to it, this could be an Etsy shop, your own website or even a Facebook shop. Building a shop with several sales and reviews entices customers to buy and the more you sell the more likely you could be chosen for promotions within that platforms home pages, social media or email outs.
Recommend Platforms for Craft Sellers:
Etsy, Folksy, Not on the Highstreet, DaWanda, Craftsy, Ravelry (for knitting patterns)
This is a big one! Craft fairs are good to do as they’re a place to test the market and see who your customers are in ‘real life’. When you’re starting your own business craft fairs can be quite daunting, especially when you have to pay for the space, figure out how you’re going to dress it, prepare the stock and get it there, before you even get the chance to worry about making any money. I’ve exhibited at local craft fairs, specialised shows and run workshops at exhibitions too and have learnt so much from doing so.
My first piece of advice is to pick the shows your target market would visit. For me that’s the Knitting and Stitching Show, this was the first show I ever exhibited at. I was so nervous about breaking even, but almost sold out on the first day. From taking a risk at this show I suddenly had capital to invest in my business. Following my success at the Knitting and Stitching Show I decided to exhibit at the WI Fair, I booked a larger space and took more kits, but learnt a harsh lesson, the people visiting weren't my target audience and weren't buying. It was a very different experience from the Knitting and Stitching Show.
My top tips are, If you’re nervous about doing a show or fair, test it out and book a small space or share a space with a friend. If you have an amazing response return the next year with a larger one. If a show is constantly contacting you and asking you to exhibit this can be a warning sign as it means they can’t fill the spaces out organically. Some of the best show I've done are the ones you have to apply for, it can take a little time to fill out all the forms, but they’re worth doing.
When you’re at the fairs it’s really important to talk to everyone. The worst thing you can do is sit and read a book or be on your phone ignoring the people who are interested in your work. Sometimes your customers may be too shy to talk to you, so welcome them with a big smile and let them know a little bit about your product.
Selling it an art form, but the more you do it the more confident you’ll be. It may sound cruel, but you’ll soon be able to tell the genuine customers from the time wasters, “no, I do not want to talk about the types of poo you find in your garden” - yes this conversation really happened.
Like choosing an online platform to sell your work, I believe it’s best to choose one social channel and concentrate on that. The others will slowly follow suit. I mainly use Instagram, I like that it's a very visual platform and has a very engaged community. I also like Facebook as a lot of my customers use it. Twitter I tend to use less, but still post important things on to it. When I say pick one I don’t mean just set up one account on one platform, you still need to post on all of them, just choose one to interact with potential followers and customers.
Again it goes back to knowing who your target customer is and what kind of social media they might like to use. They could love watching Youtube videos, or pinning their dream home on Pinterest. If you take the time to know them and how to find them, they should find you too. It’s important to take great photos and make relevant content for your social channels, don’t just post photos of your dinner (unless it’s a really good dinner)!
Let your followers know a little bit about you, people love supporting small businesses and knowing who they’re buying from. Give a little sneak peek of what’s new, let your followers know if you’re going to be at any craft fairs and most importantly get them involved. Every month we showcase our favourite makers and hold competitions our fans can get involved in. Getting to know your customers through social media doesn't have to be a job or particularly hard, just invest your time wisely.Create your own workspace that you can say good night to when you’re finished. For me this wasn’t possible when I first started my business as I was working in my bedroom in a flat share in North London. When I moved south of the river I took over the living room at my boyfriends house which again wasn’t ideal. A spare room would have been amazing, as I could have kept all my mess there!
One of the biggest transitions I took was moving into the SL studio. It was a huge risk at the time as I suddenly had to find that money each month to pay for it. However, taking on a risk means you have to push yourself harder. Having your own space to work in, even if it’s desk in your living room, is so important as it's a space you can designate for working. I think it’s even more important to say goodnight to that space at the end of the day, or you’ll never stop working.
There will be a point in your business that you’ll realise you can’t do everything. I firmly believe that it’s okay to ask people for help, it’s not a sign of weakness. You may not be able to afford to pay someone at the start of your journey, but you may know a graphic designer or photographer who could swap some of their skills with you. Just ask! Another route is asking students, whilst at university we always had brands getting in touch to ask if we could shoot for them. Not only could you be getting some great photos/make up/graphic design you could be helping a student out with their portfolio. Another option are websites like People Per Hour, where you can post jobs and people will respond with a quote. Things like photographs, a good logo and text on your website can really make a huge difference so don't be scared to ask for help.
A really great tip I’ve learnt over the years is to collaborate with other brands. As a smaller brand starting out it’s a good idea to work with other business who in turn will promote you. When I wrote my book I decided to source my yarn for the patterns from lots of different brands. In return for using them in the publication they featured me across their social media and email outs. I’ve also written patterns for magazines and larger brands who have a bigger outreach from me. These jobs might always not be the most well paid, but the brand awareness that you gain from them can be invaluable.
It’s really easy to fall into a trap of complacently when running your own business. For me that was with selling my knitting kits. I began selling so many kits that all my time was taken up with making and posting them. I stopped designing I spent so much time making kits. I took the orders I was getting for granted, instead of focusing on new designs. When I did return to designing in the quiet summer months I found it really tough. So now I set myself deadlines for new projects. Every month I also design a knitting pattern, with the idea chosen by one of my followers, this means I can’t let them down. It keeps me designing, making my collections easier to work on.
It’s the bane of small businesses. The idea of having to spend money to make money can be scary when you don’t really have the money in the first place. Starting your own business from scratch can be tough, you may need to work part time whilst getting it off the ground. You may find you need to have several streams of income. For me that’s selling the kits directly to customers, wholesale, pattern sales, book royalties, commissions, shows and running workshops. Like I said at the beginning it’s a way of life, that changes day to day throughout the year.
You will need capital to invest in materials to move forward. I remember the first time I ordered from my main yarn supplier, the minimum order seemed like so much and it was a big risk. You do have to take these risks when investing in your brand, as you can’t run a business buying your materials from John Lewis! Invest your capital wisely, try and cross reference your materials so you use them in several products or you may end up holding on to stock for years that never sells.
If you are really serious about running your own business I would suggest writing a business plan. They may seem daunting, when I first looked through the online templates I thought it was a waste of time. But then I had to sit down and write one. It helped me research into things like my target market, where my income was going to come from, how much I needed to make to survive. One of the best things it makes you do is to sit down and give yourself goals. It also helps you analyse your competitors and work out your forecasts for the coming years. I try and read through it when I feel a little lost.
Once you’ve written a plan then why not take it to the bank or to a start up loans company. If you’ve been trading for under two years you can apply for a start up loan to help with the capital you need to move your business forward.
I hope you've enjoyed my tips! These aren't formal rules on how to run a business but more advise on what I've learnt from the last few years. I'd love to hear any tips you may have too.