There is so, so much that goes into having a successful online craft business.
Truly, the path is long, and can be hard, and has so very many steps.
However, I’ve been in the handmade business for a long time now, and over the last few years I’ve built up my business to the point where I am now earning MORE than I did in my last professional job.
Some days, I can’t quite believe that I’ve reached this point. A few years back, it seemed like a pretty unattainable dream.
But here we are. I am lucky enough to be making a living making beautiful things – doing something I love.
I don’t say this to brag or toot my own horn, I say it to give you hope.
Not a false hope. Not a hollow – you will succeed if you just do what you love.
But if you’ve dreamed of doing what I do – making a living from selling your craft, I’m here to tell you that it IS possible. No, it’s not easy. No, it’s not a quick process. But it can be done. I, and many other artisans, are living proof.
Today, I thought I would dig deep into those years (and YEARS) of trial and error to share with you 10 things that I believe are absolutely crucial to the success or failure of your online handmade business.
But… before we dive into these 10 steps – don’t miss out on even more FREE content (including my Etsy Quick-Start Guide).
1. Create something people actually want to buy
This is number 1. I’ve written about this before – the uncomfortable fact is that when you make the transition from making things simply for your own joy and satisfaction to making things to sell, you need to change your mindset.
This can be HARD. Of course you love what you make – that’s why you make it.
But is there a market for it? And is the market willing to pay what they need to in order for you to build a profitable business?
Before you dive into setting up an online shop and learning everything there is to learn about selling your work, you need to seriously consider this question.
2. Work on it every day – but be patient
One of my most favourite mantras when it comes to business is this:
Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Whenever sales are slow, or I’m not getting as many comments/likes/tweets etc etc as I’d like, I remember this.
Businesses do not grow overnight.
They take YEARS to become truly successful.
Are you in this for the long term? Because if you’re doing this to try and turn a quick profit, just stop now.
If you’re not sure that you want to be doing what you’re doing in 5 years time – don’t try to turn it into a full-time business.
You need to be dedicated and patient.
If you’re both of these things, and you take steps every day to grow your business, success WILL eventually come your way.
3. Be friendly but professional
Part – an important part, I believe – of having a handmade business is being open and friendly with your customers.
They are buying from you because they prefer to buy unique things, direct from the person who made them.
Don’t make it difficult for them to get to know you (i.e. have a good About page with photos of you and your work, and the story of how you came to be making what you make) BUT at the same time, remember that your customers are not your buddy.
By all means be friendly and lighthearted with them, but remember to treat them with professionalism and respect.
Use salutations when you write to them. Always respond to questions promptly and in detail.
Don’t get het up with a customer who is making unreasonable demands – just respond calmly and professionally with reference to your strict and reasonable policies (you have those, right?).
NEVER NEVER NEVER complain about a customer in a public forum. Just don’t. Ever.
No matter how unreasonable they may be, or how mad they have made you, they, and every other customer you have, deserves respect, and to know you won’t air their issues in public.
Balancing this line between being friendly and being professional is crucial for the success of your business.
4. Have beautiful photos
This. Is. Key.
When you sell online, your photos will make or break your business.
The photo is the first thing that captures the eye, and usually the largest part of the decision-making process when all is said and done. I even know people (and am totally guilty of doing this myself at times) who barely even READ the description, but just buy pretty much immediately based on the photo of an item.
Take the time to get good photos.
What makes a good photo?
- Natural or filtered white light (not flash)
- Consistent, simple, yet iconic backgrounds – nothing too ‘busy’ that might detract from your item
- Clear, crisp shots in perfect focus
- Interesting and intriguing angles – so long as you show us the full item, to scale, in one of the supporting shots, the first shot can be more of an enticer
5. Make reproducible items
You can only get so far making OOAK (one-of-a-kind) items when you’re selling online. I wrote more about this here recently, so I won’t go into detail.
Suffice it to say, once your business starts growing, the time it takes to photograph/describe/title/edit etc etc every new product will be time you will not have.
6. Believe in yourself and your work – fiercely – but be open to change
If you don’t believe in yourself – and your product – you will never succeed.
It takes so much time and dedication to really make a go of selling your craft online, that if you don’t make something you absolutely love – and are convinced that others will love, too – you will run out of steam, get disheartened, and give up.
Put your soul and passion into what you make. Love it fiercely.
BUT. Be open to change. If you’ve been working and working and working… and STILL aren’t gaining any traction after weeks/months/years… something might need to change.
It might be what you make. It might be something about what you make. It might just be your photos or price point.
Love what you do… but be open to the fact that in order to succeed, you might need to make a change.
This is not a bad thing. Don’t be discouraged if you do need to make a change. We all know the story of Edison and the lightbulb, right?
7. Get a Mailing List
Email is still the most direct and effective way to connect with your customers.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – you can blog, facebook, tweet, instagram your heart out… but people can still ignore – or just miss! – all of this.
Once your customer or prospective customer has taken the step to trust you with their email, they have given you permission to contact them directly.
These are your best prospects for making a sale – the people who love what you do already! You don’t need to convince them that what you make is awesome, because you already have.
Treat them with respect, give them value in the emails you send, and stay in touch with them on a regular basis. They will reward you by becoming loyal customers.
8. Price for Profit
This is one of THE most common problems in the handmade community.
Most of us start off selling our work from a hobby perspective. We have no idea what price we should be selling our work for, so we tend to drastically underprice it. We know how to make it, so we tend to underestimate the skill that has gone into the process.
DO NOT TRY TO COMPETE ON PRICE.
There will ALWAYS be someone selling something similar to what you make for much less than you. Even other talented crafters and artisans.
You need to do the hard work to figure out what price you need to sell your goods for to make a decent living, and that’s the price you need to sell it for.
This is hard. It can be confronting. It will probably take you out of your comfort zone.
But if you’re serious about making a living from your craft, it’s something you need to do.
If you need help figuring out just how to do this, go read this article.
9. Get your Own Website/Blog
You’re a professional – so you need to LOOK like a professional.
You’re selling online, so your online presence needs to be professional and welcoming.
At the very, VERY least, invest in a $12 domain name, and re-direct it to your online store.
That way, on your business cards, your email signature, your social media accounts, and everywhere else you list your website, you can use mybusiness.com rather than mybusiness.etsy.com or madeit.com.au/mybusiness.
Such a small change can make a BIG difference to the impression people have of your business.
You should aim to have your own, stand-alone and self-hosted website as soon as you can make it happen – preferably with a blog included – but having your own domain is a fantastic start.
And yes, you should be blogging. It’s the best way to craft a story about you and your work. Don’t freak out or get overwhelmed if you don’t know what to blog about, just start. In fact, here are some ideas to get you rolling.
10. Learn, Learn, Learn
In business, there is no such thing as DONE.
There is always more to do.
New things to try.
Mistakes to be made.
Things to learn.
When you’re in business, you need to be constantly learning, experimenting, and taking leaps into the unknown.
If you don’t try, sure, you can’t fail.
And if you do try, you will fail. Over and over again. But each time, you learn something more. You might take a step back, but you’ll take two steps forward.
It’s a fascinating, thrilling, exhausting, invigorating, and life-changing journey. And if you set your mind on succeeding, are smart about what you do and how you do it, and get help when you need it, your chances are success are pretty darn high.
I did it. You can, too.