Sunday, November 09, 2008

10 (Potentially Controversial) Tips for Starting a Small Craft/Design Business



I've had this list half written on my desktop for ages, and thought now would be a good time to post it! Especially given how slack I've been in terms of giving back to the blog community of late. Enjoy!


1) Start somewhere, anywhere. Create and output as much as possible. Creativity is a skill that requires practice and more practice. That guy you know who's a fantastic drawer - he's been drawing and doodling since the age of three. Same with that girl who's a fantastic pianist. Practice.

2) Start a blog. This is fantastic for feedback and support, and also helps to motivate you to make/draw/design stuff to appear on it.

3) Do a short course to build up basic technical skills. Eg for my medium: Illustrator is always handy, or Photoshop. So long as you have the basics you can build your skills on the go. And/or google something if you don't know how to do it :)

4) Do lots of research. Keep a folder of inspiring things. Try imitating the things you like - it's not copying because you'll change it with your own unique style (however if it does end up too similar make sure you credit the original and don't try to make money off it!)

5) Talk to other creative folk. Don't interpret 'thinky' or shy as standoffish. Some creative folk can seem hard to approach because they seem all 'too cool for school'. More likely they're just off wandering in their minds somewhere and are actually really nice people. Although there are some wankers not-so-nice peeps out there, they're probably insecure and wont want to share anything with you anyway.

6) Drink lots of water! (well, not too much). It's good for the brain. I freak out if I leave the house without my water bottle as much as when I forget my lip balm ;)

7) Don't eat crap. Eat a balanced diet that includes protein and good fats - these are just as important as eating your veggies! There's nothing worse than sugar highs and lows to ruin your productivity and put you in a grumpy mood.

8) Take small, measured risks to get where you want to go. If you can find a way to make small batch units of something, that's always good. Then you can build up from there.

9) Surround yourself with supportive people. Don't go showing your early artwork to that person you're desperate to impress but you know doesn't appreciate creative things. It'll only discourage you and grow those seeds of doubt like "oh but I'm just NOT a creative person!". You are!

10) Don't undersell yourself (or your peers!) when it comes to pricing! A good rule is to always make sure your product is wholesaleable. You must be able to divide your retail price in half and still make a profit! Here's a good simple formula:

(Labour + Materials) + 100% markup = Wholesale Price*
Wholesale Price + 100% markup = Retail Price.**

* - because you still need to make some profit even if you outsource your 'making'.
** - because retailers almost always want to mark things up by 100%

It's therefore good to retail for a similar price to your (potential) wholesale customers, so you're not undercutting them.



The end! Would love to hear thoughts, feedback and additions to the list :)

68 comments:

Penny said...

Yeah, yay! Good list! Agree with drink water + don't eat crap. And exercise. I quit my job like a month and a half ago and the first few weeks was finding it a bit strange, working at home and not getting out much. Now every day I wake up early(ish) and go for a long walk and it's so much better.

But definitely for me, a big key is don't be afraid to ask questions! If people get sick of your questions the worst that will happen is that they will look bored and start yawning and possibly walk away. I do market research on friends and family for all my new products, it's great.

Janne said...

Good tips! You hit home with the sugar highs and lows bit.. It's hard. But so true. Had to laugh at your correction on using the w-word, hahaha. There sure are some of those out there, though!

Jason said...

Great post. I'd like to add, 'believe in yourself and give yourself permission to make your craft/design business dream come true. Too many people spend too much of their time dreaming about it rather than doing it.

From a dreamer AND doer

Hannah said...

Great tips! Especially on the pricing, I was originally making a tiny bit of profit on each sale so when I got my first wholesale enquiry I was totally stuck!

My addition would be to keep a sketchbook/notebook/journal with all your ideas but also technical notes on how you produced each design - there's nothing worse than being asked to repeat something you previously sold and having no idea how you did it last time!! I keep a file of index cards that I write as I make something - materials, how I made it, price, measurements etc. :)

daisy janie : scoutie girl said...

Succinct and invaluable. #9 is the one that hurt me the most early-on - feeling like I had to be validated by people who would only patronize me at best b/c they don't 'get it.' I don't work for them; I work for me.

I would add #11 - go to bed and get some sleep for crikey's sake. your brain needs to defragment and refresh to do its best work, just like your computer!

San Smith said...

this is EXCELLENT advice! Thank you for sharing this - I'm going to post it on my blog for others to see. Very inspiring and honest :)

Amanda Elizabeth said...

This is a fantastic and realistic post for sure! There's a book that has helped me tremendously called "The Boss of You", its seriously fantastic!
The only hard thing I sometimes encounter is people with business questions who don't really want to research, but rather duplicate the product to make a quick buck, so I'm REALLY excited that you made a point of not under cutting yourself and others, AWESOME!!!
AND! I used some of your house fabric that I purchased this summer in one of my products and got some fantastic fan mail about it, I'd love to fwd it to you if you'd want to read it!!! Awesome post :):):)

Rachel@oneprettything.com said...

This is SUCH great information! I'll be linking to this!

Melanie said...

This is great information - thank you so much for posting it!

I do have a question, though - how do you determine labor cost if you are doing the labor yourself? I'm curious about how to determine what my time and labor are worth :)

Thanks again!

Littleclouds said...

I love the first one, it's something that gets overlooked a lot but is very reassuring to remind us all that things always improve!

amélie / My daruma said...

Thank you so uch for this list. well, like someone sad in the comments earlier, i'm just a dreamer. but would love to go ahead and try it out... Just not enough time with my full time job and kid. So i wold add: get yourself some time!!
thanks for the advice ;o)

Silkscreen and Scribble said...

Great list, especially about not underselling yourself. When starting out it can feel hard to justify your retail prices and a lot of people don't realise how much retailers mark up your goods.

Also, my advice would be don't be too precious about your work. It's easy to be over critical of your own work and let trying to create the "perfect" design stop you from getting your work out there. Instead of aiming for perfection (which doesn't exist anyway) get your products seen and allow your style to develop from there.

Inklore said...

A perfect list! I would add "turn off the computer once a week" I haven't done that yet, but I think I need to... :)

newhouseproject said...

I love your list--and I'm happy that you included drinking water and eating well. Those things really matter. I think it is also essential to have a functional and comfortable space to work in.

Kitty said...

Great list Lara.
It's always good to read things like that to reinforce your goals. I also keep the crafters companion nearby too, for inspiration & guidance.
Sounds like ink & spindle is moving along well. It's wonderful to watch from the sidelines, very inspiring.
Kitty

Spin Spin said...

As usual you hit the nail on the head - lots of sensible and valuable advice. It's so true that you just need to start and take it from there. And the pricing thing - it's easy to ignore this one and just make something up, but doing the sums and figuring a realistic price (and one that people are prepared to actually pay!) makes so much more sense!

Thanks :)

jojoebi said...

Great post, thank you. I am just starting out, taking baby steps as it were. I'd like to know how you work out your labour costs, I find pricing things really hard, an equation to work to would be easier!
The one tip that I think is mentioned above is to take time off once in a while, your brain and body needs it :o)

wendy june said...

very very funny, I just sent you a email asking for this info about two mins ago, then checked your blog. But I still would love to buy you a drink!

Emma said...

Great + interesting tips! Although I have given up the hope of actually starting some kind of little crafty business venture, I think most of these are still valuable for those wanting to be more creative and develop their skills - I especially have to remember your No. 1. I so often get discouraged when something I try for the first time doesn't work out, but yes, practice!

se7en said...

I love this - I am not even a crafter, it is quite enough for me to just be blogging... but posts like this one could push out of my comfort zone! Thanks.

Cicada Studio said...

10 is what hurts me the most- having a product with such a high cost, leaves me little room for mark-up (ie, no wholesale ability), which I've diligently been working on... so going back to your point 4, besides research on creative ideas, you need to do your homework on resources.

Rachel said...

I've hesitated to put my stuff "out there" because I'm afraid of failure, rejection, and any other bad thing I can think of. I mean have you seen all the wonderful stuff on etsy.com. How can I compete?

Today I put pen to paper to formulate a plan. I quickly realized that I have lots of ideas. I just need to do it and get over myself. Thanks for the list of encouragement.

Anna said...

Oh I like this! Very true! I'll be linking to this one!

edward and lilly said...

These are really great tips. I especially like that you have tips for drinking water and eating healthy, it's so important and often overlooked!

kirsten said...

How helpful! Thanks so much — I will definitely be using these!

jacQ said...

thanks for the tips! i'm getting used to the 'working from home' and 'not snacking' portion of starting my own design business. The other tip i would have would probably be to structure time for everything! Something i found really difficult to do as i wanted to do everything at the same time! (and then totally cop out of everything cos it was just too overwhelming)

Jesse said...

This is a great list! No 10 is very important - I've only recently started understanding the wholesale/retail thing, I think because it's taken me a while to come up with products that I could make in batches (thus reducing the labour costs a bit).

I'd add: make a timetable for your days. Work out what you need to do a bit of each day (blogging, drawing, sewing, patternmaking etc) and break the day up into chunks. Allocate time for errands and lunch! Having a set lunch time has made such a difference for me; I actually eat lunch now. And I can stick to tasks that aren't so much fun because I know that I don't have to do them all day.

ShiriMe! said...

Great list of tips Lara! Appreciate the advice. Thanks for sharing information and inspiring others to get into the biz.

As someone who has had some not so great experiences trying to get advice from other designers/artists, it is such a refreshing change to have the advice freely distributed. :)

One question (that others might be able to explain as well): I'm not quite sure I completely understood the retail/wholesale formula. I know very little about such things and have not done any serious research on the pricing aspect as I've got no product to sell. But... based on the formula you've presented... if labor and materials were $20, add 100% markup, that would be $40 for the wholesale price, right? And to get the retail price i'd double the $40 to $80, right?

Slightly confused,
Shirley :)

Lara said...

Wow some fantastic comments and suggestions here, thanks guys!!

The question about labour cost is a good one! The best way to determine your own labour cost is to assign yourself an hourly rate. But what rate?? Here in Australia I'd say at least $20ph is a good rate for something manual and repetitive like cutting & sewing.

Put the rate up if you're doing something more skills based. But I guess I'm focusing here on situations where you've already done all the creative/design work, and are just replicating something in batches.

Lara said...

Yep that's exactly right Shirley! It's amazing how quickly the price goes up.

It may also seem like the retailer is getting a better deal than you are (eg your markup only being $20 and theirs being $40). But usually the retailer has a whole bunch of overheads themselves so it'd work out that you each make about $20 out of the process.

ShiriMe! said...

hey! thanks for the quick response!

and yes... the price does go up so quickly! i was getting frightened by it too when i think about getting into business in the far future... i've never liked the idea of selling anything of mine at such high prices, but... it seems necessary. i mean.. we are only one human being with human necessities.

lists like these are such wonderful catalysts (sorry, couldnt find another word) for motivating other folks to go for it! i've got no product and still have 1.5 months of school but now i just want to make something so i can put the formula and research and skill-acquiring advice to use! :)

ps. blogs are great because they make the designer much more human and accessible. go blogging! :)

umbrellabella said...

Hi! Great list! I would also suggest making time to take quality photographs of all your work and keep good records of dates/titles as its so easy to forget details like that over the years.
If you print fabric keep at least one good sample of each design in a whole repeat and colour (I regret not doing this myself from the start).

One of the hardest things creative people often deal with is
confidence- you know, when you wakeup in the middle of the night and think 'but what if I'm just... totally crap at this?' best just ignore those thoughts fast and remember everyone feels like that sometimes :-)

Liz Cox said...

Thanks Lara. Good inspiration as always! (I really need to stay off the chocolate and focus more on the water.)

Tiffany Harvey said...

Well, I tried posting a nice long comment a few times last night (having to re-type even!) and I got an error message each time. It still won't let me post with OpenID for some reason.

I don't think I can convince myself to type it all out again, but I still wanted to drop by and say 'great list'!

Dawn said...

Thanks for the great list! I think the one that resinates with me most is Number 9...I think its really important to remember! thanks for sharing!

Dawn

HES said...

Thank you for putting this list together! I appreciate it and will be linking to it--very helpful and encouraging.

please sir said...

These are really great tips - just what I need!

bamakko said...

that's some rad advice Lara, stuff that I know is helpful to many, many people out there!

If I may add, don't think it's too late if you know someone who's been doing their thing since they were 3 - it's never too late to start practicing! :)

And don't forget to add the nasty GST monster onto retail price - your 50% will almost always be calculated after GST is taken out

Goatie said...

I'm starting my own little online shop, and this tips are very good. I like how you inlcude healthy food and water as a tip, it's very important to keep balance and good mood for creative thinking!

I like the little formula for pricing. It's very good advice.

Sarah Jane said...

great post! I love how you mentioned to just start small! Starting is half the battle! love your work. love your designs! Haven't really commented till now...but I am a faithful reader:)

xoxo
sarah jane

meg's threads said...

Thanks! Great list Lara

primoeza said...

Hi Lara, I loved this post. I'm at the tail end of my study in knit at RMIT and have been thinking about just these things. I've been very inspired by your blog as it's so interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes. I took the plunge on No. 2 and I'm at www.primoeza.blogspot.com if you ever have the chance to drop by!

Lilli said...

Hello! I'm so glad I found your blog through flickr! I love your patterns and that list was really inspiring also! I'm a graphic designer who has great hopes to be a wonderful creator of beautiful things but doesn't get much further than hoping. The best advice was the reminder that it doesn't come easy, that you need to practice. I'm not sure why but I always think these things should come easy and if they don't then I'm not made for it! I'm going to check out the resto f your blog now - is it ok to post some of your designs on my blog? I use it more as reference page for myself really. Credit and link added of course.

Thanks! Liane

kim said...

I really love that you posted this! Handy tips... I love your work too:)

julia said...

Thank you for that list, and mostly for the pricing advice. I'm an illustrator and sell prints on Etsy. The price range for prints is rather limited because after the first illustrators priced their wares, people just presume that every illustration should only cost... 20 Dollars, for example. Which makes it hard to offer any wholesale price at all.
Oh, and as for the water: Excellent advice. Once I forgot to drink enough and ended in the hospital with an infection of the kidneys, and believe me, you don't want to end up like that. Really. Not.

Lara said...

Thanks again so much everyone for your lovely comments! I'm really glad the list has been helpful :)

Lilli - no worries at all, go for it!

Kat said...

Lovely post! Thank you for sharing! I'd like to add, "don't forget to give back" as in share your knowledge with others who are up and coming. There are so many generous people out there (like you) who are willing to share their advice and experience and I believe once you reach a point where you've grown into a mature artist or artisan it's your turn to be open to those who want to learn too :)

map keeper said...

this is a really good blog, this one.

primoeza said...

Hey Lara, thanks for dropping by my blog and for your nice comment. I think I'm going to post more images of the knitting machine as I'm still intrigued by it too :) Good luck for your markets!

thedomesticfringe said...

What a great and thorough list. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

greenolive said...

I love tip #1 - it stops me every time. I hate being a procrastinating perfectionist!!

Off The Peg said...

Thank you for the advice. I am in a bit of a rut at the moment, so your words of wisdom are much needed.

Shellbells said...

thanks heaps for the advice...am thinking of starting a etsy shop with a few of my ideas....look for in the future!!!

topazie said...

What an awesome list, Lara. I've worked in the design industry for a while but I've found it's really rare to find such honesty and generosity.

I find asking questions really difficult (in case I'm meant to know the answer or it's commercial -in-confidence) - so great to have your insights offered so freely.

Nice one!

Caroline

Bespoke Press said...

Such wonderful wonderful advice! Thankyou for sharing. Although now I do wonder, what ever do I do with the packet of chocolate biscuits I have just opened!!

Jen Bradford said...

Thanks Lara! I linked to this post on my blog today.

Lewidoo said...

Thanks! That looks like a great list. I'd love to start a craft/design business one day. Right now it's a bit of a dream. I'm inspired by your blog and your beautiful designs.

Saskia said...

Thanks for this, I'm printing it up and using it as a daily inspiration. Not for starting a business but for working towards my goal of improving my artistic skills/becoming an illustrator. Before this I'd already sort of started following much of this advice but to see it all set out with additional ideas is wonderful! Love your blog and shop.

amywalsh said...

Thanks for this helpful list. I have been running a small business on the side doing silkscreened prints and original art for a few years now, and am just getting ready to make the jump to making it my exclusive business. of the same I have found many similar strategies and principles apply to my own life as a artist/crafter.
I am also considering turning some of my designs into fabric patterns that would hand print (silkscreen, block printing etc).
Do you know of any good resources to help people who are considering starting out as newbie textile designers? I'm coming up dry with Ye Olde Google!
I know this post died out ages ago but I like the tone of it and I love your work! Any thoughts from Kirin or anyone else posting here would be most appreciated from the bottom of my heart!
Love,
Amy Walsh
wondercabinet.etsy.com

The Cosie Posie said...

Thanks for sharing your suggestions. Just opened my etsy shop this week. So much to do so little time. Who has time to sleep, trying to keep everything in perspective.
Tracie
The Cosie Posie

buy viagra said...

viagra online
generic viagra

Anonymous said...

wowwwwwwwww

Nefertari said...

thanks for sharing, randomly com over this and Iam printing it out and hang it over my desk :D

masweylord said...

saat forex zayıflama hapları gizli kamera

javieth said...

This blog is absolutely amazing, i really like the way how it was written. I must to say it catch my attention since the first time that i read this whole information.Wonderful.
costa rica homes for sale

Katherine said...

working on my goals for the upcoming year....i think the first one needs to be working on my pricing. your formula scares me! but i'm going for it....thanks for the advice!

Darcy said...

What a creative way to share your business tips. I love it! Thanks for sharing them. I'm actually thinking of starting a business with my friends here in my hometown. I'm doing the accounting for the team while they handle the other hardcore stuff, like the business plans and all that. Well, I'll still be helping them since my task is relatively easy because of Peachtree Quantum. Software these days can really help you do your job faster and more efficient. I'm buying the new version, Peachtree Quantum 2011.

Anyway, thanks again for the tips! I'll share this blog to my friends! I hope the readers here would have a great run in their respective businesses!

Janet said...

Thank you for the valuable and honest advice!

It's also affirming and inspiring to read that there's someone who works and thinks like me!! :-)