How to start your own (successful) craft business
Winter is a great time to hunker down indoors and get crafty. But there’s another incentive, too. Join the creative revolution and you may be able to make a living out of doing what you love.
Online marketplaces like Etsy have given birth to a new generation of home businesses. Run by passionate self-starters, these entrepreneurs are members of what’s called the ‘maker economy’. It’s a network of passionate, skilled creative-types who are dedicated to doing what they do best – crafting and selling their wares to others.
Seeking flexibility at work
Samantha Hutchinson of Forest Bags and Sonia Lyne of Dandelyne Mini Embroidery Hoops are two such successful Aussie makers. Both started out in completely different careers, Samantha in corporate finance and Sonia as a primary school teacher. Their businesses were born out of a love for all things unique, quirky and creative, and the need for flexibility in their work lives.
“I began when I was on maternity leave from my job,” Samantha recalls. “When I knew I was going to have a child, it changed everything because I wanted to be with my child when he was born and not go back to the grindstone.” Sonia took a slightly different approach. “Getting back into working with fabric and stitching was really lighting my fire. After that, I realised I didn’t want to teach anymore.”
Samantha's top tip: Start small.
“Be realistic when setting your goals and don’t push yourself too hard to fast. Just let the business grow organically. Decide what you think is your marker of success and then set small, incremental goals to get there.”
For Sonia, trying lots of different business ideas was a huge part of the journey. “I had about five different career changes on the search to try and find out what I was going to do,” she says. A children’s clothing line, classes, lots of crafts and three children later, embroidery entered the scene. “It began because I was really proud of what I was stitching,” she says. “I thought, imagine if there was little miniature embroidery hoops so you could wear your work and show people. I couldn’t find anything like it on Google so I asked my husband if he could help me make a mini version of an embroidery hoop. He said, ‘You design it and I’ll organise the laser cutting.’”
Sonia's top tip: Keep exploring.
“Never give up until you find the medium or tool that makes your heart sing. And be resourceful! You don’t have to go out and buy the best gear or the best brands. Use what you have.”
Samantha’s calling also snuck up on her. “I had no idea I was going to be a bag maker,” she admits. “I started off just trying loads of different crafts. Being in banking for all those years I didn’t have time for crafting or doing anything particularly creative, so I think it was all pent up in me.”
Samantha dabbled in clay and pottery, printmaking, papercraft, photography, toy making and more. It wasn’t until borrowing her mother-in-law’s sewing machine and teaching herself to sew that she stumbled upon bag making in a YouTube tutorial, and got to work with her trademark materials – waxed canvas and leather. “The very first one I made was really difficult,” Samantha says. “I kept crafting and eventually I had more bags than anyone could need so I decided to open an Etsy shop and just see how it went.”
Samantha’s top tip: Find a niche.
“There are so many things now that are replicas, it’s very hard to come up with an original idea. If you’ve got a good idea that you believe in, go for it. Follow that dream.”
Setting up shop
Finding the right place to sell your creations is important. By looking at factors like cost, community, reach and usability, you’ll be able to make an informed choice.
“The crafting community is really active online and, when I first looked at Etsy, I realised it was a global audience,” says Sonia. “I could see that there were forums of customers and sellers, both supporting each other. It was fantastic, vibrant, and diverse. I checked out the prices and it was all affordable, easy and just a great platform. I’ve never looked back. … I’ve got stockists in more than ten different countries and I’ve got stitchers all over the world that use my hoops to frame their own designs."
Sonia’s top tip: Get connected. “Join forums, follow your favourite makers, reach out and ask for help.”
Passion motivates others
“I started my Etsy shop in 2012 and within two weeks I sold my first bag,” Samantha recalls. “Now it’s a replacement for my full-time income and I’m launching my own website – success mostly due to the coverage that Etsy provides. It literally brings the whole world to the front door of my shop. I’ve sold bags to people in all sorts of countries from Iceland to New Zealand and everywhere in between. That’s something that would have been very difficult to do at the beginning if I was just relying on my own standalone website without some serious technical SEO abilities and marketing strategies. Etsy does all that for you, which is great.”
Samantha’s top tip: Stay positive. “By doing what you love and creating happiness others will love it too and want to join in.”