By Patrice Lewis – For years I’ve been writing about small craft business ideas and tips for success. The focus of these articles has always been how to make such a business one’s sole source of income. But with our recent economic situation, it might be too risky to quit one’s job and try to support a family solely with a craft business. So let’s think about how a home craft business can supplement rather than supplant your income.
Eggs in a Basket
Diversify your portfolio — that’s always been the advice from experts to those investing money. In laymen’s terms, it’s called not putting all your eggs in one basket. If you drop the basket, you’re ruined.
The same advice holds for your income sources. Diversify your “portfolio.” Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If your “basket” drops (i.e., you lose your job), you might be ruined. Look for multiple ways to generate income. If you can supplement your day job by bringing in a little extra cash here and there through a home craft business, your income base will become a bit more stable. The more money-making irons you have in the fire during uncertain economic times, the better.
Obviously, you’ll have problems if you lose your job. Assumedly your full-time job provides benefits and the income necessary to pay your bills and buy food. But if you also have dribs and drabs of income coming in from other sources, then if the worst happens you’ll at least have those dribs and drabs. At that point, obviously, you’ll have to prioritize where your money goes.
Spend Smarter, Not Harder
Now more than ever is the time to think of spending your money smarter, not harder. The days of big-screen TVs and diamond earrings are over. Rather, if you’re going to spend money, spend it on something practical. If a sewing machine will become a useful part of your craft business, better to buy that than the big-screen tv.
There are a number of small craft business ideas and techniques you can use to broaden and expand your business, even in this economy.
Think about ways your product can be modified to appeal to a broader number of people. One of the reasons T-shirt vendors do so well is because they can cross-market their product under virtually any condition by putting appropriate slogans or pictures on their T-shirts. While not every product is quite that adaptable, how can you tweak your product to make it more interesting to people outside your normal market?
I’ve seen women who sew teddy bears, for example, start making teddy bear outfits that appeal to everyone from little girls to tough leather-wearing motorcyclists (think about a teddy bear with leather and chains and you get my drift). Can you make your quilts with different themes, i.e., tractors or antique cars or ballerinas? Can you put a picture of a spangled singer or a starship on your handmade candles and take them to an Elvis or Star Trek convention? The broader your appeal, the more income-producing irons you lay in the fire.
Cheap ’n Local
In our particular case, we long ago discovered that our craft product does not sell well at regular craft fairs. We make hardwood drinking tankards that have a masculine appeal. Most of the buyers at craft fairs are women. Not a match.
The exception is what we call “cheap ’n local” craft fairs. This means the booth fee is inexpensive, and we don’t have to travel far to get to the show. These craft fairs don’t net us a lot of money, but they’re fun to do and they more than pay for themselves.
If you’re looking to maximize your craft income, start looking at all opportunities to sell your product. What’s your “cheap ‘n local”? Can you set up a booth at the local gun show and sell a gun-related version of your product? How about a fishing rally? A homeschooling curriculum fair? A farmers market? Anytime you hear about a local event with vendor spaces, think about whether you can match your product to fit the theme. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth thinking about.
Remember, irons in the fire.
Passions Never Fade
In an earlier article, one of my suggestions was to market your product in a way that caters to people’s passions. This advice still holds.
In stressful times, people still like to loosen up. And they loosen up by indulging in hobbies, for which people are frequently ridiculously passionate (I know I am about mine). Here’s your chance to broaden your sales by tweaking your product to the appropriate hobby and then marketing to those hobbyists.
This doesn’t always mean you must attend, say, a motorcycle rally if leather-clad bikers make you nervous. Alternate ways to sell your product is to sell through eBay, sell wholesale to a retail store that carries items geared toward that hobby, or sell wholesale to catalogs.
Will your product be suitable as, say, a movie prop? Start investigating prop companies. Will your product be a wonderful addition to gift baskets? Contact companies that specialize in gift baskets. Can you offer your product to a business as a potential gift or giveaway for their customers? (“Buy a yacht and receive a handsome set of engraved wooden tankards absolutely free!”)
If people are becoming tighter with their money, you need to tap into what they still like to spend their money on. Passions, think passions.
Now is also your opportunity to take a few chances. How do you know for sure that your product won’t appeal to a certain group of people? It’s always worth a shot to try. You can send a professional letter with beautiful photos to the buyers for stores or catalogs. You can rent a vendor space at a circus. You can open an eBay store. There are multiple ways to test-market your product fairly inexpensively.
On the flip side, now may be the time to think about altering and marketing your product in such a way that it appeals to the newly frugal mindset.
There is undoubtedly a resurgence of thrift in this country. People are becoming more interested in the practical rather than the luxurious. How can you adapt your product to take advantage of this? If you are a knitter, say, perhaps you should shift your skills into useful items and focus on learning how to knit a blanket, mittens, sweaters, and scarves rather than potholders and dog sweaters.
For example, a close friend has superb needlework skills. A few years ago she was making exquisite but (let’s face it) unneeded doilies and tatted lace items. However, she learned there is dire need of skilled needlework in making vestments for Catholic priests. She started a business making liturgical garments that supplements her family income very nicely.
As another example, we are currently experiencing a harsh snow-filled winter in our region. City and county snowplows cannot keep up with demand, especially in our rural area. A number of people with snow-blade attachments on their trucks or tractors are making a tidy income plowing people’s roads and driveways. Many of these same people have rototillers and bring in extra cash in the spring by tilling garden spaces.
I happen to be skilled in desktop publishing. I bring in a little extra money here and there designing brochures, flyers, and newsletters for various groups.
If your hobby is gardening, perhaps you can sell vegetable starts. Last year everyone got a late start on their gardens because our last snowfall was on June 12. Because of our busy schedule, I never started growing seedlings indoors in time to plant, so I purchased tomatoes, broccoli, and onion starts from a local gardener who had the foresight to plant lots of extras.
What niche can you think of that needs filling? What kinds of skills do you have that could be put to good use with a practical application? Remember, the more dribs and drabs of income—the more irons you have in the fire—the better.
Go with Buzzwords
Here’s a smart small craft business idea that few capitalize on: Play up the fact that your product is made in America. Yes, there really are a lot of people seeking items that are not made by huge factories in China. Your job is to find those people.
A quick Internet search for “made in America” products may lead you to places you might be able to list your website or individual craft. Networking among businesses that specialize in home-grown (so to speak) items is never a bad thing.
What about the “greenness” of your craft? Are you particularly skilled in working with recycled materials, reclaimed materials, or other aspects that may be interesting to those with environmental concerns? It behooves you to capitalize on anything marketable.
The same goes with organic items. If you have mastered soap-making recipes, herbal items, skincare products, or other items for which an organic label is an attraction, don’t forget to include information to this effect. (Ed. note: Organic labels must be USDA approved.)
Bend with the Wind
There’s a Japanese proverb that says “The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.” We may have a gale-force economic wind heading our way. If this is the case, now is the time to learn to bend and sway with the wind. Your home craft business can be a superb supplement to help you withstand the battering. Good luck and I hope you enjoyed these small craft business ideas and tips for success.
Originally published in Countryside May / June 2009 and regularly vetted for accuracy.