Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Should you sell your crafts?

I have been approached many times by folks who know what I do, which is make things and sell them. They make things and want to know if they should sell them too. They want my advice. What do I tell them? Well, it's a very complex question with many nuances.

I make and sell things full time, but I do not make a full time salary, so I am very lucky to have people in my life who help me to make ends meet. Without them I would have a very different lifestyle. Someday I hope to be able to make enough to be independent, but I have no idea when that time will come. People who have it more together would come up with a five year plan. That's not the kind of person I am.

I sell a little bit in lots of venues; on Etsy, in my studio and at craft shows. I also sell in consignment shops and to other shops through wholesale.

I work every minute of the day and well into the evening 7 days a week. I don't mind. I generally don't get burned out because I love what I do and the tasks are varied; item production, new product development, marketing, bookkeeping, show applications, photographing products and listing them, etc. But I am ALWAYS working. And remember, I do not make a full time salary.

So. Should you sell your well-made thing? I have no idea. Your thing might be the hot new thing, or the best version of that already hot thing, or even just another very good thing. Or your thing might not have a market at all, or a very tiny one.

My life up to starting my Etsy shop: I had about 20 years prior experience making and selling things at craft shows before the popularity and ease of internet shops existed. I worked as a production artist for other small business owners all through the 90s. In the aughts I managed two retail businesses, one of which was a fine crafts gallery.

My life now: I am computer literate. I use and enjoy social media. I can take photos of my products and Photoshop them to look enticing. I have graphic design experience. I stay aware of material, color and motif trends in the current handmade marketplace. I am always paying attention and coming up with new ideas.

I am not trying to sell the most items possible, I am not a factory. So I price my items at what I need to make for it to be worth my time, this often puts me at the high end of the market for many of the things I make. That means I sell fewer things.

Will your item sell on Etsy? I don't know. Etsy is only a venue, it's up to you to bring people to your Etsy shop. Does the thing you make have a market? Research it online. Can you invest the time and perseverance it takes to become more than a needle in a haystack on a site as enormous as Etsy? A place as vast as the internet? Since 2006 I have built an online presence that helps people feel comfortable buying from me. I update frequently enough so that people are reminded that I exist but not so much that I become an overexposed pest.

Etsy is NOT expensive. Would it hurt to try? Maybe it would hurt your feelings if it didn't work out. Would that make you so sad it would take all the joy out of making the thing you love to make? Would you be content with a sale here and there? Only a few people are going to become crafting rockstars. I've been in magazines, books, I went on national TV and though I'm certainly a rockstar to my mom and dad, I am not inundated with orders. What is your idea of success?

Though I would like to sell more than I do now, being inundated with orders is not of paramount importance to me. I want to make beautiful things well. I want to sell them to people who appreciate them. I want people to smile when they see what I made. I want my whimsies to mitigate, just for a moment, the existential angst. As long as I make enough money to keep being able to to do that, I feel successful. Would you work this hard for that goal? Would you work this hard for less?

Should you sell that thing you love to make? I don't know, why don't you try? Here is a good resource to help you get a handle on all the possibilities available to you: The Handmade Marketplace.

Pick the marketing methods that appeal to you and try them. If what you are doing doesn't work, adapt. If it turns out the business of making and selling things is not for you, don't sweat it, now you know. Maybe you just want to enjoy making things without the added pressure of selling them. If you do become inundated with orders, write and let me know, I love a success story :)


  1. I think you're right in that it's all about what you call success! I'm already successful in the areas that really count. I'd love to be able to make enough money to pay my bills and have neither my husband or me HAVE to work outside the home to make ends meet. Will that happen?!...To Be Continued! ^_^ I'll write you with my "Success Story" if it does!

  2. Very well said! If success means getting to do what you love, we win. If success means making piles of money, not so much.

  3. Part of why I make the things I do is that there are no imposed deadlines.Like others, I would love to have more money, but taking time with my grandbaby and my pups is more important to me right now

  4. Liz, I love your healthy, realistic take on the selling of your craft. Also, I had no idea I was friends with such a celebrity...Martha?!!! Way to go!

  5. How thoughtful and well written !

    (Yes, You are a rock star to me and your dad, rock on !)

  6. yes, very well said-
    am currently reading the handmade marketplace...it's great :)
    i don't have people asking me if i think they should sell their things, but i do know people that just don't understand the amount of work it all actually is ;)

  7. What a fantastic post! Thanks for sharing. I'll be passing this on for sure. Making things, whatever your thing may be, is truly a labor of love!

  8. Well written. I still remember your post about Etsy shop and keep telling about it to my friends. It helped me to get more realistic about opening a shop. I did it just because I wanted to.. not to instantly sell everything :) I love to create what I want and when I want, without deadlines. And yes, I have a full time job to make ends meet.. and to buy me crafting supplies :))))))
    Love your blog and love the things you do. If at least you wouldn't live so far, I would love to have a chance to touch each and every of items on your table :)

  9. Wonderful article!
    Thanks for sharing your advice and insights.


    P.S. I watched the egg video with Martha -- way cool!!!

  10. PoetessWug: I look forward to that success story!

    Mimi: LOL!! Exactly :)

    justthreadtwiddling: Yes, it's about quality of life!

    ElizabethSpace: Yeah, me and Martha, best buddies LOL!!

    Thanks mom!! Could not do this without you :)

    andrea creates: So glad you are enjoying Kari's book! I found it helpful too. Yes running a handmade business is not "sitting around playing crafts all day"!

    Melissa: thanks for passing this on!

    Sonja: thanks so much for the kind words, I'm so glad you find my posts helpful! If you ever find yourself in the US I hope you are near enough to visit Lowell :)

    Cathy: Thanks for taking a look! LOL that Martha show was a TRIP!

  11. Sounds as if you are very successful. If you're happy with your job as a crafter, and you have help making a living. Very lucky!

    I bet your husband is a keeper. :)

  12. You have such well thought out and helpful posts. I really appreciate that you share your experiences, advice and what you have learned. It is so helpful and reassuring for us newbies!
    Peace, Angela

  13. So well said - great post!!

    BTW - We think you're a rockstar too! : - D

  14. This is wonderful information and insight. You really have the right attitude and are aware that there is nothing that works for everyone or every product. Thank you so very much for sharing. Happy creating...

  15. Good post, I enjoyed it very much and you're right on!

  16. I enjoyed reading your post, it's a good realistic view and I wish you and your shop the best!

  17. This is a GREAT post. I really enjoyed reading it for many reasons - I posted it on my FB page. Your perspective is spot on! :)

  18. Cynthia: I know how lucky I am and yes, that guy is certainly a keeper :)

    Angela: Thank you! I know how much information there is out there, I'm so pleased you find mine helpful :)

    R and S: LOL! Thanks guys :) Back atcha :)

    Createology: Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

    Mary: Thank you!

    Homemade Zen: Thanks kindly for your well wishes, my best to you!

    Mommy Tip Finder: Thanks very much for your kind words and for the link! Much appreciated.