happy chaos

for those of you who weren’t able to make it to SNAP, i thought it would be fun to share my notes!

the panel was called “happy chaos: turning a passion into a business – learn how to take your passion and get out of hobby-mode”.

heather of just love.ly things was our moderator, and i spoke with ashley of lil blue boo,jess of allora handmade, and liz of dear lizzy.

thankfully, we were given a list of great questions to use as a jumping off point, so the speaking part was actually pretty easy!

1. When did you decide to actually go for it and take the leap to really treat this passion as a business?

my move from hobby to business was actually really organic.  i have always been crafty, and one year i decided (foolishly) to make EVERYONE’S christmas gifts.  i blogged about the process and all my creations and some of my readers said i should sell what i was making.  not something i ever thought of.  i never had the desire to have a business.  but selling sounded fun, so the following spring i hosted a small boutique in my home with a group of friends to sell my goodies.  i had a little bit of products left so i decided to show them on my blog and see if anyone wanted to buy them.  and they did!  so i made more, sold more, made more, sold more… eventually it got so messy trying to sell on my blog that i opened a shop online.  i started my shop on big cartel the day my oldest daughter started kindergarten, and it all snowballed from there!

2. How did you find what you were good at or what people would pay for?

i think i found what i was good at mainly from feedback from friends and customers.  i tend to make a lot of different products (craft ADD anyone?) and i will pull items from my line if they aren’t selling well.  i have found that my favorite part of my business is designing products and pairing fabrics.  i think a lot of my pairings are unique and fun!

3. What makes your product stand out? Why do people choose you over anyone else in the market?

since i have been blogging long before i started my business, i built a base accidentally of future customers.  i have been blessed to have a loyal group of readers turned customers and they have been very supportive of my business.  i think people will buy my products over other similar ones if they have a relationship with me already.  but beyond the relationships through blogging, my products truly speak for themselves.  each product is made of high quality fabrics and has professional details added, like interfacing and topstitching.  so many of my customers are repeat customers and i think that says a lot.  i also feel like customer service is very important.  i always want the customer to be happy and do whatever it takes to achieve that.

4. How do you make sure you are getting paid?

oh this is such a good question!  this isn’t asking how i get paid, like via paypal, etc, but more specifically how do i make sure i am actually making a profit.  so often, crafters turned sellers tend to underprice their products, which devalues their products and their competitor’s products.  makes me crazy!  so here’s what i mean:  say you make a purse, and your supplies were $5 for that purse.  so many people charge $10 for that purse and are so happy with doubling their costs.  but whats not accounted for is time.  maybe the purse only took 30 minutes to make.  $5 for 30 minutes of work is definitely not worth my time.  but then there is all the other time still left unaccounted for, like: blogging about products, photography, listing of products, marketing, time for shipping, packaging… and on and on.  the actual time spent on each products is pretty crazy when you really break it all down.  and that time needs to be accounted for and paid for.  yes, i *love* my job, but not so much that i won’t pay myself for the work i do.  and when there are other crafters out there that sell their products super cheap, it makes business more difficult for those of us properly accounting for our time.  rant over.

5. Who are the people you count on the most to keep you motivated and successful?

1 – sean.  he has the business brains and is great for bouncing ideas off of.  he is kind of like the sane to my crazy.  and he is so proud of me!  he is super appreciative to me contributing to our family and always recognizes my hard work.

2 – crafty friends.  i am so blessed to be connected with so many creative women, many of whom i truly call friends.  seeing their successes spurs me on to strive for being better.

6. How do you balance being the marketer, the production team, the customer service department, and the designer all at once. When did you make the move (or have you?) to hire out?

ah, the balance question.  wouldn’t we all love the answer to this?  after a couple years of trying to balance doing it all myself, i finally had to get help.  i took on a huge wholesale order and spent an entire summer training seamstresses and going over product control.  i kinda went crazy.  after the order was complete i took a giant step backwards and analyzed what i really loved about my business and what things made me not like it.  over the next couple years i slowly worked towards releasing the things i wasn’t as good at and have focussed on the things i love and am good at.  the first thing i hired out was for sewing help, then for a virtual assistant, and then for a shipping assistant.  releasing control was really hard, but i am so glad i did it!  i say start small, and hire out for something that you don’t do well (like maybe bookkeeping).  your time is valuable and even though you’re paying someone to do work you are able to do, your time is more productive doing something you do well and efficiently.

7. When you design a new product (a unique product) and you see others copy you..
How do refrain from getting discouraged when you see a handful of other shops that now sell the exact same thing?

this is really tough and i think something that i am constantly working to get better at.  before getting snippy, first realize that there truly is a chance that you and another person actually came up with the same design.  it may seem unlikely, but it really truly is a possibility.  second, take a deep breath, and do NOTHING.  there is nothing beneficial to getting angry and gossiping and bad mouthing someone who stole your design.  it actually makes your brand look worse and less confident.  now, if someone is making exact copies of your products, stealing your pictures, reprinting your words, etc, then you can take legal action (which is something to really think about whether or not all that is worth the time and money).  but for the most part, we feel like if someone is selling really similar items to us, they are copying us.  no, its not flattery.  never is.  but i think we need to reassess what copying is and then let go.  one thing i keep learning over and over is that my time is valuable.  and my time is not well spent fretting over someone copying me.

8. What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you first started your handmade business?

i think just “how to run a business” basics.  i was clueless!  i just stumbled through everything as i came across it and never had a business plan or goals.  i wish i had read more about handmade businesses and online stores.  i wish i had more technology experience and understanding to to more basic things myself.

9. From the time you started out to now, the market has become almost overly saturated. How do you stay encouraged or how would you encourage someone to start a business when there are so many out there?

i am encouraged so often by the emails i get from customers.  they take time out of their busy lives and will thank me when they receive an order!  i am blown away every time that happens!  i know that i am providing them with a quality product that is bringing them a little bit of happiness, and that keeps me going!  as far as encouraging someone else to start a business, i would say there is always a market for more handmade products, but be original.  don’t look at what everyone else is making, even if it is selling well.   make something original and people will love it!

i hope that was helpful!  feel free to ask me any other questions you may have.  i’ll either answer them in the comment section or i’ll do another post to answer them.

Comments

  1. 1

    Great questions and answers- thanks for posting!

  2. 2

    this is so so good, lindsey!! thanks for taking the time to write this all out for us! i have a business and am constantly wondering about questions like these. since you’ve opened yourself up to questions, i have one for you. i’ve been going back and forth about doing ads on my blog or not. Part of me feels like blogging is 1/2 of the success of my handmade business and i would really like compensation for that end of the business. but the other part of me feels like: if i have ads for other businesses, isn’t that taking potential business away from my own shop? what’s your thoughts on ads? i know you have them on your blog…would love to hear your thoughts.

    thanks!

    xo,
    alicia

    • 3

      hey alicia!

      ads are tricky. yes, you are potentially taking sales away from yourself and giving them to others by hosting advertisers. i never ever have an advertiser that makes anything similar to anything i make. but my main reason for taking on advertisers is because it does pay me for the blogging side of things, and also for my assistant. otherwise i can’t justify having an assistant. it is a lot more work hosting advertisers, with emails and switching out ads and giveaways, but its worth it in the end to have that extra help.

      xo
      lindsey

  3. 4
    Nadir@StitchSense says:

    Great tips! Its truly beneficial to a newbie shop owner like myself to hear the *honest* truth of how it all began with people like you who I admire so much! Thanks! :-D

  4. 5

    Hey Lindsey? I was just wandering if you are solely just on the design end of your business or do you still do some of the sewing?
    This was a really helpful post
    Thanks!

    • 6

      hey amber!

      i very rarely sew anymore, as i’ve found a couple very talented seamstresses to help me, but i still do a lot of the cutting, all of the piecing of fabrics, many of the hand sewn products (like bloom belts), and ALL of the designing. its amazing just how much of my time is devoted to blogging, emails, and the business end of things! i am so blessed to be able to have more time to focus on the design end of things, but i would like to be less business focused as well – more time to design and create new products would be ideal!

      xo
      lindsey

  5. 7

    You hit the nail on the head – by being a real person, you are relatable and I’m not gonna lie, I WANT to buy things from you more because I know I’m supporting you, not a large company. It’s a joy shopping with you and reading your blog.

  6. 9

    Thank you for sharing this Lindsey! I have been battling with myself over these very questions. I want to open a shop, but wonder how everyone else is able to balance it all with life and if it is all really worth it. I have always wanted to own a handmade business, but I felt like it wasn’t marketable today. then I found the handmade community after becoming a writer/blogger and realized I was so wrong! I am really glad you touched on others copying your work. I have wondered about that. It seems like so much of what is out there is similar and some of it I truly enjoy experimenting with and making myself. Originality is a struggle when you are constantly seeing what others are doing so well. It’s kind of like reading other peoples writing if you are a writer or listening to other music when you are a composer. You honestly want to be original but you are influenced without realizing it sometimes. I’ll stop there :P Thanks again!

  7. 10

    Thanks for all this helpful info! I really appreciate you touching on the specifics of having a handmade business. I am wondering, what you think about advertising your business on blogs? I am always wondering if I should spend the money for a sidebar add, or even see if I could do a giveaway on one of the blogs I follow. I’ve been told that my items have a unique look, so I wonder why my sales are just so-so. Is the problem that people just aren’t finding me, or is there something else I should be doing?
    Thanks!

    • 11

      my main form of advertising since i started my business has been through giveaways on other blogs. that has been huge for me. but the demand for it is dwindling a bit since giveaways are no longer a rare thing, but often overdone. i haven’t been super successful with sidebar ads either. i have found it hard to find the right blogs with the right readers. my biggest success has been building my own blog and my own community.
      i checked out your shop (cute!) – my only suggestion is to maybe try to expand your product line to include more variety.

      xo
      lindsey

  8. 12

    Thanks so much for sharing this info! I have a relatively new handmade business and am still trying to figure out the balance of everything, as well as the best products to focus on to maximise my time and money. It’s just not as simple as it looks from the outside, that’s for sure! Which is why it is so very lovely of you to share such advice. Your products are beautiful and you appear to run everything (family/work) so well. You are an inspiration for sure :)

    • 13

      megan –

      just so you don’t put me too high up on a pedestal, remember that you don’t see all my everydays here, my ugliness, my daily messes, my dirty bathroom, and my tantruming kids. while maintaining balance is my goal, it is very rarely achieved here. but i am always trying ;)

      xo
      lindsey

  9. 14

    SO beautiful!!!

  10. 15

    Awesome post. I’m in the stage of making that jump, but i hold back b/c my husband is self employed with the family business, and my paycheck is stability. God’s direction is key, I understand that, but hearing some of your answers makes me a little confident about being nervous if that makes sense.

  11. 16

    Thanks for the Q&A…love the honesty and the inspiration.

  12. 17

    Thank you for sharing information about your journey & your view of the handmade business experience. You are certainly an inspiration.

    You touched briefly on wholesaling in your answer about hiring help. I am curious about your feelings about wholesale — I have read that it’s steady income, but worry about the price cut on my products. With what I sell, the market has become super saturated and I think that raising my prices to accomodate wholesale would hurt my retail business. Do you enjoy wholesale or view it as an integral part of your business success?

    • 18

      hey catherine –

      i don’t do wholesale. at least, not traditional whole sale (dropping retail price by 50%). i did at one time and lost tons of hours of my time and money. i realized (through an expensive lesson) that my products can’t be made at wholesale prices. i will offer “wholesale discounts” to buyers who want to spend $x to get x% off my in stock products, but i won’t take orders for anything. some products work great to do that, but my labor and materials are so expensive theres just no way i can.

      xo
      lindsey

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