by small business expert Donna Maria Coles Johnson
Sound advice on creating a small business that stands out from the crowd.
In my final article for Arts Business Institute, I answer a question sent to me from a woman who wants to start a business selling hand knit products. This is a great question to conclude my series with, because it beautifully illustrates two of the most important points artists must understand as they evolve into entrepreneurs.
First, you cannot just sell art.
Second, you cannot just sell things you like to make as a hobby.
Art is beautiful. Art is spiritual. The world needs more art.
But the hard truth is that, if you are a hobbyist who wants to make money, you must either hire someone to be the business side of your brain, or you must become a business owner yourself.
This means accepting the fact that people buy art because it’s beautiful, yes. But a big part of why they find it beautiful is because they are moved emotionally. They have an experience of some kind that supports their appreciation of the work, and prompts them to buy it. With that in mind, if you want to sell your handmade needlework and make a profit, you’ll want to approach it as a business, and not as something you like to do and are good at.
Do not sell needlework commodities.
Because people can buy knitted garments in millions of places today, you’ll need to make sure that you are not selling knitted garments that are like inexpensive mass-produced knitwear.
Consider Anna Marinenko of Ohhio in the Ukraine who started selling knitted bulky blankets starting at $400 in her Etsy shop a few years ago. Over the past few years, she has added pet beds, wall decor, infinity scarves and sweaters.
You cannot get these types of items very many other places. They are unique and in high demand, so she can sell them quickly. Because the yarn used is so big, she can also make them quickly, thus keeping her labor costs low.
These examples are few and far between. If you start this business, you’ll need to sell something totally unique that people have not seen in every department store.
Establish yourself as an expert in a niche in the needlecraft world.
Attend needlecraft trade shows and meetups and host virtual events of your own. Use social media like Periscope and/or Instagram to showcase your work and your expertise. Help others to get to know you well, and support the emotional experience they need to have to feel good about buying your products at the prices you will have to charge.
Consider carving out a very distinctive niche in your field. For example, you might knit keepsake handkerchiefs for brides to carry on their wedding day. Perhaps they can be sold as either the “something blue” or the “something new.” You can probably make these quickly, and you can probably price them with a significant profit margin. A monogram is extra … 🙂
In this example, you are not just selling something you knitted. You are selling a family heirloom that the bride can pass down to her children.
Maximize and diversify your income.
This is always a good idea, but it’s even more critical when you have no time to waste. Price your products as high as you can. Make only products that make you the most money. Target people who are ready, willing, and able to buy.
And on top of that, explore selling needlecraft supplies so you do not have to rely solely on handmade garments to be profitable.
Take custom orders, and charge a premium for them.
Make high end limited editions, and charge a premium for them.
Consider starting a monthly subscription club for knitters and include a new pattern they can only get from you, along with swatches of yarns you sell and maybe some unique knitting needles or other accessories.
I am not a good knitter, but I knit, and I know how time consuming it is. I have all day to knit and am never in a hurry because I make my living doing something else.
If you want to make a living from selling hand knit garments, you’ll want to come out of the box swinging with unique and highly priced items that prick people’s emotions. Don’t just offer a knit garment.
Offer an experience.
Donna Maria Coles Johnson is an author, small business personality, and award-winning home-based business advocate. She is also the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, a trade organization providing mentoring and coaching services, and affordable product liability insurance, to makers and creative entrepreneurs across North America. Donna Maria has hosted the Indie Business Podcast since 2005. She blogs at the Indie Business Blog, and she is @IndieBusiness on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.