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10 Things you MUST Do to Have a Successful Online Craft Business

There is so, so much that goes into having a successful online craft business.

Truly, the path is long, and can be hard, and has so very many steps.

However, I’ve been in the handmade business for a long time now, and over the last few years I’ve built up my business to the point where I am now earning MORE than I did in my last professional job.

Some days, I can’t quite believe that I’ve reached this point. A few years back, it seemed like a pretty unattainable dream.

But here we are. I am lucky enough to be making a living making beautiful things – doing something I love.

I don’t say this to brag or toot my own horn, I say it to give you hope.

Not a false hope. Not a hollow – you will succeed if you just do what you love.

No.

But if you’ve dreamed of doing what I do – making a living from selling your craft, I’m here to tell you that it IS possible. No, it’s not easy. No, it’s not a quick process. But it can be done. I, and many other artisans, are living proof.

Today, I thought I would dig deep into those years (and YEARS) of trial and error to share with you 10 things that I believe are absolutely crucial to the success or failure of your online handmade business.

 

1. Create something people actually want to buy

This is number 1. I’ve written about this before – the uncomfortable fact is that when you make the transition from making things simply for your own joy and satisfaction to making things to sell, you need to change your mindset.

This can be HARD. Of course you love what you make – that’s why you make it.

But is there a market for it? And is the market willing to pay what they need to in order for you to build a profitable business?

Before you dive into setting up an online shop and learning everything there is to learn about selling your work, you need to seriously consider this question.

 

2. Work on it every day – but be patient

One of my most favourite mantras when it comes to business is this:

Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Whenever sales are slow, or I’m not getting as many comments/likes/tweets etc etc as I’d like, I remember this.

Businesses do not grow overnight.

They take YEARS to become truly successful.

Are you in this for the long term? Because if you’re doing this to try and turn a quick profit, just stop now.

If you’re not sure that you want to be doing what you’re doing in 5 years time – don’t try to turn it into a full-time business.

You need to be dedicated and patient.

If you’re both of these things, and you take steps every day to grow your business, success WILL eventually come your way.

 

3. Be friendly but professional

Part – an important part, I believe – of having a handmade business is being open and friendly with your customers.

They are buying from you because they prefer to buy unique things, direct from the person who made them.

Don’t make it difficult for them to get to know you (i.e. have a good About page with photos of you and your work, and the story of how you came to be making what you make) BUT at the same time, remember that your customers are not your buddy.

By all means be friendly and lighthearted with them, but remember to treat them with professionalism and respect.

Use salutations when you write to them. Always respond to questions promptly and in detail.

Don’t get het up with a customer who is making unreasonable demands – just respond calmly and professionally with reference to your strict and reasonable policies (you have those, right?).

NEVER NEVER NEVER complain about a customer in a public forum. Just don’t. Ever.

No matter how unreasonable they may be, or how mad they have made you, they, and every other customer you have, deserves respect, and to know you won’t air their issues in public.

Balancing this line between being friendly and being professional is crucial for the success of your business.

 

4. Have beautiful photos

This. Is. Key.

When you sell online, your photos will make or break your business.

The photo is the first thing that captures the eye, and usually the largest part of the decision-making process when all is said and done. I even know people (and am totally guilty of doing this myself at times) who barely even READ the description, but just buy pretty much immediately based on the photo of an item.

Take the time to get good photos.

What makes a good photo?

  • Natural or filtered white light (not flash)
  • Consistent, simple, yet iconic backgrounds – nothing too ‘busy’ that might detract from your item
  • Clear, crisp shots in perfect focus
  • Interesting and intriguing angles – so long as you show us the full item, to scale, in one of the supporting shots, the first shot can be more of an enticer

 

5. Make reproducible items

You can only get so far making OOAK (one-of-a-kind) items when you’re selling online. I wrote more about this here recently, so I won’t go into detail.

Suffice it to say, once your business starts growing, the time it takes to photograph/describe/title/edit etc etc every new product will be time you will not have.

 

6. Believe in yourself and your work – fiercely – but be open to change

If you don’t believe in yourself – and your product – you will never succeed.

It takes so much time and dedication to really make a go of selling your craft online, that if you don’t make something you absolutely love – and are convinced that others will love, too – you will run out of steam, get disheartened, and give up.

Put your soul and passion into what you make. Love it fiercely.

BUT. Be open to change. If you’ve been working and working and working… and STILL aren’t gaining any traction after weeks/months/years… something might need to change.

It might be what you make. It might be something about what you make. It might just be your photos or price point.

Love what you do… but be open to the fact that in order to succeed, you might need to make a change.

This is not a bad thing. Don’t be discouraged if you do need to make a change. We all know the story of Edison and the lightbulb, right?

 

7. Get a Mailing List

Email is still the most direct and effective way to connect with your customers.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – you can blog, facebook, tweet, instagram your heart out… but people can still ignore – or just miss! – all of this.

Once your customer or prospective customer has taken the step to trust you with their email, they have given you permission to contact them directly.

These are your best prospects for making a sale – the people who love what you do already! You don’t need to convince them that what you make is awesome, because you already have.

Treat them with respect, give them value in the emails you send, and stay in touch with them on a regular basis. They will reward you by becoming loyal customers.

 

8. Price for Profit

This is one of THE most common problems in the handmade community.

Most of us start off selling our work from a hobby perspective. We have no idea what price we should be selling our work for, so we tend to drastically underprice it. We know how to make it, so we tend to underestimate the skill that has gone into the process.

DO NOT TRY TO COMPETE ON PRICE.

There will ALWAYS be someone selling something similar to what you make for much less than you. Even other talented crafters and artisans.

You need to do the hard work to figure out what price you need to sell your goods for to make a decent living, and that’s the price you need to sell it for.

This is hard. It can be confronting. It will probably take you out of your comfort zone.

But if you’re serious about making a living from your craft, it’s something you need to do.

If you need help figuring out just how to do this, go read this article.

 

9. Get your Own Website/Blog

You’re a professional – so you need to LOOK like a professional.

You’re selling online, so your online presence needs to be professional and welcoming.

At the very, VERY least, invest in a $12 domain name, and re-direct it to your online store.

That way, on your business cards, your email signature, your social media accounts, and everywhere else you list your website, you can use mybusiness.com rather than mybusiness.etsy.com or madeit.com.au/mybusiness.

Such a small change can make a BIG difference to the impression people have of your business.

You should aim to have your own, stand-alone and self-hosted website as soon as you can make it happen – preferably with a blog included – but having your own domain is a fantastic start.

And yes, you should be blogging. It’s the best way to craft a story about you and your work. Don’t freak out or get overwhelmed if you don’t know what to blog about, just start. In fact, here are some ideas to get you rolling.

 

10. Learn, Learn, Learn

In business, there is no such thing as DONE.

There is always more to do.

New things to try.

Mistakes to be made.

Unexpected journeys.

Things to learn.

 

When you’re in business, you need to be constantly learning, experimenting, and taking leaps into the unknown.

If you don’t try, sure, you can’t fail.

And if you do try, you will fail. Over and over again. But each time, you learn something more. You might take a step back, but you’ll take two steps forward.

It’s a fascinating, thrilling, exhausting, invigorating, and life-changing journey. And if you set your mind on succeeding, are smart about what you do and how you do it, and get help when you need it, your chances are success are pretty darn high.

I did it. You can, too.

_____

Want to take a journey with me? The 10 steps above are just some of what we cover in Set Up Shop – a 30-day e-course to take your shop from Go to WHOA.

If you want to set up your own online handmade shop, and you want to do it right, right from the start, sign up here to find out when the course runs again.

Jess

Van Den has written 315 posts in this blog.

Jess Van Den is the editor of Create & Thrive, and has been a full-time creative entrepreneur since 2010. She makes eco-conscious, contemporary, handmade sterling silver jewellery under the Epheriell label, and blogs about her jewellery and other beautiful things at Epheriell.com. You can catch her on twitter @JessVanDen.

Comments

[…] We have fortnightly ‘Success Stories‘ interviews, I’ve shared my thoughts on how to create your own personal Success List, and we’ve also discussed that other people’s success is something we can’t define from the outside. Heck, I even have a Top 10 list of things you need to do to have a successful online craft business. […]

Allison Dey
Reply

This article may have changed my life! Hubby and I live in shared housing with little natural light and a backyard full of junk. I don’t drive here (wrong side of the road). I have limited studio space. I am pushing through so many challenges but really giving it a good go. I had a totally ‘aha’ moment as I realized my business was not what I thought it was. I was doing a lot of peripheral activities to draw people to what I do, but then I realized what I ‘do’ + the articles, the patterns, the teaching are actually all parts of something bigger and more focused. Looking at the topics above and considering that bigger thing the actual business, the challenges just drop away or become workable. Suddenly I know more about what my business really is! I’m floored and incredibly grateful. Thanks so much for this and thanks to Abigail Glassenberg who shared this with me.

Jess
Reply

Wow, Allison! That is just fantastic – thank you so much for sharing your realisation – that’s big stuff x

Yusri Big
Reply

The first and most important success strategy that we can adopt is to treat our home Internet business like a real business, not a hobby. There are basic proven success strategies that the highly successful online business owners put into practice on a daily basis and we can implement them too.

Jackie Cauthron-Schafer
Reply

Thank you for posting this. I’m at a point where I have been trying to increase my skills to start an online business but have been losing focus because I work at home. Anything that reinforces that as a JOB is helpful right now.

Jess
Reply

Jackie, absolutely! It IS a job – sometimes it helps to treat it like one (setting work times, dressing for work, etc etc) until we know we’ll stay on-track.

Deb @ home life simplified
Reply

How did I miss this post previously. Love it and needed it and appreciate it. I was just chatting with someone today and I said as much as l love being informed as I go forward with my business I was getting energy drain from reading posts and articles that made me feel like you /I cannot make enough of a living selling handmade. Friend reassured me there is a different between them and me and that it IS possible – with work, passion, great products and a story! Thanks as always Jess xx

Jess
Reply

There is definitely a point where all the info out there can be overwhelming, for sure – I find that myself! Sometimes I think we can get a little addicted to ‘information hoarding’ because it’s ‘easy’ – I think a flow between that and actually doing the hard work on our biz is the ideal way to be. And yes – it IS possible do be a success with the elements you list, Deb!

Nicolas
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I enjoyed reading this article, thank you for the words of encouragement. I started my own online business as well and your article gave me hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Jess
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Glad to hear it, Nicolas! 🙂

Ifi
Reply

I’m so glad I found this blog, as what I’m in the process of doing now is so relevant with your post! And the links were also very helpful. In case you’re curious, I’m trying to make my “hobby” into my main “job”!

Jess
Reply

Hope C&T keeps helping you out, and good luck with your journey!

Louise
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Jess, this post is not only extremely informative but also very inspiring! I am brimming with excitement after reading it. I know it’s going to be a challenging journey, but by taking it one step at a time and continuing to grow and expand on my skills I think I might just have a shot at achieving my dream. Thanks for your very realistic yet inspiring tips – it’s so great to read things like this from ‘success stories’ such as yourself!

Jess
Reply

‘Brimming with excitement’ – awesome! 😀 And that’s it – step by step. It takes a lot of time and a lot of dedication, but it IS possible. Good luck!

Tatiana
Reply

Dear Jess,
this is really cool!!! I have just come across your article and after i read it i remembered that i must have read something from you before 🙂 And Yes!!! I indeed, I have – last year, probably some time in October – that time i read your article about Pricing and your Apple example about creating a brand. When I read it that time i had a massive realisation and I felt so confident about my business and products and I was ready to really take time and create a business I would be proud of.
….after that i had few months of doubts and hesitation ….but the best thing is that now, when i am again feeling confident about myself as well as about creating the brand to be proud of I came across your website and inspiring articles again 🙂
So this certainly is a sign for me 😉 An important sign, that i am ready to go for it.
Thank you again for your inspiring and at the same time very grounded articles.
All the best for your business.
Love,
Tatiana x

Jess
Reply

Thank you for your comment, Tatiana – it’s awesome to hear that you’re finding C&T helpful and inspiring! 🙂 Best of luck with your business!

Tatiana
Reply

Thanks a lot, Jess 🙂 !!!

Maryanne
Reply

Good post. I always say if you want the customers to love you, you have to love them. I am always disheartened to read forum post about the evil customers.

umarsaeed170
Reply

I would like add one more point that is the product selection. In my opinion the selection of right product and right market is the key to success for any business whether it be online or offline. Now sources for online product and market search are available where you can search appropriate product for your niche. Thanks

Jiah Harrison
Reply

Thank you Jess! This is wonderful advice and just what I needed to hear today because I’m feeling a bit deflated. I stumbled upon your site by accident because I read the Leah Duncan interview ( also fantastic). I’m so glad I found you and will be following with great enthusiasm. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Jiah

mgfdesignsandmore
Reply

I enjoyed reading your post. I make handmade magnetic earrings and it can be so discouraging selling stuff.

Erika McCurry
Reply

This is such helpful information! I really appreciate running across your site. I will be rereading and taking notes as I’ve been sitting on the fence about where to go next with my crafting. I have sold in craft shows since I was just 17! At 41, I’m ready to start making this happen.

Jess
Reply

Wow Erika, you’ve already got a wealth of experience! Good luck with the next stage in your journey.

Jenni-Ann Selvaggi
Reply

Great article! I keep a notebook with tips and ideas I am learning as I keep researching. I started my Etsy business in April of this year. Things have been going well! I’ve had sales through Etsy and outside of Etsy just from friends or family. I love reading your articles and tips and in this one… one of the MUSTs is to start your own website. Is there ever a right time? Is it too early for me to build my own website? And would recommend WordPress as a website domain? Any advice or suggestions you can offer would be so appreciated because I truly value your opinion and thoughts.

Many thanks! And good luck to everyone! =)

Jenni

Jess
Reply

Jenni-Ann – thank you! To briefly answer your questions: Yes. The ‘right time’ is right NOW. If you wait for a ‘right time’ it will never come. You have to create it. No, never too early. Yes, having a self-hosted wordpress-driven site on your own domain is a great option. 🙂

Dieni
Reply

Dear Jess, very inspiring article! I just wanna have your opinion.. I love sewing and had made some kids clothing, bags, fruit shaped cushions, and so far I’ve been sharing my works in facebook and pinterest.
Having positive feedbacks from friends & family I started to think about bringing this into next level; having a handmade business.
But I’m just not sure where to start.Shall I jump into, let say, make a few product and create an etsy shop? Or shall I create a blog first just to slowly introduce to people?
And what’s your view on choosing a niche? Is it ok to just try to sell various items, just to get the ball rolling, or shall I think first on which product only to specialise?

Jess
Reply

Dieni – there is no ‘right’ answer – only the answer that works for you. I cover all the ‘getting started’ stuff in detail in our course Set Up Shop (running later this year again) but in brief response to your questions – yes, start an etsy shop, because by doing so you’ll learn a LOT, and I’m a big believer in jumping in and learning as you go. Put everything in there to start, then see what works and what doesn’t. What draws people’s attention? What sells? Good luck!

Brittany Bly
Reply

Great article with great tips. I love that you are encouraging people to be successful. Collaboration and helping others can lead to wonderful things.

Jess
Reply

Thanks Brittany – and you’re so right!

grannyenchanted
Reply

This was a great article. I find that ten times out of ten people who don’t succeed in my niche aren’t patient and persistent. Little efforts every single day create big success later. They’re frustrated because when they’re in the sowing season they can’t reap. I empathize. It does take time but it is so nice sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor from years ago as your business goes smoother. Keep your eye on the ball and push forward. http://www.ScrapGraphics.Com

Jess
Reply

“I find that ten times out of ten people who don’t succeed in my niche aren’t patient and persistent” – this is so incredibly true.

Angela Webster
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I really enjoyed this article. My favorite part about having a craft business is number 10. There is always something new to learn. That’s pretty exciting.

eileenxq
Reply

I also have an Etsy shop (LeisurePleasures) that I am starting to restock. I also sell on eBay as a means of diversification in product lines (DVDs, yarns, patterns, etc). It’s like having a garage sale online. I enjoyed your article and would also like to recommend a great little book I’ve been reading, called, “The Dip” by Seth Godin, which delves into why some people quit too early and why some people should quit while it’s best to do so. There is sage advice in that little book that has put my mind at eased and helped me to focus better on the day-to-day things to be done. I have a notebook handy where I jot down many things to be done in a week, say, that keep me on track. My mind is cleared and referring back to my notes while I’m riding the bus or stuck in traffic often jogs my memory and gives me helpful ideas to further my goals. I also joined WordPress for future blogging.

Jess
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I love Seth – but I haven’t read that one – thanks Eileen!

richelle (@redscorpiomade)
Reply

Excellent post, Jess. Great advice whether you are just starting out or, like me, have been working on developing a successful business for a while. I actually put my business to the test and blogged about my findings. Thanks!

Pia
Reply

Thank you for a great post. I came here because I was doing #10, and I’m surely in it for the long haul…

Cara
Reply

Great post, thank you Jess. It’s nice to know that I’m doing some things right and eventually the rest will come with handwork and patience! x

Nathalie
Reply

Wonderful article! Love your posts, Thank you for inspiring 🙂

MEGAN OBRIEN
Reply

Hello Jess this article is amazing, you are a fantastic writer and have so much to teach! 🙂 In regards to mailing lists, it’s something I have never thought of before, yet it’s in your top 10 list so deserves my attention! I know some people use their customer’s email addresses gained through as previous transaction, do you think that is email etiquette to email a former customer if they have not ‘signed up’ to your mailing list?

Sarah@Tomfo
Reply

Hi Jess, thanks for the information, very useful, I think I do some of this already, but I need to read more posts like this to inspire me all the hard work is worth it… you’re right though I love whatI do, so it’s lovely to be able to do it anyway… wether it becomes a full time job or not. Thanks again.

Sourabh Agarwala
Reply

I enjoyed reading this article, thank you for the encouragement. I started my own online handicraft wholesaler exporter business and we are dealing with handmade,natural,organic product we are ghaat.com.Thanks Jass for sharing your wisdom.

Kate McLean
Reply

Thank you so much Jess for posting this! You’ve just given me the push (or kick??) I need!! I’ve been selling my handmade dresses for the past 3 years at the same price. I’ve spent the last 12 months umming and ahhing over whether to increase them. Because of this post, I’m now going to go ahead with the increase – thank you!

Jewel Divas Style
Reply

There’s two points for me.

1 – photos. when I look at photos I want to see the article in natural light with nothing else in the pic to detract from it. I want to see the natural colours and get a close look at it. So, I take my pics with a plain white background. One is of the article on the flat surface so you can get the full picture of each piece. The second is, if it’s a ring or bracelet, on my hand so you can see how it looks in real life. Necklaces are done on my mannequin and earrings on an earring display.

Now I know all of this may be very plain and boring but it showcases what I want to see in other photos. The article and nothing else. But maybe mine still aren’t good enough. I don’t care for decorative or unusual pics, just plain and to the point.

2 – I’m tired. In every way. I started my “business” and website in 2008 (which is how I went into it, seeing it as a business with the intent to make bigger and better and be a success) and after seven years I have no energy to continue it as a business. It just wasn’t working, in any way, shape or form and two years ago I met with a supposed mentor who said it wasn’t working as a business and maybe I should see it as a hobby. It lifted years worth of stress of my shoulders and that was when I joined madeit with the intent to continue as a part time hobby.

However, in the last two years I’ve made no sales and I get that’s due to me. The lack of any places to sell or market in my area, caring for my mother, my own illnesses and chronic back pain and I just let it go as was and figured if I sold something then great. The goods are there, I’m tired of social media and for me promoting does not always lead to sales. I see tonnes of views in my dashboard but no sales. I guess it could be due to the cost of some of the pieces but most are reasonably priced. They are not cheap pieces and took time and energy to make. Besides, even hand crafted goods need good prices to cover costs.

I’m not sure what to do. I think I’m only just getting some energy back but I’m also back to blogging and also have books to sell. Thankfully, Amazon and Smashwords sell them for me and I don’t worry much about them. I know there’s probably a list of things I could tick off to do to help myself sell but as I said, I just haven’t had the energy and in some cases, time. I do this alone, with no support of any kind and think I’m slowly getting over wanting to do it.

Allyson
Reply

This really helped me! Thank you so much! i just had my first sale on Etsy yesterday, and I am so excited! I want to make my craft business a successful one! Thank you, again. 🙂

Marie
Reply

Hi. I’ve read all many many articles about starting a successful home buisness. What I need to know and do. I’m still stuck. If I’m to sell online, start up shop at Etsy. Where do I get all the pictures to show my product? I have a great buisness plan, in fact I’ve looked and not one person sells this on Etsy. But I don’t have tons of pictures. I currently sell to family and friends. I have been sewing since I was young. I studied Fashion Design for 4 yrs, but I’m not good at any type of marketing, social media sites. I have the sewing room with stock and can create amazing items but I don’t have the reach. What would you recommend? Can I hire someone to Market for me? Is there something that could do the advertising? I’m stuck. I want to start but need a bit of help.

Jess
Reply

Hi Marie, the marketing and photos are things you can hire someone to do – but be prepared that it will cost quite a bit, which is why most of us DIY our photos and marketing. For more help with photos, you might like to check out our Guide to Product Photography.

Irina
Reply

So, if I am 58 years old and want to start making and selling jewelry it is too late for me? I mean, I do not know how my vision will be in 5 years (I already have to use glasses and magnifying glass sometimes). I just quit my job due to harassment and do not want to work in insurance anymore. I want to make a living from home. I have pretty good hands and already have made some jewelry pieces and got compliments. I have tools and thought to start making jewelry for sale. Your article kind of discouraged me.

Meetu
Reply

I happened to read this article just at the right time! When I am one step away from taking that plunge.. It answered almost all of my jitters! Thanks a bunch! Bless you!

Rob
Reply

Having beautiful photos is extremely important, especially if you want to drive as much traffic as possible from social networks like Pinterest and Instagram.

I also love the note on being patient. I think most bloggers start blogging in hopes of getting rich quick, when in reality, the popular bloggers “over night success” was really 2-3 years into their endeavor.

Thanks for putting together a great post!

ehunza
Reply

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Saurabh Sharma
Reply

I enjoyed reading this article, thank you for the words of encouragement. This article gave me hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

craftcoup
Reply

Nice Information…Keep Share more….

Tana
Reply

I had my own web site for more than 10 years, and that was when there was MUCH less competition than there is today. Aside from connecting with one wholesale buyer, I only made a few random sales on my site and I eventually shut it down. I don’t think a web site is any more necessary than a blog (which I also have but mostly ignore). Get your name (business name) out there, but there are many ways to do that … social media is a good one!

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