[120] Can you make a successful living selling OOAK items online?


Can you make a living selling OOAK handmade items online?

This is a question I’ve been asked many times over the years, and now that I’ve been in the handmade industry for almost 10 years, I can confirm that my stance on this remains the same.

In short: no, you can’t.

Of course, there are exceptions, and good reasons why this is the case.

In this episode, I outline the reasons why it is extremely difficult to make a living from selling OOAK items online (and I am specifically talking about online selling, not markets, wholesale etc.).

If you happen to make a living selling OOAK items online, I want to hear from you! I’ve been trying to interview someone who does on the podcast from the beginning, but I am yet to find someone. If you are that someone, or know of someone who fits the bill (makes a full-time living from their handmade business, and 90% or more of their sales online exclusively from OOAK items) then I want to hear from you!

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Quotes & Highlights from this Episode:

  • A one of a kind (OOAK) piece is a unique item of which you only make the one.
  • The hard truth, learned from my own research and experience, is that it is not really possible to make a living selling OOAK items online.
  • OOAK can absolutely be successful in handmade business. The challenge is when you move online.
  • The two exceptions to this are:
  1. Expensive items priced in the mid to high hundreds of dollars. These need to be quick to make, have a good mark up and sell daily.
  2. Makers with a large and dedicated following. Time is invested in building a presence, batch making items and managing a big release.
  • “If your OOAK items are mid to low priced, the chances of you making a successful living selling online is very small.” {Jess}
  • Selling an OOAK piece online takes far more work than selling in person.
  • Each product needs to be individually listed with photos, editing, title, keywords and tags, description notes, proofing and more and all of these little pieces of time add up.
  • When starting out there is ample time, energy and enthusiasm to experiment and create OOAK items but as your business grows this becomes less sustainable.
  • As your creativity ebbs and flows having a line of reproducible items provides you with breathing room.
  • “You should have the freedom to make and list OOAK items when the inspiration strikes and you have the time” {Jess}
  • Utilise price points to support these creative endeavours. Your OOAK items should have pricing that reflects their elevated and unique status.
  • Reproducible designs do not mean that the piece is not handmade or a labour of love.
  • If you have OOAK items, list them on your best selling venue and deactivate the listing when at markets.


Download or listen to this episode.

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ok so…I’m kinda soap-boxy about this HA! Because I 100% believe you can make a living selling ooak items online. In fact, I think online is *better* for ooak makers because you have that global audience, rather than say a market where you only have the narrow tastes of what people show up that day.

In 2011 I was earning an average of $200 a week on etsy (and only selling on etsy) with ooak jewelry. I know $200 a week isn’t exactly raking it in, and it’s barely half of what I need these days, but my work ethic was terrible – I was very casual about it all, shockingly so. I had no discipline for working decent hours (4 hour workday anyone?), I didn’t have a deliberate brand, had no idea who my ideal customer was… I see these same work ethic issues in a lot of other ooak makers as well, and it doesn’t matter what you make, if you don’t run your business like a proper business, you’ll never make it full-time.

If I’d focused on improving those areas of my work ethic, I am utterly convinced I could’ve made a full time income. (for anyone wondering, I stopped because I had a car accident and while taking time to heal, lost the muse/passion/interest.)

Any to sum up LOL – I think you can absolutely do it, but you have to do it right! You have to be unique (I was) and you have to build a following (took 3 years to get mine). But you also need to develop a brand (I didn’t), to put in decent hours (I didn’t) and to use social media – I blogged and used flickr, but Oh! I wish I’d had instagram back then…and pinterest…

What say you?

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