Crafting a handmade business can be a lonely pursuit.
Usually, when we start out, we’re doing it on our own, because we’ve decided that we’d like to have a crack at selling this thing we love to create when we’re holed up in creative solitude.
The trouble is, of course, that we have limited time, energy, and knowledge.
The honest truth is that even though most of us start out as solopreneurs, there is no way we can make any significant progress without the help of others.
That help can come in many forms. It might be our spouse helping us lug heavy stuff to and from a market. It might be someone to bounce our ideas off because we’re not sure if we’re going in the right direction. It might be someone who teaches us that crucial piece of information that makes all the difference. Sometimes, it’s even just someone who will tell us that we CAN do this thing we dream of. We need mental, physical, and emotional support, because growing a business is hard, and we come up against so many obstacles on the path.
So, where do we find that help? Not all of us are blessed with people close to us that support and understand us. Even if we are, they might not know anything about handmade business, so we still need to connect with people who do to help us. There are also pros and cons to any sort of support we rely on – so it’s actually really important to find a mix of people and ways to help us.
Here are 8 places you can turn to find help on your handmade business journey.
Parents, kids, spouses… family is often the first port of call when we need help with our burgeoning handmade businesses.
If we’re lucky enough to have someone close to us that both has the time and the desire to help us out, we are truly blessed. These people love us, and they want us to succeed. They have the best kind of vested interest.
I got really, really lucky when it came to help from this particular direction. There’s no way I could have done what I have without the help and support of Nick – my husband and all-around super-helpful-and-awesome guy.
Not only emotional support – being my sounding board, having complete confidence in me that I can do anything I set my mind to (and being happy to go along with my crazy schemes) – but also the everyday, ‘mundane’ support of keeping our lives running. You know, doing the shopping, feeding me, and all those other domestic tasks. He is my absolute bedrock, and I’m incredibly lucky that he said yes when I proposed to him all those years ago. He’s also stepped more and more into the business over the years, and now he does a number of things – like the bookeeping, and a lot of the jewellery making – which frees me up to work on other things (like Create & Thrive!).
I also grew up with the inherent support of my parents. Sure, I did well in school, and they were always proud of my achievements – BUT, and I think this has had a HUGE impact in the fact that I felt free enough to choose my own path – they also brought me up to believe that I didn’t have to follow the traditional path.
Two things they used to say have stuck with me. The first is that Mum always told me to dance to the beat of my own drum. The second is they both told me once, when I was still in high-school and deciding what direction to take with my life, that I could be anything and they’d be proud of me.
Their point was, of course, that they were proud first and foremost of who I was, not what I do. This type of emotional support is not to be taken lightly. When we have it, we can sometimes take it for granted. And when we don’t everything can seem 100 times harder, because we’re not only struggling with all the regular challenges of growing a business, but with the doubt of those who are closest to us, as well.
Friends are the family you choose, right? So, our friends are often our greatest cheerleaders (and if they aren’t? Maybe it’s time to find some new friends…). Old friends, new friends, crafty and non-crafty friends – they’re all places to turn for support.
My best friend is unfailingly enthusiastic and supportive of all my dreams and schemes. When we talk, she never fails to ask me how my latest project is going. She also never fails to remind me that I can – and will – kick ass in everything I do. Even if I don’t believe it – she does, and that can sometimes make all the difference. She’s also hilarious, and always, always makes me laugh. That is not a skill to be taken lightly!
Think about your friends. Think about their skills and knowledge. Is there someone in your life who could help you with some aspect of your business that you haven’t reached out to? Maybe you’ve got a friend who’s a photographer, who’d love to give you some help with your product photography, or even take some shots for you in exchange for an awesome home-cooked lunch. Maybe you’ve got a friend who runs a different type of business, who you can ask about marketing and advertising. Maybe you’ve got someone who’s artistic, who you can bounce your design ideas off.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your friends – after all, friendship is all about the give-and-take of supporting each other in life, and people really do love to help those they care about!
Local Organisations + Classes
What if you aren’t lucky enough to currently have friends or family who can support you? If you’re a people-person, and you crave face-to-face interaction, then local organisations are the place to look.
Most major cities have craft groups and guilds you can join. Here in Brisbane, we of course have the awesome BrisStyle, and there are many, many different guilds for any craft you can think of.
Craft and business classes are also a great place to find like-minded people. Take a course in some aspect of your work that you could use more knowledge in. Really make an effort to connect with your classmates, and you might find a new friend (or a few!).
I’ve made loads of wonderful friends via being an active member of BrisStyle, and I’ve gotten so much help and support from those people over the years – not to mention collaborations (this year alone, I’m creating a course with a fellow BrisStyler, AND I got to know the new C&T Assistant Editor, whom you’ll meet later this week, via BrisStyle, too).
Find a class or organisation that appeals to you, and really get involved. You never know who you might meet, and how they might become part of your life and business down the line.
Teams + Forums Online
There are HEAPS of public forums out there online where you can ask questions and seek advice. The Etsy forums are one example of this.
These can be great places to find info and see what has worked for other crafters.
However, there are a few downsides of public teams and forums. The main one is that anyone (including your customers!) can see what you’ve written. So, if you’ve ever got any sensitive customer support issues, my advice is NEVER post them in these places. Same goes for any potentially sensitive business information, and rants. Let’s be honest – we all have problems and we all like a good rant now and again, but the best place for this sort of thing is in private, with people who understand we’re just blowing off steam because we’re frustrated. Don’t let a moment of frustration snowball into something that ruins your reputation (it happens).
You also don’t necessarily know the people who you interact with in these places, so you’ve got to be careful… because while I like to believe most people are inherently helpful and honest, some folks really aren’t going to tell you things that are in your best interest. There is also a LOT of envy, negativity, and snark in these places, unfortunately. None of which I have any time for, or any wish to expose myself to.
For these reasons, I don’t really hang out in public forums any more. I did when I started out, because I didn’t know better – but after getting burned a few times, I learnt my lesson.
Go there to read what others have written – you can learn a lot – but be wary about what you share.
I’m sure that during your journey, you have read a LOT of blogs (like this one, of course) that give advice on all things handmade business.
Blogs are invaluable. They are the hive-mind of humanity. They are where we share the lessons we’ve learnt, the pieces of wisdom we most want to share, the things that have worked and the things that haven’t.
I really don’t know how people coped before the internet! It must have been so much harder to learn about business – and, of course, much harder to grow a business without the worldwide platform for selling and marketing that the internet has gifted us.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to make a list of your favourite crafty biz blogs to refer to. Subscribe to their emails, follow them on feedly or flipboard – however you do it, craft yourself a treasure trove of knowledge (and don’t forget to plunder the archives of these blogs, either!).
Just remember, before you enact advice you’ve read on a blog, to consider the author of the piece. Who are they, what have they done, what are they doing, how have they come across this knowledge, and how applicable is it to you in your particular business and situation? All advice does not work for everyone – so it’s important to be discerning in what you absorb and enact, and what you let pass by. You could spend your whole life reading blogs and never actually DO anything.
Make sure that the doing gets done, and you don’t end up paralysed because you’re waiting for that perfect piece of advice before you start.
Sometimes, you just get to the point where you can’t do it all yourself, and you’ve grown beyond the point where occasional help from your friends and family bridges the gap.
When that happens, you have two options. One – you pull back, re-asses, and cut down your workload. Two – you embrace the growth… and hire someone to help you.
There are lots of ways you can bring someone else on board your crafty biz ship. The best thing to do is to start by being honest with yourself. Which tasks do you know are vital to your business… but that you really don’t enjoy doing? Do you drag your feet when it comes to bookeeping? Do you think you might stab yourself in the eye with ribbon if you have to tie one more bow on a parcel? Do you REALLY just want someone to help you with your marketing?
Whatever those tasks are, they are the ones to start delegating to someone else.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. One – I can’t afford it. Two – they’ll never do it as well as I can!
Why hello there, fellow perfectionist. I feel your pain. But I have also pushed through it, and you know what? Some of the tasks I have let go of, well… that other person has ended up doing a WAY better job than I ever did, because they were either just more skilled, or they weren’t doing it begrudgingly.
Nick does an AWESOME job of packing up our jewellery orders. Seriously, that man knows how to tie a mean bow. Megan E – who has moved on to bigger and better things, but was my right-hand lady online for 4 years – was brilliant at reaching out and connecting with new people to interview on the blog. Of course, they both also have eleventy-billion other superpowers, but I hope you get the idea.
And, on the cost? Well, start small. Choose one, defined task, and hire someone to do it. See how it goes. Go from there.
But don’t let fear of expense or your perfectionism hold you back if growth is your goal. You will never be able to grow past a certain point if you insist on going it alone. On the flipside? If you WANT to keep it a one-person business, you’ll need to plan for that, and ensure you don’t take on more work that you can handle.
Mentors (& Coaches)
Mentors are absolute gold – but they’re also hard to find. A mentorship is usually a one-on-one relationship that is mostly one-way (at least when it comes to the sharing of knowledge and experience), and exists without any financial transaction. For this reason, most successful people have very little time for mentoring, and when they do mentor, they take it seriously, because they value their time immensely.
The best way to gain a mentor is to gain a friend, first. I often get emails from people asking me loads of questions, which I encourage. I might not be able to answer them all in detail, but I do like hearing what you’re doing, and what you’re struggling with.
I also get emails from strangers flat-out asking me to mentor them. My response is always (and will always be) no.
If I don’t know you, why would I choose to mentor you? Mentorship is built on trust. If I choose someone to mentor, it’s going to be because we’ve already built a relationship, and I already trust and admire them and their work ethic. We all have limited time, and so that time is best invested in someone who has already shown me that they are going to take what I teach them and action it.
If you know of someone who you would LOVE to have as a mentor, the best thing you can possibly do is help them first. Reach out, be friendly, help them in any way you think you can. Without expectations. Start with giving. Show them you are serious about your business, that you are honest and trustworthy, and that you care about them as a human being first. If you’re lucky, they’ll end up reaching out to you, and offering you help and advice. And so a mentorship is born.
If there’s not someone in your life whom you think could become a mentor, then a coach or advisor is a really awesome person to have in your corner. But they are going to cost you. A good coach won’t come cheap, and I know that most of you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on having someone guiding you. At least, you don’t yet…
I’ll be honest – I don’t have a coach or advisor. I’ve never had one. I see the value, and it’s in my plan to work with someone one day… but so long as I’m still kicking goals and happy with the direction my business is going, I’m going to wait on taking that step. I’ve always been extremely independent and self-motivated, so I don’t struggle as much as some people when it comes to getting stuff done. Some people, however, REALLY benefit from having that person to hold them accountable and guide them on their journey. If you’re one of those people, then a coach or advisor might be something to plan for.
Finally, we come to online communities. By an online community, I mean a (usually) paid membership that gives you access to a private community of like-minded people.
There are quite a few online communities for makers out there (I’m launching one myself next Monday) – all of which have their own benefits. The beauty of this sort of community is that it is full of people who are on the same journey as you – facing the same struggles and asking the same questions.
It’s also (well, it SHOULD be) a private, safe space to ask for help with sensitive issues (like difficulties with a customer). Most of these communities have other benefits, too, like ebooks or courses, workshops, group calls, etc. So, you both give and receive help and support from fellow makers, AND get guidance from someone who knows their stuff.
Again, just like blogs, before you join a community like this, get to know the person behind it – do they walk the talk? Do they really know what they’re talking about? Are they a good teacher? Do you resonate with their teaching style and personality? Who are the other people in their community? Have they already helped you via the free info they’ve put out into the world? Do you trust them?
Also consider what you are getting for your money. Can you afford it? Are you getting value for what you pay? Can you join or leave at any time, or are you locked in by having to pay a big up-front fee? What happens if the community isn’t a good fit for you?
Online communities can be a huge help on your journey. I know that many of my students from Set Up Shop have told me that having a private forum with fellow students has been immeasurably valuable to them, because there was just nowhere else they could turn to connect with so many people who understood them. Definitely consider this as one option – and as an investment in your business (membership should be tax-deductible, after all!) – if you find a community that you connect with.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, Thriver. Where do you turn when you need help with your handmade business?