How to Create a Cohesive Handmade Product Range

Plushka's toys

Most handmade designers, including myself, open a shop with no particular collection or product range. We are just happy to create and get an unforgettable feeling of excitement when something is sold.

When I started, there was no felt toys range even in my wildest dreams!  I made a few pincushions, a few hair ties, headbands and some brooches…. I look back at what I used to make and I can honestly say it wasn’t anything special.

It was well made, but you could buy all that in other shops too…

However, I did have something that helped my shop identity to emerge later on – I was and still am passionate about promoting and preserving the old-fashioned crafts: cross-stitch, crochet, and hand-sewing.

A year or so went by and I started to have some kind of product range. I developed more sewing skills during that year of experimenting, and got a bit more confident thanks to people buying from me and complimenting on the quality and uniqueness of my creations.

I felt encouraged to explore the possibilities of new endeavours and go with every idea that came to my head. However, a few years later I faced the fact that I have a few product lines forming but they are all over the place!

The problem is (trust me, this is a problem) that I can make all sort of stuff if I put my mind to it.

To be brutally honest, my shop ended up looking like a handmade and pretty “all-sorts shop” – I made everything but nothing in particular.

I came to the conclusion that I need to ask myself – what do I want my business to specialise in? What I want my business name to be associated with?

I imagined customers saying “You know Plushka? She makes cute plush toys and her cross-stitched items are lovely! I can always find a unique gifts there” (talking myself up here 😉 ).

What would you like your customers to say when they talk about your shop?

Definitely not the following – “Not really sure what that shop offers but I found this beautiful skirt there, I guess clothes but she also has wall art, bibs and cushions…”

So, what do you do if you have 15-40 items in your shop but no particular range/collection?

1. Highlight 1-3 best items that you think sum up your shop, you as a designer, and what your brand is all about.

Like I said before, for me it was – felt owl (my first toy), cross-stitched items, and crochet. I took 3 areas that I wanted to specialise in.

It can be one or two, but it needs to be something you are good at and you want your shop to be THE place to buy those products.

2. Identify  1-2 main materials you work with. For example, Plushka works mainly with felt and linen. Felt as a primary material, linen secondary.

It’s all about being memorable! When I hear sterling silver, I think about Epheriell straight away! What if you clicked on Jess’s shop and saw fabric necklaces – you’d get a little confused, wouldn’t you?

3. Make sure the items you’ve chosen are profitable as they will be your breadwinners, they have to be profitable in terms of labour efforts and price.

Do you think you will be able to make them over and over again?

4. Fill the gaps! Analyze which items can start a range.

Pick one core item, let’s say skirt and start thinking in a line:

Skirt – top – hair tie: these 3 items can be worn together, almost all the same materials can be used so they won’t look out of place.

It’s a collection that complements each other in colours, material, it’s wearable when combined together.

Another example: necklace – earrings – bracelet – ring – all in a complementary style.

Yes, you can offer all sorts of stuff but they key is – all items within one range need to compliment each other.

the lot

There are 3 types of handmade items (sorry, no professional terminology here):

*Main creations that define your brand and shape your business. According to the price range and saleability, they are divided into 3 categories:

  • best sellers (usually small and cheaper items)
  • middle range ($20-$50)
  • large more time consuming, hence more expensive items (packages, special orders or just labour intensive creations).

*Seasonal items – Easter and Christmas that are not available whole year round. They need to be revised and a few items added every year.

* Limited editions – These are the items you experimented with or creations from some rare fabric/paper you got hold of. They might turn into the main creations, depending on the demand, but most often they come and go. As a creative person, sometime you just want to make it regardless in a small quantity (like a few quilts, hats or posters) they are not something you do as a main line but you felt like making it in a small quantity (e.g. Plushka’s applied tops).

After you have your core range, the foundation of your shop identified, you can build on it.

Limited editions, one-offs and whatever you feel like can be offered but within the range.

After all, that what makes handmade shops unique and always fresh is the OOAK items that customers can get their hands on.

Start taking your range seriously and your customers will see you as a professional business with the designer/owner who knows what she wants and can offer (even if you don’t really).

It’s the brand that you are building that matters. That is what people will remember you for! 

Why Working Smarter Beats Working Harder

embroidery club ad

After several months (or years) of being in business for yourself, you begin to get burnt out.  You work all day, every day, and the profits still aren’t enough to let you do the things you dream of doing: going to Europe, paying off student debt, buying that new fancy tablet.

That’s when it’s time to stop thinking that working harder will solve the problem.  Instead, you need to think of ways to work smarter!

Let me start with an example I’m eagerly implementing in my own business this month.  I’m a pen and ink artist primarily but last year I dabbled in turning my illustrations into embroidery patterns.  I only had to make the first one and then I had a PDF pattern file that I could email to the customer.  That’s it!  Hardly any work involved for me!

The patterns sold like hot cakes.  For just a few dollars, someone has an evening (or three) of sewing ahead of them.  It wasn’t much profit per pattern.  A fancy coffee costs nearly the same but since the only work involved is to email a file (which my shopping cart program does automatically), it’s a win-win!

The patterns continue to sell, more than my prints actually, and my customers keep asking me when there will be new ones.  Now, I could just keep the system I have and make a pattern, market it, and then email it over and over again.  Or…I could work smarter.

This month I’m launching my embroidery of the month club, the next step in my embroidery line.  Instead of sending individual emails, I send out one to the whole club.  People pay for six or twelve months and each month a new pattern arrives in their inbox.  I’ve even developed a way thanks to the power of Photoshop where I don’t have to sew the initial design (which can take up to eight hours).  My fans aren’t paying me for my sewing skills, after all, but for my artistic vision and design!

So how can you work smarter in your business?

  • Is there something you can automate?  Can you create an e-book that your fans crave and send it out as an incentive for your mailing list?  Or can you type up an FAQ page that answers the question which constantly fill your inbox.
  • Is there a product or service you can retire because it takes too much time and makes no profit?  I did this last holiday season with embroidery kits.  They took far too long to package and the cost of all the supplies, plus always having them on hand, was killing my profit margin.  Getting rid of something that doesn’t serve you financially clears up your time (and shop) for something new and exciting!
  • Is there a part of your process that you can outsource?  Megan Auman has her assistant weld jumper rings for earrings so she can spend more time designing new pieces, which is what her customer truly values.

Working smarter means getting clear on what your customers value.  It also means accepting what you do really well and leveraging that.  Want another example?

This year I decided to embark on one of those crazy 365 Projects where I draw one portrait every day.  When I started it, I just wanted to improve my portrait drawing skills but soon I had people asking if they could buy their portraits.  The result has been an income stream I never expected and a new way to get closer to my fans.

Oh, and I’m essentially getting paid to improve my drawing skills.  It’s the opposite of college.

So how can you work smarter and save yourself valuable time and effort while putting more money in your savings?  I’d love to hear what ideas you have below!

C&T Q&A ~ Can I talk about copycatting without sullying my brand?

{Picasso’s take on the subject}

Today’s question is from Megan, and she writes:

Hi Jess,

I’ve been loving the Create and Thrive blog so much as you may have guessed! This afternoon while posting some product images on Facebook, a topic for discussion arose that I thought might be best questioned and thrashed out on the C&T blog if possible.

My question is:

Should you feel bad about promoting the quality of your brand? Sounds silly put like that, but I mean getting into the nitty-gritty facts of it. Is it perfectly acceptable to say in a cutesy way your products are original designs by yourself, made to the highest quality and seen elsewhere may in fact be cheap imitations? Without attacking any individuals or businesses, can you boldly state this to say you are proud of what you do, work very hard to create something different and don’t appreciate copying?

In a climate where this issue is often at the forefront, is it better to tackle it head on and stake your claim before it happens to you? Does being confident in your products in this way produce a feeling of stability among your customers or does it stir up trouble and dirty the waters? To be honest, I added this sentence to claim original work as I have frequently been copied from to see what results it does bring! And I felt bad doing it, even though I did not put anyone down in is it right to show outward confidence in your brand? Big companies do it, so is it okay for small biz to do as well?

A bit of a long one, but I am really seriously curious as to the answers and discussion on this topic!

Thank you so much!


Thanks so much for your question, Megan!

I think, honestly, that this question boils down to ‘should I talk about the fact that I think someone has copied my work?’.

Being proud of and promoting the quality of your brand is actually a completely separate issue from coming out and saying ‘the first and original’ or ‘beware of imitations’ or ‘someone has copied me, let’s burn them at the stake’.

Slight hyperbole there, but really, that’s what some of these copying discussions can feel like – a witch-hunt.

So, let’s get the first part of this out of the way quickly.

Yes, absolutely you should be proud of your work!

Absolutely you should discuss what makes your work good quality and unique!

For sure you can say ‘this item was designed and handmade by me’.

However… you can be proud of and promote the quality of your brand without ever referring to possible copycats.

I have discussed this issue before, but I think it’s important one to get out in the open – but not, perhaps, for the reasons you might think.

You see, I’m a big believer in focussing on your own brand, and not worrying overmuch about what others are doing.

Sure, check out the competition, keep an eye on what they’re up to… but in the end, your brand should be driven by your own vision for your business, not driven as a reaction to what others are doing.

Given that, it follows that I pretty much completely ignore the whole ‘copying’ issue in my own jewellery business.

Have I been copied? I’m sure I have.

Do I care about it? Not one whit.

Sure it’s a bit of an uncomfortable shock when I stumble across an Etsy store that started way after mine and they have a whole lotta designs that look terribly familiar. Sure it gives me a moment of pause. Sure I’ve had people contact me privately to tell me about someone else’s work that looks suspiciously similar to mine. {Thank you for caring about me enough to do that, lovely people!}


But you know what?

1. I can’t be sure they copied me. There are only so many ways you can bend and hammer sterling silver wire to make a pair of earrings or a pendant. There are instances where it’s completely obvious that someone has been copied – a piece of artwork, for example, used without the artist’s permission. However, most of the time in the handmade scene, it’s nigh impossible to know for sure if we’ve actually been copied, or if it’s just coincidence. Don’t make accusations on a hunch, without 100% solid proof. It just makes you look petty and unprofessional.

2. I’m not concerned that they’re ‘stealing’ my customers. They might charge half of what I do for a similar design, but that’s okay. Even if they sell twice as much as me… I’m making the same amount of money for half the work. And the people who value my work – my years of experience, my skill, and my brand – will shop with me. It’s up to me to make it worth their while. It’s up to me to provide an excellent customer experience that brings people back to me over and over again.

3. They aren’t impinging upon me or my brand in any way unless I let them. Nothing can bother me unless I let it. I have the power to choose where I put my time and attention. And I’d much rather put it on making new designs, growing my customer base, and thinking about my business than focussing on someone else’s.

The only exception to this that I would possibly make to this stance is if I had a ridiculously specific design and I saw that a big corporation had stolen it.

But even then? Bringing attention to it won’t stop that corporation, and I sure as heck don’t have the money to mount a legal battle against them. I could look at it as a way to get publicity, if I followed the old ‘even bad press is good press’ belief (which I don’t).

So, even in that case, I would probably leave it be.

Megan makes the very good point that handmade designers, “work very hard to create something different and don’t appreciate copying?” Of course we don’t – no-one does! It’s one of those things that goes without saying. Literally. You don’t need to say it. People know.

Also – “Does being confident in your products in this way produce a feeling of stability among your customers or does it stir up trouble and dirty the waters?”

Being confident in your product is COMPLETELY different to stating that yours is the original and beware of copies. You can do the former without ever alluding to the latter. And yes, I believe that bringing up the copying issue in public almost always has a negative effect on your brand.

In short – don’t do it. It’s not worth the negative light you put onto your brand through complaining or bringing attention to the issue in most cases.

Also – why would you want to bring attention to another person’s business when they’re copying you?? Because even if you don’t name them, people will get curious, people will talk, and they’ll figure it out.


The internet is a very big place. There will always be someone selling something similar to what you make cheaper than you. It’s not your job to capitulate to the threat their business makes to yours – it’s your job to make your brand and business so awesome on so many levels that people won’t even think about going elsewhere.


People don’t buy a thing – they buy a feeling… an experience.

Give them the best one possible, and you’ve done your job. Don’t bring any sort of negative emotions into this business-customer relationship, because it will only dirty the waters, as you said.


That’s my perspective on this whole issue. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, too.

Thanks for being brave enough to ask this question, Megan!!

I know this should go without saying, but please refrain from any specific examples or calling people out.

Thanks, you rad thing, you.

Have you chosen the best business model for your handmade biz?

what's your business model

{image from the awesome Cardboard Safari – they have a unicorn!}

Thank you everyone for your comments to the last post I wrote! Your comments – and especially this comment by Jess – really got me thinking on the ways we sell our creations:

“Something that I do across a few venues is upload a core product range. So, on Etsy, Madeit and my own site, I make sure to have my entire range available, but on other venues, I just spend the time to upload my core range – that I’m pretty confident won’t change – and use that as a way to showcase my wares in as many places as I can. It’s a little way of having the best of both worlds – of course, you have to find the time to even upload that smaller range, which can be challenging!”

There are so many different “business models” – so how do you know which one is for you?

I cannot say that I’ve gotten it right myself yet – but I can say that this year, after applying certain changes to the way I sell my creations, I am much more comfortable with my model.

Let’s take a look at a few of the different models that are possible for your crafty biz.

Markets based business

Selling mainly at the markets (with the stock left over offered on Facebook or at an online shop).

I like this model and if you are set up for it with a car that fits all you containers and stall decorations and you don’t mind working weekends then it’s a great model for you. At a good market, you sell well and walk away with money on hand.

You can budget you stall costs for a year with no listing fees and fixed amount of sales. However, preparing for a market can be stressful (even when you’ve done it a few times). Cancellations due to weather will leave you with stock and, unless you do markets every week, less money coming in that month. I would say nowadays, an online shop is a must for a stall holder so customers can shop after the market too.

Selling made to order items online

You have your range of products, like cushions or jewellery,  for example, and you list the samples and then print/sew/make them to order.

This model minimizes the storage space but requires you to work to a deadline so you get the order posted fast enough to insure higher turnover and to keep your customers happy.

Facebook based business

You don’t have time to set up and update a shop, maybe you work full-time…so you create in the evenings and weekends and release items in batches once a month or so.  

I know businesses that prefer to work on – let’s say – 20 items for a month and then release them in bulk on so called “Market Nights”. Works great  once you have large-ish Facebook audience.

Selling only ready to post items online with occasional custom orders

If you don’t like stress of a deadline and a huge list of orders then welcome to my world!

I did have to take more space for storage but I like that I have plenty of stock and I just post it when I sell an item. As I make toys, I sometimes have to make them to order when they need to be personalised or made into bride & groom like the order I am working on now.

Having a stocked up shop, gives me an opportunity to relax a little more and advertise my business without the fear of being swamped and when I end up with a few orders, the shop is stocked so there is no “I need to make a few items for the shop even if it kills me” thought in my head. In order to achieve this, I have to accept orders only a few times a year and regulate it strictly.

Selling wholesale to the shops and building up as many stockiest as you can handle

It’s a good model for artists who can make a bunch of items at once like fabric printing or kits making.

You make items for a week or so, package them and send them off to the shops. This model is great if you like to know approximately the prospective earnings and you can just drive/post your stock to the shops and maybe have an online presence just for showing your range  to the prospective shops.

I personally love this model but it won’t work for my creations (I tried).

Complex business model

Mix and match applies not only to clothes!

You can create you own business model by combing all or a few of those listed above. I know a very successful  business that does all of the above: markets, Facebook sales, website with stock and offers made-to-order. However, I think, it’s a job for more then one person or a very organised and dedicated crafter!

Each of those models are very personal to the business owner as there is a long road before you find the right one for you and what you make.

Based on my experience, it took me good few years to identify what works the best for the time I have available and my creative process. Time is the obvious factor to consider but, I was surprised to come to the conclusion that the way I create is determining my business model.

I am impulsive, not very patient and hate being under pressure as a designer! If I have a new idea, I have to do it straight away!

I used to do made-to-order all the time for 2 years and it really put me under pressure.

I wished I could have more control over my creativity, but trying to make new things in between the orders, which I stayed up late to do in time, wasn’t fun.

I started wondering – “why I am doing this and what for?”

I identified that what I love is designing and creating, losing myself in that feeling when you have a new idea and you go with it.

It’s a lovely feeling, isn’t it?

Well, before I cut down wholesale orders, customer orders (to a manageable amount), and markets, I didn’t feel comfortable with my chosen business model. However, that’s just me 🙂

That’s how I came to my business model – sell only what I have in stock – so it’s make-list-sell-post model.

My friend asked me a good question when I shared  my decision with her – “Won’t it result in less money”?

That’s a very good question as it did cut my earnings at the start – but I believe in thinking long-term now.

A very important argument that I made – when trying to justify the decision to cut down on wholesale and customer orders – was that I couldn’t even promote my business before.

At the moment, the way I’m working is a great model for me.

With time it might not be and, hopefully, I’ll move on the the mixed business model. Who knows! Owning your own business means you can adjust the model to suit your needs and it’s awesome!

So, why has the comment that Jess made triggered this rambling?

Because I love the way she has her “core product” listed in the shops and think if you do the made-to order then it’s such an awesome way of doing it!

I am going to think how I can apply this to my business model.

In conclusion: identifying your business model is vital for you Indie business.

The model that makes you feel comfortable, as stressed out maker is an ingredient that will spoil the recipe. If you feel stressed, unsatisfied and unhappy, re-evaluate and reconsider the way your business is run.

You might have a great product – but maybe the way you sell it is bringing you down?

I would love to hear all about  your business model! Which one of those mentioned is yours or do you do it differently?


Do you want to get started with an online shop – and get it right, first time?

Join us for Set Up Shop and take your business to the next level! Registration closes Saturday, class starts April 1.

C&T Q&A – How Do I Price My Handmade Goods?


how do I price my handmade goods

Today’s question is from Linda Ursin, and she writes:

How do you know what price to set for your crafted items?

Ahh, the age-old pricing question! We all ask it – and chances are, we’ll keep asking it for as long as we’re in business.

I hate to break it to you, but pricing is never a done and dusted thing. As your business grows – as you grow as an artisan – what you make and what you charge will evolve with you.

There is no one-size-fits-all magic bullet to pricing. Sorry!

However – there are some tools, guidelines and strategies to take into account when you’re pricing your wares to ensure you’re making the money you need to be making – and making what you and your work is worth, rather than underselling yourself.

Underpricing is a HUGE issue in the handmade community, and anything I can do to battle that is a good thing in my book 🙂


1. Price With The Head

Let’s start with the most basic of tools – the formula. I promise it’s not too scary!

I have found many formulas out there. The most fundamental and basic one is probably this:

Cost Price (labour + price of materials) x 2 = Wholesale

Wholesale x 2 = Retail

So, what does this mean to me, and you? Well, say you have a labour cost of $20 per hour (think about how much you could live on if this was your full-time business!). And your materials cost for an item was $5. Lets say I made a pair of earrings that took 1/2 an hour.

$20 x .5 = $10 labour + $5 materials = $15.

$15 x 2 = $30 = Wholesale Price

Now, if you want to make a profit – which is the amount you have to grow and re-invest in your business – you should double this amount for Retail, which equals $60. (By the way, the retail price is what you should be selling for online, and at markets.)

Sounds like a lot, hey?

But, in professional handmade business circles, this is standard practice. It is difficult for those of us who do this as a hobby to look at it like this sometimes – and when you’re competing with people who sell at a price that doesn’t even begin to come near their true costs, you might feel like you’re being greedy.

Remember – hobbyists aren’t trying to make a living out of selling their craft – they’re just trying to cover materials costs and maybe get a little extra on the side. That is how they can afford to charge so little – their livelihood is not relying on this money!

Also – if you’re selling internationally – and especially if you’re selling in another currency in some places (for example, I still sell in USD on Etsy because I’ve found through experimentation that listing prices in AUD puts off my American customers from buying, but it doesn’t bother Aussies to buy in USD) you need to take exchange rates/paypal fees/paypal currency conversion fees etc into account.

For those of you who want to do a super-serious, completely in-depth calculation to work out your prices, check out this excellent article by Australian Jeweller Simone Walsh.

When you graduate from a hobbyist to a business, you’re going to need to re-think your pricing. Starting with a simple formula like the one above is an excellent start… but it’s not the end of the story. Once you know mathematically what you should be pricing, you need to turn around and look at your price from another perspective.


2. Price with the Heart

There’s more to price than the basic in and out formula. Why do you think Apple has such a huge profit margin compared to other tech companies?

It ain’t because their materials and labour costs are way lower. No, it’s because they’ve built a brand that enables them to charge twice as much for pretty much the exact same technology as their competitor – and their customers are not only happy to pay, they’re ravenous, raving fans, just dying to drop another wad of $$ on the new model eye-phone, even when their ‘old’ one works just fine, thank you very much!

That, my friends, is the power of branding, and that is where pricing with the heart comes in.

Someone who outlines this very issue excellently is my friend Megan Auman. She actually wrote a new post on this recently – but she’s been writing and talking about this issue for a long time now.

You need to start looking at your brand from the outside – through the eyes of your customer. Visit your shop and pretend you have never been there before. That it’s just a shop you’ve stumbled upon while browsing Etsy. Even better, pretend you’ve stumbled across your band on a stand-alone website, or in a retail store! (Etsy can sometimes have the issue of making people expect artificially low prices.)

What does it say to you?

  • Does it say ‘professional artisan’?
  • Does it say ‘high-quality craftsmanship’?
  • Does it say ‘unique, exclusive design’?
  • Does your brand scream ‘cheap’ or does it scream ’boutique’?

I want you to be intentionally blind to the prices – blind to the fact that you make these things. I want you to pretend you’ve never made one of your whatevers, and that you don’t have the skill or the inclination to make it.

What would you expect to pay for it? What would you be willing to pay for it?

Take this to another level. Are you even your target customer? Because hey, maybe your target customer is someone who is willing to pay WAY more for your whatever than you would. What might someone really be willing to pay for your wares?

A good way to research this is to show your product to friends or family. Especially those who are a little bit removed from what you make. Ask them – ‘if you saw this in a shop, what would you expect to pay for it’? You might be surprised.

I’d like to let you in on a little secret.

I actually raised my prices 2 times last year. The first was a small, 10% rise in April. The second was a much more dramatic rise in September (and honestly, I have to thank Megan’s talk at the Artful Biz Con for finally giving me the push I needed to take that step).

For example: at this time last year, I was selling this pair of sterling silver earrings for $22 ($22!! I seriously can’t believe that figure now – SO low!). Then it was $25. Now it is $35, and I’m much more comfortable that I’m on the right track with my pricing. Megan would probably tell me off – tell me I should be charging about $60 retail for them – but I’m not quite there yet! Like I said at the beginning, you’re never ‘done’ with pricing.

In the first 2 months of 2013, I sold around the same volume of jewellery on Etsy as I did this same time last year. (I sold a lot more overall this year because the business on my own website is much, much higher now). However, guess what? My revenue – the money I earnt – from those same volume of sales? It’s DOUBLE what I earnt last year. Therein lies the power in raising your prices to what you and your work is worth.

Not only that? I am much more comfortable with my prices now. I am a professional artisan. This is my livelihood. I have years of skill and practice. I make an excellent, quality product. And my prices reflect that.

Do yours?



  1. Visit your shop and do the above ‘I am a stranger’ exercise. I’d love for you to come back here and share your findings!
  2. Take just ONE of your products and work out a price using the formula I gave you above. It is very basic, but it’s a good start. Share with us what you discover – are you pricing way too low?
  3. Do you know anyone who needs this info? Share it with them via twitter, facebook, pinterest or G+ below.


P.S. Want more? Join the Thriver Circle and get immediate access to an in-depth video workshop on this topic. It’s just $15!


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