#CTWordsofWisdom: What YOU Want to Tell People Starting a Handmade Business




What YOU Want to Tell People Starting a (1)

A while back, I put out a call.

The other contributors and I share our own thoughts, experiences, and lessons learnt here on the blog every week. It’s all hard-won knowledge, because you know what?

We’re JUST like you.

We’re all indie makers. Solopreneurs. Learning as we go. Risk-takers. Dreamers. Do-ers. We don’t have all the answers. We haven’t figured it all out yet. We’re just sharing what we HAVE learnt, what we DO know to work – at least for us – because we want you to figure it out sooner than we did.

There is nothing extra-special or super-important about us that sets us apart from you. We’re all in the same boat.

With that in mind, I wanted to tap into the wealth of wisdom that exists here in the Create & Thrive community. So, a few weeks ago, I asked you:

What would YOU tell people just starting out in handmade husiness?

And you answered!

Below is a compendium of those answers – which I’ve dubbed the #CTWordsOfWisdom.

Look out for many of these on our Instagram and Facebook page over the coming months – Megan E’s been hard at work turning your words of wisdom into inspiring and motivating shareable quotes! I’ve taken your comments from the previous post and broken them up into concise snippets of advice. Feel free to tweet and share these – just use the hashtag #CTWordsOfWisdom and link back to this post if you can!

Before we immerse ourselves in your wisdom, though, I wanted to extend an invitation.

This is not a static document.

I want YOU to share your tips, ideas, lessons learnt, aha moments with us in the comments. Let’s keep the bank of wisdom growing and flowing and help each other figure things out!

Now, it’s over to you.

What would YOU tell people just starting out in handmade business?

Making clear times to do your craft (especially if you’re doing it around work) will help ensure that it doesn’t take over your life. Make sure that you include pack up time into that too! ~ Macramake

Believe in yourself and your craft. After I quit my day job to follow my dream, people say to me, “What are you doing now that you don’t work?” Well actually, I do work. More than I ever did. Now I can proudly answer that question. “I’m a jewelry designer”. Don’t let people trivialize your work! Believe in who you are, your talent and your creations. Because no one else will believe it until you do. ~ Tracey Atkinson

Always have your “end game” in mind. Is what I’m doing today in line with how I envision my business down the road? Is the way I’m running my business scalable and sustainable long term and at a higher level? Can I make enough money doing my handmade business full time? ~ Cortney Nichols

Don’t stock up wanting to “save money” on items that you visualize you are going to need when your product “takes off”. Get the information you need to order, what you need in bulk, so that way when the time comes you can have it when you need it. Otherwise you will end up with a whole bunch of “stuff” that you may or may not use within your lifetime, because you are so over the product you were creating when you stocked up on that item. You tie up your money thinking you “save” and then you don’t have the working capital when you need it. ~ Miska Black

One thing I found I missed out on was as soon as I had a business name was not getting it set up in all the different social media options. Even if you aren’t using them to begin with, get registered and be consistent with your name. It will help with branding and customers being able to identify. Don’t do what I did and be ‘frightened’ of all the options out there. People use social media differently so you need to cover all the bases even if you don’t like them yourself! ~ Tricia

Just keep going but go like water in a stream. If you can’t move the rocks in your way, you have to be flexible to go around them. ~ Allison Dey Malacaria

Unless you are one of the very fortunate few to suddenly be “discovered” after making and listing a few items for sale, you have to really work hard to figure out who your customers are and then find them. Who you are, how you dance with the music of business is more telling of your future success than anything else. ~ Allison Dey Malacaria

Temper the initial passion for your biz. When I started I thought everyone would love it so I overbought and money I could have used for other things got tied up in inventory for years. ~ Wendi Unrein

Be careful who you get ideas from and pay attention to what you are needing/asking. When I started I got inundated with the “You should..” people with good ideas but not the ones I needed. That is very important. ~ Wendi Unrein

Show up, each and every day. Do something for your business every single day. ~ Barb Lieberman

Bookkeeping from day one. Real cost of each item, inventory, sales tax, sales, shipping, everything. If you don’t have the time to do it right now, today, you won’t ever find the time. The task grows exponentially if you do not do it as you go along. ~ Barb Lieberman

Research events before you do them. Not all handmade? Might not be a good fit. Talk to others who are vending about the event. Most are happy to share their opinions. ~ Barb Lieberman

Network! Find other handmade businesspeople and get together to commiserate and celebrate. ~ Barb Lieberman

Celebrate! Every sale. Every new lead. Every new product. ~ Barb Lieberman

Organize your workflow. Organize your packaging flow. Organize for events. Organize inventory. Don’t waste time looking for things. ~ Barb Lieberman

Ask questions. Try new things. ~ Barb Lieberman

Look for inspiration. Add new products or twists/improvements of your regular items now and then. Give customers a reason to come back. ~ Barb Lieberman

Say “I” when you talk about your business. Be your brand. ~ Barb Lieberman

Do not give away your products. Do not discount their value. Charge what they are worth. Place value on “handmade” and all it offers. ~ Barb Lieberman

Enjoy what you do. LOVE what you do. If you don’t, it’s a job. If you do, it’s a blessing. ~ Barb Lieberman

PLAN!!! What your long term plans are, what do you want out of this? When you are going to make, market, book keep, supply shop- organise your time. ~ Sue Bertozzo

Trust yourself to be capable of learning the skills you need as you go along.  ~ Alison Comfort

Don’t be afraid of the many hats you will end up wearing as you grow your handmade business! ~ Alison Comfort

Start where you are, do your best, and don’t be afraid of stepping up to learn each new skill as you go. Your handmade business will grow organically, and you can grow along with it. ~ Alison Comfort

Make peace with the seasonality of your business. Your year will likely be dominated by the busy season and the slower season, so take advantage of each while not getting too attached. ~ Alison Comfort

Have what I call a ‘complete concept’ – a confirmed aesthetic, unique selling point, ideal customer profile and keyword collection. ~ Penny- Elizabeth Neil

Treat it like a real business with intent to profit, and to get used to that idea. And get used to the idea of doing it 24/7 for the first…. 10 years. ~ Penny- Elizabeth Neil

Having a set visual concept (brand) is incredibly important – it helps you figure out what to call yourself, how to design your calling cards and social media graphics, who your customer is, where to find them, how to sell to them, what kind of photos to have and how to make sure the stuff they’ll make is something that will actually sell. When you figure out those three facets, half the work is done for you. ~ Penny- Elizabeth Neil

You really need to love what you do. Not only because you will be doing it, taking about it, living it and breathing it for the rest of your days…but because your love for what you do needs to show in your product and also in how you present it to the world, to make it special. ~ Margeaux

Create systems that you can replicate & stick to them. Alter if needed but if you have to do it more than once: determine a way to make it consistent & efficient each time. ~ Robin Ritz

Enjoy the Process. “When we take care of the Process, the Product takes care of itself.” ~ Robin Ritz

Learn from ‘trials & errors’ and be persistence, tenacious & determined. Keep trying. ~ Robin Ritz

Be kind to yourself & give yourself credit for all your bravery, courage, effort and hutzpa. ~ Robin Ritz

Listen & Observe. Ask customers for feedback, find out what’s working & do more of that. ~ Robin Ritz

Trust your Intuition. Stay True to Yourself & remember the reason you began creating to begin with. ~ Robin Ritz

Really nut out whether you’re doing it as a hobby or business. ~ Jewel Divas Style

Decide if you have the time or energy to put into a business and the hours it will take and the energy it will suck out of you. ~ Jewel Divas Style

Do you have the ability to sell at markets, or don’t have any near you at all? ~ Jewel Divas Style

Is social media something you are already into or want to go into? Because you will need to, and then spend time updating and using it. ~ Jewel Divas Style

Embrace social media, if used correctly it will be a great friend. ~ Tania

Do you want to set up a website straight away, or start selling on shops like Madeit or Etsy? ~ Jewel Divas Style

Do you have the money for set up costs or will you have to hassle with bank loans? ~ Jewel Divas Style

Do you need to do short courses to learn about the aspects of running a business, or perfecting your craft? ~ Jewel Divas Style

Do you have any support system around you or are you doing it all yourself? ~ Jewel Divas Style

Maybe start of as a hobby for a year or two until you fully understand how it’s going to work… and then decide whether you want to turn it, (or it’s become successful enough to turn), into a business. ~ Jewel Divas Style

If you start a business you will need to register the name and get an ABN (or equivalent in your country) and make sure you put in a tax return even if you make NO money (something I was not told and did not know). ~ Jewel Divas Style

When you make a sale note it down in your ledger/ excel doc… and make sure you have a day set aside once a week, or once a month to jot down all your expenses for that period. It seems like hard work in the first couple of months but soon it will be second nature, and come tax time it will make life SO much easier. You may need to write down all the steps you need to take (and frequency you are going to do them, daily, weekly, monthly etc) and refer back to it until you get used to it… but you won’t regret it! ~ Imogen Wilson Jewellery

It’s bloody hard work!! ~ Tania

Good photos are everything. Take the time to ensure your products are photographed in the best way possible. This doesn’t have to mean spending money on professional photos. There are lots of great photo taking tips out there so read up on them and also make sure you edit photos after taking them. ~ Tania

In the beginning, there is so much work, so many new learning experiences, so many first offs and much time spent working out how its done… but once you do these all once, the second and third are easier and take less time. ~ Fluid Ink

Try not to judge your business by looking at others and competing with others that are in the middle (time wise) of theirs. Things take twice as long at the start and it feels like you are a mouse on a treadmill, but gradually things take less time once you have worked out systems. Feeling competitive or trying to compete with others in the same industry is heartbreaking and mentally exhausting. ~ Fluid Ink

Do your own thing and stick to it. If you get a random request for ‘do you do this’ if its out of your range and its going to take more time effort resources than you have, say no. In saying that, sometimes, accepting a customer directed request, can force you to experiment with something you hadn’t though of and can be refreshing (although often un-profitable!) ~ Fluid Ink

Pay yourself!!! Just because someone else is selling a similar product for cheap, doesn’t mean you have to! When I compared my sales to others that were selling cheaper, I found that I had MORE sales for HIGHER prices! Don’t short yourself. ~ Yarned Together

Don’t procrastinate! Just list your items on whichever platform you have chosen and let the buyers out there be the judge. Don’t go by what your family and friends say, just get it out into the marketplace and gauge the response. And if the marketplace does not respond well then what have you lost? A few listing fees and a bit of time and material. What have you gained? The knowledge to alter your product so it better suits your buyers ~ Leanne Hewens

Create a brand and carry it through all you do. ~ Barb Lieberman


Now it’s YOUR turn…

Small Successes ~ July Edition


We’re back for another round of Small Successes! This month we’re featuring all our readers who have had a reason to jump for joy recently. Please cheer on your fellow makers!

small success 4

Minnette of Minette vs. Corey:

“I just finished up my tax paperwork for the year and realized that for the first time ever, I have made a proper wage and it’s from being entirely self-employed.”

small success 3

Lisa of Springwood Porcelain:

“I got a great wholesale order for a new shop opening in the Barossa Valley! 32 bowls and 130 Christmas decorations!!!”

Leona’s Daughter:

“Royal Design Studios used my suggestion for the name of their new stencil! ‘Boxwood Trellis’ is the name and they sent me a large version as a prize.”

small success 2

Jordan of ScatterBrained Collars:

“I just picked up a wholesale account with 9 locations!”

small success 1

Melissa of Holmes-Made Papercuts:

“I’ve had my biggest ever month of sales in my shop selling my prints and papercut originals!”

Have you had a small success in the last month? Share it with us below!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Bricks & Mortar Retail. Part 2: Maintaining Sales & Enthusiasm in Retail




Dos and Donts of Brick and Mortar Retail Part 2

This is a guest post by Simmone Spring. I’ve known Simmone for a few years – we’ve bumped into each other at markets here in Brissie on numerous occasions! She’s uniquely qualified to write this – the first of a short series of articles on getting your work into a B&M shop – because she is both a crafter AND a retail coordinator, so she knows the score from both sides of the fence. You can read Part 1 here.


When we start in retail, or stock a new shop, we are often very motivated to do well. Maintaining this can be a challenge with the ups and downs that retail experiences.

Here are some tips to keep you selling and in good favour in a retail space.


Continue to present your work well

Spend time presenting your product and change your packaging if the situation calls for it. I am not a fan of excess packaging but think that simple things like card backing for earrings, or a box for a necklace can make a huge difference. Let you packaging evolve if it needs to.

A little info on the packaging is also recommended. Do you use a special finish to protect your product? Does it need to be washed regularly? Are the findings hypo-allergenic? This gives the shopper confidence in your product.


Emails and Phone Calls

Keep in touch with the shops you are stocking with a simple email every 2-4 weeks. Keep on top of your stock levels, and gather information about what is selling well.

Now, I cannot stress this enough, let the shops you stock know if anything is going on that will affect your stock supply, or their ability to contact you! If you change address let them know, if you have a crisis let them know. Anything that affects your supply to them and their contact of you. Let them know whilst it is happening, better yet, before it happens! Even if you are going on holidays for 5 days, let them know!


Listen to the Manager or Coordinator

Listen to those who run the shop. This is so important. If they want some more stock, restock as soon as possible. If they think you could improve sales by swapping stock, get onto it. If they think your product would work better with a simple change, give it a try.

These are the people in the shop every day selling your work, listening to your customer, watching how customers respond.



Be committed to the shop. If you are just starting out slowly add retail locations to your repertoire so you can be sure you can manage the amount you take on.

If something happens that means you cannot be committed for a period of time communicate this and see what the shop wants to do about the situation.


Broken Items and Refunds

Your manager should have discussed their policies on returns and refunds when they set up your contract. Make sure you know what you are obligated to do and do it promptly. If you are fixing an item stay in contact with the shop and let them know time frames and make sure they pass this on to the customer.

I once had a customer tell me it meant a lot to her to know we were so accommodating with returns and refunds and were going to do the right thing by her. This can be such a difficult aspect of handmade retail but one that you really need to be good at. It is your reputation and the reputation of the business you stock at stake.


:: Something to Remember ::

Make sure the shop you stock is holding up their side of the bargain. They should be following these rules as much as you. As a retail coordinator I know how difficult managing retail can be, but if we all follow these points it can be painless for all of us. If you are thinking a retail space is not holding up their side of the bargain, call them on it and discuss ways things can be better. There are always improvements we can make, on both sides.

Good luck!


Simmone Spring coordinated the retail space at Bleeding Heart until it sadly closed due to renovations. She has been making Anatomy for 6 years as Your Organ Grinder and coordinates Hands On Brisbane.

Image sourc: Martin Wessely

The Do’s and Don’ts of Bricks & Mortar Retail. Part 1: Getting in to a Shop




The Do's and Don'ts of Bricks & Mortar Retail. Part 1 Getting in to a Shop

This is a guest post by Simmone Spring. I’ve known Simmone for a few years – we’ve bumped into each other at markets here in Brissie on numerous occasions! She’s uniquely qualified to write this – the first of a short series of articles on getting your work into a B&M shop – because she is both a crafter AND a retail coordinator, so she knows the score from both sides of the fence. You can read Part 2 here.


Getting your beautiful handmade creations into a retail space is the dream of many handmade artisans.

As a retail coordinator and hand maker I am often taken aback by just how many handmade artisans are not making the most of the chance to be in a retail space. They are not thriving in a shop setting.

Today, in Part 1, I’d love to share some tips with you so you can make the most of your retail experience.


Approaching a Shop

I love going into work and seeing an email with a concise description of a product or label and clear, well-lit photo’s attached (3-5 photos is plenty). You don’t have to be a super star photographer, just make sure they are the best you can do. A link to a well constructed web site or an Etsy store is also welcome, this way I can see your range and think abut what will work in my retail space.

An email is definitely my preferred first contact. I can spend time with your label, browsing and thinking about how I can work with it. A reply may not be immediate, but I will always flag and get back to you when I can. If you don’t hear anything within a week a follow up call is a great idea.

Don’t send en email with blurry photos or a website that doesn’t work. This happens a lot and really drives me crazy! I cannot see your beautiful products in a blurry shot and if your link is broken you are just wasting my time.

After I get your email I usually set up an appointment to see your pieces in person and chat about what I expect from you if you come on as a vendor. If you are interstate I outline everything in an email and start with a really small order, just to make sure your work will sell in my shop.

Before the appointment think about questions you want to ask and absorb the shop. Think about the layout, current products, and ask about the clientele.

Don’t walk into a store with a bag full of stock before you have been in contact by email. I always found this quite uncomfortable if a vendor did this. If you want to touch base with who to contact and see the shop for yourself, go in as a customer, mention what you do and ask who to email.


retail shop 2

You’re in! How to Get Started

Hurray! You found a wonderful shop to stock, so what happens from here?

First, double check your product is ready for retail (I’m sure you wouldn’t have contact the shop if it wasn’t, but it is a surprise what people forget). This means price tags (with space on the tag for a code that the shop will assign) and having your product in tip top condition. Don’t try to sell products that are not up to scratch. Visit the shop a couple of times to make sure your product presentation is equal (or better!) with the other products on display.

The shop should have a contract for you read and sign. If they don’t you should create your own contract. This should cover pricing, display, dealing with returns, consignment agreements (if you are working on a consignment basis), payments, delivery details, and any other terms you think are important. I often hash this out with vendors, and the shops I stock, in a series of emails. I use email as it is all there in black and white, no misunderstandings, and that is exactly why you need a contract!

You will also need to set up stock lists. Every shop does this differently so make sure you work closely with them so things go smoothly. Some like them on paper and enter them in to their own systems, others like a spreadsheet.

Post or deliver your stock. So exciting! It is finally in store and looking AMAZING! You have done everything right and the shop manager already loves you. Now, to make sure you keep it up.

In Part 2, I will cover what you should be doing once you are in the shop to make the most of the experience.


Simmone Spring coordinated the retail space at Bleeding Heart until it sadly closed due to renovations. She has been making Anatomy for 6 years as Your Organ Grinder and coordinates Hands On Brisbane.

Image sourcs: Martin Wessely + Kath Chownston

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