Is selling your craft online right for you? Or would you be better off selling it via markets, shows, or to shops via wholesale and/or consignment? Or should you do a combination?
I think it is pretty clear these days that you at the very least need to have a presence online. That means a basic website and blog, as well as a few social media channels. No matter how you actually sell your craft, you still need an online presence so people can find you, connect with you, and become (hopefully) raving fans of your work.
But does that mean you have to sell online? Not necessarily…
The decision as to whether to sell your craft online or focus on offline sales is a personal one, but there are a number of factors to consider when you’re trying to make the decision. I’ve put together a list for you to consider below.
1. It will take longer to make money
No doubt about it – if you decide to focus on selling your craft online, it will take longer to make decent money. Markets allow you to make money on-the-spot much faster (provided they are successful), and selling to shops via wholesale means you get a nice chunk of cash straight up.
That said – once you’re established, you’ll be making money every day – even while you sleep! I love waking up in the morning and checking my sales from overnight. By selling online you will get smaller bursts of money more regularly – whereas markets and wholesale will give you larger chunks of money less frequently.
2. Is your item easily shipped?
If you make small items and/or light items, selling online is pretty straightforward. Shipping costs can be kept relatively low (especially in Australia if you can ship via a large letter size rather than a parcel) and it’s not too hard to carry a bunch of parcels to the post office.
However, if you make large or heavy items, shipping – especially internationally – can get pretty darn expensive. You might be better off selling at markets or to shops in your town/city to eliminate this problem.
Expensive shipping can definitely put off some customers – however, you’ll be surprised what some people are willing to pay for shipping if they REALLY LOVE what you are selling.
That brings me to…
3. Are you happy to sell internationally?
If you’re selling online, you’ll grow your business faster and make more money if you’re willing to ship all around the world. Don’t be put off by slightly higher shipping costs, or any other fears – it’s well worth the effort of working out a range of shipping costs up-front to get those international sales.
Around 75% of my jewellery sales are international – mostly to the US, Canada, and the UK, but I’ve also sold to Russia, Italy, Singapore, and many, many other countries.
If you’re worried about parcels going missing – don’t. I usually have around 4 parcels go missing each year (out of thousands) and they are just as likely to be within Australia as overseas! For me, lost parcels are just another one of my costs – I write them off as expenses and send a replacement piece.
The language barrier is also no longer a barrier thanks to Google Translate. I love being able to write a message in English, pop it in GT, and send it to my customer in their native language (with a disclaimer that I’ve used GT in the case that I’ve said something awkward, of course!).
4. Is your work easily reproducible?
This is big one. If you want to have a successful online craft business, at least some of your products must be reproducible. Why? Because when you sell online you not only have to do the work of making your piece, you also have to photograph it, edit the photos, upload them, write a description, calculate shipping costs, choose keywords… and the list goes on. If you’re doing this for OOAK products (unless they are very expensive – like high-end jewellery) you’re going to hit a wall and not have enough time to make products and do all of this work AND make a decent profit while actually enjoying life rather than being a slave to your work.
By having reproducible products, you do all this secondary work just once – then you can sit back and sell the same design over and over again. Each one can be and is unique and handmade, but you do have to have a design that you can reproduce to be almost identical to your online display item.
5. Do you value face-to-face interaction over online interaction?
If you’re an introvert, then selling online is perfect for you. You can interact with customers and potential customers on your own time, at your own pace. You don’t need a phone number (I don’t make my number available – I work exclusively via email and in the 6 years I’ve been in business this has never ONCE been a problem).
However, if you’re an extrovert, and you adore face-to-face contact with your customers, then you might find selling online a little disheartening. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from selling primarily online and still attending a market here and there to get your ‘customer fix’.
And, you can still interact with your customers via email and social media – I do this every day and it’s part of my job that I love.
6. Do you have the products to do markets?
Because I have focussed on online business – and reproducible designs – I no longer do markets. Why? Simply because I don’t have stock to sell at them! When I make a new prototype design, I make it, photograph it, and then, more often than not, keep it for myself or Nick. It means we have a nice bank of our own jewellery to wear when we’re out and about – which is of course one great way to market your work.
So, for me, markets don’t make financial or time sense – I can make as much online in a day as I make at most standard markets, and I spend way less time and effort to do it.
If, however, you make the sort of thing where you’ve always got stock laying around, or you can make lots of stock quickly, then markets are a great idea!
7. Do you like having your weekends free?
This is another reason I don’t like doing markets, personally. I know I’m self-employed, so I can set the hours and days I want to work… but most of my friends aren’t! So, if I want to hang out with them, I have to do it on the days they have free – and that’s generally the weekend. I don’t like having to get up super-early on a Saturday or Sunday morning and schlep myself and a car full of stuff to a market, then stand around all day in the hope I make a few sales.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve done many a market, and there are lots of fun things about it: interacting with customers, hanging out with my crafty peeps, seeing how people respond to my work in-person… but I can do most of this by just attending a market (and spending lots of money on other people’s stuff… ahem…) so that’s my preferred thing to do.
Some folks, however, adore markets and everything about them! If that’s you, then go for it.
8. Are you willing to invest the time to learn how to take and edit stellar product photos?
When you sell online, you’re not selling the product, you’re selling the photo. If you’re not willing to invest the time (or money) in getting stellar photos of your work – don’t bother starting. I know that sounds harsh, but with SO much high-quality competition out there, you have to be willing to step up and get your photos right. Nothing else matters until you get this sorted – truly.
That said – if your photos aren’t stellar just yet, don’t let that stop you from at least getting going. Start where you are. Do what you can. Then LEARN and experiment until you end up with high-quality photos. This may take a week – or a few months – or even a few years. I don’t think anyone is ever 100% satisfied with their photos, but once you can put them side-by-side with the best in the business and compete, you’re doing okay.
9. Do you enjoy the process of selling and marketing?
There’s no way around it – if you start your own business, you are now a salesperson and a marketer. No matter if you decide just to sell to shops in order to avoid having to sell and market your work direct to customers… you still have to sell and market your work to retailers. There’s no way around this fact.
So – do you enjoy telling your story? Because really, that’s all marketing is – storytelling. If you can change your mindset and come from a place of telling the story of you and what you do, then marketing becomes much easier, authentic, and less ‘icky’ feeling. You might even end up enjoying it…
10. Are you happy to make less money selling to shops?
When you sell online or at markets, you of course get the full retail price for your goods. Wholesale and consignment are a different story. For wholesale, you should expect to be paid 50% of the retail price of your work (of course, you set the minimum volume/minimum value that the retailer has to order to make it worth your while). For consignment, you can expect to get a little more – maybe 60-70% of the retail price – but of course you don’t get paid upfront, you only get paid when your work sells.
Consignment is a good way to get the foot in the door when you’re just starting out, OR to get into a specific shop or gallery that don’t work on wholesale. However, consignment isn’t really a viable way to make a living long-term, because the money is just too iffy. If you want to focus on selling to shops, you want to focus on gaining wholesale customers who end up being repeat buyers – that’s the way to grow a sustainable wholesale business.
Of course – you should be pricing your products so you make a profit on the wholesale price – not just the retail price. If you’re not doing this, then don’t start selling to shops, because you’ll end up running your business into the ground through not making enough money to support its growth.
11. Do you have the time/skills to set up an online shop?
I included this one because it’s often the excuse I hear from people as to why they’re not selling online. Look – no matter what avenue you take, it will take time to get and keep your business going. If you do markets, you need to invest time in creating displays, sourcing markets, applying, getting to-and-fro, actually attending etc. If you sell to shops, you need to research possible buyers, contact them, follow-up, do trade shows, etc. If you sell online, your time will be spent working on product photos, building/tweaking your website, sourcing new venues to sell on. No matter which path you choose, it will take a good chunk of time to run and grow your business.
As for skills? Photography is really the main thing. You can set up shop online SO easily these days, especially if you start out somewhere like Etsy, where all you have to do is upload pictures and words, and they do all the techy stuff for you. Don’t let a current lack of technical know-how stop you from going the online route. You’ll probably find it’s easier than you thought it was to get started!
In the end, this decision will come down to your products, your personality, and your business goals. No-one can tell you the ‘right’ way to sell your craft – it’s something you have to work out for yourself.
Of course, once you do, you can find folks who’ve done it before you who can help you figure out the ‘how’ a whole lot sooner!
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