Turning a Hobby into Cash

Those of us who love to craft have all hit that point where we want (or need) to take our hobby to the next level. While I don’t recommend craft sales as a profitable side hustle, I do think it’s good to sell your crafts. At the very least, it will help you make back some of the money you spent on it. And if you get lucky, you may even turn a significant profit and evolve into a business!

I’ve had experience with selling my handmade goods, at markets, in shops, and online. In my case, I was simply producing too much to keep storing it all in my house and needed some cash for more expensive supplies to level up my creations. To that end, my sister recently asked for my advice in how to get started selling handmade craft items. She works at a private school assisting the head teacher, and she wanted something to do with her summers that could also bring in a small amount of extra money. I shared some tips with her, and now I’m going to share them with you as well.

Where to Sell Your Handmade Crafts

There are three main places to sell your crafts: Markets & Vending Fairs, Local Shops, and Online. To get the most out of your sales, I recommend selling at all of these, as much as possible. Here’s how to do that:

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1. Okay Google

Do a google search for local craft shows, farmer’s markets, and event centers. You’ll want to go to the individual website for each of these (if they have one) and look into potential fees, sign up requirements and application forms, etc. Then, go to their facebook pages and get into the conversation. Connect with other vendors to find out more information or see if someone is willing to give you the inside scoop, and get a feel for the culture.

Make sure you understand what you need to do and know whether or not you’re going to fit in. You’ll also want to visit any markets in person if you get the chance, so you know whether or not your product will have a lot of competition and observe what the customers are typically attracted to.

2. Shop Local

Visit small shops in your area that sell similar products. Find your local small business districts: they tend to be grouped together in specific locations because they rely on the same customer base. In fact, you probably already frequent a few of these little boutiques as places where you like to shop yourself, as people tend to make the same kinds of things they like to buy.

Use that to your advantage. If you frequent a small business, you’ve probably spoken to the owners on occasion, and they already know your face. That gives you an in to ask if they’d be willing to let you keep a display in their shop. They may think of it as a win/win because you’ll be repping their store on social media and to all of your friends as place where your product is displayed, or they could charge a small space rental fee. Try to get a few shops on board so you can track where your product gets the best sales.

3. Get Online

The first thing you’ll need to do for getting started selling online is to take pictures. You’re going to need quality photos for people to buy your stuff online. They will need to be clear, adequately depict details and color, and your product will need to be positioned in the photos in a way that entices people to buy. You learn a lot by browsing Etsy. Which items are you immediately drawn to? Copy their techniques.

Other than pictures, you’ll need an ecommerce platform. I mentioned Etsy before, but that’s also swamped with competition where your products will be sitting right next to someone else’s that looks exactly the same. And you’d have to pay $29/mo for the privilege. On the other hand, you get to piggy back on Etsy’s good SEO status. So how do you get the same or better for less? Sell directly through Facebook. Be sure to check out their product guidelines, though. The great thing about this is that, if you get big enough to have your own website later, most platforms can integrate with Facebook’s shop.

What You’ll Need

Don’t try to drop into craft sales unprepared. If you don’t plan ahead, trying to sell your crafts is not going to be a fun experience. Here’s a list of supplies you’ll want to round up before hand and why:

A Business Name: Choose a name your customers will know you by. It can be your own name if you want, but if you can come up with something catchy and memorable that’s even better. You may also want to register that name to make sure no one else is doing business by the same name and avoid customer confusion or infringing on trademarks.

Cash Box & Credit Card Processor: You need a way to collect payment for your products. Get both a lockable cash box (and coins + small bills to make change for your customers!) and sign up for a free card reader and account with either Square or Paypal (or both if you wish). Keep in mind: there will be a small fee for processing credit/debit card transactions with any card processor.

Tables & Displays: For farmer’s markets, craft shows, and vending fairs you will need a table (size will depend on the size of the space you’re renting, though 8ft is pretty standard since booth spaces usually start around 10 or 12 ft). For outdoor markets, you will also need a canopy tent to shield you and your product from the sun and rain. You’ll also need displays for your items, which you can get inspiration and ideas for on Pinterest. If you’re outdoors, you’ll quickly learn that your tent and displays will need to withstand wind, so grab some weights for your tent and make sure your displays aren’t top heavy.

A Sign: You need something eye catching to pull customers to your booth or display, that promenently displays your business name. It doesn’t have to, and really shoudn’t, be expensive. Even better if it was also handmade. What it does need is color and large lettering.

Product Tags: You can use almost anything to tag your products, but it may be easier to just purchase something that was made for that purpose. Craft product tags can be found in your local and big chain craft stores, or you can probably save some money by buying in bulk online. It’s a good idea to have your business name on these tags, if possible.

Bags: This is one that’s often forgotten. What happens if your customers buy multiple items? Are you providing a way for them to carry them all? Did you put your business name on the bag so everyone knows where they got it? Don’t get stuck at a market or fair without a way for your customers to take your product home, with the added bonus of others seeing your name being toted around the market.

Business Cards: Customers will need a way to get a hold of you if they have issues with one of your products, have a special request, or just want to buy more. Plus, having business cards instill trust in your customers because it communicates that you are legitimate and not just a random stranger peddling wares. Sometimes these can even double as your product tags with the help of a hole punch.

Social Media: Market for yourself without spending any money with social media accounts. As mentioned before, Facebook can even double as your ecommerce platform. Big ones to make sure you have other than Facebook are Pinterest and Instagram. Use applications like Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social to connect your social media accounts and publish to all of them from one place.

Online Store: These days your customers expect to find you online. Wether you use Facebook, Etsy, or build your own website, you need to offer your products online.

How to Make Selling Crafts Profitable

Here’s what everyone actually wants to know: How to make a profit. Since we’re talking abut a hobby, you need to start with the assumption that you won’t be making a profit. After all, your enjoyment is in the art and process of creation. Mass producing the one, small item everyone wants to buy because that’s what turns a profit will slowly crush your soul and end your love for crafting. That being said, there are ways you can alleviate your costs or even get yourself a little extra cash.

1. Cut Supply Costs

There’s a delicate balance between quality and economy. You don’t want to go so cheap that your crafts are falling apart or breaking: your customers won’t come back for that. But, most of the craft supplies you buy at your big chain craft stores can be found cheaper online from foreign suppliers. After all, where do you think the stores are getting them? So, cut out the middle man and buy from China yourself.

I understand that some people may prefer to buy US made. If that’s the case, it may be difficult to find the materials you need for a reasonable price without having to make them yourself. If that’s your goal, though, make sure that you advertise the fact that use use 100% US made materials and price accordingly.

Another great option is used craft supply stores and thrift shops. Everyone knows about thrift shops, which may have everything from scrap jewelry to yarn, but not many have heard of used craft supply stores. They may not be common in your area, but you can ask people in your local crafting communities, and you can search the internet as many of them will be selling online as well.

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2. Reuse What Doesn't Sell

Anything you have that doesn’t sell can likely be used for something else. Maybe it can be broken down to reuse the materials for another item. Or, it could become part of your display. Perhaps the best, and funniest, example I’ve seen of this was a corset vendor at a local Renaissance Fair. They had racks of those costume corsets that you can buy online … only, people who don’t often costume don’t know that you can buy them online. What those of us who have purchased costume corsets online know is that they often come with a free (cheaply made) thong that is basically just a cloth triangle with elastic straps that no one is going to wear. This particular tent happened to have a cute, colorful fringe of pennant flags across the top of their tent. You guessed It: They cut the straps off of these thongs that no one was likely to want, strung them together as pennant flags, and used them to decorate their tent. Genius.

3. Charge What You're Worth

Literally every crafter has difficulty pricing their products. They want to make money, but they also want to be cheap enough that people will buy. And they’re almost always undervaluing their time or their product. The first step in this product is to decide how much your time is worth.  Then, you can use this handy formula:

Cost of Supplies + Labor + 10% = Total Costs

Total Costs x 2.5 = Retail Price

Cost of supplies is the cost of the supplies that went into that specific project. Labor is the hourly rate that you have decided your time is worth (keep this reasonable: unless the craft is very difficult like leather work or glass blowing, you should probably charge somewhere between $10 and $20 per hour). The 10% isn’t an arbitrary amount, it’s the average cost of overhead. That’s all the supplies, etc. that don’t go into the individual product but the business itself: business cards, renting booth space, bags, table, gas money, etc.

If the customers at your location won’t pay your rate, you need a different craft or a different location. There will occasionally be times where this formula adds up to too much or too little for a specific craft, and in that case you will need to do some market research to price your products accordingly. Find out how much similar items usually go for, and adjust.

4. Track Your Sales

Tracking sales is important for more than just tax purposes. You’re going to want to know how much you’ve sold at which markets, fairs, or online platforms. You’ll also want to know which items sold more at these locations than others. That allows you to redistribute inventory accordingly and cut out any markets that are not profitable or not profitable enough to take the trouble.

This is big for markets and fairs you have to travel to especially, since you’re likely paying for booth space as well as spending extra time in preparation or setup and gas to get there. And they’re often on weekends, so you could be spending time with family or friends instead. Keeping track of sales at each location will significantly reduce the stress and frustration of sales.

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5. Do Your Marketing

Register early enough to have your name entered as a vendor at fairs and shows, keep up on social media. Share, share, share. And don’t be afraid to shameless plug your crafts whenever you get an appropriate chance. Really, your family and friends are proud of you, and they will not quickly tire of hearing about your adventures in craft sales. Post pictures of your crafts on Pinterest and Instagram, share about your experiences at farmer’s markets on Facebook.

If you have your products in a shop, stay active on that shop’s social media and share their posts as well. Create a business facebook page for your crafts and invite your friends to like it. Offer to make a custom piece for free or cheap for a friend or acquaintance in exchange for them handing out your business card every time they get a compliment. In fact, wear and use your own products and carry your business cards. Be ready to talk about what you do at any time.

Bonus: How to Arrange Your Craft Display

Arranging your display is one of the most difficult aspects of selling your crafts. Here are some things I’ve learned from experience:

Bait the Hook: At physical locations, like markets and shops, customers are far more likely to purchase the small, standard items than the large statement pieces. But, it’s the statement pieces that bring customers to your booth in the first place. Here’s how you play on that: Have a few, large statement pieces prominently displayed to attract attention, but fill most of the rest of the table with the small, simple items that people actually buy. This way, you’re not wasting space on your display with things that won’t sell, but your display isn’t boring either. Those statement pieces are more likely to sell better online anyway.

Alternate the Styles: Don’t put things that look too much alike right next to each other. Even if you produce the exact same item in different colors, don’t put like colors together. People like contrast, and if all the stuff looks the same, nothing will stand out. That being said, if you make something that comes in sets (like you made earrings that match a necklace), put all parts of the set together because customers are more likely to buy the whole matching set.

Refresh your Merchandise: Don’t leave the same things out on your shop display for months, and don’t keep schlepping the same items out to the markets and shows every week. Revolve your merchandise. This means you can’t put everything out on the table the very first time, because then you won’t have anything to swap out. Your products will become part of the background if customers see the same stuff all the time. They won’t think there’s anything new to interest them. As for online stores, use your Featured Products area wisely. It doesn’t always have to be the freshest stuff, it can be seasonal or holiday themed.

Interesting Props: One of the best ways to attract people to your table is to have interesting displays. Check out ideas on the afore-mentioned Pinterest to get inspiration. You may want to keep colors minimal, though, or your displays will end up competing with your product. Props can be black, white, or neutral and still look interesting while making a great backdrop for colorful items.

Include Branding: Make sure business cards, signage, etc. are all easy to see. Distinguish yourself from other crafters as much as possible so you don’t get lost in the sea. That other vendor’s chalk board sign might look really neat, but if you do the same thing you both suffer. Carve out your own style, and make it memorable.

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