Five years ago, my husband Nat and I were working at a local charter school. We had never meant to end up in education, but somehow, our paths had led us there.
And for all intents and purposes, we were in it for the long haul.
That is, until Nat got laid off.
Suddenly, all bets were off. I resigned later that year, and we struck out on our own.
After years of keeping art as a hobby, I decided it was time to try it it for a living.
In these past five years, I've met a lot of people who have found themselves at a similar crossroads.
I've met a lot of people who have toyed around with the idea of turning their part-time passions into full-time careers.
And a lot of those people are hampered by hesitation.
Most of the time, that hesitation is rooted in a sort of aimlessness. They'd love to go into business for themselves—but they don't know where to start.
If that sounds familiar, never fear: here's a step-by-step guide to help you start your own handmade business in 2019.
Set Your Goals
How do you define success? Everyone has different benchmarks for what success means to them.
Some people want to completely replace their nine-to-five. Others are happy if they make a couple extra bucks through their art.
Before starting your own business, take some time to get introspective. Sit down and make some goals. This could be a dollar amount or a number of units sold. Maybe you want to quit your full-time job by the end of the year. Or maybe you just want to sell something.
You can set your sights as high—or as low—as you want. Just make sure that your goals are realistic. If they're not, you could set yourself up for failure.
Regardless of where you want to take your handmade business, you can't get there all in one fell swoop. It should go without saying, but you shouldn't quit your day job to do art full-time without selling a few pieces on the side first.
Test the market. Sell at a couple one-day art shows. Put some of your goods in a local shop and see how well they go over. Post some pictures on Instagram and try to find some buyers there.
Start as small as you need to. You can always grow from there. It's much harder to un-quit your job.
Define Your Niche
In the words of Steve Jobs, "don't try to do everything. Do one thing well."
I know, that's easier said than done.
If you're anything like me, you don't really have a medium of choice. Some people are comfortable calling themselves a painter or a jewelry maker or a sculptor. But people like us have a hard time choosing. Which is part of the reason why I teach art instead of just selling it.
And obviously, I would never say that there's anything wrong with working in a variety of mediums. But when you're first starting your handmade business, offering a wide variety of goods can blur your message a bit.
Customers are easily distracted. If you want to break through to them, you need to be clear and direct. Offering too many different products can keep your customers from understanding what exactly it is you do. On the other hand, if you do one thing really well, you can gain attention in a hurry.
Build Your Web Presence
If you want to start any kind of business in 2019, you're going to need to have a solid web presence. Sure, there are still a number of art festivals and local shops where you can sell your wares. But if you limit yourself to your local market, you can be robbing yourself of a huge crop of customers.
You probably don't need me to tell you that the internet can connect you to buyers from all over the globe. But that takes a bit more work than just starting a Facebook page for your art and inviting your friends and family to like it.
For starters, it's a good idea to start with a page in an online marketplace. Nearly 2 million sellers are currently active on Etsy—and for good reason. Etsy has a massive customer base actively looking for unique handmade goods.
If you want to take it a step further, buy a custom domain and build a dedicated website for your wares. A standalone website can go a long way toward making you seem more professional and legitimate. Make sure that your small business website design is clean and uncluttered. Focus on high-quality product photos to show off your products.
Be sure to include a bio where customers can get to know you. Customers aren't just buying your product—they're buying your story. If your story resonates with them, they want to buy a piece of it.
Don't Neglect the Day-to-Day
For a lot of people, this is the hard part. We all know where we want our lives to go.
But the steps to get there are a little fuzzier.
You probably won't make sales every single day. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that—especially at the beginning. But every day, you need to be doing something to make those sales happen.
Set a regular to-do list of things that you do every day. Make regular posts on social media. Spend some time brainstorming new products. Schedule in some unstructured creative time.
Resist the urge to wake up after noon and stay in your pajamas all day. A regular routine (and some work clothes)can help your brain get into "work mode" more easily.
Stick to your to-do list even when it feels like it's not making a difference. Those little things add up over time.
There's no fool proof way to start your own handmade business. There isn't a guaranteed 10-step model that will ensure success.
But if you're going to be successful, you need to give it your sweat.
There are going to be days where you want to quit. Days where you would rather sit behind a boring reception desk than make one more crocheted cactus.
That's perfectly normal. And if you realize that selling your own art isn't for you, that's fine. The world needs some people to sit behind a desk.
But if you're committed to making your handmade business work, it's going to take work. So keep at it. Keep grinding. Hustle like you mean it. And if you need a place to work with some fellow creatives who can push and encourage you, the shop's open for you.