Turn a Hobby Into a Business During Covid
Sadly, many people have lost jobs during COVID. Income has shrunk or dried up completely. Homelessness is on the rise. These are very trying times and stress is very high. I myself have not been untouched by the effects of COVID. I don't think anyone has.
However, sometimes in our greatest struggles, our creativity can help find a way to help improve through our struggles. With job loss, comes many hours at home, stressing over finding another job and preparing for Interviews and so forth. And when we take a break from all of that, we turn on the TV and go back to our knitting, music making, felting, etc.
But have you ever considered turning your hobby into a business? Sure, you have probably thought about it many times before, but always felt you never had the time. Between a full time job, family, chores, dropping kids off at school and dance practice and being pulled down the street three times a day by your rambunctious dog, you never had the time to even think about turning your hobby into a business.
But now you have the time.
BUT WHERE DO I START? Whether you are making hats, dresses, jewelry or knitting scarves - you have something that someone out there would love. How do you even begin turning this into a business? Well, you first have to find the perfect platform to sell on. Today, there are so many platforms seeking new small businesses, but not all of them are equal, and if you are just starting out - some of them may not be right for you.
My best recommendation for a new small business owner is to start with Etsy.
Unlike Shopify and other selling platforms, Etsy does not charge you a monthly fee. As a start-up business, you don't want to invest in a platform that charges monthly when you don't even have your name out there yet. You don't know yet if people will buy your product, and you still have so much to learn about marketing to get your name out there. So realistically, sales will not be high at first, so save your money for platforms that offer the lowest costs to you in the beginning.
Etsy will provide you with a free online shop presence. The only catch is that they charge you twenty cents per listing, and a renewal fee for each listing. Listings expire every 3 months and you can choose to auto-renew or not. This is the cheapest platform to date. It is also one of the biggest hubs for handmade shops and so it garnishes a LOT of customers.
Etsy also has lots of information to help new sellers optimize their shop and learn about selling online and how it works.
Unlike some platforms, Etsy does promote other shops, so you will have competition. The key to beating the competition is to be as unique as possible. Have great products and lots of them. Take great photos and have good descriptions and optimize your SEO (more on this later).
You are also very limited on how you can design your shop as they have streamlined everyone's shop page. It is very different from owning your own website where you can customize every corner of the site and add whatever kind of pages that you like.
What should be my first set of goals when starting up a handmade business?
Below is a list of goals you should focus on in the first few weeks of starting up your business. I will go into more details in other blog posts about these goals. But for now, think about the following.
1. Business name, Banners and Logos
You want this to be unique and easy to remember. It should relate to the type of handmade business you are running. Since SEO is very important, if you are a hat maker, then the word "hat" should be in your business name if at all possible. However if you design various types of accessories, then finding a word that incorporates all of the handmade products you make is even better. Don't limit yourself, but make sure that at least part of your title is searchable. I came up with the name "Sahetah's Jewelry" by thinking of a name that would be unique and stand out but also included the word "Jewelry" because that is what I sell. "Jewelry" is also a key SEO word when people are searching for jewelry online. If I had made my business name something like "Lilly's Flower Jewelry" I would be competing with many other designer's who use both "Lily" and "Flower" in the title of their shop. I had done some researching back when I started, and apparently there were lots of businesses with those words. So I would have blended into the rest and not have been as memorable.
You don't need to focus right away on designing a Logo. You can do that later. There are many graphic designers on Etsy who can create banners and such for your shop at a low cost. Once you have figured out the name of your business and the type of handmade products you are going to sell, reach out to one of the many graphic designers on Etsy to help design your shop. They can also do Logos as well, but be prepared for a higher expense for a Logo. I paid around $100 for professionally done Logos. I will also go into more detail about Logos and what to look for in later posts. But for now, skip a logo when you are starting out and just have a nice banner and avatar with your business name. Logos can always be added later. 2. Product
What product are you going to focus on? Don't spread out too far, but don't also focus on only one type of thing either. A fault of mine is that I have yet to create a men's line of jewelry. So currently I only have jewelry for women, but I have been planning on creating a custom line for men as well. It's good to try and have a wide customer base, but not so wide either that your shop has no theme or consistency. For example, I have been sculpting with Polymer clay and I rather enjoy it. But I would never sell my sculptures on my Sahetah's Jewelry page. Sculptures doesn't coincide with jewelry in any way. My Jewelry is also specifically Steampunk and vintage style designs. So I would confuse my customers by having different products that didn't work together in my shop. However, I could create a new Etsy shop and sell my sculptures there. So if you are crafty with many talents and paint and make pottery - consider having two shops on Etsy instead of one.
Check out your competition and try to create something with a different angle than the rest. You want to be unique and different so that you stand out. The more your product looks like someone else's, the harder it will be to compete for sales, especially as a start-up business. You want your products to stand out and you don't want your products to be something that customers can find anywhere else. You want them to come to you.
3. Prepare your inventory
Before even opening your shop, you will want to begin working on creating inventory. Etsy will feature new shops for several weeks on their site, so take advantage of this potential for a jump in sales by aiming for 50 items to list in your shop before making your shop "live". Etsy allows you to work on your shop without going live to the public. The reason to have 50 items available first is because it provides you with a huge selection for customers. We love having options, and the more items we see in a shop the more we are interested in buying. No one wants to be the person who takes the last slice of cake, and that goes for shopping as well. If you only have 3 items for sale in your shop when you open for business, they will never sell. 50 items also means you pop up more frequently in the Search function on the website which makes you more visible.
4. Product Photography
Now that you have created lots of items for sale, you want to take very good photos. I will go into details on taking great photos in another post. Invest in a good camera with macro settings. Some phones have great settings as well, but remember that the pictures are only as good as the lighting. No matter how great a camera is - if there is poor lighting then you'll have poor photos. Cameras can only do so much. So experiment with different lighting, such as using white light, and natural light.
Even with a great photo, you will still need to edit your photos. Don't look to Adobe and spend hundreds on their products. Instead, use Picmonkey.com. It's a great and cheap service that is so easy to use. Adobe requires a manual and a lot of skill. Picmonkey however is easy to use and it only takes minutes to edit a photo.
Don't forget that whatever photo you take, you want them to look professional. Try to keep background objects out of the way. You can use white backgrounds, tablecloth, a wooden cutting board, scrapbook paper, etc as your background. Try not to have parts of your bedroom and messy tables in the background. The more professional your photos look, the more likely they will sell.
Getting photos right is the most important aspect of selling online. It's not the product description that sells the product - it's your photos. So taking time to master great product photography is key.
5. Facebook Fanpage
Do not underestimate the power of social media and your friends. If you aren't big on social media, it's time to jump in. Social Media is your friend as a handmade business. Your friends on facebook can help promote your new business adventure and they are often going to be your first buyers too. A facebook fanpage is great to start with as one of the beginning steps because you can share your progress as you start this journey. This will help create a fanbase and its also a place to advertise your new products once listed on Etsy. You can also use social media for advertising special Sales. As a handmade business, you need to focus on Marketing. Every aspect of running a business will fall on your shoulders. But for now, just work on theses 5 things to start with.
There is so much that goes into starting a handmade business, and so much information that can help you that I can't list all here. So look forward to more blog posts in the future that go into more detail about starting your own business and some tips and tricks that are tried and true.
If you are starting a handmade business or if you are interested in doing so and have some questions, please feel free to get in touch with me.