5 creative & practical steps to start or grow your handmade business

Have you been dreaming about turning your hobby into a business for ages? Done lots of talking and all the research, but scared to take that first step? Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, the online business school for designers & makers has put these 5 practical, strategic and creative goal-setting tips together for your craft business.

Patricia is currently launching her first book, Dream Plan Do: A practical, strategic, creative and thought-provoking planner! on Kickstarter. It’s aimed to help new and mature creative businesses become more successful through 12 months of creative business exercises. You can find out more here.

Together with these first tips on how to get started on your Dream Plan Do planner, your business is sure to flourish in 2017.


1. What do you really want?

That’s a big question!

This is about YOU and not other people.

Imagine this time next year: What would you like to have achieved by then? Think about what products or services you would like to offer, and where you would like to work. Would you have your own studio or small office, or work on the kitchen table? Who would your clients be? What would be on your website and how would that look? Where would you like to sell your work? Are there specific shops, online places or craft fairs and markets where you could sell your work?

Get into action now: Sketch out at least 20 product ideas and start creating a list of at least 20 places where you could sell your work. That’s a really practical exercise to get you more focused.


2. Why do you want to run your own handmade business?

There are loads of different reasons why people start their own handmade business. Maybe you love the making. Maybe you want to share your talent and run classes. Maybe you need a little money on the side. Maybe you want to be featured on blogs like Mollie Makes! There can be loads of different reasons why you want to start your own handmade business. From the very practical to the big and grandiose.

Get into action now: Write down at least 15 reasons why you want to start or run your own handmade business. The first couple will come easy, but it’s often the further ones that actually reveal our real motivations of why we want to run our own business. Go a bit deeper and write it all up for yourself. This is for you, you don’t need to share your deepest desires (and worries!) with others.

For each of your 15 why’s ask yourself the question: ‘So what? Why is that so important to me?’ And keep asking yourself that same question over and over again.

Fo example: say one of your reasons is you want to get featured on Mollie Makes. Now ask yourself: ‘Why do I want that? Why is that so important?’. And you may answer: ‘Because that would make me feel proud and excited.’ And then again: ‘Why do you want that? How would that make you feel proud and excited?’. And you could say: ‘Because my Mum and Gran would be so proud, because it was them who taught me how to knit. And they would be so thrilled to see it in print. And my husband would take me more seriously, too.’ Now we are getting to your deeper levels on why you are creating, the connections it creates for you with your family and your memories. Now you can start identifying how you can celebrate that family connection and give that to other families too, which will give your business an exciting edge from day one!

Discovering why you want to start your own business at this deeper level can really help you to find different ways of achieving what you want, but also to help you create a business from day one that’s based on your values and personality, and is different from what others have to offer.


3. Turn your big ideas into do-able steps

Now we have worked on your longer term and deeper motivations it’s time to turn them into some practical here-and-now-actions!

Get into action: Think again about 2017 – what would you like to achieve by 31 December 2017?

Write down one specific goal and make it SMART. This is a business term which stands for creating Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound goals. So basically you will need to put a number and a deadline on it, instead of vague goals like ‘I want to make more money’ or ‘I want to start a business’.

Great examples of specific and measurable goals are: ‘In 2017 I want to earn £5K from online sales’ or ‘I want to launch my Etsy shop on 1 April’ or ‘I want to sell my products in 5 shops and at 2 markets this year’.

When you have identified your goal write down 5 actions on how you are going to achieve it. For example if you want to launch an Etsy shop then you will need to have products, you will need to photograph your work, you will need to price them, and you probably need to learn a bit about the technology and how SEO works.

Write down your goal, plus 5 actions and identify for each of your actions how much time it will take you, what the deadline is, how much money you need for that action, and who can help you. Thinking your actions through in a bit more detail like this will make them a lot more real.



4. Make time for your business in your diary

It’s one thing to come up with all these ideas, goals and actions, but it’s another to actually do it!

In the previous step you worked out what you needed to do to achieve your goal, and you also allocated some time to each action.

Each action should have, describe in detail, thing that need doing to achieve it and each should not take you longer than 7 hours to complete. If it’s longer than that then break it down into smaller actions. If there is a lot to do, then simplify it or you will quickly feel overwhelmed!

For example: to launch your Etsy shop you will need good images. That might mean that you’ll need to research a photographer or learn how to take good photographs yourself. You might need to borrow a camera from a friend or learn how to set up a studio. You might need to think about styling and do a layout of all the different types of images you will need. You might have loads of questions or need to make some decisions on which products to photograph individually or together.

Write each of these actions and decisions down as an individual action, with their deadline, budget and who can help. This will really help you to break your big job down into manageable steps, and will help you to prioritise.

Get into action: You now have a pretty clear plan of all the different actions and decisions that you need to take or make. By putting these deadlines and jobs physically in your diary you will be much more likely to do them!

So get your diary or a wall planner and identify how much time you have got and how much time each action needs. What are the key deadlines? Start at when you would like something to be finished and then work backwards to today.

Is it possible to do all the jobs you want to do, and fit them in your busy schedule? It can really help to allocate specific days or times to your new business. For example could you work every Friday or Saturday morning and Sunday evening for a couple of hours? Or could you do 3 hours most days?

You have made the plan, now you will need to make the time! And do it!


5. Get accountability!

If you are like most human beings (including me!) you will need all the help in the world to help you achieve what you want! Even with the best intentions in the world there are a lot of distractions (social media, family members, Jaffa cakes…) and you’ll need some help to stay on track!

Get into action: What is it that you need to stay on track? What do you know gets you off track when it comes to New Year’s resolutions or giving up too early on that new health regime?

Can you get a buddy who you share your handmade business plan ideas with and ask them for accountability? Meet them every week or so to report on your progress, discuss what’s working and what isn’t, what you will be working on the next week and so on.

Can you take a jump into your business and sign up for a market or craft fair? Having a real life event in the diary can really help to focus your ideas and make them much more real. There is now a deadline in the diary that you can’t change! And it will give you the focus to work on your products, sort out your prices and do a bit of marketing and social media, too!

Or can you announce publicly at a party or on your Facebook page that you will finally start your own business and give the date? This public announcement can just be the thing for you to make sure that you get your act together!


Then it’s indeed a case of just doing it!

See how it goes, what the real-life feedback is, the questions and compliments you get and the sales you make. And learn from what you do. There is no better market research out there than actually talking to your potential clients. You can think and ponder at home all day long about what it would be like to run your own business and if clients are going to be interested. What you need to do is go out there and make it happen.

Just one note: If you are selling at events or online then you do need to let HMRC (the taxman) know! It’s not difficult to register with HMRC online and there is loads of information on their website through helpful webinars and videos. If you are currently receiving benefits then do discuss this with your support worker. It’s a legal requirement that if you earn money with your creative products and skills to register as a sole trader.


patricia-in-action-squareAbout Patricia

Patricia is the Director of The Design Trust: an online business school for designer and makers. Patricia gives business owners practical answers on how to do business planning, marketing, pricing and the like. Find out more about her first book, Dream Plan Do: A practical, strategic, creative and thought-provoking planner on Kickstarter – back it!