Sunday, October 6, 2013

A wondering I had this weekend...

Just a curiosity - why is there the perception that every craft or hobby must eventually become a business? I can't count how many times a week I get asked when I'm finally going to sell my products. I won't. I like being able to give my products away without anyone thinking I have an ulterior motive. I like having time to teach and write the blog. I like to experiment in the workshop with new ingredients instead of making the same product over and over again. I like where I am in my life. Don't get me wrong, money is good and it's not like we have tons of it lying around the house, but I have so many demands on my time that I would have to give up to sell.

I asked one of the girls in my group why she wasn't pursuing musical theatre as a profession in her university studies, and she said it's because it's her passion and she didn't want to lose that outlet of fun. I think it's the same for me. This brings me such joy that I'm loathe to turn it into my day-to-day life! 

I have no issue with businesses and I admire those who start them - especially those who work really hard to create well formulated, safe, and gorgeous products - but I don't get why every fun activity has to be monetized. I read somewhere once that it was about female empowerment, that this is how we could become small business owners, but that doesn't feel like the right answer to me.

Please really consider what you're getting into when you start a business. You aren't going to make money the first year or so and don't think you're paying yourself any time soon. I see these businesses in town that close within a few months and I wonder who advised them. Didn't they mention that you need a cash reserve so you can stay alive in the lean times?

I'm not saying these things to be negative or keep you from pursuing your dreams, and I'm not trying to keep you from being competition for others. (I've heard those criticisms from aspiring business owners before.) I'm saying these things to keep you from failing at your dreams, from being discouraged, from losing your shirt when you thought you'd be making tons of money. You aren't going to go out on your first farmer's market evening and break even for all the investment you've made. There are exceptions to this, but you probably won't be that exception. You'll have to work incredibly hard to make the money you do make, and you'll find you have to re-invest it to make more. That's business. You can make it, but it won't be in week three.

Those of you who own businesses know that this isn't the easiest way to make money. No one wants to spend money on a craft for the artisan's time. I think they think it'll be cheaper if we make it for them, not realizing that $60 for a hand sewn skirt is a great price for something custom made and that the sewer is probably making minimum wage for her time. 

As an aside, have you noticed how the managers and supervisors of craft stores - especially large ones - tend to be men? And the heads of various crafting corporations tend to be men? The head of the National Craft Association is a man! And how there are all these companies led by men when you see so few of them as the consumers of the products?  Tim Holtz, that guy who does the crocheting, the guy who does the seems that when there's money to be made, there's a man leading the way.

Please note that I'm a huge fan of men. I'm married to one and I'm the proud only daughter of another, so this isn't a slam against men. It's just that things that seem to be considered "girly" - singing, dancing, cooking, sewing, crafting - becomes manly when you add cash to the equation.

If you are planning on turning your crafting into a business, please consider a few of these posts...

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Ronnie A said...

Thanks for the comment, totally agree with you.

Melissa D said...

This in an interesting post because I am currently in the R & D stage of a potential natural product business that I would like to start. And the research phase is what brought me to your wonderful website. I can definitely appreciate your reasoning, and interestingly my reasons for wanting to start a business are similar to your reasons for avoiding it. I have many interests (I've concluded that I'm slightly ADD, but in a way that I'm considering it a virtue). I am employed in management for a manufacturing facilty, in a job that I absolutely abhor, which also consumes the majority of my time and zaps my energy leaving me little time to spend with my children and family, or pursue other interests. My husband is employed by the same company and we both make good money. I realize that a business consumes a lot of time, however the idea that hours can be flexed so that I can make my children breakfast and put them on a bus for school is wonderful to me. Also, I feel like if someone has a passion about what they do, have a strong sense of business, ample creativity, and are willing to put forth the effort because they don't consider it "work," there is a strong chance they can be successful with a business. Do I expect that I will make as much money as I am now? Absolutely not, definitely not at first, and possibly not ever. But I feel that pursuing my dream will also serve as an example to my children that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish great things. I feel that starting a business such as natural products also offers a creative outlet which could spiral off into several directions if one so desires and is less inhibiting than a regular 9 to 5 job. As I said earlier, I appreciate your position on starting a business and agree with your warnings as I plan to heed them. I just wanted to throw my two cents out there for other prospective business owners...they are not alone.

SoapJam said...

For me, one of the main reasons for deciding to make a hobby or a passion into a business is so that I have a good reason to keep on doing it without filling up my whole house to the brim or overloading my family and friends with my "experiments". :-) Of course it goes without saying that one has to be prepared to deal with the challenges of having your own business. :-)

Mychelle said...

I have been crafting products since 1998 and peopla are always on me to start a business. I've been saying I will soon for 15 years and probably will for another 15. Let's suck the joy out of everything by turning it into a business, right? I love to share my products but a business is so much more involved than that. My boss says if you like to make cupcakes don't start a business. Open the business if you enjoy marketing and advertising and hiring other people to make the actual cupcakes. Wisdom there.

Alexis said...

One aspect I think that shouldn't be overlooked is the number of potential customers in a given area, locally. Sure we have the internet, but many people would rather try out a product before spending money for shipping, etc. on a product that promises so much without trying it out. Samples are known to create loyal customers for a reason, but samples are also the most costly form of advertising even for large corporations that can afford super expensive commercials.

So if I were to go to a farmer's market that has an average attendance of 10,000 people a day verses going to one that only gets 1,000 or 500 a day, at which one do you think I have a better chance of selling the most product? Sure there may be some factors like how much competition there is at one over the other or whether my booth is tucked in a bad location, etc., but in general the market with the most foot traffic has the potential to put people in direct contact with my product more than a market with less foot traffic.

But what if I have to drive hours to get to the market with lots of foot traffic? Maybe I need to stay in a hotel or even take a plane to get there. Or I have to consider how many smalls markets do I need to go to in order to get the same foot traffic as one large one? These types of little things need to be taken into consideration because it all adds up to expenses I have to incur.

Plus here's another area that may not have been considered: market saturation. If I'm the first person in the area to make such products, I have a better chance to make money than say the 10th person in the area who tries to sell a similar product. That's not to say someone should not try, but product novelty plays a big factor in potential customer interest. If your local market is saturated with similar products, then the new person has to be more novel and also be able to back up that claim. Customers will show that they see through that claim by never buying any of the product again.

I really like your point about not making your hobby a business. When I finished my design degree and didn't move to a bigger city, many people expected me to open my own alterations or bridal shop. I thought they were crazy! I learned a great deal about people from the small amount of side sewing I did and concluded I could never make enough money to support myself. But I would also like to point out that there may be a financial condition on the hobby - something like the hobby can be done as long as it pays for itself. I know many people who put that condition on their hobby themselves or have that condition forced upon them.

I think some of the reasons people are shocked at artisan pricing is that many supply stores get customers by promoting how inexpensive it is to make your own stuff. I think many people don't understand the amount of time it takes. On the flip side sellers have to realize people are not going to pay a lot for items they think they can make themselves.

Congrates on pointing out the gender preferences that exist in the upper rungs! Hopefully, people will actually read what you wrote and will consider it for its validity instead of being emotional or reactionary to your words.

kiev@miraclebars said...

I think there are many aspects to what business can be when you have a talent for crafting. We just opened our store in September. i am a makeup artist by trade and that is the bulk of the business. I have been selling soap for 2 years but its never been close to the cash cow that makeup has been for me. Now I have a workshop and the ability to build more aspects of the business that i did not before when I was making it out of my home. We have been open two week and I have sold very little of the retail product in store, but have picked up a new wholesale account. I have already booked classes through the end of the year in soap making (I started booking these a month ago). i plan on expanding the classes to spa products and cleaning products next year. I make monetarily teaching one class what I make selling soap in one month. Next will be to get an ecommerce site open. I would love to just produce my products and expand the business from there. I am not sure that will ever happen, if so it will be several years. For now, the business still feels like a hobby and I am loving it.

Heela said...

In gender debates, I always tell my dad that men are always trying to dominate women. To the extent that it seems like men are now telling us women what we should look like (fashion designers, hairdressers, etc.). Women can't seem to catch a break. It's not like we tell them how to shave - though we probably shave a lot more than they ever do. It's stranger because men most likely learned how to groom themselves and be presentable from their mothers!

Anonymous said...

Susan, you may some excellent points in your post. If you are thinking about starting a business there are so many things you will not think of.
Intellectual Property, what is the name of your company? Can it be trademarked? Can you get a domain name that matches your company name and trademark? It takes about a year to get a trademark approved, and only if no one objects and it isn't close to anything else. It took us 3 years and we ended up changing our company name to get our trademark.
Insurance - do not sell any product without insurance. A lawsuit will devastate you and your family.
Will you incorporate to protect you and your family? Without that level of protection you can be sued for everything you have, including the savings for your children's education. Lawyers don't care.
My business started out from 'Christmas gifts' one year when I decided to give out something handmade instead of store bought. Everyone kept asking for more. Then one day I commented to my husband, "this could be a business" and that started everything back in 2005.
I did a lot of research, a LOT of research. I practiced and worked on my craft for about six months, making batch after batch of cold process soap. Testing it on ourselves and giving it away to friends and family.
We started with a monthly flea market in Texas. We decided that for a small investment we could see if we had what it takes. We had a great time and were able to cover our costs. We began doing craft fairs as well. I considered us the lucky ones. We usually always made back the fees for the fair and always covered our costs, with enough money to support the business. By this time we had bath salts, soap and a simple lotion. It took us about 9 mos to get our lotion ready. Making and testing, making and testing.
We stumbled across a little shop for lease in 2007. By this time the 'business' had taken over the entire downstairs of our 2500 sqft house. Drying stock room, raw materials room, packaging, etc.
We opened in May of 2007, made it through into the recession. Surprisingly though, since we paid for everything with cash and the only loan was to myself, we survived. Mind you I still had my full time job. I made product on nights and weekends while my husband and employee manned the store.
We went from working 40 hour jobs to 60-80 hour weeks with the business. We lost most of friends, since we never had time free to spend with them.
Quite often I would make 30-40 gallons of lotion over the weekend, bottle cap and label it. It could be making 900-1200 bars of soap over the weekend. this is heavy backbreaking work when you are at a business level. You need to be able to buy in much larger quantities to get your margins down and your profit up. A 40 quart pot of water heating up to 170 degrees to heat and hold weighs 75 pounds.
In August of 2011 I was diagnosed with cancer and couldn't make any products for about 9 mos. Our customers became very mad and rather evils and self-centered and just couldn't understand how we couldn't just 'whip that stuff out' even though I was going through chemo therapy. We got through it, but it changed us a lot.
Finally in January 2013, we cut the first paycheck to my husband, 6 years after we started the business. We began to pay him the same wage as our employees. we lived off of my salary, and often I covered for an unplanned expense for the business. We took no vacations, missed graduations, lost our friends, but we grew our business. We now have a successful retail store and business. We will no longer produce any bath or body products ourselves. We may continue candles.
Would I do it all again? Maybe, maybe not. I love our retail business and we have moved over to working in fair trade. It's very rewarding and I don't have to do all of the heavy lifting.