Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity, personal development, or entrepreneurship book.
It’s an idea I talk about quite often on The Simple Dollar – and it often gets pooh-poohed by people who believe strongly in work-life separation, that you should do a job that maximizes your income for your effort. My belief is that you can reach that same point and enjoy yourself along the way by following your passions.
Others argue that their passion isn’t possibly something they could earn an income from. For those, there’s Craft Inc. by Meg Mateo Ilasco.
The idea behind Craft Inc. is simple: you like making something, but you have very little understanding of how you can translate it into a business. Although the book focuses specifically on crafts (with a layout that reinforces that idea), it’s actually a great side business starter book no matter what you want to sell.
So what’s inside the covers? Let’s dig in and discover something interesting.
1 – Your Creative Mind
Many people have the spark of a great creative idea within them, but they bury it behind myths that aren’t really true. “I’m too old” is a myth. “I’m not an ‘arty’ type” is a myth. “I’m waiting for the right time” is a myth. “I need to do this full time before I start” is a myth. Don’t let myths hold you back.
The best way to get started is to simply do it. Spend some time every day practicing your craft. Keep track of interesting ideas. Find a place to work that makes you feel creative and energetic. Most of all, share your dreams with others – tell them what your wildest dreams are related to your craft.
2 – Your Business Mind
The first step in translating the craft you enjoy into a business that can make money is developing a business plan. Craft Inc. offers a great framework for doing this, identifying all of the key elements you need and discussing some in detail. More importantly, it outlines why you need to do this – more than anything, it’s a powerful way to get all of your ideas in order and make sure all of your bases are covered.
Do you need to file for trademarks? Maybe, depending on what you’re doing – and the book provides a brief guide. Do you need to file paperwork to start a company? If it’s just you and just a side business, probably not – a sole proprietorship will work at first. Where should the seed money come from? Your best bet is likely living frugal and saving up that initial investment yourself.
3 – Your Personal Style and Your Products
A boring product doesn’t sell. How can you be sure that whatever you’re making will leave a lasting and positive impression?
First, don’t try to please anyone – instead, focus on pleasing yourself. Create things that you like. Package them in a way that you like. If it’s not appealing to you, don’t do it – look for a different approach.
Attend trade shows and craft shows for ideas. That doesn’t mean you should copy the ideas you find, but having lots of input will help you figure out elements that work for you – and elements you should leave behind.
Keep a notepad with you at all times to jot down ideas and things that you observe that you like. Record those ideas as soon as they come to mind so you don’t have the chance to forget them.
Set clear goals. Figure out what exactly you’re working towards and what your next step is, then focus in on that next step. Don’t sweat the mountain before you – focus on getting the next step right.
If you need help with specific elements, ask for it. Ask people who are already doing these things (or similar things) how they handle that area. Don’t be afraid of the fact that you can’t do everything yourself.
4 – Production and Pricing Plans
Scaling up a hobby that you enjoy is tricky. Initially, you’ll try to price an item based on the work put in and raw materials invested in a single item, but often that price is too high to sell. So you have to lower it. Plus, you’ll start seeking supplies in bulk (reducing your cost per item) and rethinking everything about what you do.
The biggest step for most nascent businesses is to rethink the production of the items. You might have a great procedure down for making one quilt, for example, but there might be a much better strategy if you’re attempting to make twenty quilts.
In my own experience with The Simple Dollar and my other writing endeavors, I had to make the same transformation. It wasn’t simply enough to just write when I felt like it or to write one piece at a time. I had to organize ideas, schedule my writing, and plan ahead instead of just doing things as they came along. That change made my writing vastly more productive.
5 – Marketing and Publicity Strategies
Once you’ve got the manufacturing part in line, you have to start finding customers (and hopefully lots of them). Craft Inc. advises you to be your own publicist, especially at first. Start a website for your business (and spring for a good design and your own domain name). Start a blog and update it regularly, just writing off the cuff stuff – don’t worry about hard-selling the product.
One big key: take good photographs of your products. Try lots of things and take plenty of shots until you find ones that really make the product sparkle. The photograph of the product is often the first impression that people get – and a good first impression can often clinch the sale.
6 – Making Sales and Order Fulfillment
So, how do you actually make the sale? Craft Inc. makes the sensible recommendation that you should start in situations where others handle at least some of the mechanisms of salesmanship for you.
First, sell online. Sites like etsy are great places to start if you’re making handmade items. Another strong tactic is to try consignment – putting your items in a shop, but you retain ownership while the actual shop either gets a flat fee or a cut of each sale. The best way to get started on that is to simply start talking with appropriate shops.
The next step usually revolves around craft fairs, which is a great platform once your business is taking off. Craft fairs help you make connections with shop owners, directly sell to customers, and network with others doing similar things.
7 – Ups, Downs, and Next Steps
Craft Inc. closes with an “odds and ends” chapter, covering several topics in brief. How does one deal with knockoffs? How does one deal with burnout? When is it time to quit? How should you be reviewing your business? When is it time to expand, particularly when you need to outgrow the spare space in your home?
I was particularly intrigued by the discussion on burnout. The big key for avoiding burnout is to focus on the areas that made the hobby interesting in the first place. That may mean delegating some of the activities – quite often, burnout is a sign that you either need an employee to handle the drudgery or you need to rethink the whole business plan (change prices, find new suppliers, etc.).
Is Craft Inc. Worth Reading?
If you’ve ever had a hobby and thought about whether or not you could turn it into a business, Craft Inc. is a wonderful handbook to help you get started on that path. It offers a ton of great advice on transitioning something that’s just a hobby you’re passionate about into a side business – or even more. I’m a big believer in following this path, guiding your passions into a channel through which you can earn a living.
Having said that, I think you need to bring some significant passion in the door to make the ideas in this book work. If you don’t have a hobby you’re passionate about, Craft Inc. won’t help you get there – instead, it helps you translate a passion into a side business.
Craft Inc. is a very worthwhile read if you’re interested in following that path, even if your passion isn’t directly related to crafting. Most of the advice in this book applies well to any passion that you might want to translate into a business.