Updated on 05.14.09

Review: Craft Inc.

Trent Hamm

Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity, personal development, or entrepreneurship book.

craft inc.Discover your passions and make a living from it.

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.

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  1. Noadi says:

    Coincidently I just reviewed this exact same book. Definitely have to agree with everything you covered. It’s a lot of work to start your own business and isn’t easy which I have to give Meg Mateo Ilasco a lot of credit for being blunt about the amount of work and effort it takes without making it sound too overwhelming.

  2. Michelle says:

    Good review! For artists/crafters looking at a lot of the technical details (contracts, licensing, studio rates) a book like “the business side of creativity” by Cameron Foote might be a logical next step.

    Thanks for blogging on this topic!

  3. Someone says:

    “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.”

    THIS is one of the biggest problems with turning craft into a viable business, and in many cases just lowering materials costs won’t help. There are already too many artists/crafters out there who can’t live on 5 cents per hour or something similar, which is what many would have to do to compete with the cheap Ch///se stuff consumers are used to now.

    Beware the labor-intensive craft and its often heartbreaking ROI when monetized…IMO this is one of the make or break analyses any crafter should handle up front before it’s too late.

  4. tambo says:

    For me – and I’m likely the oddball here – my work and my creativity are separate and they need to remain that way because when I’ve previously sold my creativity it becomes a JOB and I lose all love, excitement, and passion and instead focus on the money and work aspects. The worst thing in the world for me is to sell what I love, it just messes me up. So it’s really not a perfect alternative for everyone.

  5. Nick Wright says:

    Wow, this book is now at the top of my wish list. I’ve just recently decided to start a business selling prints of the photographs I make. I must read this book.

  6. Melissa says:

    Hi! My husband loves your blog and sent me this article. I have this book and agree with your review, but I have found that for myself, and a lot of creative people I know, the real trick is to find the time/energy/strength/patience to actually *DO* the business side as well as we do the creative/crafty portion. I thought the book was inspiring and probably a good reference, but I really need a business book for people with no left-brain :)

    So my biggest bit of advice for crafty people like me who want to run a successful business is to do what I did and marry computer geek with an accounting degree ;)

  7. Kathy says:

    I just requested that book from the library for my mom. She keeps making noises about wanting to start her own crafting and/or cookie making business.

  8. Amy says:

    Thanks for this review, this is a book that has interested me ever since I read about it on a blog by an amazing designer named Brenda Walton (www.Brendawalton.com).

    By the way, I just spotted an interesing article online from this week’s New York Times magazine section about the benefits of working with your hands. It seems to be more about working with cars and tools, etc. rather than crafts, but I think that the message probably speaks to crafters as well. Worth a look I think.

  9. ChrisD says:

    “and spring for a good design and your own domain name”

    I can’t speak about the cost of good design, but I bought two domains and an e-mail account and the whole thing is £20/year (don’t think it includes hosting a website though). That cost is so negligible it is well worth it, even just to have an e-mail that is your name, and to avoid all the advertisements and privacy issues with free e-mail accounts (g-mail, yahoo).

  10. Craft Stew says:

    I have a related article on my website. I think your readers may enjoy it. It’s called 20 Ways To Make Crafts Pay and the url is http://craftstew.com/craft-business/20-ways-to-make-crafts-pay

  11. I operated a craft/photo business for 5 years. It is such a hard thing to run a craft business. I sold my work mostly at Portland Saturday Market every weekend and at some juried art fairs. I found out that B&W photography is a niche market. I also found out that Saturday Market is more of a tourist market. Oh, I would get the ‘I love B&W photographs’ by people that stroll past my booth. I am not one to take a lot of pictures of Doors, Windows or flowers. But, I started doing that because I thought it might sell better. It did not :-(

    I decided to close that business because I was not enjoying photography anymore. It’s taken a year or so to get back to the joy of photogrphy (new web site: TreeRockFog.com please take a look)

    I currently work in the computer field as a break/fix desktop support analyst. And my photography is coming back to me :-)

  12. Beth says:

    I’ve got no problem with people who find simple self-employed jobs to earn a living. HOWEVER, I do not get how you cover health care costs with such jobs. I seen too many flyers for local musicians raising money to pay a hospital bill to support people working at home without health care. I’m personally prefer we have free national health care, but until such time, I”d NEVER quit my job, ever. One slip on concrete, a shattered elbow and $65,000 hospital bill later convinced me to NEVER be without medical insurance. Otherwise, I’d want FEW material goods and could live on much less, but NEVER without medical insurance.

  13. Jennifer says:

    I’ll have to check that book out. I’ve always loved crafts, so one year ago I decided to start selling some on Etsy. I sell handcrafted pendants made from recycled Scrabble tiles. It has been going well and I LOVE it! I have done some craft shows in the past but am really getting in to it now and have signed up for 16 shows over the next six months.

    This side business has been a real blessing to my family. It has definitely helped us on our journey to achieve financial peace. We have paid off $22,000 of debt and are now debt free except for our home mortgage.

    I would definitely encourage anyone crafty to give it a try!

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