Doing crafts is its own reward—it’s relaxing, enjoyable, and helps develop and express your creativity—but who doesn’t want to earn a few extra bucks? And you can. In fact, many artists have made pretty good profits on a personal hobby.
It’s actually much easier to make money through crafts, thanks to Internet stores like etsy.com and national shows, festivals and trade fairs. (For example, the photo for this article was taken at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair, and shows the work of artist Ingrid Wagner). Interested in breaking into the craft business? Read on.
1. Do your research.
Before you sign up for a festival or trade show–like the ones listed in the Festival Network–you can find a list of events or even put up an online store, scout the market and competition. You need to know (honestly) if your work is up to standard, and can attract an audience beyond your friends and Mom (who thinks everything you do is just perfect).
Research can also help you gauge if there’s a big enough market for your work, or if the market’s overcrowded with people who sell exactly what you’re making.
2. Find the right venue.
The good news is that there are a lot of places where you can sell your crafts. You may not be ready for a juried show, which filters the participants and accepts a limited number of artists, but you may be able to find smaller bazaars. How? Start by talking to the vendors in the trade fairs, or other artists and craftsmen in internet forums or discussion groups. They probably know the circuit and can tell you about where and how you can ‘break into the biz.’
3. Ask for information on the event.
Even if you don’t plan to join a trade show or event in the near future, try calling the organizers. This will give you a clearer idea of how to prepare for it. You can ask about the cost of getting a booth, the number of participants, and the expected crowd turn out. You’ll be able to gauge your costs (see tip # 4) and also your production volume.
4. Compute the costs.
The cost of the booth (and the materials for your crafts) make up just a part of your total investment. You also need to consider your personal travel fees, shipping of your products, marketing materials (even if people don’t buy, you should give out brochures and calling cards), and the processing fees for a permit or license to sell. From there, figure out your ‘break-even point’ and start doing the math. How many items do you need to sell in order to reach a profit? What’s a reasonable pricing scheme?
5. Look for ways to share costs.
If the figures you get from tip # 4 seem way too huge for you to possibly afford, don’t give up. Instead, think of ways to control the costs. Maybe you can team up with another artist, and share a booth. Or, join smaller fairs with lower booth fees. As a general rule, the artists and craftspeople who participate in the national fairs already have some kind of a following, and they recoup their expenses from repeat customers who go to the fair to collect their pieces. Until you’ve got that loyal client base, err on the safe side. Aim for lower fees and expect humble earnings—because early on, your goal isn’t to be a crafts millionaire, but to build your reputation.
6. Set a reasonable price.
Even established artists have a very democratic price range. For example, if you make jewelry, you can create smaller pieces that sell for about $50, and a few gorgeous statement pieces (and more expensive stones) for $5,000. Painters or mixed media artists can have original pieces and much more affordable prints, as well as canvases in different sizes.
7. Invest in a credit card machine
Most of your customers will not carry a huge amount of cash, and you’ll be making a huge risk by accepting checks from someone you’ve never met before and will probably not see again.
8. Bring an assistant.
It’ll be a huge relief if you have somebody who’ll help you man the booth and the cash register, so you can take a bathroom break without leaving your goods unattended. Plus, you may want the freedom to chat with potential customers or partners, while somebody deals with casual browsers. Since you probably want to control costs, the ideal ‘assistant’ is a trusted relative or friend who’d help you out just because, well, they’re a relative or friend.
9. Make your booth attractive.
One way to stand out and get the attention of the crowd is to create a really interesting booth display—after all, you are an artist! You can put photos of your work, add lights, or have an area for demos. And it goes without saying that the display table should be clean, and the items organized in a clear and neat manner.
10. Get everyone’s contact numbers.
Even if people don’t buy from your booth that day, the fact that they’re at a trade fair indicates that they’re your market. So as much as possible, try to create a mailing list. One way to do that is to ask them to leave their calling cards in a fish bowl or basket, in exchange for a chance to win a raffled-off item. And, of course, give them a way to view your art the whole-year round. Set up a blog or a website, and display the address prominently in your booth and your brochures.