It's time to start cracking! We're going to start having a post every Sunday about business and/or the general theme of making money with a craft.
This information could easily apply beyond quilting to sewing, knitting, crochet, woodworking, smithing, needlepoint, weaving, dyeing, spinning, etc, etc, etc.
Really this could even apply to businesses outside of the craft field, but I'd rather not write about widgets or doodads, which is what usually happens in books trying to apply to any and all business types. I'm going to specifically focus on the aspects of running a quilting business, unless I have a better example to illustrate with another craft.
To say it straight: I'm passionate about business.
I'm as excited and energetic about business as I am about quilting. Maybe even more so because I've been wanting to write about this for so long and all the information has been bottling up to the point that I feel like I'm going to EXPLODE! I'm just so excited to be sharing this with you!
So I figure the best place to start is at the beginning. And where does any business begin?
As a dream.
It's a dream you can't help but follow, a hope you can't help but believe in and bring to life, a wish you can't help but keep wishing for.
I DREAMED of being able to make a living with a craft, ANY craft, from about the age of 12. It just seemed like the perfect job! Instead of having to drive to a job and work every day, I could be home and make cool things instead.
I wanted this life, and really this lifestyle, for years before I was able to make it happen, and I jumped many important hurdles along the way before even this blog and my online quilt shop came into existence.
Today I want to share a lot of those starting points with you, along with many personal experiences I witnesses growing up with my dad, a blacksmith and wood worker, and my grandfather, a woodturner.
I think the first, and most important, step to starting a business is to ask yourself if you really, REALLY want a business.
This is an important question and one you shouldn't feel any pressure to answer one way or the other. It's best if you can answer with a clear "yes" or "No" because "maybe" implies that you're probably not in this 100%.
Keep one important thing in mind: If you want to have a hobby, don't let anyone tell you you must turn it into a business.
Many people will push you to turn your hobby into a business and unfortunately many of these people are family members. They see you spending money on a big sewing machine, or lots of fabric and tools and all they see is dollar signs, not the joy and benefit you're getting from pursuing your passion.
They might also see the beautiful pieces you're creating: bowls, jewelry, quilts, paintings, sweaters, socks, booties, shawls, or dyed yarn and think it's so beautiful, it's bound to sell well.
But just because you make something beautiful, just because you spend money and have a big stash of supplies, just because you're enjoying a hobby that COULD be a business, none of these things require you to start a business.
If someone ever says that to you, tell them to take a hike, and defend your right to pursue your hobby in peace.
Here's a story that illustrates what happens when you don't defend your right to your hobby:
My dad liked to carve wood. He made many beautiful pieces, but never really wanted to turn it into a business. But then he decided to make some small wood carving tools, and in order to do that, he had to learn blacksmithing.
All the people around him at the time: my mom, his dad, her dad, all of them encouraged Dad to turn blacksmithing into a business. He did this for years: taking commissioned blacksmithing jobs on top of his regular jobs, knocking together everything from fences to door latches. He believed what everyone said: you can't have a hobby. Everything you do must make money.
But these days Dad has sold off almost all of his tools and blacksmithing equipment and when I ask him if he'll get back into it after he moves and settles down again, he sounds cautious of making plans. He's told me repeatedly that if he does get into it again, he's just going to make those small carving tools he always wanted. Small items, small projects, and just for himself as a hobby.
It is okay to have a hobby. It is okay to spend money and time on your hobby and never make a dime with it.
The health benefits of a hobby are enormous alone. If anyone ever nags you about the money or time you spend, simply reply that having a hobby is good for your health and that is all you need from it.
I'm giving you permission and saying this so many times because I've seen what it can do to a person to be forced into a business they didn't want. Burnout isn't pretty and it's definitely not something I'd wish on anyone.
So that's the first step: determine if you REALLY want a business or not.
Once you make this critical decision, this next question should be fairly easy to answer:
How much money would you like to make every month?
This question is simple, but it's always nice to put it into context with your real life. So rather than say "I'd like to make $200" instead say "I'd like to make $200 to pay bills."
This way you know both how much you'd like to earn, AND what you'd like to do with this money.
It could be as simple as "I'd like to make $500 per month to pay for fabric and quilting supplies." because often we like to put money we make back into our craft, or at least break even so what you're putting in, you're also getting out.
Now you might find when you try to answer this question a bit of resistance in your brain. We all experience fear occasionally and this emotion seems particularly sensitive to issues of starting a business and making money.
It's perfectly normal to feel slightly terrified if you truthfully answer "I'd like to make $3000 a month to pay all my household expenses." because this might seem like a giant impossible number.
The trick is not to spend too much time focusing on how much you want to make, but on HOW you want to make money.
It might not be initially apparent, but there are hundreds, if not thousands of ways to make money in any particular field.
The quilting industry is the one I'm most familiar with so here's a short list of ways you can run your business:
- Open a physical quilt shop
- Travel and vend at various quilt fairs and shows.
- Travel and teach lectures and workshops.
- Open an online quilt shop.
- Design for fabric, stencils, longarm designs, etc
- Fulfill necessary services such as binding, basting, and alternations
And within these ways of running your business, there are hundreds of different things you can actually sell!
You can sell services: that's when a customer pays you to fulfill a service for them such as quilting. You can also sell completed products such as quilts, table runners, baby blankets, purses, book covers, that you sew or have manufactured yourself.
But that's only the tip of the ice berg! You can also sell physical items such as tools and supplies created by other quilters. We have a vast supply of wonderful tools and templates that you can wholesale from distributors, then sell for retail.
You can also design and create your own rulers and tools as well as books and DVDs.
Alternatively, you don't have to sell physical products and services at all. You could easily sell digital patterns, books, and downloadable videos. In the world of the internet, there's many more ways to make money without having tons of space or money to get started.
So when you think of running a business, what initially comes to mind?
Do you want to make the items you sell?
Do you even want to sell physical items?
And HOW do you wish to sell them?
This is a very important question because many ways of making money in a crafting industry includes traveling. You will definitely need to travel if you wish to teach and lecture on your craft.
You will also need to travel a lot if you plan to follow a craft show / quilt show circuit and vend at shows either locally in your state or throughout the US.
Take a minute to decide if that's what you really want to do. Do you want to be away from home every weekend? Do you want to spend 2 to 3 days a week driving or flying to your destination?
Do you want to spend every hour of show "on" and interacting with customers? In a vending situation, sometimes you'll really need to put the "sale" act on, and that leads to another question: How good are you at talking with potential customers?
I'm making a big point about this because I never asked myself these questions in the beginning. I was just so overjoyed that anyone wanted me to teach or lecture, I said "yes!" to everything and anything that came my way.
It was only after a few long trips that I began to see the effect travel could have on my quilting, my family, this blog, and myself. I began to get very tired and feel frustrated by the amount of work always waiting for me at home. This blog began to suffer every time I left on a trip because I just couldn't balance the two.
Finally Josh looked at me one day and said "You know you don't have to travel like this if you don't want to."
And I sat for a minute in shock! Really? I don't have to do this? I don't have to say "yes!" to everything that comes my way? Is that allowed?
This might come off as sarcastic, but I was definitely serious. I couldn't really fathom saying "no" to these offers because I so desperately wanted to teach and share about quilting.
Finally Josh explained that that's exactly what I was doing by blogging - teaching and sharing every day. By traveling away from home, yes, I was reaching quilters on a local level, but nowhere near as many people as I could reach by staying at home and just focusing on this blog project.
So that's the last lesson of the day: you have to decide what you want, and what you don't want, and how to say "no" to the things you don't want to do.
It might sound easy, but it's not! It takes practice saying "no" especially when you're not used to saying it. It's definitely hard to disappoint other people, particularly people willing to pay you money.
But it's absolutely 100% necessary to remain true to what you want to do.
This is a vast industry, and if you're not careful it can chew you up and spit you out. If you don't stand firm on how you run your business, you can quickly find yourself not living the life you want to live.
Because it's not an exaggeration to say that your business will be your life. It will determine what time you wake up in the morning, what you do, where you go, who you talk to, and who you see.
Unlike a job, you won't work your business from 9 am until 5 pm and stop working the minute you walk out the door. I rarely stop thinking about my business, and throughout the day I make notes on designs, teaching ideas, patterns, and things to change on various sites.
This gets back to the start of this article: do you really want to own a business?
Do you really want to spend most of your time thinking about your business, or do you just want to quilt?
Because it's important to realize that starting a quilting business will, paradoxically, limit the amount of time you have to actually quilt and enjoy this craft.
Many hours will have to be spent doing other things like ordering products, creating products, designing your website, traveling, or talking with customers.
It may even get to the point that you don't have time to make all the quilts you want to make.
This is the honest, unvarnished truth about business and what it can do to your hobby. I set myself the goal of making 12 goddess quilts this year, and currently have 1 finished and 1 pieced and it's April. I have to face the fact that even 4 months into the year, I'm already very behind!
I'm also behind on creating quilts for James and a king sized quilt for my bed. These family quilts get pushed back because they just don't seem important in comparison to quilts needed for the business.
But they are important so I'm going to try over the next few months to work on these quilts and integrate them into this project so they benefit both this blog and my family. I'm willing to change the design and fabric slightly in order for the quilts to work for both areas.
It's a constant balancing act, and sometimes it works out, and sometimes I feel like I have a house of unfinished projects that are all about to squash me!
Please understand the realistic side of this business. Right now you may not be thinking this is for you at all. You may even be turned off by this whole article talking about money and quilting.
But also understand that your feelings may change as you develop as a quilter. I'm writing these post to share my experience, no matter where you're at with your business or quilting.
So to recap: first know if you really want a business. If you're really ready to do the work that's required, and potentially lose your ability to make the quilts you want to make all the time.
Next, ask yourself realistically how much money you want to make. Don't spend too much time obsessing about this as it can trigger a lot of fear which can lock you in place.
Instead spend more time thinking about HOW you'd like to make money, how you'd like your life to work and bend around your business. Do you want to travel, or stay home?
These are all important questions to consider, and it definitely helps to keep a journal of ideas and progress. Have fun thinking and planning this week and next week we'll learn a bit more about starting a quilting business on a tight budget.
Here's the complete list of all 10 Quilting Business Posts:
Now let's go quilt!