It's Sunday and time for another Quilting Business post! So far we've gotten a good foundation of deciding whether a business is right for you, and learned a bit last week about traffic and content.
Today let's focus on products.
can be anything from a handmade item you create individually (quilt,
tote bag, purse, pillowcase, journal cover, etc) to a product you
manufacture (tools, notions, books, DVDs), to products you wholesale
from other quilters then sell for retail.
Each of these areas are fairly huge topics, so this week let's focus on products you create individually.
are items you start from scratch: cut out the fabric, sew the item,
finish it with high quality workmanship, then price according to you
time, material cost, and effort.
This is also the leading way many crafters try to make a living at their craft: by mastering a craft, making stuff, then selling that stuff.
Now because these posts were inspired by the Copyright Terrorism post,
we're going to have to make a special note about the jerks that create
copyrighted patterns indicating "for home use only" or "for personal use
You might have purchased a pattern for a pretty
tote bag and want to make 10 bags to sell on Etsy or Ebay.
Unfortunately if the pattern maker has indicated "for home / personal use only" you
shouldn't use that pattern for your bags for sale.
Yes, this stinks, and yes, it makes me want to chuck those patterns in the trash, but rules are rules and it's best to steer clear of a fight with those copyright happy pattern makers. This is especially important if you plan to sell your handmade products online.
Of course, this could lead us into a happy tirade about pattern makers and why they have such a problem with industrious quilters making their bags and selling them. What exactly would they be losing from that situation? They'd still have made the sale on the pattern, and isn't that the point!?
I digress. Let's not even open up that can of worms today.
So you're going to need to find patterns that indicate Open Use, or more specifically Open for Commercial and Non-Commercial Use.
This would be a great idea for anyone looking to start a business with huge demand - a website dedicated to open use patterns. Even as I type this, I'm considering making some open use bag patterns just so quilters and sewists have something to use that isn't locked down in copyrighted red tape.
So here's an idea: if you absolutely can't find an open use pattern, why not make your own?
a pattern isn't as difficult as it seems. Start with a simple square
bag, and focus on learning the construction process so you can eventually streamline it down into a useable pattern.
be a lot of trial and error involved here, but it's worth it because
this will be YOUR pattern and no one will be able to say boo about it.
But you have to be willing to do the work and construct your pattern several times. Not only will this make you faster, it will also alert you to any issues within the pattern itself.
4 simple bags and then time yourself making the 5th to see how much
time it takes in each stage of the process. Add up your cost in
materials and your time and see if you can come up with a price for your
Oh, that sounded so easy. Such a simple thing - pricing your work - when in fact this is one of the hardest things you'll have to do when selling the things you've created.
much time you spend making a product is EXTREMELY important. Whether
you spend 1 hour or 10 hours, you need to be paid for your time, your
effort, your passion, your material cost, and the physical wear and tear
on your body.
Do not discount this.
is so easy to discount yourself in this equation. I know this
personally because I did it myself from 2005 to 2006 and it was the most
soul destroying, terrible experience of my life.
worked for an online business sewing garments at home. I thought this
was the most wonderful job at the time: I get to stay home and sew, and
get paid for it!
But what I didn't calculate was how
stressful and time consuming this job would be. I'd bring home on
average 60 garments a week and all of those garments had to be sewn with
the exact same level of care and precision and perfection as any shirt
you buy in a store.
I worked harder than I ever had in
my life. I learned every trick in the book to speed up my sewing, to
optimize my machine setup so I could sew with the maximum amount of
speed and efficiency. I rarely ate breakfast or lunch because my focus and
attention was sharper in the morning so I could sew faster through those
At the end, when I was the fastest I ever got, I could crank out a t-shirt in 45 minutes.
Guess how much I got paid? $6.50.
the end, I realized I was chasing an illusion more than anything else.
I was chasing the dream of sewing for a living, but in the end I had to
admit that I was losing more and more of myself with every bag of
clothes that left my apartment.
I remember very little
of the year and a half I sewed, other than actually sewing, because I
did so little other than sew, sew, sew constantly. This is a shame
because that was the first year Josh and I were married, and the only
year we had before James was born.
But there is one thing I don't regret from that situation: I learned this lesson: TIME HAS VALUE.
is more than just being paid an hourly rate. Yes, you could set $10
per hour to your time and bill out your products this way, but isn't
your time worth more?
That hour you spent quilting that
journal cover could have been spent with your kid. That weekend you
made that tote bag could have been spent making a quilt for your family.
remember the true cost, not just in time, but also the trade off of
your labor and what else you could be doing. I'll say it again: Do not undervalue your
Yes, there will always be people willing to cut
off their nose to spite their face. You may feel the need to compete
with such idiots by pricing your products lower.
But here's another lesson: if you've done your homework and created a business with the right foundation: loads of content, which has in turn attracted lots of people to pay attention to you, you will be able to charge a fair and just price, and still find demand for your products.
The absolute key is traffic, and that comes from content.
Without traffic, you're not going to sell anything.
No matter how many tote bags you create, no matter how fast you get stitching them, no matter how low you set the price, without traffic, no one will know you exist, therefore no one will want to buy your stuff.
So your primary focus, for at least the first several months or years you're in business, is to create the content that will drive the traffic to your business. Without this foundation, your business won't have the legs to stand on and it may well topple right over.
It's also good to realize that those tote bags, those individually stitched products you created by hand, might not be your best products anyway.
Let's let that idea sink in for a bit.
What you create, what you stitch on by hand, isn't the best product to sell.
Look at it this way: you can spend a weekend making a tote bag, but you can sell that tote bag only 1 time to 1 person.
That means the amount of money you can make on your time and effort is limited by the transaction itself. Let's say the max your customer is willing to spend is $45.00. You will make that amount of money 1 time, for 1 bag.
In order to make more money, you will need to go back into your sewing room, repeat all the steps to making that bag, spend exactly the same amount of time, and again, you will have a product you can sell only 1 time.
How in the world are you going to make a living this way?
What if you get sick and can't stitch? What if your kids get sick and all your time is spent taking care of them? Heck, what if you want to go on vacation and don't have time to make new products for a week or two?
As soon as you can't spend that requisite amount of time working on an individual product, your money will dry up. Your source of revenue is entirely dependent on your ability to create those products, and this is a dangerous position to be in.
It's dangerous because the second you stop working is the second you stop making money.
You never know when a wrench will be thrown into your life, but trust me, it happens only at the worst possible times. If you get into a position to DEPEND on that extra $300 coming in to pay your light bill, but then don't have time to make the 6 bags that make the money, how will that bill be paid?
No, this isn't a crucial issue if you only make tote bags on the side, as a hobby business, only for a bit of extra spending cash. In this situation, you're not LIVING on the cash made from your business. You're not depending on it quite the same way.
But even still, you need to learn how to make your time worth more.
I don't mean by charging more for your products. Instead, rather than sell that tote bag 1 single time to 1 single customer, you need to figure out a way to make the time you spent working on it pay you for weeks, months, or even years down the road.
You need to be able to sell that single tote bag hundreds of times.
How in the world is that even possible? It's just a single stupid tote bag! What are you going to do - sell it then steal it back to sell it again?
No. You're not going to sell that tote bag at all. Ever.
And if you'd like an explanation for this cryptic sentence, make sure to check in next week for Quilt Biz #4!
Here's the complete list of all 10 Quilting Business Posts:
Until next time, let's shut up and go quilt!