I started crocheting when I was twelve years old and landed my first consignment gig at a gift shop in Cohasset, MA when I was thirteen. It was an honest hobby for a while – just something to keep me busy and distracted amidst some friendship drama at the time. But then, I realized that people would actually pay for the plush mermaids, unicorns, and random creatures I made out of yarn.
After doing the consignment thing wherever I could, my mom encouraged me to try and prep for a craft show. So I started with a small vendor fair hosted by a local business I loved. From there, I built up my stock to be able to accommodate even bigger art shows, like the Marion Arts Festival and the South Shore Arts Festival.
My dad said that it wouldn’t be possible to make it a full-time gig – at least not without outsourcing labor and all that – but that’s okay. One thing I’ve learned through all of this is that even side hobbies can bring in really great revenue. And if you love what you’re doing on top of all of that, you can’t lose. Below, I’ll outline the tips and tricks I’ve learned that have helped me grow my client base while maintaining good professional relationships. Like any business, a handmade hustle requires all these basic components – they just have that extra sparkle of personality to them because the wares are directly produced by you!
Find Your Niche
This one may seem obvious for any business, but the key element for a handmade hustle like mine is appealing to the fine art or luxury crowd. Artsy clients are into things that are personalized, unique, and freakishly accurate. Bonus points if you can exploit a particular fanbase populated largely by a particular demographic.
In my business, I’ve done this two ways:
- The first way would be through my custom crocheted pet replicas. People love their pets, and if you can provide a personalized product they can keep forever, they’ll shell out cash for it without a second thought.
- The second way involves my rockstar dolls – I literally pick a musician that I admire, and crochet their likeness in yarn form. This was a major power move because it’s tapping into that niche of alternative rock or punk cultures and making it “cutesy” and “fresh.” Bonus points if I can get the doll to their muse and snap a pic of them, which I have been able to swing on multiple occasions. This quick thinking landed me in an Alternative Press Magazine fan art article, as well as two different instances of musicians showing off my work on Digital Tour Bus (segments with the bands As It Is and Stand Atlantic). From there, my business got significant exposure through those high-traffic platforms. I take requests for these as well.
Cater to the Most Popular Social Media Platforms for Your Target Demographic
First, determine who would be interested in what you’re selling. If your target demographic is teenagers, you’ll want to center your approach on Instagram and Snapchat. But if your clientele base seems older, that may mean leaning more on places like Etsy or Facebook. If your project appeals to all of those, then you have your work cut out for you – but don’t treat all of your platforms the same way.
Instagram has great new functions like Reels and Stories, which help you attach music and graphics to your media. This is super fun for the younger crowd, while image and text posts on your Facebook Business page are a tried-and-true option for the soccer mom crowd.
Interact with Other Similar Businesses
As with any business, networking is a powerful tool. If you can establish good rapport with accounts with more followers than you, there’s a chance they might be willing to help you out in the future.
This happened to me when I stumbled across the amazing niche concept of #yarnpunk – a new term coined by Vincent Green-Hite all about mixing cute crocheted plushies and tricked-out clothes with heavy rock music. He has 103k followers on Instagram and even recently landed a commercial with Joann’s Craft Store alongside Phyllis from The Office. Given that his business is in a similar niche that mine is in, but has a much larger following, that professional friendship has been super helpful. I’ve even been featured on his Instagram page because I was wearing Yarn Punk merch I bought from his shop.
In similar situations, I’ve also been offered patterns by other makers who are kind enough to let me test out their designs for free. It helps both of us at the same time! So similarly, if you can strike up a mutually beneficial arrangement with a similar business, you both win. And don’t forget to tag others in your posts, too! I know as a maker, it’s so encouraging to know that people enjoy and respect my work enough to credit me. This is a basic courtesy!
Don’t be afraid to strike up new friendships – it doesn’t cost anything, and you might even find yourself with some cool opportunities as a result.
Be Nice to Yourself
Taking on a handmade hustle – even as a side business – is a large undertaking. Without listening to your body and what you need to keep producing products, you could get overworked quickly.
To avoid this, I recommend carving out certain hours in which you expect to be working and stick to that strictly. I feel super hypocritical saying this, because I myself am really bad about that (especially when I have to make bigger quantities of everything for craft shows). But when you think about the long term effects of not taking that time for yourself, you start to realize that leisure time is an investment you can’t afford not to make.
Also realize that this is a learning experience, and what logistically works for others may not work for you. I personally keep a binder of my orders in progress. In there, I jot down client contact info, their requested piece, and what I’ve charged for it (including shipping). Know that you’ll find your way as you go, and it’s more than understandable for that learning curve to take some time. Just keep moving forward.
Remember You Are a Creative Badass (And Compensate Yourself Accordingly)
Never let others determine your worth or limit your potential. This advice is crucial to any business venture, no matter the size. Set realistic goals for yourself and take real steps to make them happen. When you do that, and you start to see how far you can take your handmade business, the doubt will fade. Not everyone can do what you do, or else they would. So offer your art as a unique piece of yourself being launched into the world.
And as a piece of yourself, realize that your art has much more than just physical value. It’s creative design, blood, sweat, and tears. It’s also your branding that plays a large role in this (yet another reason to keep your socials updated and professional). My entrepreneur-minded interior designer aunt taught me that clients often assign a greater value to a piece when it’s more expensive. That means that I had to get more comfortable charging what I really wanted to receive for a piece. This was really hard for me, but that was largely a confidence issue. Now, I’m so glad I adjusted my pricing because I’m making a lot more money with a lot less work – and my art is worth it. At the end of the day, you have to be the first to believe that – or else no one will.