Feature Story 01-Jan-2011
Have you noticed that handmade goods are suddenly trendy, innovative, upmarket, and accessible everywhere? Best of all, craftspeople no longer have to rely on the school fete or the local weekend markets to sell their creations. The Internet has changed all that, by providing access to a global marketplace. It also gives crafters access to knowledge about craft techniques and business know-how, assists with purchasing materials, and offers the support of networking with a world-wide craft community.
This has given many creative mums the opportunity to run a craft business from home, combining work and motherhood. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says that women now make up 33% of small business owners and two thirds of small businesses are home-based. Women are generally having children later, and these older mums bring confidence, business experience, and skills to the challenge of a home-based business.
Turning a hobby into a business
Little Star Design’s Amanda McLardy, mum to three young children, creates custom-made personalised cushions, bags, and a range of accessories, all from her home studio. Amanda has been sewing since she was eight years old.
“My mum and my nan nurtured my love of all things creative. I started my first business when I was ten, selling crocheted bookworms to my school friends.”
Last New Year’s Eve, Amanda decided to set up Little Star Design as a home-based business.
“It was exciting the day I decided to quit my book keeping job and give Little Star a go. We had a spare room that is now my studio. I love spending time in there, and being able to spend time with the kids whenever I want. I had tried to do both [book-keeping and running her business] but it didn’t work. I set up my website, got my Facebook up and running and it only took a day to get my first order. It has snowballed from getting a few orders here and there to now working on the business fulltime.”
Amanda has three children under eight, so planning is a must to keep it all happening.
“I work to a pretty tight schedule. I have one written up day by day, hour by hour on the fridge and in my studio. If I don’t follow this it all falls apart. I also menu plan and am lucky to have a supportive husband who is a very hands-on dad. Having said that, I really need a cleaner because I don’t have much time for that!”
Amanda has some advice for other mums considering selling their craft work.
“Don’t undersell yourself or your product, come up with something new, create your own style, and learn to say no when things get too hectic.”
And for those who missed out on the craft gene?
“There are lots of fantastic local crafty mums out there. Look online or head to the markets. You really never know what you may find. I think a beautiful handmade item made with love is a far more personal and special gift than a piece of plastic made in China,” Amanda says.
Dichroic Creations’ Mandy Codd is a glass artist running her jewellery-making business from home. The family cars now live in the driveway because the garage has become Mandy’s studio. Dichroic jewellery is made by fusing thin layers of glass together with metallic oxides to make brilliantly coloured pieces of glass art. Mandy, mother of three, bought her first pendant after her last child was born four years ago and was so taken with the beauty of it she was determined to make her own. “I have found my passion with glass,” Mandy says, admitting that her craft is ‘part addiction’. All her previous forays into craft – card-making, sewing, scrapbooking and picture-framing – have given her an eye for the detail and colour that is reflected in her glass creations.
So how do you turn an idea and creative talent into a paying proposition? Passion helps. “I put my heart and soul into my work,” Mandy says. Discipline is also essential. Mandy has two ‘creating days’, making and firing her jewellery when the youngest is at kindy. She fits the other jobs around the family – grinding and finishing, photographing items for the net and packing orders. Next year, with her youngest off to school, Mandy will be able to work on her business full-time.
It’s the World Wide Web that has allowed Mandy to turn a hobby into a thriving business. From day one, the Internet has been Mandy’s friend as she searched relentlessly for information on dichroic glass art. She found a local glass artist who gave her a couple of lessons and then experimented with colours and fusing techniques. Then she turned to the Internet for advice on setting up and running a home-based business. “I worked it all out as I went along. I just got better and better,” Mandy says.
Internet sales make up 95% of Mandy’s sales, mainly through online craft markets Madeit and Artfire. Mandy has sold her jewellery at local markets in the past but says the return on time invested is not as great as selling online. “The Internet is brilliant. I’m making a good living from this,” Mandy says.
The key to making sales is to post new items regularly, encouraging buyers to return to your site frequently. “Keep it fresh. Keep it new. List daily if possible,” Mandy advises.
“AnK Bowtique began when my friend Angie and I started creating accessories for our girls. Soon other friends wanted bows and clips for their girls too, so our little hobby very quickly grew,” Kristy said.
Angie and Kristy both live on cattle stations in rural Queensland, so the opportunity to grow the hobby into a business would not have been possible without the Internet. They mainly sell their work on Madeit and have been on the top sellers list for the last few months.
“Madeit is great as we don’t have the troubles of hosting our own website,” Kristy says. “We can upload as many or as few items as we want and even put our store in ‘holiday mode’. It has also provided us with a great network of fellow crafters who we have formed great friendships with. Facebook is also a very powerful marketing tool for us. We can share new designs, receive custom orders and with almost 1500 ‘fans’ keep everyone up to date with AnK.”
Kristy and Angie also use the Internet to search for supplies, look at fashion trends and find inspiration. “The Internet is just like a large ideas book,” Kristy says.
In addition to running their business, both mums teach their children at home through Longreach School of Distance Education and help run busy cattle grazing properties. How on earth do they do it?
“Organisation is the key, not only with your business but also with home life,” Kristy says. “A typical day in our household would involve an early start to check and answer emails, household chores and other ‘motherly duties’. We start school at around 8am and finish at around 2pm. In between is a mix of phone calls, on air lessons, getting our schoolwork done, and cooking for the musterers. After school is our time to create, do the cattle accounts, prepare meals, and tick off the list of jobs that comes with being a mother/wife/ crafter/and all round girl.”
Hectic as life is, Kristy and Angie enjoy running AnK. “It is something that we can call our own and is what keeps us sane most of the time,” Kristy says.
Selling your craft online
There are several sites that sell craft goods – Madeit, Etsy, eBay and Artfire are some of the better-known sites. They have different policies and different ways of charging sellers for their services. Crafters who sell online often test the waters on one or more sites until they find what works best for their type of work. Bigger may not necessarily be better.
For example, eBay may get the most traffic but it may be difficult to sell your work for a fair price because most people shopping on eBay are looking for bargains. Buyers who visit dedicated craft sites are often prepared to pay more because they value quality and the originality of short-run handmade craft.
Little Star Design, Dichroic Creations and AnK Bowtique all have shops on Madeit, an online site selling only handmade items and handmade supplies. The founder of Madeit, Bec Davies, loves to buy “unique, small run, handmade goodies” but in 2006 when she began searching the Internet for independent designers it was “like finding a needle in a haystack”. She compiled a directory of her favourite independent sellers as she found them and this led to the opening of her e-commerce store Madeit in 2007.
Getting the business know-how
Marketing communications lecturer at the University of Canberra, Kylie Watson, is the author of an e-Book Mumpreneur Online-A Guide to Starting a Successful Online Business. She is also the owner and director of La Bella Creations. As the mother of two daughters, now two and five years old, Kylie went looking for fashionable jewellery that was lead-free, nickel-free and tug-proof. She discovered a gap in the market and has focused on creating strong fashion jewellery that is affordable and reliable.
“I used to paint but that wasn’t practical around the children. I’ve always loved jewellery so it started out as an alternative but practical creative outlet. It grew into a business when I decided to use it to spend time with my children and quit my full time job. Then I did every training course, attended every networking session and read everything I could to be successful.”
Kylie has some advice for budding mumpreneurs: “If you can afford a business coach, then get one, or tap into the local government business networks and associations or the chamber of commerce. Attend training sessions, network and read as much as you can. Your business might be craft based, it might entail flexible hours and it might be home-based like ours, but you need to treat the business seriously! Also, surround yourself with supportive people.”
Buyer, hobbyist or home-based business owner?
Much like browsing at real markets, checking out online craft markets can be a pleasant way to spend a few hours, and you’ll almost certainly find some favourite shops to bookmark. Many of us will be content to be buyers only, choosing from the beautiful work of others, but some of you crafty mums out there may just be inspired to turn your hobby into a home-based business.
The benefits of a home-based business
- Flexibility to work around family needs
- Lower start-up costs
- Lower overheads
- Doing something you are passionate about
- A better life-work balance
Ten ingredients for building a successful online craft business
- Passion It shows in your work and keeps you going through the tough times.
- Quality Take pride in your work and build a reputation for quality.
- Uniqueness Make your product stand out by adding a small touch of your personality.
- Research Understand your target market, your pricing and current trends.
- Persistence It doesn’t happen overnight. Learn from your mistakes, adjust and move on.
- Service Treat customers with respect and courtesy.
- Realistic expectations Start small and grow your business within your means.
- Networks Exchange information with other crafters. Use forums, blogs, Facebook and other online resources
- Marketing Take quality product shots for posting online. Your product will stand out from the competition.
- Learn to say “No”. Don’t undersell your work. Don’t over-commit and then fail to deliver.
www.connect2mums.com.au is an Australian online community for budding ‘mumpreneurs’.
www.workathomemums.com.au lists useful contacts and has an articles section with tips for setting up a home-based business.