Summer Jobs for Teachers: Tips for Starting a Craft Business
The need to supplement a teaching income is, unfortunately, almost a given in today’s economy. While some teachers opt to tutor or work on teaching supplies for extra income, there are other options that allow you to explore your creative, non-teaching side. Whether it is a side job that you would like to do just during the summer months or one that you would like to continue after school starts, a craft business is a definite option. Kelly Ottinger, founder of Middlebury Soap Company, offers some great advice for getting started.
Tips for Starting a Craft Business
1. Build your business around what you love to do and you know you do well, no matter how competitive that particular field may be.
2. Keep a journal of your thoughts for the business direction–things you tried, what the outcomes were, events that changed your direction, etc. You might be surprised how your memory morphs things over time, and how often you may need to revisit where you’ve been to decide next steps.
3. If you have chosen a competitive field, don’t be discouraged by the volume of what is out there. But do look closely at your product to see how you can tweak your brand to make it stand out from the rest. When I first opened a soap shop on Etsy, I became overwhelmed by the other bath and body shops–some that obviously have used professional design studios for logos and packaging, or have expensive equipment to cut bars with precision, etc. I felt like my product (made in small batches in my kitchen and packaged in brown paper bags with hand-written labels) could in no way compete. My business picked up when I finally embraced those differences. I believe there is a buying niche for every type of product on the market. There are many more artistic bars of soap out there, and packaged much more beautifully than what I can afford. But the customers who buy from me value the “charm” of slightly irregular shaped bars that have been hand-trimmed and beveled, and they have expressed that they especially like the hand-written fragrance on the front label. I want my soap bars to look and feel like they were personally made for that particular customer–because they were!
4. Write a business plan. You don’t have to stick to it, in fact it will probably change often. But be working toward something. Do you want your business to operate out of your home, or do you want another location? If you want another location, how quickly do you want to be able to do that? What amount of money will you need to open? Or do you want to sell your work only on line? Do you want your own website, or do you want to work through a site like Etsy or Artfire? Are you going to build this business while working another job? Do you have a time line for leaving the other job? Will you need a loan? Do you have any investors lined up? Many things to consider.
5. Build a local customer base, and accept any offer to help market your product. I have been blessed with great local customers who have handed out business cards, let me sell soaps from their shops, ordered their entire Christmas gift list from me, etc. Buying local and hand-made is becoming all the rage, and there is no better time than now to jump into a hand-crafted business, even in this fluctuating economy. Perhaps even because of it!
6. Use your products. Hang your own art on the walls, wear your vintage re-purposed clothing, serve coffee in the mugs you threw, have your photography made into thank-you notes and use them, wash with your own soap, etc. Use the products with pride and others will want to, also. Carry and pass out your business cards, and send them to the local newspaper with a small sample of your work. Strike up conversations–you never know who you will connect with.
7. Take advantage of all the free advertising opportunities with social networking. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. Start a blog. Link all these efforts to one another. Follow other artists. Get interested in their work, ask them questions about it. Barter services, use connections.
8. Keep all your receipts. Even if you put them in a shoebox and tear your hair out organizing them at tax time. Don’t leave deductions crumpled on your car floor mats or use them for your chewing gum. Little things like that affect your bottom line. Get professional help with your taxes if you need to.
9. You will know if you are feeling fulfilled by the direction you are heading. If you are feeling fulfilled, the most important thing is to not give up!
Do not forget that customer service is also a key factor in your business’ success. Return emails promptly, answer customer questions, and address complaints in a professional manner. When your customer feels like you have paid attention to their concerns, you will gain a loyal follower.
If you were to start a craft business of your own, what would you sell and why? Share with us!