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Turning Your Artisan Hobby Into a Business
Turning Your Artisan Hobby Into a Business

Steps to make your dream a reality

Making art has been your hobby and passion for years. Now you’re ready to get serious about it. Instead of creating solely for yourself and a few loved ones, you want to sell to the larger marketplace and generate income from your talent. But where do you start? Here are some steps to get you started on the road to making your creative dreams a reality.

Set goals

Going into business means different things to different people, so begin by figuring out what it means to you. "Start by determining exactly how much you’d like to get out of your efforts," says Teri King, a professional artist and online instructor who delivers the course "Start Your Own Arts and Crafts Business." "Your goal can be anything from wanting to make a very comfortable full-time living to just taking in enough to pay for your materials and continue to work."

A business plan will serve as your blueprint. Putting it in writing gives your plans structure and makes them more than wishful thinking. It also helps you lay out concrete details such as the audiences you’ll address and the sales channels you'll use. There are several online resources to help you write a business plan, including this site from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Get (inexpensive) help

"I tell my students that we're living in a golden age, where you can start your business for almost nothing but your time," says King. You can promote and market your work at no cost through social media, go to market for little or no upfront costs through e-commerce sites, and even find low, or no cost legal and business guidance online. Some of your first inquiries should occur on sites such as the following.

  • Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) - "You need a mentor," says King. SCORE matches inexperienced people who have start-up dreams with seasoned executives who can advise you and provide additional resources that will help bring your dreams to fruition. Best of all, the expert assistance is free.
  • Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts - This is an excellent source of pro bono and inexpensive legal assistance for issues confronting start-up artists and nonprofits.
  • Legal Zoom - Visit this site for lawyers who can provide very affordable legal assistance in the early stages of your business.

Think like a business owner

Art and commerce are often seen as being mutually exclusive. One is imaginative and free flowing, while the other is rigid and closely managed. It's not that simple, but there are aspects of customer-facing behavior that might not come naturally to the artistically inclined. "Keep in mind, you give up creative freedom when you’re in business," says King. "It used to be all about you and what inspires your passion. Now it's all about your customers."

Artists who must feel inspired in order to create have to learn how to meet external deadlines. "Before, I'd work when I wanted to. Now I sometimes force myself to," says Hannah Judkins, a jewelry designer who sells her work at a boutique, through the occasional art show and as Littlebird Design on Etsy. Judkins has learned that when customers are waiting for delivery, you don’t get to wait for inspiration to strike. And those with strong opinions about what works and what doesn't in design must learn to fulfill customer expectations, even if those don't match their own tastes.

Carve out a workspace

Whether it is a converted garage or a corner of the attic, having your own space will help you work in the most organized manner, and will remind you that you're running a business. Judkins' studio is a spare bedroom in the home she shares with her husband.

"My photo stand is an old sewing machine cabinet, and I found hardware drawers for $15 apiece to hold beads," she says. "The most expensive item is probably the $100 I paid for the metal rack I got to use for storing bigger supplies." The rest of her space is similarly designed to be cost effective and optimize creativity and organization. It's modest, but it enhances her productivity — and that's what's most important.

Invest in yourself

Not everything is free. Starting your own business means you will need to create your own website, design a logo for your brand, and make business cards as well as other promotional materials. You should also consult a lawyer about trademark, copyright and start-up issues and to find out whether you'll need a business license.

You may be able to do some of this yourself, or find most of the help you need very inexpensively online — for example, sites like wix, squarespace and wordpress can help with setting up a website — but it will be almost impossible to avoid all out-of-pocket costs when starting your business. "The least you should spend to get your business up and running is probably about $300 to $500," says King. And if you plan to quit your job to pursue your dream full time, have several months of income saved, because it will take time to begin making steady sales.

Key tips and takeaways

  • Create a business plan for structure and direction.
  • Enlist the help of professionals for things like legal advice, marketing or business strategy creation.
  • Set yourself up in a dedicated workspace that adds organization to your operation.
  • Invest in branding tools like business cards and a website.
  • Expect to spend up to $500 to get your business up and running.

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