Crafting Your Online Presence: How Does the Money Follow from Doing What You Love?

Craft & Design

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By Diane Gilleland
Last month, we talked about originality – why it’s important to find that one thing only you can do, and then share it online. I drew on stories from last month’s Crafting Your Online Presence panels at Maker Faire.
This month, I want to share another strong theme from those discussions: that often-repeated idea of “Do what you love, and the money will follow.” Since I had two panels of crafty superstars in front of me, I asked them what, specifically, they did to make that money follow. Their answers were very enlightening. Read on….

Image by Nils Geylen, via Flickr
The “Getting Paid to Do What You Love” Myth
Here’s the thing: I don’t refer to this idea as a myth because it isn’t true. Of course it’s possible to build a career out of doing what you love. All of our panelists have done it. The myth is in people’s perception of what this really means.
I think a lot of crafters start with the blissed-out joy they feel while they craft. They decide that getting paid to be in this fun state of mind would be great.
The truth is, though, that crafty bliss and business savvy are two very different things. If you start a crafty business, it’s very likely to change your relationship to crafting. And much of your work day will be spent on somewhat-less-blissful functions related to business: accounting and marketing and long-range planning.
Image by Curtis Gregory Perry, via Flickr
Jenny Hart, who most of us know as a major force in craft business, had a lot to say on this subject. “When I started my business, I set out to start a business – not necessarily to enjoy my craft,” she said in the panel. “And that meant learning about a lot of things creative people may not like to think about, but that’s how you make a business viable.”
I don’t mean to say that the business-y side of running a business isn’t fun. It can be a different, challenging kind of fun. It can be an amazing learning and growth experience. But it’s nothing like the fun you have crafting. It makes a huge difference if you can learn to love business as much as you love crafting – because the more you’re able to understand whether your business is profitable and healthy, the bigger you’ll be able to grow it over time. You might find this post from Crafting an MBA helpful: Running Your Business vs. Pursuing Your Hobby.
Image by Joseph Robertson, via Flickr
Cultivating Opportunities
Another strong theme I heard from our panelists was this: they’re constantly on the lookout for people they need to meet, and they’re not afraid to reach out and ask for opportunities. Drew Emborsky designs tools and patterns for Simplicity, for example. It’s easy to assume that he sat there being awesome and one day Simplicity noticed him. But you know what? He did his research. He identified the people at Simplicity he should talk to, and he introduced himself. He pitched the idea of a product line to them many times before they took him up on it. That’s the kind of persistence you need to make big business opportunities happen.
Luckily, we’re in the social media age. You can often get into conversations with buyers and book agents and TV producers on Facebook and Twitter. Company websites often tell us who these people are – information that wasn’t so easy to come by in the pre-internet days. Company blogs give us a place to interact and become visible. More than ever before, we have equal access to the tools we need to create opportunities.
Image by kiddharma, via Flickr
But more than that, we need to think about what needs our businesses meet in the real world. When Jenny Hart started Sublime Stitching, it was because she saw that there wasn’t any source in the embroidery community for fun, modern patterns. She decided to become that source.
Does your business meet a specific need? And is it a day-to-day need, or more of a luxury-based “nice to have?” If you aren’t selling enough, maybe it’s time to look around you for scarcities, and then take your business in that direction.
Image by audreym, via Flickr
Is Your Community Really Your Best Market?
Here’s something I observed as I listened to the panels speaking: none of them make handmade goods for sale. Take a look at this lineup:

I don’t mean to imply that you can’t make a good living selling handmade goods – plenty of people do! But consider this: maybe we know these crafty superstar panelists so well because by and large, their products and services are useful to us as crafters. We may buy finished handmade goods to support our community, but as crafters, we can often make most of these things ourselves. So do we really have any regular need to buy them?
Lee Meredith offers a great example. Early on, her business involved creating hand-knit and sewn clothing and accessories. She tried selling these items through various outlets, but wasn’t getting the sales she needed. So she re-assessed. She saw that, while the people in her online community weren’t buying a lot of finished items, they were buying knitting patterns. So she focused her business in that direction, and tapped into the Ravelry community. Now most of her business is pattern design, and she sells them wholesale to yarn stores as well as retailing them online.
Image by CapCase, via Flickr
This points up an idea I think is fundamental to making a living through crafting: understanding the difference between your community and your market. As a crafter with a crafty business, I think you have a two big options:

  • You can make handmade items and then find non-crafters who will value them enough to buy them regularly.
  • You can make patterns and tools that crafters need to use regularly, and sell them to crafters.

If your market is non-crafters, then, it follows that a lot of your blogging, Twitter and Facebook outreach should also be directed at non-crafters. It’s great to have a large community of online crafty friends, but if they aren’t your customers, then it may be time to think about whether the hours you put into keeping up with them online are the best use of your time.
If you make handmade tea towels, for example, perhaps you should be commenting on cooking blogs instead of craft blogs. Maybe you should be identifying kitchen companies on Facebook and Twitter and making an effort to engage them in conversation. If you make kid clothing, perhaps you should be talking to more parenting bloggers. Who are your customers, and where are they hanging out online and offline?
I’m so grateful to our panelists for sharing so much of their knowledge with us, and for being inspirational examples of creating a living from the things you love to do. Do you have any thoughts on these ideas? Leave a comment below!

About the Author:
Diane Gilleland is the Editor-in-Chief of CRAFT. She also produces, a blog that geeks out on crafting and helps crafters use the web more effectively to promote their businesses.

2 thoughts on “Crafting Your Online Presence: How Does the Money Follow from Doing What You Love?

  1. samsstuff says:

    Excellent advice & so easy to forget, when you get lost in on line communities of crafters. It’s great to be reminded how the big names in the community got their start & how they are actually making their livings. I noticed, a while back, how many of the most successful sellers on Etsy were actually suppliers & not making handmade goods themselves, but I didn’t really put it together that those bigger names in the community were also making a living as suppliers of one sort or another. Thank you for the excellent article!

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