The Handmade Business: Where to Start?

So you want to start a handmade business?  The first question to really think about is ‘what are you going to make to sell?’.  Or maybe you have a handmade business already but your products don’t seem to be getting the attention you had hoped.

First, ask yourself this, what do you enjoy creating?  

That is the MOST important question in starting a handmade business.  If you do not enjoy what you are doing, then you will not be happy creating the pieces for your shop and you will burn out very quickly.  Handmade takes time and effort, so you must make sure you are having a good time.  The same goes for blogging.  Do not start a blog unless you are completely happy doing it whether you make money or not.  But we’ll have to address blogging on a different day……back to business.

So for me, I love creating children’s clothing.  But not just any children’s clothing. I love creating quality, lined garments with timeless looks, made from bright, fresh, modern fabrics with great attention to detail.  Adding woven trims, piping and lining garments really gets me excited.  It might sound a little strange to you if that is not your passion, but I love being able to add heirloom quality details to the children’s clothing I create.

I have been pulled off the path several times by creating the simple elastic neck dresses (which is fine if that’s what you love creating) because they sell, but when I get right down to it, if I’m not adding a lot of trim or embellishments to them, I just do not enjoy making them.  It’s very easy to veer off your original plan because something sells.  And if you are just looking to make money, then that is fine, but I tell you……..if you lack the passion behind your handmade business, it will eventually be reflected in your work.  However, if you are looking to go into your handmade business to make money AND live out your creative passion, you must stay true to yourself.

I am a firm believer in specialization when it comes to handmade businesses.  What do you want to be known for?  What is your niche?  There is nothing wrong with furthering your product offerings down the road once you have developed your customer base, but be very careful not to offer too many things right off the bat.  I encourage you to reflect upon yourself and think about these things:

~What types of products do you get excited about making?
~What products of yours do your friends and family talk about you making? What gets you compliments?
~What type of look do you naturally gravitate towards? Vintage, Modern, Classic, Retro, ect.? Brights, naturals, shabby chic, ect?
~Think about your personal style…….does that carry over into your work?
~Are there any products you do not enjoy making?
~Do you mind creating the same thing over and over or do you prefer one-of-a-kind pieces?
~What materials do you like to work with ~ textiles, beading, yarn, ect.?

When people visit The Cottage Mama, they are visiting my shop because they know I sell children’s clothing (and as of recently, children’s sewing patterns).  They are not expecting to see dish towels, purses, jewelry and just any ole thing I felt like making.  Though, I will tell you that I often get the urge to create things that are totally out of line with my shop, but I usually get those urges out of my system by creating the item and then either keeping it for my family or gifting it to someone else or sharing it on the blog.  As a creative person, branching out into other realms of creativity will (and should) happen to keep you fresh and inspired.  But remember, everything you make does not need to be sold in your shop.

So this is what I would like everyone to do this weekend.  Give yourself some time and truly visualize how you picture your handmade business.

~What are you selling?
~What feelings and emotions do you hope to evoke through your handmade products?
~What will you be happy creating?
~What is your true creative passion?

Once you have a clear picture of where you want to take your business, we can move onto the next step……….branding.
Please feel free to ask any questions you may have by leaving a comment.  I will try to answer everything for these posts in the comments section so everyone can share the answers.  Odds are, if you have a question, someone else does too.  Remember, I’m an open book and I am happy to help you in any way I know how.  Thanks for stopping by!

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  1. This post its just what i needed, thanks! Sometimes if i want everything i do nothing… And now you made me think i need to focus…

  2. I am in love with that outfit and the fabrics you used!


  3. What a great post! Thanks for taking the time to do it. I have been told by lost of friends and family that I should start a sewing buiness. I tried one online with no luck though. Where should I realy start??

  4. Very well said. If it isn’t your ‘passion’, it will show. Also, very timely as Leah Day did a post on a similar topic. Having been in business (sewing/alterations-bridal/formal wear) for many years, changing professions but still maintaining my creativity through textiles, I can fully understand the need to stay focused as so many of my friends, relatives and gift recipients will (and with good intentions) say: “You should sell that/people would buy that”!!! Well meaning comments along those lines can take you in too many directions that may be unrealistic to maintain. Result: frustration, exhaustion AND, perhaps the worst of all, loss of ‘passion’! Thanks, again for the post! Hugs, Doreen

  5. ist das süß.ganz, ganz toll

    very, very sweet


  6. All great advice, thank you!

  7. What a nice, selfless idea to share your thoughts/experiences!

    That dress and hat shows completely your passion about children’s clothing! :o)

  8. I have been thinking about starting an etsy shop. Thanks for the information!

  9. My question: how do you decide whether to sell your items online through Etsy or at local boutiques? Obviously the potential market online would be superior, but my fear is that my items won’t be as appealing in pictures or that I won’t be unique enough in that setting. I’ve been developing my photography skills, which are important (judging as a consumer of Etsy products, quality pictures make a huge difference).

    I know your patterns are in local shops, and that you started by selling items on Etsy. Do you recommend selling handmade goods in local boutiques?

    • And thank you, Lindsay, for all the work you do to foster the online creative community. I know it’s a lot of work, and you are very inspiring.

    • Hi Michelle,

      Well, I think this may have to be a post on it’s own because there is so much to talk about! In a nutshell, when you sell on Etsy or your own website you are essentially the designer, creator and retailer, therefore you charge a certain price for your work in which you get to keep the full amount. When you decide to sell in boutiques or stores, generally those folks are going to expect to buy from you at a wholesale price (typically 50% off your retail price) unless you are selling on consignment. So if you have not built in enough of a margin, you can almost make no money sometimes selling wholesale if your items are priced properly. My margins when people purchase patterns directly from me are SO much higher than when I sell wholesale or when I sell to my wholesale distributors (which again is another topic). So I will try to have a more detailed post on this topic, but that’s just a brief overview. Hope that helps and bit and thank you for your sweet, kind words!!

  10. Thank you Lindsay, great article, really helpful!!

    And I am interested in hearing your answer to Michelle’s question.

  11. Lindsay, I just love looking at your creations, you are so talented. You inspired me to add piping to my creations. I have been thinking about opening an etsy shop, but I don’t know how to build my inventory of cloth–how much should I buy? I want to have enough on hand but don’t want to go broke prebuying supplies.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with us, you are so gifted!

  12. truly auspicious timing. i just bought my domain today. 🙂 i’m setting up my *shop* this weekend so I can start building up stock.

    i’m going to take this as a sign that God is smiling down on me and guiding me!

  13. Hi Lindsay, I agree with everyone else, Thank you so much for you insightful post. I specifically agree with Candy,I too, am anxious to hear your answer to Michelle’s question about selling to local boutiques. My question, if you do sell locally how does the shop keeper get paid. Is there a set amount/percentage that they take ?
    One last thing, I also love that outfit and hat, but seriously, What wouldn’t look terrific on that beautiful little girl ! (Is she yours? Precious ! )

  14. Hi Sharon,

    Sorry online hasn’t worked for you yet……keep following along and hopefully you will learn some great new tips and ideas!

  15. Just replied to Michelle 🙂

  16. Barbara,

    I will definitely be addressing this idea……I just answered Michelle’s question in a brief overview, but don’t worry…..I will be talking about this. And yes, that little lady is mine. I just love her to bits!!

  17. Thank you so much for this post. Like so many others I have had well meaning family and friends tell me I should sell the things I make. I’m currently selling a few things on Facebook but I’m lacking passion. You have given me a great start and I look forward to reading more!

  18. I am enjoying this series of business-related posts. I’m still stuck on a catchy name to use…

  19. I really enjoy your post. A lot to learn and understand.

  20. Thank you for sharing! I have been trying to start a handmade business. I get a lot of compliments over the items that I make, but I have only gotten a few sales. I am passionate about paper crafting, and I love it! But I am stuck, with how to promote it and get people to buy my items. This was right on time, thank you so much!

  21. Thanks for the post. I have been debating whether or not I should sell my stuff or not. I have compliments on my stuff ect. and priodically I will do special orders for friends and family. My problem is the reason I craft is to bless my family and friends. Sewing and crafting is my way of serving others. I have tried several times but every time I do I get burned out and don’t want to do it. I just can’t decide whether or not I should do a crafting business. I don’t know if you have any ideas that might help.

  22. If you would like to email me here’s my email: [email protected]
    I wrote the last comment.
    Also if you would like to check out my blog here’s the link:

  23. Lindsay,
    Thanks for sharing, you are a person that I admire and respect,for you are very accomplished and also so personal…
    The time is my question? How do you manage? How do you organize yourself? Also like S.Krohn question.

  24. WOW this post was written for me – Thank you!!

  25. I discovered your web site via Google while looking for a related subject, lucky for me your web site came up, its a great website. I have bookmarked it in my Google bookmarks. You really are a phenomenal person with a brilliant mind!

  26. Where do you purchase your fabric from? Do you have to recognize the designer when selling it as your own? Not sure if my question makes sense. But I notice on all fabric from Jo-Ann’s there is a copyright. Am I allowed to use that fabric for resale or do I need to have a written agreement with the designer?