Hobby Vs. Business
Nothing causes quite as much confusion for a crafter, artisan or artist than the concept of business. I imagine this is partly because creative types, by nature, are a little uncomfortable with the mundane details involved with having a business. I see folks questioning daily, whether they should be a business, or are one already. The debate also spurs on controversies regarding pricing, advertising, quality, taxes and countless others. Using what I've learned I'd like to break down for the newbie the basic, honest questions you should ask yourselves in order to get the answer right for you.
There are, in my opinion, four basic things you should question to understand whether you are starting a viable business or what I like to call a self sustaining hobby. First, do you have a real talent or skill at your chosen craft. Second, how much time do you actually have to spend on your craft? Third, what is your turnaround time for your craft. And lastly, what is the cost versus profit of your craft.
Do you have a real talent or skill?
I want to tackle this one first, because it is the hardest one to answer for most people. I see people everyday asking for critiques and sadly getting few real answers. Most people are simply too polite to give you an honest answer, instead they say thing like, "it's cute", "i like the color", "you just need to wait for the right buyer". This is all bull and you should know it. Be honest with yourself. If you think the product you make is just ok, stop trying to sell it and hone your craft first. Pick something else to try that you enjoy or just make things for friends and family. If you want me to give you an honest opinion on your stuff, just ask!
If you feel like you know what you're doing, then good on ya and keep reading.
How much time do you actually have to spend on your craft?
See, I have two small kids, so my day does not revolve around tatting. If it did, perhaps I would have a business. How is your day structured? Do you set aside a block of time for creation and promotion? Do you craft whenever you get a quick moment and then head over to the forums to play? If you can't treat your craft like a real job, then you can't expect it to be a real business. Don't forget that if you want to be a business, you must also factor in the time you need to promote and advertise as well as creating your product.
What is the turnaround time for your craft?
This is really a make or break question. A lot of products lend themselves to reproduction and those are best suited to starting a business. Artists and photographers may spend a great deal of time on their pieces, but at the end of the day they can make nearly limitless prints, buttons, t-shirts, bags, magnets and countless other products with relatively short production times. If you're a knitter, you still have to knit each piece one at a time and while you may get faster, you'll never be that fast. So, you need to look closely at how long it will take to stock your store, then imagine if you sold 2 or 3 things a day, could you keep your store stocked? If you're sure you couldn't, put yourself in the hobby category and stop stressing out. If you can, then you may have a viable business idea.
What is the cost versus profit of your craft?
This closely relates to the previous question. If you can't make hundreds of something quickly, but you can charge and get a large amount for it, then you're gold. First, take into account how much your material costs are to make your craft, don't forget online fees, then make a guess at how much you'd like to pay yourself an hour or a piece. This should allow you to come up with a ballpark price. Now I suggest doing a very thorough search of many different online outlets for the average price of whatever you are choosing to sell. Don't forget to check and see whether sellers are actually making sales at their prices. If you came up with an unrealistic price for your items, then let it go and charge your cost plus a small profit and you have yourself a sustainable hobby. If your price is comparable to others or lower then you have a shot at becoming a business.
Back to the artist and photographer for a moment, if they are talented, they can charged a good amount for their original pieces as well as reasonable prices for ancillary products. This again makes a potentially profitable business. If it takes you 10 hours to knit a scarf that you can only get $40 for, then clearly you're not going to be making a living off of your craft, but you can sustain your hobby.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a self sustaining hobby, that's what I have. Of course, I dream of a day when I could make good money with my tatting, but I asked myself these questions, and for now, it's not in the cards. Perhaps when the kids are a little older, I'll have the time and resources to make that happen. The real reason to learn these things about yourself, is to reduce stress. If you know it's just a hobby, you don't need spend hours a day promoting yourself, you can just enjoy your craft and put whatever money you do earn back into your craft. If you've done your research and feel a business coming on, then you need to spend time promoting and worrying about making a profit.
More controversies to come...