I had a very interesting conversation with a friend the other day who is considering a career change and looking at craft as an option. She is in a well-paid job and no matter how we looked at the numbers, they just didn’t add up - she couldn’t earn enough per hour to pay her mortgage from her passion, the craft that she excels at.
I am about to be a little controversial and Ruskin-esque here so I hope all ‘consultants’ will forgive me. How come a consultant can charge £500-1,000/day for their services and yet a highly skilled weaver can’t get that for a scarf that takes at least that long?
It sounds like a naïve question but why the disparity? I know that it’s all about supply and demand but surely there should be some parity between skills and how they are rewarded especially when a weaver may have honed theirs over years and a consultant merely months.
So how can you, as designer makers, make it pay and what are the variables you need to consider?
Unlike some consultants, it’s not about having the balls to charge top dollar. Instead you need to ask some key questions about what you need from your handmade business.
What are you going to make?
It may seem obvious to you where your skill lies and which craft you excel at but is there a demand for it? What do your friends and relatives think?
How much will it cost?
I’m sure that what you all make is beautiful and wonderful but can someone afford to buy it? When I met the Alien Spinner at Woolfest he told me about an amazing electric spinning machine that he has designed but that he cannot manufacture because it would be just too expensive.
What do you need to earn?
Because of course, you can’t just cover the costs of the components you are using. The idea is to pay yourself a meaningful wage.
For me that’s about respect for what I do, not just from other people but from myself. Last year I earned BELOW the tax threshold. I did it for a good reason so I could spend time developing Planet Handmade. But it’s not sustainable.
What will the market pay?
If you are going to be able to pay yourself you need to know there is money to be earnt.
Is there anyone else making what you want to make? What are they charging? How will yours be different? Can you be different enough? In hard times a lot more people turn to ‘cottage’ industries to try and make a living. Who are your competitiors? If you are aiming at an already crowded market think again. The more research you can do at this stage the better. Keep asking questions, and listen.
How will you market yourself?
Do you need a website to sell from? How is your photography? What about PR? Are there any shows you can exhibit at? It’s now time to be brave and show the world how fabulous your products are.
So what about next year and the year after?
A business plan is a fantastic way to check in with how you are doing. My accountant has made me do one and I regularly tweak the figures. I don’t like doing it but it gives me an idea of what I am trying to achieve and what I have to do to break even.
If the idea of writing a business plan scares you take a look at the library of sample business plans at Bplans.co.uk. Even if there isn’t a plan that exactly reflects your business it is worth reading some in the general area, eg retail, to get ideas on what you need to think about.
Don’t be overwhelmed by all these questions because this is exactly what we are here to do. Over the coming months we will be providing articles and information to help you answer them - look out next week for an example with our guide to good photographs of your products.
Planet Handmade will trawl the net for the best advice as well as developing specialised knowledge for the craft sector ie business information that speaks your language and is relevant to your type of business.
More than that we will promote you and what you do to retailers and the press - we will help you be valued.
And most of all we will celebrate every achievement and be a shoulder for any (very small, I’m sure) disappointments.