Slow Growth: Starting Your Craft Business With What You Already Have

Start your shop off right by offering something people actually want to pay for!

Read about the best ways to spend your time as a new business owner!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after 4 years on Etsy, it’s that medium matters.

I’ve seen so many new online shop owners overlook this first and most important factor. They’re only interested in filling their shop with the art they love the most, without considering what people actually want.

Read about Starting Your Craft Business With What You Already Have here!

That means, your end product needs to be something people want to pay for. The sooner you choose correctly, the sooner you can reinvest and grow your budding business.

I’ve found it’s best to explore which ideas are worth running with before investing too much money in expensive apparel like enamel pins and crew-socks. If you’re a designer or illustrator, start small with RTP services and having your designs printed as stickers. 

Seeing your ideas come to life in your hands is truly exhilarating!

Final products are what keep me consistently going and my clients say similar things when they receive their buttons from me. Handing out free stickers and producing buttons for other makers in my circle has been my favourite way of building a community around my creative practice; this a great real-life example of “slow growth” in action!

I’m now going to share how I opened my Etsy shop and started my button-pressing and graphic design business with next to no money and no income:

Have More Time To Do The Things You Love
Have More Time To Do The Things You Love by reading TheArtistJounral.ca and sharing this on Pinterest!

Tips to start you craft business with next to no income:

  1. Work with what you have—this sounds so simple, but is possibly the most difficult step! I know so many crafty people with a plethora of supplies in their closet, just waiting to be cracked open. If you’re not one of those fortunate people, I found swapping on Depop and Varagesale, as well as just asking ambiguously on Facebook if anyone has any supplies they have laying around!
  2. Only invest as much as you’re making—it’s tempting to take your first few dollars to the store and “restock” your shop, but don’t invest in new stock until you sell out of something else.
  3. Look critically at your expenses. Do you really need a domain yet? Yes, but you don’t need about anything else. Your domain (or url) comes with a shiny new business email and those are the only 2 things you need to start growing (although an email list wouldn’t hurt, either).

The proof is in the pudding, so I also wanted to highlight for you the first stages of my own online business!

What the stages of my own business looked like:

  1. Painting patches from up cycled fashion scraps and selling them on Etsy ($10 fabric paint, $15 startup fee)
  2. Buying sticker paper and selling stickers (I started with a cheap, crappy printer I already had for printing college reports) ($20 sticker paper and $25 in shipping supplies from the dollar store)
  3. Buying my first products, which were hand-pressed buttons for another local “button-pusher” ($40 for 100 buttons)
  4. Expanding with higher quality products: I transitioned to higher-quality vinyl stickers produced out-of-house ($56)
  5. Bought a button press off Ebay to start my own “button-pressing” operation ($180)
  6. This allowed me to Upgrade my printer to produce my own high-quality prints and zines ($250)
  7. Invested in my first batch of enamel pins ($560USD ~$800)
  8. Reordered and Expanded my line of enamel pins with a new provider ($600)
Use workflows in Trello to improve your productivity! Read more at TheArtistJournal.ca

Now that I’ve established myself in selling enamel pins and vinyl stickers—after 4 years—I can expand my practice to hand-made OOAK and custom resin crafts. This new and exciting venture wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t dedicated myself to my own personal “slow growth” method to build my online business.

Now go rummage through your craft rooms, storage bins, sewing supplies and leftover DIY materials to see how your slow growth will begin!


Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.

How To Prepare Yourself For Taking On New Design Clients

Taking on new clients can be a dream for fresh freelancers… or a dreaded endeavour for the inexperienced.

You don’t know your worth, your clients’ expectations or even what your edge on the competition is. It’s very easy to undervalue yourself when you’re first starting out!

But what if you knew what to ask these higher-paying clients? Would you still be intimidated by taking on higher-paying work—work that feeds you, while building your dream portfolio?

I’m going to share how I started asserting my worth as an artist and exactly what to cover with your new client to give them the best product possible!

Establish a budget upfront!

I ask for their budget in the same motion as about their idea, but that’ll take practice. Asking for their budget upfront establishes your worth and asserts that you expect proper compensation. You then showcase what you can provide for them based on this budget, not based on their expectations—that’s where you get into abusive territory.

Clients have grand visions, sometimes expecting way too much. You need to establish boundaries with who you’re working with right away—because ultimately you are working with them, not for them—ensuring your time isn’t abused. You don’t revise things half a dozen times for no extra compensation.

To avoid any future confusion or altercations with new clients, I religiously go through these questions to get a full picture of my clients needs and expectations, the scope of the project and how much time you’re devoting to the project. An individual or brand with a logo budget of $200 will not receive the same product as one with a budget of $1000, for example (and yes you can make that much for one licensing deal, just not on Fivver).

Why waste time doing this? Why can’t you just start getting paid right now on Upwork or Fivver?

Well, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that, but if you want a sustainable income that pays you what you’re worth as a craftsman you need a niche group of regular clientele that will be fanatical about everything you say (and sell)!

Viewing this intimate conversation about your clients passions (and ultimately their project) as a waste of time means you’re probably reading the wrong blog and should just go scavenge across abusive job-boards that undercut the value of every other freelance worker out there then just go on ahead and “make that bank”.

But if you want to get paid by people who value your work and will hire you over and over again—and recommend you for more even more dream projects—then you need to read this!

Establish A Budget With New Clients Upfront With These 8 Questions:

  1. What is the Company/Product/Service name to be used in the logo/branding?
    • This may seem silly, but you wouldn’t believe how often I’m brought onto a project thinking it was a rebranding job and found out it’s for a new/different/offshoot brand—wasting my notes and sketches, as well as their time.
  2. What is your Tag line (if any)?
    • Whether or not you need this for the design, it will give you a better picture of what your client’s message is
  3. What are you selling?
    • Get them to tell you as much about their product or service
    • What is the message they’re trying to convey with your work?
  4. Who are you selling to?
    • Describe the audience you’re targeting as best as possible.
    • Dig deeper (age, gender, interests, income, geography, etc. are only the basics)
  5. How do you want to be known in your industry and when compared to your competitors?
    • Competitors, fellow creatives or whatever you wish to call them, you are comparing both aesthetic and ethos as well as products and content.
    • Where are they at vs. where they want to be and how your work will get them there. Getting them to show you their “Dream Aesthetic” and favourite brands/pages from social media is usually the easiest way to involve clients in this part of the conversation.
  6. Do you have an idea of what you want? If so, describe your visions in as much or as little detail as you’d like.
    • Sometimes less is more here. Setting your boundaries early on is important and you have the right to know what you’re being hired for. In most cases, you’ll have already told them your niche or they have approached you because of your existing work (or even by recommendation from a fan!)
  7. Are you currently working with any time constraints? Ideally, how soon would you like to have your project completed?
    • This is another step where you need to set boundaries for yourself. If you’re having trouble keeping up, be transparent about your current work-load and be honest about how quickly you can complete a project.
  8. What is your budget?
    • The burning question that no artist has the answer for. I’m not going to pretend to know how much a human is worth, but I know how much money I need to make to pay these pesky bills: start there.
    • Talking about money is difficult for millennials. It’s okay to talk about money.
    • Feeling your skills should be compensated properly is not a crime. Don’t allow them to devalue your worth or make you feel you’re being unreasonable.
    • If you can’t justify the cost of your work by breaking it down for your client, you’re still too unclear on your self-worth and just might be over-selling yourself if you’re constantly being rejected at the “final sell”.

It can be a scary to take on new things. Just remember this for your next call on Zoom:

We didn’t become self-employed only to go broke.

We did it to become self-sustainable—to cope with chronic pain and illness, find employment as marginalized folks, to survive in tough times—while still doing something that breathes life back into us, rather than drain us.

If you produce a variety of content, you need to establish your niche and specialties for them right away—to set the boundaries in this new relationship at the beginning—not half-way through, when you realize you’re no longer working on what you signed up for. Unlike a romantic relationship, you’ve (hopefully) established some sort of written agreement via (at minimum) a paid invoice.

Whether you’re still navigating where you fit in within your field or are geared up to grab the new opportunity right now, you can download this unique and professional questionnaire I designed: print it off for your next new client here!

If you would like more coverage on drafting an invoice and red-flags freelancers should look out for on job-board websites, let me know by commenting on this post!

Until next time,

-J

Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.

Questions To Ask Yourself When Trying To Nail Down Your Niche + Why You Need To Envision Your Success

Do you ever feel lost in what you’re doing?

Do you have trouble remembering the bigger picture?

As artists and creative people, it can be easy to forget why we began creating in the first place.

It can so easily feel like you’re talking into the vacuum of space, posting all your hard work into a black hole.

So how you do get noticed?

You need “a thing”, or a niche.

Something important to us as human beings is being good at something. We all like to feel like we have ‘our thing’. Not only does defining your niche make you more memorable as a creator, but it also makes your work feel more filling—your heart has to be in it for it to work.

For us to have ‘our thing’ we kind of have to make it up on our own. 

Whether that’s your middle school awards or that class in college that totally changed your life, you’ve found your thing.

When trying to compete in the rat-race of social media popularity, gaining commissions, and finding new clients—we often lose sight of ‘our thing’, and which work made us happy to begin with.

You work hard, but you don’t know where you want to go with your art or business.

Whenever I’m feeling this way (because we all do from time to time), I always go through the same exercise that I’m going to share with you right now!

  • What do you do and why? 
  • How do you do it? 
  • What’s your method and why do you do it that way? 

That’s it? Almost.

Envisioning your future can be the simplest exercise for self-discovery.

The importance of having a vision of your future:

  1. To keep you focused on a plan
  2. To keep you motivated towards your goals
  3. To master your skillset—narrowing down to one niche to build capitol to support your plan

What that might look like:

I wanted to share an expert of my Future Vision as an example of what measures you should focus on as a newbie, rather than looking at vanity metrics and low-ROI tasks.

So, here is part of my personal Future Vision from 2017—a pinnacle point in my life, when I was finishing school and planning to become self-employed:

At 28 I picture my life modern, but simple. With a dog and my own patch of grass, living in a smart home and tending a greenhouse. Where we live is only filled with what we need and love. I'm happy and healthy. 
My dreams of being a self-employed artist are a reality. I have a mildly successful blog I write and a podcast I do every month. I am finally thrilled to be living and have built better positive thinking techniques. I have healthy habits and meditate every day. I do yoga and jog to stay healthy and active. I eat the best foods for my body with lots of fresh greens and nuts. 
I feel great in the skin I'm in and only wear what is for me. I want to tread my own path in life and pursue my passions. I focus my energy on producing rather than consuming, being more conscious of whats going into my body, and making my body move more. To spend more time and effort on experiences than possessions- 
It has made me so humble and grateful to have kept this life.

14 Questions To Guide You Towards Your Niche + Vision

  1. What are my strengths? What am I good at?
  2. What do people come to me for advice or help with?
  3. What do I get excited or passionate about?
  4. Who are the most important people in my life and why?
  5. What do I need (to do) to feel my best?
  6. Where is the majority of my energy and attention been going lately?
  7. What lessons have I learned in the past 3 months? 6 months? Year?
  8. List my recent wins & failures.
  9. What would I do if I knew I could not fail?
  10. If I had all the money in the world, what would I do?
  11. How would I like to give back or help others?
  12. What drives me & what do I hunger for?
  13. What do I need more of in my life?
  14. What are my values & how do I live out those values in my own life?

I urge you to pull out your journal, day-planner, notes app, or whatever it is you use to record your ideas and get started on answering these questions! I promise you that this exercise will without a doubt help you refine your niche and overall vision for your life and art business.

If you need some extra reading, check out my other post on finding your niche, as well as advice on getting started as an online seller, and tips for marketing your creative business right now!

Until next time,

-J

Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.