Contributing Author: Rebecca Langford of Little Monkeys Crochet
As a blogger, I have new people signing up for my email list daily. When someone opts in to the mailing list, they receive a friendly introductory email in which I ask them a few questions about themselves, and then I invite them to ask me a question in return. Want to know what the most popular question by far is that they ask? Here it is:
“I want to start selling my crocheted projects…
do you have any advice?”
I love this question, because I love it when people go into business for themselves. When that entrepreneurial spirit grabs hold of you, it’s exhilarating! And regardless of what your husband/boyfriend/best friend/mother thinks about your “granny hobby”, rest assured, you can make money in this business. And it can be really, really fun.
But it’s not easy. (Ugh.)
Due to the nature of handmade, custom items, we crocheters-for-profit are susceptible to a lot of frustration when it comes to getting paid. From the customers who think your price should barely cover the cost of your materials, to the ones who mysteriously disappear after you’ve spent hours (or days or weeks) on their order, it’s no wonder so many of us give up and declare that “no one values handmade stuff anymore.”
While I’ve been tempted toward that mindset myself a few times, deep down, I know it’s not true. After a few years running a crochet-for-profit business, I can identify a couple of key mistakes I regularly see sellers making that they don’t realize are practically sabotaging their efforts to survive in the handmade market. So if you’re interested, grab some coffee and read on. (What is that, your 4th cup for the day? I won’t tell.)
Mistake #1: You aren’t setting your prices before accepting an order.
I like to stay connected with a variety of the Facebook crochet groups, because the conversations that are had in them offer great insight into what crocheters are struggling with. And I have to tell you, I am amazed at how often I see someone post a photo of a finished item and say something like “I made this for a customer. How much do you think I should charge?”
Hold on a sec. Have you ever walked into a store (be it a supercenter or a little boutique), chosen something to purchase, handed it to the cashier, and watched him or her fidget and stammer nervously while trying to decide what to charge you?
Of course not! So why would you set your business up that way?
A surefire way to lose sales, and waste your precious time, is to accept an order without naming a price. When you convey to a customer that you aren’t quite sure what your work is worth, you are giving them an open invitation to question its value, too.
This has been proven time and time again, as I see way too often in these crochet groups; the seller makes the product, presents it to the customer, tells them the price, and gets rejected. Either they get talked down so far that they actually lose money, or the customer walks away from the sale and the seller is left with a finished item and hurt feelings. There’s nothing wrong with bartering, if you’re ok with it, but the time for bartering is before you accept the order, not after.
Mistake #2: You aren’t getting payment up front.
In a poll I recently took on my blog’s Facebook page, I asked fans who crochet for profit how they deal with payment. These were the results:
35% wait to collect payment until they’ve made the item
22% collect a downpayment
26% require payment in full before beginning a project
The rest (17%) were a mixture of the three options.
When I asked the ones who did NOT require payment in full before beginning a project if they’d ever lost money or time because a customer changed their mind and never paid them, the result was split down the middle: 50% had been burned, and 50% hadn’t. Yet.
I say “yet”, because I have no doubt that if the latter continue practicing business that way, they’ll experience it. And frankly, 50/50 odds are not very good when you’re trying to run a business. According to Kyla Marie, blogger at Keep Me In Stitchez, “You will get burned if you don’t require at least a deposit. If it hasn’t happened, it will. And if you’re like me, that’s your grocery money you’re putting up front. If the customer doesn’t agree to it, that should send off red flags. It’s also common practice for any artist to ask for at least a deposit. We are artists. Many of us just haven’t realized it yet.”
“We are artists. Many of us just haven’t realized it yet.”
–Kyla Marie, Keep Me In Stitchez
As I quickly discovered when I presented the poll question, this topic is a source of heated debate. But it’s one that I feel strongly about, because (back to these Facebook crochet groups) I see new crocheters getting burned, discouraged, and offended every single day. So whether or not you’ve experienced the frustration of wasting your time making an item that the customer never pays you for, it’s inarguable that it is a problem for many.
There are lots of reasons crocheters give for not getting payment before beginning an order, but in every case, the seller is taking on unnecessary risk. I’m going to break down the 3 most popular excuses that I’ve seen:
“I live in a poorer community, and people can’t always afford to pay me up front.”
Let’s turn this around and ask a glaringly obvious, yet somehow often overlooked, question: If they can’t afford to pay you for it now, then should they really be ordering it at all? Deborah Ziegler, designer and blogger at From Grammy’s Heart, puts it in great perspective: “I can’t go order yarn and tell the store that I’ll pay them when I get paid.” There’s no reason that someone who really wants your product can’t save the money for a week or two or three, then come to you with their order. When you accept an order from someone with limited funds, one of you is taking on risk. That person should not be you.
“I figure I can always try to sell it to someone else if the customer decides they don’t like it.”
Sure you can. But while hobbyists might have time to devote to trying to sell a custom, never-paid-for finished item elsewhere, do you?
“I want to trust people.”
The problem with this mentality is that usually, your lost sale is not a result of a customer having ill-intent against you. More often, it’s much more innocent. Maybe something came up, and they had to use the money for something else. Maybe they just kept forgetting, and then it got awkward for them. Either way, haven’t we all found ourselves in those situations where we simply dropped the ball? It’s not always about whether or not you can trust someone. Sometimes, it’s about protecting your business from the occasional flakiness of human nature.
One of the biggest things we need to understand if we’re building any kind of handmade business is this: your customer does not have the “heart connection” to your product that you do. She may see it and love it, but none of her blood, sweat and tears went into making it. According to Katy Petersen, designer/blogger behind KT and the Squid, “They back out because there’s no investment. People care about things they’ve invested in, which makes it more valuable in their minds.”
“People care about things they’ve invested in, which makes it more valuable in their minds.”
–Katy Petersen, KT and the Squid
But what if the customer really does have an issue with the finished product, and I’ve already taken their money?
Do what all retailers do — set up a return policy! You’re still giving people an “out” when they legitimately don’t feel you’ve done what they asked, but you’re eliminating flaky customers because it’s much easier to back out on an order you haven’t paid for than it is to go through a returns process.
Which is a great reason for utilizing an online marketplace (such as Etsy or BitDazzle). If you want to order from me, unless we have the kind of relationship where I can send you a “hey Slacker, where’s my money?” text (and there are VERY few people in this world I have that relationship with), you’re going to be ordering through my Etsy shop via a custom listing. If you aren’t happy with the finished product, I will cheerfully accept a return or exchange, using Etsy’s built-in process.
A Final Thought
Not everyone can take a ball of yarn and turn it into something beautiful, but you can. So if you want your potential customers to have confidence in your product and the price they are paying for it, you have to find that confidence in yourself first.
Best of luck!