January 29, 2020
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These tips from craft artists can help your hobby turn a profit

Micky Bedell | BDN
Micky Bedell | BDN
Glass ornaments hang from a metal tree in Atlantic Art Glass studio's front gallery in Ellsworth, Feb. 9, 2016.

Selling something that you’ve crafted with your own hands is an exciting experience, whether the handmade item is a drink coaster or an intricate piece of jewelry. But it can be difficult to pinpoint crafts that make money — paying for their production and then some.

This challenge to turn a profit can be somewhat of a taboo topic among craftspeople.

Often, creative people prefer to talk about the inspiration behind their work, their preferred materials and techniques, or the beauty or usefulness of their products. Not the price tag.

Yet making money is a necessity for most creators.

So what crafts make the most money? The answer is complex. But here are a few ideas, based on the advice of craftspeople who are deeply involved in the business side of the craft world.

Crafts made with special materials

Customers often place a lot of value in the materials used to create a product, said Whitney Gill, the manager of the Center for Maine Craft in West Gardiner, a retail store and gallery exhibiting the work of more than 300 Maine craft artists. Gill is also a potter, creating and selling ceramic stoneware online and in local shops.

“I had a customer last week ask: ‘Can you call the artist and find out where this stone is sourced?’” Gill said. “That’s often my selling point for people. It’s almost a necessity [to know about the materials].”

Locally sourced materials are especially popular, Gill said. For example, in Maine, many handmade products are made out of locally-sourced tourmaline, clay, wood, granite, seashells and sea glass. These materials, unique to the area, remind the customer of the place it was purchased. In addition, local materials are often harvested or collected directly by the artist, which enriches the story behind the product.

Crafts that tell a story

In an often crowded marketplace, a handmade product often stands out if it clearly communicates a story, said Maggie Moore, a Maine jeweler who coaches other craftspeople to help them find success.

“What we’re finding with this new generation is that they need to have something ‘more,’ whether it’s [that the product is] made with sustainable materials or it’s an heirloom quality piece, something that can be passed on for generations,” Moore said. “We’re in this intense time in history where consumerism is changing. I think the concept of the story, which was always important, is even more important now.”

Moore suggests condensing your product’s story into an elevator speech, so when people ask about your work, you know exactly how to answer them.

“Be clear about what your brand is and message is and what your authenticity is, and hold true to that,” Moore said. “The people I know that are the most successful are the ones that have tried a lot of things and have really honed in on a specialty. It doesn’t matter if its a pallet or theme. They’re clear about what they’re doing and put all their energy into it.”

Crafts that give a nod to trends

While trends come and go, it can sometimes be smart to pay attention to them, especially if they seem to fit what you’re already trying to accomplish or communicate with your product.

“Right now, recycling is a major thing, using recycled materials,” Gill said. “A lot of artists incorporate that into their work, and maybe they always have, but it’s much more noticeable now and maybe more of a selling point.”

Keeping up on trends is just one way of acknowledging your customers and their tastes, but Moore cautions against chasing each and every one.

“I really believe that authenticity is key right now,” Moore said. “Trends come and go. That doesn’t mean you don’t add something to your collection that responds to a need, but in general, there should be a larger kind of concept of your work, and you should always stay authentic to that.”

Crafts that are thoughtfully priced

It can be difficult to put a price tag on something that you’ve shaped with your own hands and imagination, but putting serious thought into prices is key to making money with crafts.

“If you make something too inexpensive, you have to make a lot of it [to make money], so it ends up being a huge stress of production,” Moore said. “And if you really push it toward the high end, then you change the dynamic and instead of calling people your clients, they’re ‘collectors.’”

When deciding on prices, it’s important to look at the cost of your materials and the amount of time you spend producing the item. It’s also helpful to look at the prices of other, similar crafts.

“Ease into it. Ease into your pricing and do your research,” Gill said. “It can be hard to make adjustments.”

Crafts that have an internet presence

The internet has dramatically changed things for craftspeople, opening them up to more customers, but also more competition.

“You can have people following you and connecting to you through social media all over the entire world,” Moore said. “We used to be very dependent on local economy, and now it’s a global economy.”

While selling crafts on the internet through sites such as Etsy has its own unique challenges — particularly factoring in shipping costs and risks — many creators have found success online. If you create a product that’s easy to ship and appeal to people in other places, setting up an online shop might be a good idea.

In addition, the internet can be used as a marketing tool. Popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram can help you build your customer base.

“It can expand the range of people seeing your work,” Gill said, “and it’s free.”

Crafts that are tried and true

Sometimes finding a craft that makes money takes time. It may not be the first product you try to sell, or the second, or even the tenth.

“Try a lot of different things,” Gill said. “Reach out to galleries, participate in as much as you can. Group galleries are a great way to get your work out there and see how people react to it. Then you can really hone in on what your best sellers are and even adjust the materials you’re using.”

It may take years to zero in on a craft that works for you, that satisfies your creative itch and turns a profit. It may also take you time for you to learn how to make the product efficiently so that you reduce the cost of production and increase your return.

“There’s an element of trial and error that’s unavoidable,” Gill said.

In the process, Moore suggests that you “find your people.” Become a part of a community that can support you, such as a crafters guild or co-op gallery, and bounce ideas off fellow creators. Ask for advice and seek out mentorships. And don’t lose sight of why you enjoy crafting in the first place.

“You need to have some sense of personal value,” Moore said, “some internal drive that keeps pushing you forward.”


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