Identify and Grow the Handmade Business of Your Dreams

Posted by on Nov 21, 2012

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Do you dream of owning your own handmade business? Whether you hope to make and sell your own crafts or use your creative talents in another creative business endeavor, you'll love these tips from Kari Chapin, in her book "Grow Your Handmade Business: How to Envision, Develop, and Sustain a Successful Creative Business."

Identify Your Dream Business

Dreaming big is one of the best (not to mention most affordable!) business skills you have. Being successful doesn’t mean that you have all the answers and you have nothing left to work for. If you play your cards right, your dreams will always be growing and expanding. Realizing a dream is definitely an aspiration — but first you need to actually identify your dream.

Exactly what does the ideal dream business look like to you? Surely you’ve thought about it... right? Perhaps you’ve deemed that business as too far-fetched to be even remotely possible. Or perhaps that ideal couldn’t possibly be so perfect because it doesn’t match up with what most people would consider an ideal business. Well, friend, I’m here to tell you otherwise.

Your ideal business or even the business you have now doesn’t have to look like someone else's business. Your perfect business may simply be one that lets you keep your full-time job. Or your perfect business may be you sitting behind a big desk with lots of employees that keep things running while you focus on designing products. Sitting down and taking stock of what you really want to accomplish will get you headed in the right direction. Dreaming big is a key component of the process. 

Imagining the life of someone you admire is a great way to get your dream juices flowing, but think really carefully about what you’re envisioning. For example, Martha Stewart’s life looks great, right? She has lots of amazing houses and lovely animals and everything always seems perfect, plus she has her own media empire. She’s world famous, can bake a perfect turkey for Thanksgiving, can whip up clever party favors in seconds flat, and even has a gift-wrapping center in her home. Sounds awfully good!

And it may well be. But she is also responsible for employing an army of people. She works tons of hours. She has to be “on” and perfect all the time (can you imagine that every time you ate dinner out, it made the news?!). And, well, she’s Martha Stewart! That’s a lot of pressure to be under, I would imagine.

Clearly, there are both upsides and downsides to her business life. Does the downside sound just as good to you as the rest? If so, super! If not, that’s OK. Frankly, it doesn’t sound all that great to me, either. I like weekends to myself and being able to wear my yoga pants to the grocery store once in a while without fear of having my photograph end up on the “Fashion Faux Pas” page of a gossip magazine. 

But that’s the beauty of having your own business. It can look however you want it to look, and it can be whatever you want it to be. Let’s face it though; it’s not always easy to know exactly what you want, and when you’re forming your overall picture of perfect business bliss, it’s really important to be completely honest with yourself.

Here are some questions to ask when trying to decide what your perfect business life would look like: 

1. How many hours weekly do you want to work on your business? 

2. How many hours weekly can you actually work on your business? 

3. Where will you do this work? 

4. How much money will this business need to get off the ground/grow? 

5. How much money do you have to actually contribute to this business? 

6. Do you have all the tools that you need to make this business successful? 

7. What systems do you already have in place that can help make this business successful? 

8. What makes THIS your dream business? 

9. If you were applying for a job at your own business, what qualities and qualifications do you possess that make you a good match for what this business needs? 

10. Do you have any weak spots in your skill set? 

11. How can you work on them?

12. What makes you deliriously, over-the-moon happy when you envision your business life?

13. Do you see yourself being able to personally grow as your business grows? Will it offer you challenges that are a good match for your personality and working style? 

14. Speaking of working style, do you know what yours is?

15. Do you have professional and personal support — people whom you can talk things through with or lean on if you have a problem? 

16. Have you ever worked for yourself before? All by yourself? What did you like about it? Did you find anything especially difficult? 

17. What motivates you? What really gets you going? 

18. If you didn’t make this business happen successfully, how would you feel? 

19. And last, but perhaps most important, how would you feel if you didn’t even try?

It’s important to be impeccably honest with yourself here. For example, regarding a time commitment, you may think that you can work 15 hours a week on your business, but if you’re already working 35 or 40 hours full-time somewhere else and/or have other responsibilities outside of your business — like community commitments, a family, or even just errands that need to be run or a dog that needs a long walk every day — then perhaps 15 hours is too much. Really, we all need our beauty sleep!

What Directions Will Your Dream Business Take?

When you’re dreaming up your dreamy dream business, you need to be clear about just what exactly you want to do. This is not to say that your business can’t have many different arms and components to it; this just means that you need to be very, very clear about the skills you bring to the table and just what it is that you want to do with them. 

If, say, you’re a graphic designer, do you want to mostly make collateral materials for people? Do you want to work with a coding professional and create websites? Would you like to focus on designing packaging for yarn companies? Do you want to design stationery? Or would you rather design signs for hip restaurants in your town? Do you dream of seeing your invitation in wedding magazines? Or would you most like to work with bands to create their album artwork and concert posters? 

You get the idea. A graphic designer can go in many different directions. One main skill, awesome designing ability, can be used in so many exciting places. 

Deciding on a direction is important because your business needs a home base of sorts. You need a center, a place to return to when you’re overworked or confused, need to scale back, or want to build out and expand. As a creative-business owner, who are you at the core? What is it exactly that you do? Get out your journal, and finish these sentences:

1. My strongest creative skill is _____________.

2. My favorite thing to sell is _____________.

3. My most popular product is _____________.

4. People most ask me for_____________.

5. When I look at the list of things I need to do for a normal day-in-the-life of my business, the thing I want to do the most is _____________.

6. My weakest skill that I use is _____________.

7. My least favorite project or product for my business is _____________.

8. I love to do it, but I hardly ever sell _____________.

9. If I never had to _____________ for my business, it would be too soon. _____________.

OK, now look at what you’ve written. What do your answers have in common with one another? Do you notice a pattern in your answers? How do you feel about them? Perhaps your answers look something like: 

Monthly vegan zine
Copywriting help
Business cards
Custom-designed recipe cards
Use most forms of social media

With these answers, you will have discovered a lot about yourself in just the few minutes it took to respond to the questions. You like to write and cook, but you feel weak when it comes to photography. You can make and design printed materials, like zines and business cards and probably lots of other things. You make some money doing copywriting, but writing for hire doesn’t show up anywhere else on your list. 

So this Q&A session has given you a better understanding of how and where to begin building your business foundation. You now know that as you explore the nooks and crannies of business planning and development, writing will (or should!) play a strong role, and that gives you a great place to start. 

Of course, questions like these aren’t the only way — or maybe even the best way — for you to figure out what your foundation is. Perhaps you already know what you’re exceptional at and where your skill set lies. If so, good for you! Either way, once you have some solid ideas about what it is you want to do, you need to start thinking about where you want to go with your talents. And before you can truly figure out the nuts and bolts of your amazing enterprise, whether you have a business now or you bought this book because you want to build one, you first have to know yourself. 

Right about now you may be saying to yourself, "Wait a second. Am I starting/expanding a business, or going into therapy?!" Well, the fact of the matter is, the success of your business depends on you, and you are human. You have strengths, shortcomings, superpowers, and areas where you might want to improve. Both your personal life and your business life are comprised of the choices you make, and you can make better, stronger choices if you get really clear on where you are and where you want to go. There are no right or wrong answers. There are just choices that will change how you operate. You can always rework your choices, and you can always change your mind. That is the true beauty of being the boss and of being who you really want to be. 

Over time, your answer to the next question may change, but take stock of where you are right now, at this exact point in your business: What would make you the happiest? 

Book cover for Kari Chapin
Excerpted from "Grow Your Handmade Business" © by Kari Chapin, used with permission from Storey Publishing.

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