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When is a craft business setback not a setback?

As in everything in life; a setback becomes less of a setback if you use it as a opportunity to learn from it and grow stronger. Woooah come back! Before you think “oh dear, this is going to be one of those over-generalized self-help sound bites” I hope you’ll think it isn’t. Stick with me and read on…

You’ll find it true of everyone who runs any business (I’m no different), all of us at one point or another have messed up, made the wrong decision, and have been affected by circumstances out of our control. The fact is that setbacks are all part and parcel of running your own business and they really don’t have to put the fear of God into you and they certainly do not have to be a measure of your abilities and success.

In my own business I encounter set-backs all of the time and yes in the beginning (2 years ago) they really used to freak me out. I would get very disheartened when: the shop was very quiet, competition increased, or suppliers let me down etc. Challenges like these still don’t get me clapping and singing, but I have learned to calm down a bit and stand back so I can try to figure out what I can do to turn a negative into a positive. For example; when times are harder in my shop; I offer promotions, I blog like mad (because this is good marketing), I scour the net for new and different items to sell (that my competitors don’t stock) and I sometimes turn my back on the shop (when I think no more can be done) and I sew something nice to help calm me down.

I don’t think of myself as some business guru, but I do think I am stubborn, passionate, and (if I’m honest) a tad competitive. These are attitudinal traits that cannot be picked up from any business school. I think having an attitude like this has helped survive hairy situations and driven me to educate myself in the many things I have still to learn about running a business.

That’s another fine mess I’ve gotten myself into!  Before you ask, this is NOT my office. 

So for the sake of authenticity (to show you that I mess up too!) Here are a few howlers I have committed (and survived from) in my shop:

  • I tried to sell yarn – it was gorgeous yarn too, but it had to be shipped in from the USA which made it way too expensive so my profit margin too small to be worth the trouble… And more importantly there are lots of yarn shops in the internet and in the end it didn’t make sense to try to compete with them. I should have stuck to what I’m a specialist in – bag making supplies (and not yarn).
  • Knitting Patterns – I sold the yarn because these particular patterns utilised the yarn. The patterns were so delightful, but they took a long time to sell. In hindsight I think the patterns used too much yarn which made the end result rather too pricey to make.
  • I spent way too much on advertising in the beginning – I knew from the start that marketing is very important so I thought it would help if I paid for Google adwords. In hindsight I set my daily budget way too high (without very much benefit). I should have started a blog from the word go, because blogging is so much cheaper, much more enjoyable, and far more effective.
  • I have spent too time and money on making certain bag designs only to find that people don’t want to pay the asking price. When you make craft to sell this is going to happen ALL of the time – this issue deserves a post all of it’s own and I will write about it next time.

So, in short a setback is not the end of the world. You can not only survive a setback; you can tackle it head-on and if you do this enough times you are made stronger and wiser for future set-backs. I know you are all sensible and thoughtful people; it’s not like you are going to do stuff like sell the house and the kids to finance your craft business. With that in mind go forth and make some mistakes, it really is OK, we all do it and we’ll all keep on doing it too. It really is about attitude and how you choose see things: is the set-back ‘game over’ or is it a challenge to be over-come? If I thought the yarn fiasco was ‘game over’ (and believe me it was a flipping expensive mistake to make!) I wouldn’t be here sharing my mess-ups with you today… :)

Next time: What to do when people say your handcraft is too expensive…

Starting up your Craft business – Feel the Fear (and do it Anyway)

We all have a fear of the unknown and we have all heard someone say “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. This is all well and good (and it’s a maxim that I try to guide myself by – even though I would rather stick rusty forks in my eyes than do some public speaking), but what I fear most is not fear in the general sense, but specifically the fear of wondering what could have been. Let me explain…

Just before I started up U-Handbag 2 years ago I was in a bad place financially and mentally. I wasn’t able to contribute fairly to our pot, I felt over-educated (I’ve taken all sorts of cool courses, but none of them particularly relate to each other) and I was under stimulated. I was entering my 30’s having not gotten a foothold in a career I could grow with, but I just didn’t know what to do with myself! You could say that I was having a 30’s life crisis. I was pretty down on myself to say the least. As you may already know I started selling handmade items in a craft market to supplement my income because craft was the only thing that took my mind off my worries. As soon as I switched on the light in my messy work room I felt happy and excited. The buzz I got from selling an item I had made was (and still is) incredible to me. I had never experienced joy to this intensity in any other work I had ever done and these feelings came to be instrumental in leading me to where I am now.

The mini success I experienced in the craft market led to the birth of U-Handbag. On paper it looks like that was a decision based on business opportunity (of course that had a big part to play), BUT it wasn’t as simple as that. At the time is was a huge decision to make, because I had lost a lot of confidence in myself – it felt like universe was a stake! What if I mess up, what if I get bored, what if people don’t like my products, what if people get bored of making bags, is bag making bits too specialist, how will I advertise, what about competition, how long will it take to break even…ahhhhhh!!! In the end though, the one question that freaked me out the most was ‘what if you don’t try it and see how far you can take it?’ I’ll spend my later years wondering why the hell had I turned my back on work that actually made me feel joyful! I’m so glad that I followed my heart because now I am a far more confident person and the passion I had for craft and what I do has not subsided one bit in the last 2 years, if anything it’s grown.

So the point of this preamble is: I really understand how fearful you may be of taking the plunge in starting your craft business or taking your business to the next stage. Do your research, ask for help, start small, test the waters, carry on with the day job for the time being, do this as a hobby, or whatever, BUT if you love it do it without apology and do it with passion. Listen to your heart as well as your head, that’s what it’s there for. You’ll thank yourself so much in time to come.

Fight (or work with) the fears which hold you back and give yourself a chance to fly… :)

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Crafting Heroes Interview with Kristin Link: Owner of the fabulous Sew Mama Sew! fabric store.

Woo Hoo! Here is another fabulous Crafting Heroes Interview hot off the press. I am really loving these interviews. Like you, I am finding them so inspiring and full of great advice on how to run my own business. For those of you who don’t yet know, I asked the lovely readers of my other blog to vote for their favourite Crafting Heroes and LOADS of them responded, it was great! There are more wonderful Crafting Heroes interviews in the pipeline and this one is no exception…

This time the I’m featuring the lovely Kristin Link. Lots of you will already know and love Kristin as the owner of the fabulous Sew Mama Sew! fabric shop. Not only does SMS stock gorgeous fabric and essential sewing kit, her blog is amazingly inspiring and wonderful in bringing the sewing community together online. In our interview Kristin shares with us her experiences of starting up and running her own Craft Business.

Here’s Kristin with her daughter – what a really lovely picture!

CraftBoom!: How long have you been in craft business?

Kristin: Five years in some form or another.

CraftBoom!: Where/how do you sell your items, and do you work from home?

Kristin: fabric store is online only. Someday I’d like to have a brick and mortar shop–maybe when my children are older.

Fabric from Sew Mama Sew: I’m sorry, but this gorgeous fabric stack is just more than I can handle…I need to go and lie down..

CraftBoom!: What made/inspired you to go into craft business, and what were you doing before?

Kristin: long story!

I was a secondary education teacher, then I left that and became an instructional designer in a software company. I developed our company’s first distance learning program. It was a job I loved, but once my daughter was born, that was it. I had no desire to go back to a full-time office career.

Like so many other moms, I started sewing and selling bibs and blankets and other baby things just to try to earn a little money to help bridge the financial gap that appeared when I left my job. I started with a few things on ebay, but quickly decided to open my own online store. Etsy hadn’t started yet, so it was either ebay or your own site, and I chose my own site. That business was called Go,Goose,Go! (GGG) I was lucky enough to grow it to the point where I had some product reps around the country and we were mostly selling wholesale.While I was designing for that business, I was frustrated by my experience sourcing fabric. Everything was still so quilting-oriented. I felt like finding cool fabrics was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I’d scroll through hundreds of pages online before I’d find something that caught my eye, and the local fabric stores were the same. Thousands of prints, but only a few I really loved. Amy Butler was becoming popular and that was very exciting, but still, I wanted a go-to place to find everything that I loved. I started considering opening my own online store, catering to all the small manufacturers like myself who wanted something a little more modern and hip. I eventually opened Sew, Mama, Sew! with just a few collections and ran that parallel to GGG for about a year.

CraftBoom!: How did you finance the start-up of your business?

Kristin: had to give, so I sold GGG. I was able to use some of that money to expand the SMS inventory.

CraftBoom!: How do you decide what you are going to sell?

Kristin: After a few years of doing this, I can tell pretty quickly what I can and can’t sell on the SMS site. The fabric reps know me to be a very quick decision-maker. Out of 10 or more collections they show me, I might buy one.

It’s good to know your product well if you are going to sell it. Kristin is herself very handy with needle and thread! Heat Therapy collection.

CraftBoom!: When did you realize that your craft business had real potential?

Kristin: I worked with SCORE (a group of volunteer entrepreneurs that help small business owners) to write a formal business plan, complete with different financial scenarios. I had a rough 3-year plan, so I knew what I was getting into. That is something that I didn’t do with my first business, but I wish that I had. I recommend that everyone serious about starting a business, no matter how small, a) get help and b) write a business plan.

CraftBoom!: What things do you do to market your business?

Kristin: I do some magazine advertising, some online advertising, and a lot of work on the blog. (The blog is where most of my marketing money is spent.) (The things that Kristin’s incredible blog does to promote sewing leave me in awe! – Lisa)

CraftBoom!: What things do you know now that you wish you knew from the beginning?

Kristin: that you should hire people! Hiring Beth and Lauren were the two best things I have done for my business and my sanity. I hung on way too long with the baby business, trying to do everything myself and I burned out big time. Working with people who share your vision, but are full of their own ideas is wonderful.

CraftBoom!: What do you love most about running your own craft business and what do you like least?

Kristin: I love my job so much, it is hard to narrow it down. I love picking out fabric and patterns. I love the customer service aspect of the business. (Really, you couldn’t ask for a nicer customer base than ours.) I love seeing all the inspiration and participation on the blog. I don’t love accounting.

CraftBoom!: What advice would you give to newbies who want to start their own craft business?

Kristin: Don’t sell yourself short! Literally, I see so many people underpricing their products on Etsy and other places, it makes me sad. If you want a long-term sustainable business, you need to write a business plan and you need to include the realistic cost of your labor into the price of your work.

Some very cute embroidery on linen by Kristin.

CraftBoom!: Are you satisfied with the income that your craft business brings?

Kristin: Luckily, my husband works too, and has insurance and all that. Right now I work part-time, as do Lauren and Beth, so for the time spent, the income is fine.

CraftBoom!: What are your plans for future growth?

Kristin: My biggest plan at the moment is to grow my family first. I am pregnant and due in June! As for the business, we’d like to move out of our current space so we can expand the inventory a little. As I mentioned, I’d like to eventually have a retail space.

Quilt blocks by Kristin.

Thank you so much for your interesting and informative interview Kristin. Keep up the good work with your lovely fabric store and your AMAZING blog. I hope you get your wish to become ‘bricks & mortar’. Best of luck with your family and everything you do. :)

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Fashioning a craft business – in footwear

You may be surprised to learn that I know how to make shoes by hand. Back in 2004 I went to Cordwainers @ London College of Fashion to study how to make footwear and I absolutely loved it!  Alumni of this famous shoe making course include: Jimmy Choo, Emma Hope, Patrick Cox, Joseph Azagury, Linda Bennett (LK Bennett), Katerina Mutic (Mootich) and Olivia Morris. Pretty illustrious eh? Unfortunately my name is still not up there amongst these greats, but bags called to me louder than shoes so it’s U-Handbag and me all the way :)

Earlier this week I was delighted to learn that one of my customers (Henrietta) is in fact an alumni of Cordwainers and her custom handmade footwear business is doing well and the press love her too. I found this very inspiring because Henrietta is still only in her twenties and getting a good job in the footwear industry (at least in the UK) can be quite hard; to make and sell your own collections (as Henrietta does) can be bloody hard! I thought it would be nice to give you a small insight into handmade footwear by focusing on Hetty’s business.

Business Name: Hetty Rose

Unique Selling Point: Handmade shoes and accessories in gorgeous vintage fabrics. Custom shoes handmade to your size and your choice of vintage fabrics.

Sold Via: Various stores and through her own website (for portfolio & contact).


Making Shoes

If I remember correctly there are approx 200 separate processes involved in making a shoe. One of the first steps (after designing) involves selecting a ‘last’…

A last is a 3D model of the shoe shape and you need the last to make up your shoe pattern. A shoe last is used in the same was a tailors dummy is in dressmaking in that you build the shoe around the last. You need a different last for each shoe size.


To make up the pattern you wrap masking tape over and over the last and then you cut the masking tape off (usually in 2 pieces) and you draw the desired shapes onto the masking tape and then onto card. Pattern making for shoes requires a lot of skill not least because you are working with the funny angles of a human foot and you are working to millimeters where a couple of mms can be the difference between a great fit and shape or a bad looking shape. Pattern making for bag making is far less involved!


Fabric uppers on shoe lasts. These fabric uppers will eventually blossom into the gorgeous shoes below (there are lots of steps left before finishing this shoe which I won’t list here!)…


…this design is called Amalie – yum!


More designs in mid production. The sewing machine is a super-duper industrial monster machine (which cannot differentiate between leather and fingers!)


This design is called Mika – delicious! See the complete Hetty Rose collection here. Just so you know my birthday is in June and I’m a Size 4, he he!


To see a shoe that I made (a long time ago so please be gentle!) look here.

Thanks for all of the lovely images Henrietta. I hope your business continues to go from strength to strength :)

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Book Review: Country Living: Crafting a Business

When I found out that Country Living had written a craft business book I just had to get my mitts on it. I was expecting a lot of dreamy eye candy, but I was curious to see what sort of practical advice would be on offer. So here is a peek inside Crafting a Business (with verdict at bottom of the post):

Front Cover

The first half of the book features profiles of 31 Crafting Heroes, most of which you’ll know (like this lovely lady…)

The Crafting Heroes profiles contain useful advice, experiences, and observations in their own words.


Gorgeous folk art by Lori Mitchell of La Dee Dah

Lisa Norris of Made by One Girl making her beautiful hand bound books.

The 2nd part of the book contains clearly written advice on the practicalities of starting and running a craft business…

Such as getting the finance to start-up

Verdict: To be honest I thought that this book was going to provide more eye-candy than advice, but on reading it I found the profiles to be so inspiring and each of them filled with great nuggets of advice and motivation. I found myself looking at my own business in new ways and it was encouraging to find that these women are just women who have followed a dream. The language is plain and non patronising, and the lay-out is good.  what is nice is that this book would make a lovely present because it is beautiful, but not at the expense of being useful.  If you haven’t started your own business you’ll find that this book inspires much envy, but you’ll find that it’s also full of practical help. It’s a wonderful book to read when things are slow and you need a bit of cheering up and motivation. The resources section has loads of helpful contacts too. Highly recommended! :)