Crafting an Online Strategy, Part 1: Which Wares Should You Sell?


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If you like to make soaps, candles, pendants, pouches or any other crafts, you might be thinking of becoming part of the wave of craftspeople who sell their wares online. Digital marketplaces are effecting radical changes in the way craftspeople connect with their buyers, opening up a wealth of opportunities to make a living as a maker.

Once you've decided to stake your claim in the world of online handicraft sales, however, what's the best way to determine what to make and sell? Here are some tips from experienced craftspeople.

When Jessica Tata and William Knopp met, they found themselves on her bedroom floor, working on an art project together. The husband-and-wife duo have been designing and creating ever since, and their handcrafted jewelry and supply accessories company, Son of a Sailor, has grown out of their mutual love of art, design and crafting.

For craftspeople just starting out in the world of making and marketing their wares online, a good place to begin is with what you love, said Tata.

"Staying true to yourself is very important," she told the E-Commerce Times. "It's easy to get caught up in designing what you think other people want. I'm sure you can succeed that way as well, but it seems that your brand will feel genuine and authentic if you're creating things that truly represent your voice."

Loving what you make is important, since you hope to make many of those items eventually.

"First and foremost, love what you do," advised Shawna Mehaffy, owner of New Leaf Naturals, which makes handcrafted, small-batch bath and body products. "Will you still love making your wonderful thing the 100th time? The 1000th? Or will it become drudgery and boredom?"

Even as you determine what you love to make, you'll want to find the intersections between those things and the marketplace. After all, no matter how much you love to make something, you won't be able to sell it if no one wants to buy it. Look at what's out there, what there's a demand for, and how your products can fulfill a unique niche.

"Beyond creating authentically, deciding what to make and sell can be a challenge," said Son of a Sailor's Tata. "Imagine a Venn diagram where you have your unique designs, products there are a market for, and products you don't mind making until your eyes fall out. Whatever ends up in the middle is a great place to start."

Careful and thorough market research will help you find the places where your skills and passions coincide with market demand.

"After deciding which of your wonderful things you love enough to make over and over, and believe in enough to weather the ups and downs, you then need to see if there is actually a demand or need for it," New Leaf's Mehaffy told the E-Commerce Times.

"Talk to shop owners, check store shelves and search online. Talk to friends and acquaintances," she said. "Your wonderful thing needs to fill an unmet need or be significantly better than the other items that are already on the market. You need to be able to provide a compelling reason for people to choose your wonderful thing over other people's wonderful things."

Once you decide what you love to make, you'll want to design your brand around those products, keeping in mind your purpose, mission, customer base and aesthetic vision.

"Know your brand and stick to it," said Tata. "I think it is very important to find an aesthetic that fits your own identity as a designer and brand around that. Having a clear voice and vision that runs through your whole line makes the brand much more accessible to the customer."

It's one thing to make an item for yourself or as a gift, but it's another thing entirely to make a hundred or a thousand items to sell. With this in mind, you'll need to develop a reliable and consistent production process.

"We love to push the boundaries of what people think are possible with different materials, but there is quite a large leap from making something for yourself and creating an item to sell," said Adam Teague, cofounder of Two Guys Bow Ties.

"We have watched many of our designer friends struggle making that jump from creating a single piece to building a sustainable business, and we believe one of the most important steps in that journey is being able to have a repeatable, measurable process that allows you to get the same high-quality results every time," he told the E-Commerce Times.

If you follow those tips, you'll be well on your way to developing a successful business in the world of online handcraft sales. Before long, you not only might be making unique and beautiful products -- you also might be making a living.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Where to Sell What You Make.

Freelance writer Vivian Wagner has wide-ranging interests, from technology and business to music and motorcycles. She writes features regularly for ECT News Network, and her work has also appeared in American Profile, Bluegrass Unlimited, and many other publications. For more about her, visit her website. You can also connect with Vivian on Google+.

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