Homesteaders have long been some of the most creative folks around. We’re a race of putterers, always tinkering and patching things together. When faced with limited resources we create something out of nothing; at first with our minds and then with our hands. This makes homesteaders artists in the truest sense of the word.
That said, we normally envision farm income coming from chickens or eggs or vegetables. But it can also be from the children of our creative work. Take a good look at what you like to do in your spare time. These are the “Zen” activities, the ones you get lost in, the stuff you always seem to be able to make time for. How would you like to transform your favourite activities into a little cash?
Before you begin, you’ll need to turn a cold eye to what the market will tolerate. You may love your anatomically correct frog figurines, but the rest of the world may not be ready for them. Do some research first, check your resources (which include that most important one: time!), plan a strategy, and then go for it.
Step 1: Research. Check the internet, shops, craft and art shows, farmers markets, everywhere you can think of to see what’s similar to what you make. Write down the price of the pieces and where they’re sold. Ask your fellow crafters how they got to where they are. Many will even share costs and profit margin information. People who craft for pleasure will feel a kinship with you and will want to help. On the other hand, people who make and sell crafts for a living might be less forthcoming.
If what you offer is similar to crafts already out there you need to punch it up a little. According to craftproffesional.com the best selling items aren’t common. People look for one-of-a-kind quality in handcrafted items. Of the Ten Best Selling Craft Categories listed below, the one making the most profit might surprise you.
There’s a good formula in the book Craft Inc. for figuring out pricing and this is part of the research process. Until you figure out if you can make any money with your hobby you won’t know where (or if) to start or what kind of venue to consider.
Cost of time + cost of materials = cost of goods
Cost of goods x 2 = wholesale price
Wholesale price x 2 = retail price
The most difficult component is determining the cost of your time. Imagine working for a company doing the same thing and put in your imagined pay per hour, then be realistic about the length of time it takes to finish your project. Don’t undercut yourself. Your time is one of the most valuable commodities you own. If it turns out you won’t make a profit, don’t sell.
Step 2: Strategize. Okay, you’ve decided you have a craft the world will clamber for. It’s quirky enough, beautiful enough, or unique enough to make a profit. Now you can plan your venue. You have many options, but not all are a good fit. The internet is very popular with crafters, but if you make heavy rustic furniture and take your sweet time to give it loving care, online malls may not be for you. An auction or consignment shop might be better. No exorbitant shipping costs and people can run their hands over the surface and really appreciate the craftsmanship.
To find craft shows in your area go to sites such as Festivalnet.com (free and includes Canada), and Craftmasternews.com (you need to pay for a subscription). Ask the show manager what foot traffic is expected and how long the show has been running. Newer shows usually have smaller crowds.
However many items do show well online. If you decide to try be sure you know the costs involved. Etsy.com is a good online mall for folks selling smaller quantities. They specialize in handmade crafts and supplies and will list your items at a cost of twenty cents each. When you sell an item, they charge 3.5% of the item price. Etsy provides a platform for the cost of shipping and taxes.
Other benefits of online selling include accessing a growing market (online sales are skyrocketing), your “shop” is open 24/7 and someone else handles the technical computer stuff. Check out the list of online outlets at the end of this article.
Step 3: Think outside the box. You don’t always have to sell your craft—you can sell your expertise. Gardeners are always in demand for presentations on how to grow a green thumb. At the same time, crafts like your wreaths or herbal concoctions can be sold at the back of the room. If you make glass, metal, or woodcraft, chances are you have a workshop or studio. Invite students in, for a fee, for hands-on courses. If knitting a hundred flowered children’s hats is somewhat daunting, consider selling patterns online instead. One of the most successful sellers on Etsy, The Velvet Acorn, does just that.
Top Ten Best Selling Crafts Categories
Handmade natural products like soaps, candles, and skin-care items are in hot demand and most can be made relatively easily in your own kitchen. These are also perishable products—they get used up quickly and create a need to buy more.
Food products made at home have to comply with very stringent regulations. However, products such goat milk soap, beeswax lip balm, and essential oils are made with many of the ingredients you’d put in your recipes, but have very few restrictions when applied externally.
Because these crafts are small and travel well, mail-order or online sales are an ideal venue. Other options include craft fairs, local gift and health stores, and farmers markets.
Try making crafts from what you grow. Herbal infusions are one of the top sellers in the market today. Creating end-use crafts such as potpourri, scent diffuser oil, and medicinal products brings much greater return on investment than simply selling dried herbs.
Dried flower arrangements sell, but wreaths go for much more than the cost of creating them and they’re popular. Consider approaching local gift, flower or health shops, or sell directly at farmers markets and craft fairs. Wreaths do well online but the market is somewhat saturated. It still might be worth a try—make sure you have a unique item and don’t price too high.
Photo by Tony Alter
Painted plant pots, bird baths and houses, signage and ornamentals are not expensive to make and sell like the proverbial hot-cakes. These are seasonal and do well at farmers markets and garden shows.
There are many cottage industries providing textile crafts. People pay premium for artisan items, especially if they’re colored with natural dyes from roots, nuts, and flowers. Be sure to include that information however you sell your items. If you don’t have sheep, you can buy raw or processed wool locally. Knit items are light enough to make shipping viable for online sales.
Although wool skeins and quality finished pieces are good sellers, you don’t even need to sell your goods to make some cash—sell patterns instead. If you have yarn you can include that with your patterns and make higher priced kits. Far less work, quick results and good sales potential.
As for larger projects such as rugs or quilts, it’s harder to make a lot of money online. Smaller items may be worth your while. They’re quicker to make, take less material, and are popular. Large quilts sell for a premium price in local tourist or gift shops. Even consignment shops will take them. Farmers markets and craft fairs are good venues for all textiles and bring better returns as you’re selling directly.
According to Heather Woodlief of Demand Media, wood crafts dominate the craft and hobby industry in sales. It’s a competitive business, and you need to promote your craft to make it stand out. Hand out business cards at any public event such as craft fairs.
Photo by CaliforniaCat
Smaller items such as toys, bowls, and ornamentals do better online than larger items such as heavy furniture. Best to sell your carved cherry-wood chests and wardrobes at auctions, craft fairs or consignment stores.
If you opt for selling online, Heather recommends Etsy.com and Artfire.com as they are safe and successful outlets for woodcraft. In an interview for The Wood Whisperer.com, woodworker Brian Timmons was asked why he decided to make combs for sale on Etsy. Brian stated he had no expectations his crafts would sell and sat on them for months before listing them. But then he decided he had nothing to lose and signed up. He sold out in less than 24 hours and couldn’t believe he’d waited so long.
Photo by Starscream
Most people can’t do their own metal-smithing, so these items are not seen as common, which increases their value and fetches a better price. In fact CODA lists metalwork as the second most profitable craft category.
Metal crafting includes everything from wrought-iron banisters to decorative art to tin-can recycling projects. Baskets, jewelry, sculptures, framing… you name it, someone’s crafted it out of metal at one time or other. As with wood craft, bigger items are easier sellers at craft or specialty fairs or farmers markets, but the internet has literally millions of small crafts for sale.
Depending on what you make, roadside sales can even bring in good cash. If you live in an area with good drive by traffic, garden sculpture will draw in customers. Good displays will get attention. For a market longing for simpler, local and “greener” items, making functional or decorative items out of recycled or repurposed metal objects are selling points. Use it in your signage or advertising.
Jewelry is a top selling craft not only because it gifts well and is often an impulse purchase, but because it enhances beauty and uniqueness. It’s also an “evergreen” marketable item. This means demand is constant and less prone to seasonal purchasing trends. Earrings are the most popular pieces no matter what they’re made of.
Pieces sell well online if you take care to photograph them well. Display is also important at craft shows or markets. If you hang your work, people will be better able to imagine what it looks like when worn. Prop up mirrors so customers can see the pieces against their skin.
Get creative and go beyond the traditional. In the seventies the Freedman family hit hard times. Chris Freedman used some of her grocery money to buy seed beads and made and sold earrings and bracelets at a local flea market. Then she found the skull from a steer and adorned it with beads. This sold quickly, and the search was on. She found other skulls, cleaned them up and beaded them. Today, Fire Mountain Gems is a large online business that supports the whole family.
Pottery isn’t all crockery. Beads and pendants, wind chimes and small sculpture, candle holders, and slab artwork are all good sellers. If you’re selling online, try to make your crafts as close to the original that you’ve advertised, just don’t worry if it doesn’t look like it’s come off a factory line. People don’t expect exact duplicates of your models—a degree of uniqueness only adds to value.
If you’re shipping your work pack it well to avoid breakage and offer a guarantee. If the buyer sends a photo of a broken piece within a designated period of time you will replace it free of charge. Check with the delivery company you use beforehand and ask about their damage or loss claims so you can get your money back.
Pottery also does well at farmers markets, craft shows, consignment sales and gift shops. When Joel Cherrico brainstormed on how to get his pottery noticed, he approached several local restaurants in St. Joseph, Minnesota and managed to get them to take some of his unique mugs. Customers have the option to buy the mugs they use or are directed to his website online.
Original paintings are often expensive even when done by an amateur. This is due to the long hours going into creating them as well as the esthetic value of the piece itself. That said, most people are used to this higher price tag and shouldn’t balk. In fact, a higher price can add perceived value. There are pieces out there that are no more than smudges or squiggly lines selling for thousands of dollars.
We have a coffee shop in our area and local artists are invited to display their work for free. The walls are adorned with beautiful pieces depicting nature and colourful birds. The artist gets a free venue to display their work, and the shop gets lovely decor. All the work is expensive, but people do buy.
Many artists don’t like selling artwork online as they get lost in the crowd and customers don’t often look for artwork there. People like to see art on the wall and they also like meeting the artist. Try art and craft shows or sell through local shops, cafes, and libraries instead.
Not the highest seller in volume, glasswork is nevertheless the most profitable of all the Top Ten Craft categories. They’re less common and perceived as difficult to make, giving them an automatic higher value. Glass pieces can be beautiful and are definitely one-of-a-kind. You don’t need a furnace to create blown glass pieces. Most glass crafts are made through a process called lampworking.
With lampworking, glass is melted using small torches. Sometimes air is blown into the work to create a hollow piece. The results are extraordinarily pretty or unique and can fetch a good price in gift shops, art and craft shows and on the internet. If you want to see some good examples go to Google images and key in “lampwork”.
Other glass crafts include stained glass, fused glass sculpture, etched, and painted works. If you want to repurpose glass bottles or other objects you can create tumbled beads or tiles to make beautiful opaque jewelry or mosaics. People generally shop online for the type of craft they’re looking for, but not for glasswork specifically. Luckily glass usually stands out and competes very well. Other good venues besides online depend on what you make.
Stained glass or window art do well at art and craft shows and consignment shops. If you make large pieces and can find a place to hang your work, offer a finder’s fee of 15% for any commission work you get. Glass tiles may do well at a home show. Other venues for any glass craft are farmers markets, tourist, and gift shops.
Any good venue for artwork will also work for photography. Photography will generally be priced less than original artwork, but the advantage is you can create many prints of a popular image. The problem is in a recession people don’t buy photography (or artwork for that matter) as much as they do in a flush market.
Valerie Jardin, a photographer and writer for The Digital Photography School suggests finding a local market where people go for other reasons than to view art, then your photographs will become more of an impulse buy. She also suggests printing four or five of your best images in a large format, matte and frame them or order good quality canvas prints. Then ask coffee shops and restaurants in your area if they will hang your work. If they ask for a commission, factor that cost into the price of your photos. Make sure they have plenty of attractive business cards with your contact information to hand out.
In our area, Perkins restaurant displays framed prints with a country theme in their lobby with a ballot box where customers can make an offer through a silent auction. Even if you get only one customer this way, you’ve gotten your work displayed for free. The line-ups on a Sunday morning at popular restaurants are often long and slow and people appreciate something beautiful to look at—it’s better than a gallery showing!
For those hobbyists and craftspeople out there, if you’re already doing something you love why not share it and make a little income for yourself and your family? In a fast world pushing plastic, inferior, cookie-cutter products, there’s a growing appreciation for handmade items crafted the old-fashioned way—with time, attention to detail, and love of the work.
Some Online Options for Selling Handmade Goods:
Craft, Inc.: Turn Your Creative Hobby into a Business