One of the keys to being profitable lies not in selling more nor selling at a higher price. Hobbyist business owners often overlook a much simpler strategy for making more money: cutting production costs. It's kind of the flip side of the business coin.
Let's say you run a sewing business like mine, making bags. You started your business because you love sewing and be honest, you're a fabric-a-holic. Sewing stuff to sell was just a way to fund your fabric shopping sprees and to offset the huge bills you kept facing at the end of the month.
So when a lovely, enthusiastic person visits your shop and gushes over your gorgeous creations you feel a huge sense of pride. There's just one catch with this would-be customer - she needs a bag in this size to fit this thing into, oh and can you add a buckle, velcro and a magnetic clasp? And actually do you have any of this other fabric?
You being you, always happy to accommodate people's wishes and of course up for a sewing challenge happily agree. Here's what happens.
It might come in handy one day
You visit the fabric store and find the perfect fabric for her. You only need half a metre but what the heck you'll buy a whole metre - it might come in handy one day.
Buckles, velcro, the clasp. They only come in packages of three - the spares might come in handy one day.
Or perhaps you already have the fabric so you cut out the new size from one corner. No problem, except now you have an oddly shaped piece of fabric. Long strips from the edges, can't be used in your normal bags - they might come in handy one day.
Time is money
It takes quite a bit of time to plan the new bag, the dimensions are tricky, it's a bit of a learning curve. It takes hours longer than expected to make and has you pulling your hair out. But you get it done eventually.
Now it's time to send a photo to your customer. It's midnight but you try anyway then sweat over trying to crop out the laundry basket in the background and correct for poor lighting. It's a beautiful bag but your photos just don't do it justice.
Speaking of time. Well you had to make a special visit to the fabric store to get the material. That took all morning by the time you had a coffee and mooched around the store dreaming about other things you could make. (And don't pretend you just bought the fabric you had gone there for).
The bag is ready to mail and you're kicking yourself that you didn't run into the stationery shop to get the larger cello bag and mailing envelope you'll need to ship this bigger than usual bag. Sigh, there's another morning out buying those things.
Money is money
The final straw, and this happens to the best of us: you haven't charged enough for shipping and have to eat the extra costs yourself. And really, come to think of it, you didn't charge enough for the bag either.
The moral of the story
I hope you appreciate my tongue-in-cheek story. ALL of these mistakes were made by yours truly so don't feel bad if you've also fallen prey to these traps.
Things that might come in handy one day often never do. You'll have a lot of money tied up or really wasted in materials that won't ever be used.
Time is money - you run the risk of burning out. You spend time working on things that won't make a difference to your long-term success.
My advice: limit customisations
Don't offer one-offs. Make one thing and make it well. Some suggestions for customisation options:
Bags - same basic bag with different length straps / different coloured straps / different coloured linings. In my shop out of 750 sales probably 650 were STANDARD TODDLER MESSENGER BAGS - same bag in millions of subtly different combinations.
Bracelets - same basic bracelet with a variety of wrist sizes / silver or gold chain / different coloured cords / a choice of clasp.
Girl's skirts - same basic skirt to which you can add pockets, buttons or other detail.
There's a nice way to say no.
They will surely find someone else to fulfil their dream who is better suited to the task than you.
You're not losing any money by refusing this project, trust me it will cost more than you realise.
Running a tight ship will serve you well. By offering just a few carefully designed products with some strategic customisation-options that don't take much time or effort to complete, you'll keep more customers happy, you'll reduce your costs, save time and stress and you'll get really good at making those select things. Once you've really perfected your technique and had great feedback that's the time to add to your range.
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PS. I'm not talking about anyone in particular. A few of my lovelies have thought I was talking about the bags I made for them. My apologies. This is advice for newbies to the craft business.
I love making special things for my friends and biggest fans now. You should never say no to your mum, aunty or best friend. So sorry if I made you feel bad. :(