Having been a member of Craftster for the last year, and an Etsy seller of 6 months, I've seen a bunch of projects (& products) get really popular. That by itself is great, but the downside is that sometimes ideas or patterns are used in a way that takes advantage of the originator. This could be someone selling finished items using your tutorial, or maybe a kit with a pattern. Either way, there's very little to be done to prevent such intellectual property theft from occurring. That's not to say you're helpless; as the copyright holder you do have rights. But, they can be very hard to enforce, and you'll likely never see a dime for the profit someone else makes ripping you off.
Sound harsh? Well good; the craft-blogging community can sometimes seem very light, not covering some of the more negative sides of doing business for yourself. The point is, it's worth considering that if your product gains enough popularity, you will likely get copied. It's true that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but it can be little comfort when you stumble across your pattern for sale by someone else. The second, and more important point, is that you shouldn't let it discourage you from developing your product, and going for it. The simple fact is, your unique ideas are worth the risk, to share with crafters all around the world. I conclude that point based on observations that most people are good, and you'll never be able to stop all of the people that don't hold themselves to higher standards. So hold yourself to a higher standard, and prepare yourself for what it might mean to be self-employed with a crafty business of your own.
So far as I can tell, I haven't made a single sale from it.
I might try it again sometime, but definitely with a different product.
My very first product I came up with was tsumami kanzashi flower snaps. I love the tsumami technique, but I didn't want to copy all of the great sellers I'd already seen on Etsy. I wanted my products to be unique, and completely my own. That's not to say I'm the first (or last,) person to put snaps on the backs of folded fabric flowers; on the contrary, I expect if I ever sell enough it's an inevitability that I will be copied. I don't look forward to that, but there's lots of bad things that can happen along the way to starting your own business. What I do look forward to, is selling more, and if that means I get copied - so be it.
Another one of the pitfalls can be difficult customers, although I'm lucky enough to have avoided this so far. People's expectations can vary widely, as well as their reactions and responses. Don't take it personally, it's a lesson on what to do differently the next time. If you learn something from it, mistakes can be good. They challenge us to evaluate, and I think that's a skill you absolutely need in starting your own business. I think learning to communicate well with lots of different kinds of people is also a crucial skill.
Recently, Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge shared some of her thoughts on starting a business with me.
What were some of the positive aspects about starting your own business?
There's nothing quite as satisfying (and frustrating) as being your own boss. You can set your own hours, your own pace, your own goals and you have only yourself to answer to. I've loved that I can work on projects that excite me and choose assignments and jobs based on my own desires- not my boss'. Running my own business has reminded me that if you set your mind to something, do your research and plan well you can do most anything you set your mind to.
What were you most surprised by?
How much work it would be. No matter how much you plan and ask around, it's always much more work than you can even imagine. But it's good to throw yourself in and learn quickly- if you're passionate about what you're doing it won't feel that bad.
How do you balance your crafty business with the ups and downs of life?
Having a good support group inside and outside of the industry is crucial. I try to have friends outside of the design world who won't care to listen to me talk about the shop or the blog all the time- they remind me that there is in fact life outside of work ;) But it also helps to have other friends doing the same thing who understand the ups and downs of running a small business. It's incredibly helpful to have people to bounce ideas off of and commiserate with when things go wrong.
How did you establish your "brand" or individual identity in your blog or store? Or, how are are you continuing to do so?
I think the most important thing with any business is to stick to your original goal and stay true to your mission. It's tough to resist the lure of any number of options that might bring you more money or more attention but would require you to alter your image, your brand or abandon your audience. I recently had to pass on a wonderful offer because of something like that. It was tough at first but at the end of the day it feels good to know that you've stayed true to what you believe in and what you set out to do.
What were some negative experiences, and how did you face them? More specifically, did you have any experience with people selling your work as their own, people reselling without your consent, or other malicious events? How did you deal with it? Also, how did you find out about it?
Thankfully I haven't had anything too awful happen with the shop yet. The blog world can be pretty catty so there are plenty of stories there but I try to stay out of the fray and just keep my head down and work. I think and the craft and indie design community continues to grow there will need to be more regulations and rules for copying and things like that, but things are still pretty fresh and new and they'll need to come with time. But thank goodness nothing too horrible has happened to me yet. Knock on wood...
Any other thoughts on starting a craft business?
I think you can never, ever research too much. Talking to people who run businesses, who work in every aspect of the industry. They'll often pass on the most priceless pieces of information. Other shop owners can share what businesses or services to avoid and which ones will make your life easier. It always pays to be prepared.
Any other thoughts in general?
Not to get too Fiona Apple on anyone, but always, always be true to yourself and your goals. If you have something unique and worthwhile to share it will be noticed. There is always room for more creative, unique voices in the craft and design world but the last thing anyone needs is more of the same thing. If you stay true to your own unique style you can never go wrong.
Thank you so much Grace! I found your advice so very insightful and personally helpful, and I'm sure I'm not the only one! If you haven't before, go check out Design*Sponge! Also, I'd love to hear what you think about starting a craft business. Leave a comment here, link me to your blog or email me (Crafty[NOSPACE]Ginger[AT]Gmail[DOT]com)!!!