Craft Business Case Study!

My Home-Based Craft Business--How it All Began (1970s)

A crystal ball may have been helpful.

Carol Leather

What am I talking about? Back, way back, in my school days we had to make subject choices for the following years of education. I was faced with a big decision. I loved two subjects in the same group and could only pick one. Cooking or sewing? Which would it be?

My needlework teacher was not my favourite. In fact I didn't like her at all! Her mission was to teach me dressmaking when all I wanted to do was embroider.

She tempted us with. "You will be able to make all your own clothes by the end of the course." Right, my decision was made, cooking was the winner.

So, did I turn out to be a cordon bleu chef? Run a restaurant? Nope. I run my own needlework business online.

My First Home Business

You could say that I've always been crafty, in the nicest sense of course.

A friend taught me to crochet when I was at school and my first taste of entrepreneurship was one Christmas when I made a cute crocheted puppy and took it in to show my mates. Everyone wanted one! By the end of term I was richer and many friends had crocheted puppies to love.

Craft and Home Business Ideas (1980s)

cross stitch of poppy flower

I didn't stop there. I taught myself soft toy making, bought a big industrial sewing machine and sold toys and glove puppets at local craft fairs for many years, until health problems got in the way. Asthma and fur fabric didn't really mix.

I needed another creative way to earn money. So one rainy morning I walked into our local craft shop and said "I'm bored. What can I do?"

Rita, the shopkeeper, sat me down and pushed some fabric and a threaded needle into my hands. She taught me the basics of cross stitch and sent me home with a pattern and all the materials to stitch a tiny angel.

The next day I was back. I wanted more! For the next ten years I was happy following other people?s patterns and selling the occasional stitched card.

Creating Needlework Designs for Magazines (early 1990s)

Then when my daughter was ten I decided to make her a sampler. I wanted to include items that meant something to her and could not miss out her pet rabbit, Danny. I searched everywhere, but it seemed no-one had designed a blue Dutch rabbit in cross stitch. There was nothing else for it; I had to design it myself.

After designing three motifs I plucked up the courage to send them off to a national needlework magazine just to see what they thought. All three were published, and I got paid!

cross stitch of cockatiel

Not long after this I saw an advert in the same magazine for designers. Should I apply? Why not! I sent in samples of the little designs I had created expecting to never hear anything. But just three days later I had a phone call from the editor. "Would you be interested in designing for our new magazine? Your tiny designs are just what we are looking for."

The next three years were busy. I had a full time job and any spare moments were spent designing for the magazines. Eventually I was working on at least four commissions a month. But sadly my health continued to deteriorate. After being taken from work to hospital by ambulance three times, it was time to give up work and continue with my designing hobby at home.

Hobby or Home Business? (Feb 1994)

Two short weeks later, my husband ended up in hospital with sky high blood pressure. With him unable to work, I was thrown in the deep end and suddenly my hobby needed to become a business.

I enjoyed working for the magazines but each month I had to design up to one hundred new motifs and by the third year of creating Christmas motifs in July I was beginning to run out of new ideas. I held the copyright to all the designs I had created and my next move was to manufacture kits to sell at the craft fairs.

At this point technology made its way into my life. I felt I couldn't produce kits for sale with hand drawn patterns and packaging so I asked my husband for an electric typewriter. "No, you need a computer" he informed me and a few days later there it was! A black screen with green text flashed at me, daring me to learn how to use it. "If you really can't get the hang of it, I'll get you that typewriter after 3 weeks."

Of course I was hooked and instead of the typewriter I wanted a computer with graphics capability after those 3 weeks! Then I started the search for design software. Eventually I narrowed the choice down to two programs, one much more expensive than the other. I believed that you get what you pay for and chose the dearest version. On revisiting the more affordable option later, I realised that this program actually did a lot more and changed over.

Cross Stitch & My Craft Business (winter 1997)

lady in lace

My home business really took off when a lacemaking friend of mine suggested I design a cross stitch of a lady making lace. She offered me space on her stand at a two day annual lacemaking fair. Armed with twenty four kits I made my way to the NEC in Birmingham just before Christmas wondering how I would get rid of the remainder. After all the design was a bit specialist and would probably not sell anywhere else.

By lunchtime on the first day I had run out of kits! I left early, raced home and made up another fifty for the second day. After another sell out I was delighted and with further bookings made for other events I went home a happy woman.

My Craft Business Adds a Website

I started to think about a question I kept hearing at the fair, "Do you have a website?" Maybe it was time to create one. My husband lent me the money to buy web design software and I put together my first site. Looking back now, it was awful! But at least I could answer positively the next time I was asked for my web address.

The website underwent a few revisions over the years until it actually started looking reasonably attractive. People who I directed there came back full of compliments. But it wasn?t really getting many visitors or making any money.

I added a Paypal shopping cart and took the occasional order but it seemed I would never make enough to pay my husband back for the cost of the software. Each time the programmers released an update I ?needed? to buy it, just in case it had the magic ingredient that would help people find my site and start buying.

Back to the JOB! (July 2005)

With sales stagnant and a husband out of work I had no option but to return to full time employment. Six months later Roger found a job as well. Life was good. My craft business continued to limp along in the background, giving me something to do in the evenings and weekends.

But after a year I was no longer able to work and had to give up. Stuck at home I was bored and lonely. I spent my days surfing the internet, looking for something to believe in. I came across a website called SiteSell which looked interesting. However the cost of another website held me back. Why did I need another site when I already had one that didn't really do anything?

My Craft Business Becomes an Online Home Business (Oct 2006)

blackwork embroidery of tortoise

Over the next week or so I found myself drawn back time after time to the SiteSell website. They explained that to be successful a website needed visitors, lots of them, and how if you followed their instructions people would come to see what you had created. I read case studies written by real people and watched a video of how the Site Build It! system worked. It all sounded so sensible and exciting. But the cost was a problem. I was no longer earning a wage and money was tight. I guessed that Roger would not be thrilled at my throwing more money at my internet dream.

Realising that SBI did more than just host your website I eventually jumped in with both feet and signed up. I decided to tell Roger later!

I followed the action guide, and started my new site. I resisted the temptation to think I knew it all already and started at the beginning. I worked out why I needed the website, what it was supposed to provide and how to give the visitor what they were looking for. I realised that putting my products up for sale first was the wrong way to do things. I had to share information first. Gradually the site began to take shape.

Imagine my surprise and delight when within a couple of months it was outperforming the original site in visitor numbers!

Then I noticed a competition. We were asked to create a video explaining why we loved SBI. I had to join in and carefully filming when hubby wasn't around (I still hadn't owned up) I made my personal video and entered. I was delighted to be picked as one of the prize winners and having won more money than the site had cost I decided the time had come to spill the beans.

My Winning SBI Video

I'm a Webmaster!

By Christmas the site was bringing in sales almost every day and visitors were emailing me with lovely comments. I had set up a monthly newsletter and built up a healthy subscriber list of loyal customers. I had something to get up for each day, and if I couldn't, through ill health, I could work on my website in bed!

I adapted a book I had written into an ebook and sold it from the site through Clickbank generating an additional source of revenue. The patterns I had until then been selling in printed form or made up as kits, were put into digital format and sold as instant downloads so that people all over the world could purchase and start stitching even while I slept!

I made mistakes, of course, like not checking things out and finding that after someone bought something the link to the downloadable file was wrong! When I received complaints my heart dropped. But I learned that if I took the time to sort out the problem for the customer, and over delivered, I actually made a stronger bond between us.

blackwork of elephant

That bond grew in ways I couldn't have imagined. I received a phone call one day from a gentleman who thanked me for saving his life! He went on to explain that his wife had been stitching my largest design, Mary, when sadly she passed away. He had been distraught and ready to join her. The only thing that kept him going was that he wanted to finish stitching the design she had started. It took him some time but when eventually he completed it his state of mind had changed and he could begin to look forward again. The phone call to me was his way of putting the past behind him.

As my home business grew, I found myself wearing many hats. When you are the only member of staff you have to undertake all jobs required to build and maintain your home business. In the morning I was perhaps the designer, creating new products to eventually sell, while in the afternoon I was the accountant and then in charge of packing orders. The next day I was updating the website then cutting fabric and threads for kits. It took some time to work out a schedule so that everything got done.

As things started to settle down into a routine and I came to realise the value of the service SBI provided my thoughts turned to starting a second site to run alongside needlework-tips-and-techniques and perhaps open up new opportunities.

My Home Business Expands -- I Add Another Website (Jan 2007)

What else was I passionate about? What other subject did I know plenty about? My dietary condition shouted louder than the rest and after searching online for a really personal site that could help others in my situation without too much success I registered my next SBI site, the-gluten-free-chef and another home business was born.

field of wheat

Having been diagnosed with Coeliac disease as a baby, I had lived and breathed the gluten free diet for over 45 years and had a lot of experience with baking with alternative flours. As a Coeliac I was unable to eat anything made from wheat, rye or barley. This site was set up mainly to share my information with no definite thoughts on how to make money from it to begin with. My son, a chef, was going to assist and we were going to aim it at the catering industry. I had been disappointed with the knowledge of my condition amongst the chefs and waitresses when I tried to eat out and thought a site where they could go for information would be useful.

However, this time the site took much longer to get up and running. My plans had been made in a rush and hadn?t been thought through properly. My son's hours prevented him putting as much time into the business as we had hoped and I was left with a site that needed information I didn't personally have.

After floundering for three months I was approached with an idea by a fellow SBIer and started planning a different direction for the site. The pages I had already written were edited for a new audience, those who had just been diagnosed with the disease and were looking for recipes and help on dealing with the diet.

Suddenly I found myself able to add more and more to the site and it began to take shape. This time, up against more competition, the visitor numbers grew more slowly but as with the needlework site my Alexa rating got better and better and I began to get positive comments from those that found the site helpful.

Without a product of my own to sell this time I decided to try affiliate marketing and direct visitors to vendor's sites, whilst taking a commission if they then ordered something. I am also working on producing some ebooks that will pass on some of the information and tips I have picked up through the years. Hopefully they will be as successful as my needlework book has been.

What does the future hold?

My 3rd Website -- I'm a Full Time Webmaster (June 2007)

Well you may think that two Solo Build It sites would be enough for anyone! Not me. When I saw an existing craft site offered for sale I had to grab it. So I now have my third site and plenty to keep me busy. I'll let you know how I get on.

By: Carol Leather

Carol Leather is the webmaster and publisher of Needlework-Tips-and-Techniques and The-Gluten-Free-Chef. Please enjoy your visit at her websites.