Categorized | Shoestring Startup

How Crocheting a Few Baby Gifts Turned into “Many Creative Gifts”

I learned how to crochet in the 6th grade and made little gifts for friends and family over the years. I had a bag of yarn and a set of crochet hooks that I carried around with me over many moves through college and graduate school because I didn’t have the heart to give them away. When a number of my friends started having babies, I pulled out the hooks and yarn and came up with some cute little hats, booties and bibs to crochet and give them.

About the same time, the early 2000s, do-it-yourself and crafting techniques seemed to be making a resurgence, and I was really enjoying getting back into the crochet. Friends were encouraging me by saying how cute and well-made the baby stuff was, so as that famous lottery line goes “I had a dollar and a dream.” And, in many ways, that’s one of the benefits of a crafts business, you really don’t need a lot of money to get started. I chose the name Many Creative Gifts as a play on words about gift making and my handiwork and opened a “shop” on Etsy, a website for sellers and buyers of handmade items, in 2005. I took pictures of some of the extra hats and booties that I had made and posted them, using Etsy’s user-friendly software. Etsy charges a small listing fee for each item and takes a commission when the item sells. It was a great way to test the waters and get some custom orders too (though, now, Etsy has become so large and with so many sellers on it that standing out and getting found is challenging unless you have something really unique and targeted to a specific audience).

My husband wisely said “Phyllis, you are going to hurt yourself if you keep crocheting so much. Why aren’t you just writing down what you are doing and selling the patterns so that others can make their own stuff?!” The man had a point! That’s when I became aware of It’s a website exclusively for knitters and crocheters to find and sell patterns, exchange yarn, discuss fiber arts, and build a community. Again, the website provides you with the tools to set up a shop and takes a commission when a pattern sells. It’s a good lesson to keep in mind: don’t become so focused on one product or approach, keep an open mind, and be adaptable when you start a business – it’s a long and winding road!

As much as I love crocheting and creating my own products and patterns, I discovered that I was enjoying the techie and business aspects of running a business as well. I think that might be the unexpected, eye-opening, and, for some, the disillusioning part about all of this – in this day and age, you have got to be willing to get on the computer, learn different software and some html, and work it! A lot of crafters just want to be able to craft and make money selling it. I wish it were so! There are a lot of people out there making a lot of wonderful things. You need to let the world know that you exist and what you offer, and establishing local efforts as well as an internet presence are really important. I really started to research how to do that. I got a subscription to Entrepreneur magazine and started reading as much as I could online about small business operations, especially in the crafts industry. There is a lot of information out there, and I’d recommend finding a few sources that you really like rather than trying to go through all the “special reports” and “free seminars” that are advertised, which just result in inbox-clogging email blasts.

I also set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a website, and a blog, all of which involved using free resources. And, as all of these tools have become more robust and user friendly, you can pretty much offer products for sale on a blog or website, using PayPal for payment, and not spend any money up front (PayPal also takes a cut on the back end when you receive a payment).

I would encourage start-up businesses, especially craft businesses, to try to avoid as much up-front costs as possible. Of course, you need to buy materials to create your product, but try to explore the market and some free ways to get out the news about your business before paying for a lot of marketing or advertising. I did, however, pay for some Google Adwords and Facebook ads recently to get the word out that I have published a crochet design book because I received coupons that sucked me in but at least defrayed the costs! Frankly, I’m not sure if it was worth it if you look at it from a purely cost-benefit analysis, but I think it was because I did see a surge in my blog subscribers. You want people who are going to come back to your blog or site and pass it along through good word-of-mouth. With so many options to choose from these days, it’s really important to forge a connection with potential customers that will enable them to feel comfortable with you and choose to purchase from you, so anything you can do to attract people to your site will probably be worth it in the long run.

Speaking of spending money, the one thing that I did right early on was to hire a graphic designer who was able to capture my desires and essence into a logo that I really love. Now, all the business literature is focused on branding and creating a recognizable online presence, and I’ve been good about sticking to a consistent theme for all of my online work by establishing from the beginning the “feel” that I wanted to convey.

It’s easy to get caught up into the prep phase of starting a business – trying to draft a business plan and mission statement, doing all of the legal and tax paperwork to incorporate your business – but it will not amount to anything if you do not have something you believe in. So, the best advice I can give is to try to focus on your craft, what you want to create, and trust your gut instincts. Try spending at least 60 or 70 percent of your time doing that because it is really easy to let 70 or 80 percent of your time early on be eaten up on the computer, doing all of the social media, etc. I’m not saying it’s not important to start establishing your presence and credibility online through social media, chat rooms and forums, but early on, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of refining, beautifully photographing, and vividly describing in writing your art. I’m still struggling with it myself, but reach out to others whose work you admire, learn from them, and be prepared to constantly change and hopefully grow.

I’m not sure what the future holds. The business is financially in the black (meaning I’m bringing in more than I’m shelling out), which is great, but I am nowhere near being able to quit my day job. My next goals are to keep growing my work as the Crochet Guru on and to be featured in a crochet magazine. It’s important to keep moving forward and setting goals, even if it feels like sometimes you are not achieving them and are sliding backward.

I guess that’s another piece of advice I can give – do not expect to get rich any time soon running your own small crafts business. There are crafters out there who, by working full-time at it and really having a good sense of what their market segment wants, are making a decent living, but I am sure they will all tell you that it’s been very hard and unpredictable. It has taken me 5 years of part-time efforts so far to get my bearings and get a very small foothold in the industry. You need to put in at least twice the amount of time that you think it is going to take to set up various aspects of your business and start building your local and internet presence. Be sure that you are doing something that you truly do love to do; otherwise, you might regret all of the time you are spending on it, especially if you are not seeing the financial returns that you were hoping for.

But, to end on a positive note, there’s nothing like the feeling you get when the PayPal “you’ve got a payment” email lands in your inbox because someone out there chose to spend his or her hard-earned dollars on something that you created!

Many Creative Gifts
P.O. Box 353
Washington DC 20044
[email protected]

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