Tips for turning your part-time hobby into a full-time job

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Dear New Frugal You,
I'd like to know if I can escape the rat race. I hold a 9-5 job. It's very regular, very boring. For the past couple years I've been making silver jewelry, first to keep from going postal at the job, but now the making of the jewelry and the selling it online and at local crafts shows have become what I live for. I just don't know if I can live on it. Can you give my cloud a "silver" lining please and tell me if I can leap from crafts hobbyist to full-time artisan? -- Prince

Dear Prince,
You have a dream many of us share. We'd love to turn our hobby into a full-time job. Is it possible? Yes, but it's not easy and there's no guarantee of success. So let's do what we can to increase the chances that sometime soon you'll be known as an artist producing and selling wonderful jewelry creations.

Begin by recognizing that you're changing a hobby into a job. That means taking on a new attitude.

  • You'll need to create product on a regular basis, not just when you feel creative.
  • You'll find that some items sell well, so you'll need to produce more of them. That can become boring.
  • You'll need to be aware of the cost of your materials. The more you spend making something, the more you'll need to charge for it.
  • Your time isn't free, even if you enjoy your work. That means that you need to know how much time you spend making something and include that cost when you price the product.

Next, line up your suppliers. You've probably been buying your supplies at a retailer such as Hobby Lobby. If you're going to be buying quantity, it's time to try to find wholesalers. A search for "wholesale craft supplies" turned up pages of suppliers. Find the ones that best meet your needs.

Then, create a business plan. Know how much annual income you want to make and what it will take business-wise to reach that goal.

Make a rough calculation to see if your plan works. We'll make up an example to illustrate the point. Suppose you can make an item in 20 minutes and your profit is $10 each.

If you wanted to make $30,000 per year that would require you sell 3,000 of that item ($30,000 divided by $10). At 20 minutes each that would be 60,000 minutes or 1,000 hours. So you'd need to work 20 hours a week for 50 weeks to produce that level of profit.

Don't forget that you'll have some additional business costs. Packing materials and shipping can become a major cost of your product. Know how much it will cost to get each item to its customer and include that in your costs.

If the basic plan is sound, then proceed to a marketing plan.

As you've already found out, the Internet has changed the market for crafts. Fifteen years ago your only real outlets were local craft/street fairs and card/gift shops. It sounds like you're already taking advantage of online selling.

Go beyond listing your items in craft marketplaces such as Etsy.com. Seek out niche sites for your product. Take the time to find out how to creatively market through them.

Become familiar with social media. You might find it advantageous to create a Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Google+ accounts. Use pictures to display your work. You want people to see your wonderful creations!

Try to keep in contact with your customers. Whether they buy or just admire, get an address, either email or postal. Follow up a few weeks after the sale to see how they like their purchase. Get their permission to contact them once or twice a year when you have something special to offer.

Try to stay in front of any trends. Occasionally an item will get regional or even national attention. And in short order, many crafters begin making their own interpretations. If you can be there first, you'll be able to command higher prices and exit before the price competition begins.

If you find that you're good at the business side, consider selling crafts made by others. Many crafters would like to sell their stuff, but don't have the time or business skills to do that successfully. Some will gladly give you a cut if you handle sales and distribution for them.

So it's definitely possible to turn your hobby into a business. But it takes a proper perspective and a lot of hard work. I hope your efforts will be a success!

See related: Secrets to making money with crafts

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