There are a lot of myths floating around out there about what it’s like running a craft business or a handmade business.
You may not have explicitly expressed some of these and you may not even know that you believe some of these myths.
I talk to makers every day (and I’m one myself) so I’ve been in your shoes and I’ve seen there are a lot of mismanaged expectations that cause people to fail before they even get started.
In this post, I’m going to bust through some of those myths. My hope for you is you’ll be able to recalibrate your expectations and, in turn, have more endurance and persistence when it comes to running your business.
Hi, my name is Mei and I help makers, artists and designers make a consistent, living income selling their handmade products online.
I’ve been in business for 14 years now and I’ve seen it all. I’m a part of communities of makers, and I have one myself with my A Sale A Day students, but I see so often people are frustrated that their business isn’t where they want it to be yet.
When I get the chance to dig deeper with some of my students, some patterns become quite clear to me. We have certain expectations coming into this business world that are inaccurate or just flat out wrong.
I’m not blaming you, it’s not your fault.
We build up our expectations and perspectives based on several things such as things we consume like movies, TV shows, and books, and sometimes it’s just how we’re brought up.
We’re taught that working hard is so important and if you put in the work you’ll get what you want.
Unfortunately, in the real world, that’s just not true.
We’re consuming, every day, stories of people who went from rags to riches and saw overnight success. People like telling those stories because it’s motivating and inspiring, but without realizing that it’s causing people to have the wrong expectations.
Myth 1: Being Your Own Boss is Easy
So the first myth is that if you work for yourself, be your own boss, it’s easy.
I think a lot of people make working for yourself sound really cool, and I do too, but it’s not the full story.
You hardly hear about all the bad stuff that happens when you’re your own boss.
I actually think it’s actually a luxury to work for someone else and you just clock in and clock out when work is done. When you come home, you don’t have to think about work and you can just relax.
You get to leave work, at work (depending on the job) and you still get paid the same amount of money every two weeks because that’s your salary.
When you’re running your own business, how much money you make is (initially) directly related to your effort, time and energy.
You don’t really get to see the benefits of being self-employed until years after you get it going. Those first few years of setting up your business, finding your customers, marketing, setting up your systems, it’s a lot of work.
More than that, it’s work that you have to have the built-in inspiration to do.
There’s no one, like a boss or manager, telling you what to do. You have to figure it out all by yourself.
You have to have so much self-initiative to get your business off the ground and once it’s running and you have steady sales and a steady stream of customers, then you’ll be responsible for them and you have accountability to show up to work.
In those first few years when you’re hardly making any sales, you’re doing all this work and not getting a lot of feedback in return.
You might feel like the work you’re doing isn't making a difference. Is it actually helping brand awareness and getting traffic and sales to your site?
You hear stories of a lot of business owners who were at the right place and the right time with the right product and they become an overnight success.
Those stories are the fringe cases. They’re anomalies.
The more common story that unfortunately doesn’t get told often enough, is a story like mine. I didn’t make a full-time income, and to me, that was the first time I reached $30,000 in annual sales, until six years after I started my business.
That was six years of work getting to that point.
Six years of:
- figuring out social media
- nailing my branding
- refining my products
- growing my audience
- growing my email list
- building up my traffic
- getting in the media
- and all that time and energy going into learning how to do all of that
So if you’re starting to ask why running a business is so hard, well, it’s one of the hardest things a person can do. Honestly, most people, no matter what country you live in, are not taught or brought up to think in an entrepreneurial way.
Think about it. You go to school from a very young age all the way up to college (if you decide to go to college) and all that time, you’re being groomed to become someone else’s employee. To have skills and an education that will serve a company that you hope will hire you.
The education system rarely teaches you skills about initiative or marketing or sales.
Even sales and marketing in college courses aren’t practical and isn’t what real-world sales and marketing is.
We’re all put on this path and we follow it and that path usually leads to a corporate lifestyle.
My husband was on that track and he’s one of the smartest people I know. Even he struggled to understand basic entrepreneurial concepts.
It’s just not a part of your psyche or the way you think.
If you’re lucky, you were born into a family that taught you those skills that are important to have in business, like not expecting an immediate result from your efforts.
If you’ve never heard of the Stanford marshmallow experiment, I highly recommend you look that up. It’s about delayed gratification and how most people will choose the smaller reward if it meant getting instant gratification.
Most people don’t want to wait to get a result.
There was even a follow-up experiment that showed that the kids in the experiment that were willing to wait longer for better rewards, tended to have better life outcomes, like better SAT scores, better educational attainment and were even healthier.
It partly due to willpower, but also with your background and upbringing.
Myth 2: It's Enough to Create Beautiful Products and Put Them Online
The second myth is that I’ve noticed people think that it’s enough to create a beautiful product and put it up online and post about it on social media.
That’s no longer true.
Maybe it was ten years ago when the internet was relatively new and there wasn’t a lot of people showing their products online, but these days, there are millions of other shops online with amazing products.
The saying, “if you build it, they will come” is not true and, unfortunately, I see so many frustrated people saying they’re not getting traffic and sales and they keep doing this and nothing’s happening.
I can understand that is very frustrating because you’re doing work and not seeing a result.
Usually when I ask what they’re doing to promote their business it falls in a category of tasks that I call creation.
It’s tasks like:
- on site SEO
- posting on social media
- creating new products.
These are tasks that don’t inherently get people to come over to your site.
When you do those tasks, you’re in creation mode. You’re creating products or content that lives on your site, but you haven’t actually done anything specific to get people to come over to your site.
The analogy I like to give is it’s like you’re throwing a party at your house.
Creation mode tasks are things like:
- decorating your house
- planning the menu and deciding what food and drinks you’ll have
- planning games and activities
- creating gift bags for them
- getting prizes for games you’ll play
- hiring musicians to entertain your guests
That’s all creation mode.
But have you actually INVITED anyone to come to your party? At this point, nope, you haven’t!
You’ve spent all this time making your party so awesome but no one’s going to be there.
If you want people to come over to your party, or to your handmade shop, you have to invite people.
A great way to do that is by doing media outreach, which I talk about a lot.
Media outreach is getting your products in front of other people’s audiences with a link back to your shop.
How you do outreach is by emailing pitches to people who own large audiences and asking them to feature your products.
If you want to learn more about how to do this, I have an entire video explaining the whole process.
The act of outreach is like you inviting people to come to your party.
If you want more traffic and sales to your shop, assuming your website is already really polished and looking good, you just have to focus on outreach tasks and activities. It’s as simple as that.
Myth #3: Running a Business is Free (or Cheap)
Myth number three is I’ve seen that people seem to think that running a business is free or cheap.
Maybe back in the day that was the case. You could start an online business for very little money, but it was never free. Especially when you think about all the craft supplies, packaging, and tools you had to buy to even make your product in the first place.
I’ve been seeing a lot of entitled behavior from people who don’t want to learn or change or understand that this is the rules of the game now.
They’re so resistant to change and they’re unwilling to go with the flow and I believe it’s because of mismanaged expectations.
But that’s one of those entrepreneurial skills I talked about earlier. How you deal with change will affect you well you do with your business.
Someone at some point (or maybe it was the media) showed them that it doesn’t cost money to start a business and they’re frustrated and they don’t see any success.
Don’t start a business if you think it’s going to be a faster way to make money. Honestly, just getting a job is a more surefire and faster way to increase your cashflow.
The saying, “it takes money to make money” is real and has been around for generations.
When you think about it, it’s really just economics (or even physics). You can’t make something out of nothing.
Going to a craft show costs money.
Making your products cost money.
Having your own space on the internet for a website costs money.
There are actual physical machines in some facility that’s powering your website and making it run quickly and smoothly and making sure you have enough space on your site for you to upload your photos.
There are people that manage and maintain these machines and that give you customer support.
These things don’t just come from nowhere and ultimately, it’s not free.
There are thousands of people in the backend that have created the opportunity for you to sell online before you even got there. Their effort and energy is not free.
Energy cannot just be created out of thin air. It has to come from somewhere (Einstein said this, I didn’t just make that up).
The bright side of all of this is, if you come into starting a business with the expectation that it costs money to have a business, you’re not going to make extreme decisions like quitting your job before your business has taken off.
This way, you can start saving up money to make your business dream a reality.
Even when your business has momentum and you’re running it full time, not all sales become your profit. You have to spend on credit card processing fees, website fees, software fees, legal fees, taxes, packaging and supplies, all of this stuff adds up.
Make sure you have a safety net or some money saved up before you start a business.
Myth #4: I've Been in Business for Six Months So I Should be Making a Full-Time Income
Another pattern I’ve seen is people getting frustrated that they’re not where they want to be and they’ve only been running their business for six months.
It takes time to build a business.
If you know what you’re doing and you’ve created successful businesses before, it’ll take you less time, like how my husband and I set up a new Shopify store and it already made over $20,000 in one month in the second month of launching.
But that’s because I’ve run many other businesses in the past decade. I know how this stuff works.
My first business, Tiny Hands? It took me six years after I started, to make $30,000 for the entire year.
So I’m really curious why people think that after six months or a year, that they should already be making a full-time income.
Where is this expectation coming from? Let me know in the comments if this is you or if you have some understanding because I’d really like to know so I can better serve you in the future.
And if you’re someone who’s been trying to run your business for three or four years, and it’s not where you want it to be, consider how much effort you put in during those three to four years.
Was it on and off effort or was it consistent, strategic effort where you showed up every day for your business and did outreach activities?
When you lose momentum in your business, it's almost like starting from scratch.
I see a lot of people who put their business on the back burner because it’s not making that many sales and you want to take time for other life or family stuff.
I get it.
But it’s important that you treat your business like any other job. You don’t just stop showing up to your job or you’d get fired.
Because there are no consequences and accountability, I’ve seen many people put a pause on their business only to come back later to see their business hasn’t moved anywhere. It’s a vicious cycle.
You don’t do anything for the business, and it goes nowhere, so you do nothing to push it forward, and it goes nowhere.
It’s hard to see the little forward steps you DO make in your business because of the fact that it takes so long to become successful.
This is why I think it’s really important that you practice intentional gratitude and really force yourself or get in the habit of appreciating small wins in your business.
You might not make $1,000 next week, but no one goes from not knowing how to swim to becoming an Olympic swimmer overnight. It’s the same thing here.
Celebrate your small wins, like:
- how you grew your Instagram following by five people in the last week
- how you heard from a past customer about how much she loves your products
- how you got three new email subscribers and one of them opened your email.
Don’t discount that.
When you practice gratitude for these things, you become better at pacing yourself. It is a marathon, not a sprint.
You’ll have a lot more fun with running your business and you’re more likely to see it through instead of quitting prematurely.
Myth #5: Before I Start a Business I Must Invent a New Product Idea
This isn’t something I see that often, but I do see it with some people who put this rule on themselves that they can’t start a business until they create or invent a new product idea.
I think maybe part of that belief comes from a perception that there’s so much competition out there. How could you possibly make any sales if your product was just like everyone else’s out there?
You know what? It is actually very possible!
Oreo is not the only chocolate sandwich cookie. Almost every supermarket has its own brand of chocolate sandwich cookie.
And if you wanted to you can even make your own. There are recipes online for how to make them.
There’s no shame in creating a product that already exists.
Make it easy for yourself and remove that pressure that you must be unique and different.
Think of it this way – there’s no such thing as a new product these days. You might as well join the bandwagon.
To that, I will also say that the opportunity now lies in putting your own unique spin on your products.
That’s what will make it truly unique and people will appreciate that.