Sadly, the majority of small businesses fail.
After 5 years, about half of small businesses have survived, and only a third are left standing after 10 years (source). (I’m sure many don’t necessarily “fail” but no longer fit the needs/interests of the owner).
Of course, no one starts their business thinking it won’t make it, but most will need to make some radical changes to ensure its success.
If sales aren’t where you’d like them to be, consider these 3 ways to shake things up and put your handmade business on the path to success.
1 – Start Copying
Not what you would expect, but hear me out.
Most successful businesses you see today didn’t have to reinvent the wheel to make it big.
Starbucks didn’t come up with the idea of making quality coffee and serving it out of a coffee shop.
New restaurants pop up in your city every year. The owners didn’t come up with the idea of a restaurant; they copied successful restaurant styles, menus, décor, etc., and put their spin on it.
Even successful athletes grew up watching amazing players and improved their skills by mimicking the athletes they admired.
You’re a creative person so it would be almost impossible for you to create an identical product/business as someone else’s.
Your creative spin is going to come out in one way or another.
This is a matter of finding a big business you admire, one that’s selling the same product as you, and mimicking what they’re doing well, and putting your creative spin on things.
For example, let’s say I make bath & body products and I admire Bath & Body Works.
I would head to their website and assess:
- Types of products they offer
- How they create product collections
- How they photograph their products
- How they group products together
- How they name products
- Their product descriptions
- Promotions they run
- What’s featured on their home page
- How they encourage you to sign up for their newsletter
- What they send in their newsletter
Or, I could head into one of their stores and assess:
- Their lighting and ambiance
- Display fixtures and how they display samples
- Sales associates
- How they’re dressed
- How they interact with customers
- Product features they point out
- What they ask during checkout or suggest you add on
I would also analyze their marketing:
- Which social media channels do they use?
- What type of content do they post on each?
- How do they interact with followers?
- How often do they post?
- What type of content do they send in their newsletter?
- Do they have a blog? What type of articles do they write?
- Where are they featured in the press and what type of stories are written about them?
Once I have a list of their best business practices, I would start brainstorming ways to mimic them or be inspired by them.
I may notice Bath & Body Works has featured pumpkin spice-scented products on their home page to celebrate the start of fall.
Based on that, I would consider:
- What type of fall-themed product collection I could create
- Bath & Body Works scents and ingredients could influence my direction since I know those scents sell well
- How I could update my Etsy shop to promote the new collection
- Update my Etsy shop banner and announcement section (here are examples of good Etsy Shop Announcements), mimicking Bath & Body Works’ text and images
- How to make it easy for shoppers to view the collection
- Create a new section in my shop for my fall products
I may also start photoshopping my images so it’s a simple product shot on a white background.
Analyze a “competitor’s” business and look for ways to be inspired by their best business practices.
Never actually “copy” another business. Start with their basics but put your spin on things.
*”Competitor” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re directly competing with them. A small handmade soap business is not necessarily competing with Bath & Body Works. However, they sell the same type of products and may be targeting a similar market.
2 – Start Disrupting
If you don’t want to follow in the footsteps of a successful accessory/home décor/art/etc. business, consider how you can “disrupt” your market.
Keep your target market in mind and what they want/need.
It’s easy to come up with creative ideas and put a new spin on a product. But none of that matters if people won’t buy it.
Be sure to research any new and get an idea of if it will actually sell.
To help brainstorm new ideas, try answering the following questions:
- What is your target market sick and tired of seeing?
- What are their expectations when it comes to your products or businesses like yours? How can you offer something different?
- E.g. when it comes to bridal jewelry, brides expect rhinestones and pearls and traditional styles. How can you mix it up, while staying within a bridal box?
- Which segment of your target market is being ignored?
- E.g. if I’m targeting brides, I would look at different demographics of brides to see if there’s a segment that’s currently underserved. Most bridal businesses are targeting brides in their 20’s – 30’s. But many people get married or re-married later in life. Targeting a different age bracket could provide an opportunity.
- What would your competitors be annoyed to see you offer? Or worried about? How can you raise consumers’ standards so they no longer accept the old norm? (Think about how Uber disrupted the cab industry).
Another way to brainstorm is to look at several businesses you compete with and gather commonalities among them.
Then consider how you could go to the opposite end of the spectrum regarding those commonalities.
For example, let’s say I sell candles. I would look under the candle category on Etsy, as well as check out some of the bigger candle companies.
I may notice almost every candle is sold in a cylinder-shaped glass jar. I may consider how I could offer larger room candles in unique containers.
Perhaps I could use molds and concrete to make unique containers before pouring wax into them. I could also paint them to offer containers that match trending home décor colors.
You don’t need to completely turn an industry on its head to build a business or products that stand out.
Sometimes it’s something simple but overlooked.
3 – Start Mixing
A new spin can be put on a business by taking the best from two worlds.
Look at different industries and businesses that are standing out.
For example, taking the subscription service Hello Fresh and Chef’s Plate have made popular and apply it to a candle business or home décor business.
For each major holiday (e.g. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc.) offer a box full of holiday-themed items.
>> A candle business may offer a set of candles for each room. Fall may be a pumpkin pie scented candle for the kitchen, vanilla spice for the bathroom, and cedar & cloves for the bedroom.
>> A table décor business may offer a collection of items to create a stunning centerpiece for fall. And include images and instructions to help customers properly set it up.
>> A sewing business may offer pillow covers and a throw to refresh a space for fall.
Consider the businesses you love and if you can apply what they do well, to your business.
Also, look at trends within an industry and think of ways you can apply the trends to yours.
For example, in workout/lounge wear, tie-dyed fabrics are popular. Creating a tie-dye pattern in candles, soaps, or even jewelry (e.g. tie-dye patterned pendants) may help your products stand out.
Another angle is to explore common labels and how you could apply one to your business/products.
For example, some common labels are:
- Foodie – people who have a refined palette or enjoy more adventurous food.
- Tree hugger – people concerned about protecting the earth.
- Bridezilla – someone who is obsessed about their wedding day and wants everything to be perfect.
Each of those labels can be combined with a category of product to create a unique business/products that stand out.
- Foodie – food-themed art for kitchens, dining rooms, or even targeted at restaurant owners.
- Tree hugger – art the shows the devastation happening to our planet (e.g. a painting showing a beautiful scene above water and all the plastic polluting the ocean below).
- Bridezilla – custom paintings created from the bride’s favorite picture from the day.
BATH & BODY
- Foodie – bath & body products that are scented like gourmet food items, or infused with fancy/exotic food ingredients. Or soap that’s shaped like food items (e.g. a bowl of poutine).
- Tree hugger – bath & body products made from sustainable ingredients and packaged in an environmentally responsible way (e.g. compostable packaging).
- Bridezilla – a line of soaps with funny bridezilla-themed labels (e.g. “Because I’m the bride, that’s why”) or bath & body products with a de-stressing theme, branded for brides.
- Foodie – metal jewelry stamped with “foodie” phrases. Or food-themed pendants/charms. Or a jewelry business that creates pieces inspired by the dishes or décor of the best/most popular restaurants in their city or each major city (a great way to get featured in the press and/or unique places to sell your pieces…displayed at a restaurant’s entry or checkout).
- Tree hugger – jewelry made using materials derived from nature (e.g. driftwood) or from recycled materials. Or a jewelry business that donates a portion of profits to an environmental cause.
- Bridezilla – package jewelry with bridezilla-themed sayings, which could be humorous or serious (e.g. a beautiful jewelry box with “Because it’s your day and you deserve it” printed on the lid for a humorous brand, or “Because you deserve every detail to be perfect” for a serious brand). Or bridal party jewelry/gifts that come with packaging that reads “Will you be my bridesmaid? …Sorry in advance”.
Another way to come up with a business idea that mixes two good ideas is to combine things that are typically on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Consider how Peleton takes working out at home and combines it with an in-studio lesson. Two things that people previously had to choose between; you couldn’t have it both ways.
Think about your industry and how certain features of it are either one way or another and then brainstorm ways your customers can have the best of both worlds.
For example, jewelry is typically either low in price and cheap-looking or expensive and expensive-looking. A line of bridal jewelry could stand out by having high-end designs and looks at a lower price.
If you’re ready to try something new to turn your business around, try:
1 – Following in a successful business’s footsteps and mimicking (with your creative spin) every aspect of their business.
2 – Finding ways to disrupt your industry by breaking away from the same old and brainstorming ways to shake things up.
3 – Coming up with a new business/product idea by combining two good business practices/products.
You may also be interested in: 5 Things I Regret Doing as a New Business Owner
Links mentioned in the article:
- What to Put in an Etsy Shop Announcement (Examples)
- How to Define a Target Market for your Handmade Business
- How to Determine if your Target Market is Big Enough
- 5 Ways to Know if People will Buy your Handmade Product
- Every Craft Business Needs One Of These (a label)
- 5 Greatest Lessons Learned from a Failed Business
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!