How to Develop a Signature Style for your Handmade Business
When several businesses are selling similar products, consumers feel no urgency or desire to choose one business over the other.
It often comes down to price.
As a handmade business, you do not want to attract customers who are after the lowest price. It’s a hard game to keep up with and doesn’t create loyal customers.
On the other hand, if you attract customers because you’re selling products with a style that’s different than your competitors, and consumers have to come to you to get it, you’re going to build a business with loyal, repeat customers.
A signature style is how consumers identify your products as yours, without having to see your logo or business name attached to them.
It’s also how you leave a lasting impression on consumers.
How do you develop a signature style?
A signature style starts with doing something different than your competitors. You have to be able to recognize the norms in your industry and be willing to move in a different direction than them.
It’s not easy, and it does require work, but the alternative is blending in and having mediocre sales.
A signature style is created and imprinted on consumers through repetition.
For example, a soap maker may infuse soaps with wine. If they simply had one collection of wine-themed soaps (while others were a fruit-themed collection and a floral-themed collection and a spice-themed collection), it wouldn’t be a signature style. But when every soap they create incorporates an element of wine, now they have a signature style. Wine-themed soaps are what they become known for.
When you find a winning element of your business or products, be sure to repeat that element across the board.
That’s how you communicate your signature style and ensure consumers get the message.
STEPS TO CREATE A SIGNATURE STYLE
When developing a signature style, exclusion is key.
If you’re trying to create products that appeal to a wide range of customers and their preferences, it’s impossible to have a signature style.
To create something that’s perfect for one type of person, by default, that product won’t work for many others.
Are your products, brand, or business currently excluding anyone?
Are they so perfect for some people but not even close to what others want?
If not, here’s how you can begin to develop your signature style.
1 – Look at your Numbers
It’s easy to develop a signature style, but that signature style is no good if it doesn’t help you make sales.
At the end of the day, you’re in business to serve a customer. So that customers’ needs must come first.
Look at your past sales to see if there are product features more people are willing to pay for.
For example, if I’m running a soap business, and the majority of the soaps I sell are fruit-scented, that gives me a clear indication that consumers like (and are willing to spend money on) fruit-scented soaps.
If you don’t have many sales to work with, you can look at bigger brands to get an indication of what’s popular with consumers.
For example, if Bath & Body Works heavily features spice-themed products (e.g. cinnamon & nutmeg) on their home page or as a shopping filter, it’s a good indication that spice-themed bath and body products are popular.
You can also use tools such as Google Trends or Ahrefs to conduct keyword research and get an indication of the specific types of products people are searching for online.
Another profitable angle is to look at existing target markets. If there are big companies targeting specific groups of people, chances are, it’s a profitable group to make products for.
Just think about people who drink wine. There are wine clubs, wine tours, wine stores, wine magazines, wine events, etc. created specifically and exclusively for people who like wine. “Wine-drinkers” is a profitable target market. Although people may not be searching for “wine-themed soap” online, I can easily find places to market and sell to wine-drinkers.
*If you want to find learn how to find these profitable groups of people, How To Find a Goldmine of Customers will help.
If you want to make money, it’s important to let the market guide you.
I may love to create candy-scented soap, but if no one buys my “candy corn scented soap”, no one is searching for “candy-scented soap”, and I can’t find another business attempting to sell a similar product, it’s likely because there isn’t demand for it. If I continue building a signature style around the candy theme, it’s likely my business will fail.
2 – Examine your style
Your signature style must incorporate you. That’s how you make it authentic and harder to copy.
If you’re trying to emulate someone else’s signature style, you’ll always be a step behind.
But if you pull inspiration from within you, anyone who tries to copy your designs will be the one falling behind.
What do you LOVE? How would you describe your personal signature style?
Better yet, how might friends and family describe your personal signature style?
Try to think of the labels people give you. They may be related to your style, your personality, your lifestyle, etc.
Can you incorporate these qualities into your products?
For example, my friends often refer to me as a “crazy cat lady” because I’m obsessed with my cats. I might examine how I could incorporate the “cat lady” label into my products and make them perfect for other cat owners (another profitable target market).
What comes naturally to you is a great element to work into your signature style.
3 – Repeat your signature style
Once you’ve defined a style that reflects what consumers want and who you are, it’s important to apply it to as many areas of your business as you can.
Make small changes and look for proof (in the way of sales) that you’re moving in the right direction.
For example, I wouldn’t re-brand my business and wipe out all my existing products to move in the direction of my signature style. Instead, I might start with a collection of products that incorporate my new signature style. If those sell well, I might work on updating the banner and About section in my Etsy shop. Then move onto changing my tagline, then maybe re-branding my business, etc.
When you find the right signature style, and your target market is telling you they love it (by spending money with you), start applying it to as many areas of your business you can.
To help apply your signature style to different areas of your business, and in different ways, start by summing up your signature style in one or two words.
You can use a label for who your business is for (e.g. wine drinkers), or a popular style it follows (e.g. bohemian), or a vibe/mood/feeling it evokes (e.g. whimsical and feminine), etc. Then think about how you can infuse that word into every area of your business, such as:
- Labels and packaging
- Product descriptions
- Craft show display
Don’t move too fast to incorporate your signature style across the board, but do be sure to give a new product or direction a fair chance.
You can’t make one new product and expect to see results after sharing it on social media a few times.
Remember, average conversion rates online are 1% – 2%. In most cases, your new product needs to reach at least 100 – 200 people for it to even have a chance of selling.
So keep an eye on numbers and give your new direction a chance.
You also need to build a story around your signature style.
For example, one wine-themed soap among a variety of fruit, herb, floral, and spice themed soap listings doesn’t tell the story of “soaps for wine drinkers”.
But if I create a collection of wine-themed soaps (e.g. Pinot Grigio soap, Merlot soap, Sangria soap, etc.) or a collection of wine-themed bath & body products (e.g. wine-themed soap, lotion, and bubble bath), and photograph them, describe them, package them, display them, etc. in a way that connects with wine-drinkers, they’re going to receive the “wine” message clearly.
Sales and profits should dictate every move you make.
As you put your new signature style out there, let your return on investment tell you how much more time and money you should invest into it.
Please share your signature style in the comments!
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!
I teach workshops where they make fused glass items, functional and decorative. I think my USP providing them with me time to relax, distress whilst creating a beautiful piece of glass. How else would you do this for a service business?
Erin; Thanks for another informative article. I have been making many different forms of my artwork and I can see how if I narrow it down it might be better. I do know that the artworks I like best are what sells. I haven’t tried a questionnaire but think I will in my next newsletter. One customer gave me feedback when we were talking that I am planning to try. She likes the addition of butterflies and other creatures on the garden art I make. I have several little sculptures to add to present and new artwork.
I sell painted rocks at our weekly market. Owls are my best seller, but often get a request for other animals, and I do make them too, always two or more, because there are more people who might be interested. For the large or heavy items, I make fabric shopping bags in different sizes from any nice material I find in thrift stores or get donated. The clients like them and bring the bags to the market again.
Following your advice, I use colorful tablecloths under the displays, on two tables, which attract a lot of nice comments. ( I should sell tablecloths but only locally made items are allowed)
Owls are still my signature items, in different sizes, standing or hanging on barn or driftwood.
I really like your writing, it has helped me focus on what is important in selling at the market. I have shared it with granddaughters and daughter
Thank you Erin
Two years ago I realized I was selling the same jewelry as everyone else at craft shows. I changed to making personalized hand stamped jewelry and my business increased. Last year I brought a small table and my tools with me and offered to make the items right there instead of taking orders. My business increased again. At all the shows I do I’ve only seen one other person sell what I sell but she doesn’t create there. My passion for my work comes through because I focus on just one style.
I make primtive rustic style home decor. Is the fact that what I make “primitive” or do I need to focus on one type of thing within the perimeters of “primitive”? So if I sew, should I only sew. If I paint, should I only paint. Or is it OK to mix it up as long as it’s still with a “primitive” look?
Terri – Thanks for reading! Finding a USP for a service is similar to finding one for a product. You must first know what you’re offering that’s different from competitors. The formula I like to follow for coming up with a powerful USP is niche market + niche product/service + benefit. So who are your classes specifically for, what are you specifically teaching them to do and what’s the benefit they get from it? “Benefit” is an important element, you really must uncover why someone might care about what you have to offer…what do they get out of it and will they be willing to pay for that benefit? I go into more detail in my free challenge if you’re interested: https://app.convertkit.com/landing_pages/333039?v=7
Joyce – thanks for reading! A questionnaire is a good way to gather feedback from your ideal customers. One tip for you if you do send one out; use specific questions to guide the feedback. For example, if you simply ask “what would you like to see me sell?” you’ll get a wide variety of answers and other people’s signature styles. Instead, you may give a multiple choice option with a few features you would love to add to stay within your signature style.
Connie – I love that! I’ve seen photos of your owls on driftwood and think those create a great signature style. I’m happy to hear market sales are going well…you’re on the right path!
Allene – Thank you so much for sharing your story! Perfect example of how effective a signature style and focused product line can be. Keep up the good work!
Cynthia – Thanks for reading! There definitely isn’t a hard rule to follow and it’s different for every business. You’ll know what’s best for your business. If sales aren’t where you’d like them to be, you may try focusing more on one craft or getting more specific with what you sell in a primitive style. What I’ve always found is that the more niche you get with your products and who you’re selling to, the easier it is to run your business and sell your products. So if you currently sell primitive style table linens, pillows, paintings and painted pots, you may want to get really specific with the “primitive style” (e.g. only offering certain colors or using limited materials) or you may want to get really specific with what you sell (e.g. table linens, OR pillows, OR paintings, OR painted pots) to find a niche. BUT…if sales are good and offering sewing and painting in primitive style is working for you, then you may not need to find a niche. Let your market tell you whether you need to get more specific enough; if they’re not buying, try something new and if they are, keep heading in a similar direction 🙂
A very interesting and thought provoking article as I both make and buy in jewellery to sell. I think I have been trying to please too many people with a fairly large range of items that are a bit disconnected. Reading through your article I realised that I should stick to what I love and what is also my business name. I love all things glittery and sparkly 🙂 My business name is GlitzyPixie so I should just focus on items that match my name – shiny, blingy, glittery and sparkly. It seems so obvious now. Thank you for making me realise this as I have been thinking of giving up selling but this has given me inspiration to carry on. I will let you know how it goes. Thank you again.
Hi Helen, trying to please too many people is an easy trap to fall into. I did it with my handbag business and even have to watch myself with Made Urban. You almost feel like you’re missing out on something by not offering a product or service for more people. But business gets a lot easier when you focus, focus, focus 🙂 Glittery and sparkly sounds like a good start for fine tuning your signature style! Please do keep me posted on your progress. I’m so happy to hear you’re going to give it another go!
I was an RN for 49 years and retired two years ago-the worst 2 years of my life. I started making jewelry about 10 years ago, for myself and my sisters and friends. I have a lot of jewelry making supplies, but my one venture into selling was a disaster. I didn’t sell one thing. You’re article made me realli think about what I might focus on, and why my necklaces and bracelets didn’t sell, after all that work and time spent. Thanks to you I came up with..small, cool spectrum colored earrings, hypoallergenic, with nature related charms. Some sparkle added, too. I need a focus, and this might be it.All my friends and sisters love my stuff, and I make only what I would wear.I am afraid to try another bazaar. Not selling a thing was just soul crushing. Any encouragement would be appreciated!!
This article has helped me so much, thank you! I’m in the very early stages of setting up my cake business focusing on using high protein (for the gym junkies like myself) GF, and using only natural sugars. Until I read this I was thinking “ how can I cater to everyone’s dietary needs?” Well I guess the answer to that is I can’t! So I’m going to simplify things and try not to over think this. Some primary research is in order also I think
I can’t wait to get your articles. My sister and I are having great success after reading and applying your help. We make embroidered items that people can actually use and our signature is the quality. people look at other vendors but come back to purchase ours. THANK YOU for your help. My mother used to always say…don’t be a jack of all trades, but a master of one.
Last year while I was off work for a while, I thought I would make some crafts. I participated in 2 very small Christmas markets, and only sold a couple of items. In the spring I was off work again and went to a large market. Only sold 2 items, no wreaths. I’ve been making wreaths and other items. I made my second headstone topper and posted on a local buy and sell and sold it that night.
So talking about brands, should I continue trying to sell a variety of crafts, or stick to one type??
Not all cemeteries allow headstone topper arrangements , but some local ones do.
Thanks for any help.
Laura, central Alberta
This reply is for Judy. Don’t be discouraged about your sales at your first vendor event. I thought I would do better at my first event but only sold one item. I also had to offer it at a discount. I had already found another way to market my product by giving presentations to clubs and at my first presentation I sold five artworks. I have three more scheduled and hope for the same outcome. My presentation is a small demonstration but I put together a Power Point Presentation on how my artwork can be used along with design hints to reach my market. Also, like you I have decided to make only what I really like. Years ago I did presentations on the styles of jewelry (dramatic, romantic etc.) and did several at J.C. Penney’s (I was a color consultant then Winter, Spring Summer, Fall) You might try approaching a Gift Store and offer to do workshops if they put your work on display. Joyce
I make switchable tassel necklaces. My style is casual, trendy BoHo. They are fun to wear and lightweight. They can buy one necklace and then buy different color tassels to complete other outfits.
If I could only own one tassel it would be multi-colored.
Hi – I make handbags all types so should I be concentrating on one particular type of bag. My friends tell me that my bags are lovely but I am having problems trying to sell them online. I’m not sure how to work who my ideal customer should be for handbags. Is this too difficult an area to be in ie making handbags, there seems to be plenty of people doing it and successfully. I like bright colourful fabrics and also use faux leather combined with fabric. Any ideas for me please as I love what I do but need to be able to sell. Thanks Cherie
Hi Cherie, I’m having the same problem. Your comment sounds almost exactly like mine. What am I doing wrong? This post has helped me greatly to examine my shop/products. I love what I do, and I think that’s the 1st thing to consider if you don’t love how can you do your best work? I used quality textiles, unique designs, and limited quantities and I have good price points. Not cheap, but $50 – $150 range. I don’t want to make $20.00 bags with cheap fabrics, that’s not what I would buy, so why sell it! Anyway, I saw your comment and decided to comment. I wish you well in your endeavor and hope you have a “great” sell season!
I used to be in business as a traveling tiedyers with my husband and had a built in customer base. I’ve now moved on to just doing art and jewelry alone. Hubby developed some health issues so can’t do production work any more). This article was brilliant as I’ve been faffing about, trying to find my signature style. This will help tremendously!
I stumbled across this article today, and boy is it helpful. I’ve struggled with my online Etsy busy for the last couple of years and growing increasingly frustrated with poor sales. This article helped me understand what’s needed to attract my customers. My handbags are “gorgeous”, not my saying, but what everyone says when they see them. Well made, quality textiles, unique, some limited qualities, and some, one of a kind. Good price point $50 – $150. I know what I like, I tried making lower-priced, bags, basic style, no extras, and there was no connection, so, I stopped making them. Isn’t the point of a handmade is business, doing what you love and it will turn into sells?
Thanks for reading and I’m so happy to hear it’s helpful! I think there needs to be a balance between passion and profits.
This is, of course, just my opinion, but I believe you should start with something you have a true passion for or skill in but then keep re-working it to find what is actually going to sell. Passion and skill allows you to stay motivated and ahead of the competition, but you need to also keep in mind: what are your specific customers passionate about? (e.g. being vegan, being a new mom, being a trendsetter, etc.) And there needs to be a passion to serve them.
When you create products for a specific type of person, you put their needs (i.e. what fabrics will they like, where would they want a pocket, etc.) above yours (i.e. I like this fabric, I want to make this type of bag).
I think passion for what you do must be there, but that it’s easier to build a successful business when we think about the passion of our customers first (e.g. they love animals and are vegan) and then work our passion and skills around that (e.g. creating designs you love using faux leather and suede, and maybe donating a portion of each sale to an animal charity).
I hope that helps a bit 🙂
Erin, great article and wonderful reminder to focus. I sell “gourmet” pet treats and started the business to provide nutritional treats to pets. Along the way it seems I got sidetracked by what others were doing with their “pretty” treats and although I only offer healthy treats whether decorated or not, that message somehow fell by the wayside. Instead of touting the benefits of the treats – vegan, gluten free, low fat, etc., I focused on pretty packaging as I had read in other courses that presentation is everything. At Farmers Markets, even though my prices are reasonable, pet owners don’t buy much as there isn’t a good enough reason to part with their money.
I will definitely revamp my style and stress the importance of nutritious treats on my displays. I have another market in 2 weeks so it will be a good test.
Thanks for reading and commenting Nancy!
I’m excited to hear how your next market goes.
Presentation is definitely important, but as you mentioned, it won’t help if shoppers don’t have a good reason to part with their money. I think determining that good reason and then communicating that across the board is key.
For example, how can your packaging communicate “healthy” instead of “cute”? It could be as simple as using brown paper bags instead of plastic and neutral/natural colors for text. Keep me posted on how it goes!
I have a HUGE passion for cats and I’m a sucker for any cat themed product. For this reason I’ve been planning on starting a handmade business selling a variety of sewn, cat themed products on Etsy, that appeal to the cat lover audience, which I guess would be my niche. The types of products I have in mind to make range from bookmarks, baby bibs, placemats, kids’ travel pillows, cat toys, laundry bags, fanny packs etc. Since I’ve always gravitated towards bold, rich colors with a mix of the fun, and whimsical, I’d like to add this aspect to all of my cat products, which means this could be my signature style. However, I have concerns that perhaps this type of style is already very saturated in the niche I have in mind. Can you please provide some guidance as to how I can still apply bold, rich colors with a mix of fun and whimsical to my sewn products to make them stand out as my signature style and different from the competition? Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Thank You!
My sister and I make soap and sell it online and at a local tailgate market. Our signature style is what we have available right now that we or friends or family grow. We grow a lot of herbs, and so have herbal soaps. We have some good friends that grow ginger and turmeric, and ginger turmeric facial soap is one of our best sellers. We also have friends with goats and another couple who have bees. So there’s our oatmeal, milk and honey soap. We key in on local and seasonal. Yeah, we might only have six of this or four of that, but that’s what our customers have come to expect with us. They like the variety.