August 6, 2018

How to Find a Signature Style for your Handmade Business

I believe everyone has a special talent they’re meant to share with the world. I’ve had an idea of what mine are from a fairly young age since I’ve always loved art and being creative. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized my calling was being creative through writing. It’s easy for me to see what a perfect fit it is for me now, and have developed a signature style of writing, but it wasn’t always that obvious.

 

I can’t just write on any subject. If you told me to write a fictional short story, I’d be lost. I don’t really have an interest in reading fictional books and have stocked my library with business books. 

 

So naturally, that’s where I’ve found my niche in writing. I love sharing business advice, specifically with handmade business owners, because that’s also where my knowledge is.

 

Translating business advice into stories, analogies and easy to follow steps for handmade business owners is my signature. It’s what Made Urban has become known for and what I’ve built my success on.

 

It’s easy for me to explain my signature style now that I’ve found it but I understand it’s not that easy when sales aren’t giving you a clear indication of your path to success.

 

Everyone has a calling.

 

But if it were easy to discover that calling, no one would be working in suck-the-life-out-of-you jobs or struggling with their businesses.

 

I’ve experienced, more than once, how much easier running a business is once you find your personalized path to success.

 

I want this article to help get you a little closer to that path by uncovering your signature style.

 

If you’re unsure of what your signature style is, can’t define your USP (unique selling position) or describe your brand, I think this article and analogy will help. Let me know in the comments if it does once you’re done reading!

 

 Having a signature style will create a business and products consumers have to come to you for. It tells consumers what you do best and why they should buy from you. Here's how to find your business' signature style.

 

EXCLUSION IS KEY TO YOUR SIGNATURE STYLE

To create something that’s perfect for one person, by default, that product won’t work for many others. But that’s a good thing!

 

Let me use an analogy to explain why making something that’s so right for one person and so wrong for many others is the best path for your business.

 

Imagine I’m hosting a dinner party.

 

I create a Facebook event and invite all my friends, because I don’t want to exclude anyone.

 

I ask everyone who accepts the invitation to tell me their dietary restrictions and what they would love to eat that evening.

 

I have lots of people interested in coming to my event and everything from lactose intolerant and celiac eaters to vegetarians and meatatarians suggesting dishes.

 

I’ve never made a dish without cheese or creams and am somewhere in between a vegetarian and meatatarian. So I have to research what types of meals I can make for all the dietary restrictions and preferences I’ve received.

 

I spend a ton of time and money testing recipes and buying ingredients I’ll never use again.

 

When people arrive at my party and are ready to eat, there’s mass confusion. People are asking me what’s what and to list ingredients to be sure a dish safe for them to eat.

 

Plates are half empty because I didn’t have the time to make multiple dishes for each person. The vegetarian can only find a couple things they’ll eat while the lactose intolerant eaters only have one dish to choose from.

 

By the end of the night, no one is overly satisfied, paying me compliments or giving me the credit I deserve for all the food I’ve prepped. The dishes were so-so because I spread myself too thin. I have way too many leftovers and can’t convince anyone to take them home.

 

I wasted a ton of money and will have a hard time getting anyone to come to a future dinner party.

 

That’s what’s happening with handmade businesses trying to offer something for everyone.

 

And I’m not just talking about a business selling art, jewelry and soap. This is also an issue for those focusing on just art, just jewelry or just soap but who are lacking a signature style.

 

Let’s take a look at another analogy and how much easier it is when there’s a set signature style…

 

After the dinner party from hell, I learned my lesson and decided to try it again but by doing it my way.

 

I love macaroni and cheese. I’ve never met a bowl I didn’t enjoy and have chosen it in the game of: if you could eat one type of food for the rest of your life and not gain weight or harm your body, what would it be? Is it just me who fantasizes about such opportunities? 😉

 

I’ve tried making and eating every kind of mac and cheese from wheat-free and even dairy-free to super indulgent, mega creamy, Million Dollar Macaroni & Cheese Casserole. If it’s on the menu in a restaurant, I don’t even have to look at the other items, I know what I’m getting. I’m a self-professed mac and cheese expert and know it inside and out…..now I’m craving macaroni and cheese at 6 am.

 

So I decide to throw a Mac & Cheese dinner party. I select three amazing macaroni and cheese dishes to make, a few sides and the perfect drinks to compliment the meal. I invite all the same people to the party but have much less people RSVP-ing “yes”.

 

Lactose intolerant Larry and Celiac Sally politely decline but that’s okay with me. Making a dairy-free and wheat-free option isn’t really what I want to spend my time doing and I know not many people would dish up those options.

 

The dinner party is a smashing success.

 

I didn’t spend a ton of money buying ingredients for a wide variety of dishes. I didn’t stress or wonder if people were going to like what I made because I knew, if someone likes mac and cheese, they’ll love what I make. People raved about how good the food was, went back from seconds and asked to take leftovers home.

 

Not only that, guests left and talked about how amazing the party was and described their favorite mac and cheese dish to friends. People were begging to be on the guest list for my next Mac & Cheese party.

 

That’s the type of passion you must have for the products you make. You must love every detail of them so you have a deep understanding of what other people with the same interests love.

 

I couldn’t have had the same success putting on a liver & onions party or making a little bit of everything to suit more preferences.

 

For me to create a dinner party that was so amazing people cleared their plates, asked for seconds and thirds, and raved about it once it was over, I had to exclude some people from the guest list.

 

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 they are, you’re on the right path. If not, keep reading.

 

 

 

START WITH YOU

I get why many people feel stuck when it comes to narrowing down their ideal customer and aren’t sure how it helps them sell more. When you’re looking at a sea of people and trying to figure out who you should make products, create a brand or build a business for, it becomes overwhelming. The options are limitless.

 

But let’s try this. Let’s make YOU your ideal customer.

 

I was the ideal customer in the dinner party example and was all about mac & cheese. If I opened a mac & cheese food truck or restaurant, I would know exactly what to put on the menu and what other mac & cheese lovers would look for in their search for the best bowl of mac & cheese.

 

Just because someone loves mac & cheese it doesn’t mean it’s all they eat or wouldn’t enjoy a nice salad, steak or pizza once and a while. But we’re not trying to serve someone in every area of his or her life, every day of the week; that’s unrealistic.

 

We could bring in a few more sales by offering salad and pizza as well as mac & cheese but then we’d water down our message and have a hard time creating the best salads, pizza AND mac & cheese. And who goes back again and again for mediocre food?

 

We must focus our businesses on one thing and doing it so well, we become the best at it.

 

There are some businesses, such as Walmart that are able to offer a wide variety of products and serve almost all of their customers’ needs. But Walmart is a multi-billion dollar company.

 

You’re running a small handmade business, likely on your own or with one or two other people and without a ton of startup capital.

 

You must start small and grow slowly.

 

You want to serve someone in one area of their life and serve them so well, they only come to you for that specific item.

 

Once you’ve perfected that item, built a brand and name on it and have consistent sales coming in, then you can work on adding new types of products to your lineup.

 

 

 

CREATE A LOVE LIST

What do you LOVE?

 

Think about the product you make; art, accessories, soap, stationery, or maybe you’re a mom buying accessories, clothing or toys for your child.

 

If you could only hang one piece of art in your home, wear one type of accessory, use one type of soap, etc. what would it be?

 

Describe your item as though you’re asking Santa to bring you the perfect ___________________ (pair of earrings, bar of soap, hat/scarf/mitten set, piece of art, toy for your kid, etc.)

 

Take a sheet of paper or open a Word document and create a Love List describing all the details of your perfect product. Think about:

 

  • The colors you want
  • The style you love
  • Ingredients or materials you couldn’t live without
  • The goal you want to achieve (e.g. when I wear earrings I want them to stand out, add color or I want to look classic)
  • Special requirements (e.g. I can only wear surgical steel or lightweight earrings)

 

 

Don’t worry about what you currently sell, especially if it’s a wide variety.

 

We want to find your signature style and the easiest way to do that is to start with one item and create a signature product that embodies your signature style.

 

Once you find success, you can repeat elements from that top-selling product, in other products.

 

Mac & cheese would my food truck’s signature. But I’d need to find proof of success by creating one amazing mac & cheese dish people were willing to pay for before adding bacon & jalapeno, broccoli & brussel sprouts or buffalo chicken mac & cheese.

 

Once you’ve created your Love List, create a second list that describes what you automatically exclude by creating that perfect product.

 

If your love list is too inclusive, you won’t be able to describe the styles you’re excluding and you’ll know you have to be more specific about what you love.

 

For example, if within the pasta category I said I loved creamy pasta, cheesy pasta, tomato pasta, meat pasta, veggie pasta, etc. my list of what I love would be much longer than what I’m excluding. I do love every type of pasta, but if I want to find a signature dish, I’ve gotta get more specific than that.

 

Your exclusion list should be much longer than your love list.

 

 

EXAMPLE

If I were making art I may answer the questions in the following way:

 

 

  • I love soft colors, specifically blues and greens.
  • I love modern, detailed art; paintings that are so realistic, they almost look like a photograph.
  • I love the details that come out when using acrylic paints and I also love the interest it adds when a picture is painted on a piece of wood full of knots and flaws.
  • I love to add a serene mood to a room and hang landscape pictures you can get lost in and wonder what the story is behind the picture. Like a barn on the prairies that’s about to fall over or an abandoned car in the woods.
  • I love medium sized pieces of art; I don’t have a lot of big empty walls but they’re not small walls either. I feel like small pieces of art can make a space feel cluttered so something around 24” wide/tall up to 72” would be a good size for my home.

 

 

That’s a pretty specific look at the type of art I love. And if I were a painter, that would be the type of art I would create because I love it and have a deep understanding of why someone else might too.

 

I don’t understand abstract art. I think it’s cool, but I just don’t get it. So how could I create abstract art for someone who loves it and has a deep understanding of it?

 

From that list, I can also clearly define what’s excluded:

 

  • No bright colors, neons, black & white, or deep rich colors
  • No abstract, Renaissance, pop art, art deco, etc.
  • No watercolors, pencil, pen, markers, charcoal, etc. and no canvas or paper
  • No portraits, animal, food, flowers, etc.
  • No overly small or oversized pieces of art

 

 

This exercise wouldn’t work if I listed all the types of art I don’t mind. Instead I choose the specific type of art I would love.

 

 

 

APPLY IT

Now that you’ve defined your signature style, think about how you can apply it to your business and attract people who share a similar style.

 

Before you make any major changes to your business, you do want to be sure you test, crunch numbers and research to be sure the idea is profitable. Make one change, give it time so you get accurate results, analyze the results and move forward or revert back accordingly.

 

 

Here are few areas you can apply your signature style once you find it:

 

 

PRODUCTS

Remember how much time and money I spent perfecting a wide variety of dishes in the dinner party for different diets example? A handmade business owner is doing the same if they try to create a product for everyone or even for the tastes of several different people.

 

Narrow down your product offering if you’re currently trying to cater to too many types of customers.

 

Start with one product you love, apply your specific tastes and create something that encompasses your signature style.

 

Don’t play it safe. If you’re not excluding people when it comes to who would buy your product, you’re playing it too safe.

 

Put that item out there and see what the response is. Ask for feedback. Send out a survey and allow people to answer questions about your product anonymously.

 

Keep tweaking until you find an item several other people also love and are willing to spend money on. Once you do, repeat the features of it in other products.

 

For example, if a jewelry maker found a pair of brightly colored tassel earrings were their moneymakers, they could create necklaces and bracelets that also use brightly colored tassels.

 

If you can’t currently describe your signature style, there’s likely nothing consumers feel the have to come to you to buy.

 

What do shoppers need to come to you for if they want the best?

 

 

 

USP

A unique selling position (USP) is something a lot of handmade businesses struggle to define. Here are the three biggest mistakes made with USP’s

 

Once you find your signature style, it becomes much easier to narrow down your USP.

 

Your USP is basically answering: what do you do better than anyone else?

 

What sets your art apart from other artists’ work? What makes your handmade soap better or more unique than another soap maker’s? How are your handmade earrings different from the earrings someone can buy in the mall for half the price?

 

You should be able to provide an answer that describes ALL your products, not just one.

 

If a soap maker sells one bar of soap that looks like a beautiful flower and makes for a great wedding favor, that would create a compelling USP/reason for people to buy from them. But if the rest of their products are regular: bars of soap, bath bombs, lotions, etc., that USP doesn’t apply because they haven’t incorporated their signature style to every product.

 

If you can’t answer why someone should buy from you over a competitor, shoppers won’t know why either and then they don’t have a compelling reason to buy from you.

 

Finding your signature style will help you define your USP.

 

If you’d like a bit more direction on defining your USP, please join the free 5-day email course BEAT LAST YEAR’S SALES. It covers finding a strong USP on Day 3. Read more about the free course and join here

 

 

 

BRAND

A brand is built on a great USP and since a USP is influenced by your signature style, that style should also be built into your brand.

 

Everything your shoppers and customers encounter with your business should be touched by your brand. If your brand is fun and whimsical, your emails, website text, invoices, signage at a craft show, product labels, sales pitches, etc. should all have a fun and whimsical vibe…and that only covers the sound (text, language, etc.) of your brand, there are many other areas.

 

Think about how you would sum up your signature style and USP in one or two words.

 

For a Mac & Cheese restaurant, it might be: GOURMET

 

For the artist, the soft blues and greens and get-lost-in-the-painting landscape theme might evoke: SERENE

 

“Gourmet” would come through in every aspect of a Mac & Cheese restaurant’s business from the menus, signage, tables, chairs, tablecloths, cutlery and dishes, server attire, language used to describe dishes, etc.

 

“Serene” might come through in the artist’s business in the way they name each painting, display them in photos or at a craft fair, the feel of their craft fair booth, the design of their website, colors used in their logo, etc.

 

“Gourmet” and “Serene” are their brands and every tiny detail of their business is how they communicate it.

 

 

 

Once you find your signature style there are so many ways you can implement it. Have fun playing around to find your signature style and remember to make smart decisions.

 

If I loved ketchup and steak sandwiches, instead of mac and cheese, I’d be aware that it’s probably not loved by many others and wouldn’t make the most profitable restaurant.

 

Make sure you can easily find others who share an interest in your signature style. Being unable to find competition for your product is usually not a good thing in business; it may be proof there isn’t a market for it.

 

 

Please share your signature style in the comments! What would you choose if you could only own one of your products?

 

 





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Comments

16 thoughts on “How to Find a Signature Style for your Handmade Business”

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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 🙂

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

    Erin

  9. 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!!

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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!

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