If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, have taken one of my free email courses or have read any of my ebooks, you know I encourage handmade businesses to limit how many products they make and sell.
With me constantly preaching about limiting products, it makes sense that one of the most common questions I get is:
“Am I making too much product?”
Although I can’t answer that question for you without gathering information on your revenue, profits, return on investment, etc. I can help you come to a conclusion.
And you’re the best person to make big decisions about your business because you know it inside and out.
>> You know whether one type of product gets more response on Facebook than another
>> You know which product always get noticed at a craft show
>> You know which items are your bestsellers
>> You know what’s best for your business <<
Other people can offer you guidance, advice, motivation, etc. but at the end of the day, you have to go with your gut and what you feel is best for you and your business.
*If you don’t know your numbers when it comes to things like revenue, profits, ROI, conversion rate, etc. you’ll benefit from THE SUCCESS PLANNER.
It’s important to know that there really isn’t a “right number” of products to offer. There’s a right number for your business and that number may be higher or lower than what other businesses offer or what I suggest.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH PRODUCT?
We’ll use these numbers as a starting point. The questions that follow in this article will help add more clarity.
In most cases, a handmade business should be sticking to:
That means all of your products fall under one of the following categories:
- Bath & body
- Home décor
As you branch outside of one category, it starts to require very different materials, tools, skills, etc., which means it’s harder to be efficient and profitable.
Under that one category, I believe a handmade business should offer around:
1 – 5 TYPES OF PRODUCTS
- Under the BATH & BODY category: (1) Bar of soap, (2) hand lotion, (3) toner
- Under the JEWELRY category: (1) Earrings, (2) rings, (3) necklaces, (4) bracelets
- Under the ART category: (1) Acrylic paintings
Limiting the types of products offered to five or less is particularly important for a new business or a business that’s struggling to profit.
You may need to test new products and make changes to existing ones to find your bestsellers and to increase profits, but in the startup phase, my suggestion is to swap products in and out to stay within that 1 – 5 products range.
As a business finds success with products, marketing, sales channel(s), and day-to-day operations, and is able to repeat patterns, then it can start to expand its product offering. However, if a business can’t keep one plate spinning, how will it get several plates spinning?
Get a few products selling and profiting and find your rhythm before you add more to your plate.
Within those 1 – 5 types of products, you may offer options. When it comes to options, my suggestions is:
3 – 5 PRODUCT OPTIONS
Product options offer slight variations of a product. This allows you to have a variety for shoppers to browse and to appeal to different styles/needs/etc. but remain focused.
For example, you may offer:
- Soap, lotion, and toner
- PRODUCT OPTIONS: (1) normal skin (2) dry skin (3) oily skin (4) mature skin
- Earrings, rings, necklaces, and bracelets
- PRODUCT OPTIONS: (1) silver (2) gold (3) rose gold
- PRODUCT OPTIONS: (1) skylines (2) city streets (3) landmarks
In some cases, you may even add another level of options.
- Skylines, city streets, landmarks
- New York City
- Skylines, city streets, landmarks
How you organize your products is up to you. What’s important is that all products make sense together.
For example, adding bookmarks to the list of paintings doesn’t make sense. Neither does adding paintings of kittens and puppies to a collection of travel paintings.
In the example of the soap vendor selling 3 products, each offered in 3 options, they have a total of 9 products for shoppers to choose between.
The focus of making 3 different products with slight variations to create 3 options in each, makes it much more profitable compared to offering 9 completely different products, which would require big changes made to:
- Shipping prices
- Processes and techniques
- Display fixtures
1 – 5 types of products won’t work for every business and you’re the only person who can decide if that number is too high or low for you. Use the following questions to determine your “right” number.
FINDING YOUR RIGHT NUMBER
To help you determine if you’re offering too many types of products or too many options, you can answer the following questions, which are divided into three categories:
1 – PRODUCTS
Offering too many products makes it easy for your business to lose its identity. For consumers to remember a business, something must stand out about it. Consider the following questions about your products:
CAN YOUR PRODUCTS BE USED TOGETHER?
Creating products that compliment each other creates cohesion and helps increase sales, as well as sales per transaction (i.e. a purchase includes 2 or more items)
If someone is shopping for one of your items, would they logically buy your other items at the same time?
For example, someone shopping for a new bag may also be interested in a new wallet. However, they’re not likely thinking about a greeting card, table runner, or a burp cloth (unless the bag they’re looking at is a diaper bag).
Vendors selling products under one category (e.g. jewelry, home décor, art, etc.), can still have a tendency to offer too much variety within that category. If your products all fall under the same product category, consider if each would be worn/used/displayed/etc. by the same person.
>> would the same customer use your face wash, cream, and toner?
>> would your customers be happy having every piece of your jewelry in their wardrobe or are there only a few pieces that appeal to their style?
>> could each piece of your art be displayed in the same home?
This doesn’t apply to the product options you offer in each product; that may cause a slight variation in who purchases your product.
>> a customer who buys your face wash, cream, and toner in the option for oily skin probably won’t also use your products in the option for dry skin.
>> a customer who prefers gold may not purchase your silver options, but they’d love and wear every style of ring, necklace, and bracelet you offer in gold.
>> a customer may not hang art featuring all 5 travel destinations but rather focus on the destinations they’ve visited.
Trying to offer something for everyone or to suit a wide variety of tastes, often leads to a product selection getting out of control. If your products aren’t likely to be purchased and used together or purchased by the same person, you may be offering too many products or too much variation through options.
DO YOUR PRODUCTS SHARE A USP?
A USP is a unique selling position and it’s impossible for a business to have a USP when its products are all over the place.
If I’m selling colorful paintings, eclectic jewelry, and knitted scarves, how do I sum up what I do in a simple, easy to understand message?
It would be hard to do because it’s there isn’t a clear connection between the three categories and types of products.
If instead I focus on one of those categories of products, let’s say Art and find a niche within it, then it becomes easier to explain what I sell and for consumers to understand why they should buy from me.
My USP may become: I sell colorful pop art paintings featuring the skylines, city streets, and landmarks of popular travel destinations.
Now a consumer understands what I’m an expert at and that I’m the person to come to if they want a painting that reminds them of their favorite trip.
You may be offering too many products or product options if you don’t have a USP or have a hard time clearly explaining:
>> what you sell
>> who you sell to
>> why you sell it (what’s the hole in the marketplace you’re filling?)
*You’ll find an entire chapter on developing your USP in HOW TO SELL HANDMADE BEYOND FRIENDS & FAMILY.
DO YOUR PRODUCTS SHARE A SIGNATURE STYLE?
Is there a theme that gets carried throughout all your products?
If a craft show shopper had to sum up all of your products, could they pick up on a common theme? (*Not in terms of category, e.g. “everything is for the home”, but rather in terms of the style or feeling all your products have)
Where your USP communicates the benefits of your products and why consumers need to come to you if they want the best _________, your signature style communicates your visual identity (how people know a product is from your brand without needing to see a logo).
Think about your friends who have a strong sense of style. You might see a piece of clothing and think: That is so __________ (Jane or Sarah or Kelly).
We want the same type of reaction when consumers see your products so your business stands out to them and they’re able to separate your products from your competitors.
If a consumer can’t really tell the difference between your products and another business’ they’ll likely buy from the business with the lowest prices (e.g. if you see two red hats that seem almost identical but one is $10 and the other is $25, which are you going to buy?).
If your products have a distinct style and there aren’t many other businesses offering something similar, consumers have to come to you to get “the look” and you’re going to make more sales 🙂
Too many products and product options make it hard to apply the same signature style to all.
For example, applying “colorful statement pieces” to a line of jewelry would be relatively straightforward. Applying that style to jewelry, bookmarks, greeting cards, etc. becomes quite difficult.
That’s an exaggerated example, but even for a business selling products under one category (e.g. jewelry), developing a signature style can be neglected in favor of creating more and more products in hopes of appealing to more and more consumers.
You may be offering too many products or product options if you don’t have a signature style/theme, can’t apply it to all products, or haven’t applied it to all products.
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2 – TIME
A business offering too many products is piling more and more onto an already full plate.
There are many business tasks that require your attention, outside of creating products, so you can’t spend 90% of your time on “create” tasks (market, sell, and admin tasks require your time too).
The following questions relate to a few important aspects that need to be addressed in your business. See if they’re being neglected due to all of your time going towards creating new products.
You may also be interested in tips to increase your profits:
DO YOU HAVE A BRAND?
A brand is something a lot of small business owners believe they don’t need to worry about. Thinking…that’s for the big companies who sell products with their logo splashed across them.
But a brand affects so many parts of your business.
If I gave you an assignment to make your business appeal to children and have every element say: “playful and whimsical”, what changes would you make?
>> Which colors would you choose for products, website design, craft show booth, etc.?
>> How would you name your products?
>> What type of setting would you create for photoshoots and craft show displays?
Now imagine I told you to make your business appeal to women who live a holistic lifestyle and to make the elements of your business communicate “natural and calming”. How would your colors, photography, website, display, etc. change?
But what if I said: make your business appeal to women? What colors would you choose? How would you style your photos and website? What would your craft show display look like?
It becomes harder to decide because your options are unlimited.
Defining a brand and applying it to all areas of your business helps set your business apart, create cohesion within it, and tells a group of consumers that your products are perfect for them.
If you don’t have a brand or haven’t had time to start shaping it, you may be spending too much time creating products.
*You’ll find an entire chapter on branding in HOW TO SELL HANDMADE BEYOND FRIENDS & FAMILY.
DO YOU HAVE TIME TO SPEND ON MARKETING?
Marketing is what gets eyes on your products and drives shoppers to your sales channel.
If my days were filled with creating products and to market those products I would share a product photo on Facebook each day, I likely wouldn’t be getting much engagement, traffic to my shop, or sales.
Social media platforms were the key to many small businesses finding success in marketing. But now each popular platform has millions of businesses trying to reach customers and it’s become noisy and crowded.
Even if a business pays to have their posts seen, most users are tired of seeing promoted posts in their feed and they tune them out.
You need to get creative with your marketing and really think about what your specific audience wants to see/hear.
When you know who your products are perfect for, your marketing can be targeted and more effective.
>> Who are your customers?
>> Where do they hang out?
>> How can you get your message in front of them in a way they’ll take notice?
To answer those questions, it takes time, testing, and consistency.
If you’re making too many products you not only lack the time to think about your answers, but it also makes it more difficult to answer.
For example, let’s say I’ve decided my products appeal to a wide variety of people and I can find some on a yoga blog, others reading a parenting magazine, and a few more at a bridal trade show. The marketing message I create for a yoga blog versus a parenting magazine versus an event for brides will all be very different. Which means more time and effort.
If all my products are for people who practice yoga, I know where to find those people and it’s easy to create a message they’ll listen to. I’ll have an easier time determining what type of images they’ll be attracted to, which keywords make their ears perk up, etc.
Streamlining your products not only frees up time to spend on marketing, but it also makes marketing much easier.
HOW TO SELL HANDMADE BEYOND FRIENDS & FAMILY has instructions, examples, and ideas for you to market your handmade business if you’re stumped in that area.
And if you don’t like being in the spotlight and prefer marketing methods that don’t require you to get in front of an audience and speak, you may like THE SUCCESSFUL INTROVERT.
DO YOU HAVE TIME TO IMPROVE/GROW SALES CHANNELS?
A sales channel is a platform you use to sell your products. It may be craft shows, an Etsy shop, a website, retailers, etc.
If you use any of those platforms you probably know you can’t just:
>> show up at a craft show and expect to make sales
>> open an Etsy shop and expect sales to start flooding in
>> build a website and have visitors show up
>> tell a retailer about your products and have them place a big order
Each platform requires planning, tweaking, and constant effort.
To bring in and increase sales you must:
>> update your Etsy shop for shopping events (e.g. Valentine’s Day), work on Etsy SEO, write powerful descriptions, etc.
>> add content to your site and work on SEO, test different offers, set up abandoned cart features, capture email addresses for your newsletter, etc.
>> constantly reach out to retailers and pitch your products or follow up to get re-orders
If there isn’t enough time in the day to do much more than create a new listing on Etsy, or you barely have enough time to create stock for a craft show, let alone re-design your display, you may be offering too many products.
3 – PRESENTATION
Offering too many products makes it hard to effectively merchandise your online or offline store (i.e. display your products in a way that promotes buying).
>> An Etsy shop with a long list of categories makes a shopper think I don’t have time to click through all of these.
>> Trying to create a lookbook to help pitch your products to retailers becomes expensive and difficult with too many options for them to choose between.
Consider these questions to see if having too many products is impacting your presentation.
DO YOU HAVE TIME TO TAKE PROFESSIONAL-LOOKING PHOTOS?
If you sell online, or to retailers with the help of lookbooks, your photos must look professional. Photos are also important at a craft show to show shoppers how your products look on/displayed/what results look like/etc.
Even taking photos of products on a simple background using a lightbox requires:
>> waiting for the right time of day to get the right lighting (or set up lighting)
>> setting up your photography station
>> prepping products (e.g. steam/press, lint-roller, setting up, etc.)
>> uploading and editing each photo.
That’s the minimum effort that should be going into taking product photos.
For product photos to really help you make sales, they must get the shopper to imagine your products in their lives.
Use photos to show shoppers:
>> The elegant bathroom setting they dream of applying luxurious skincare products in each night.
>> Perspective on a pair of earrings by photographing someone wearing them. How big are the earrings and how much do they show when hair is worn down? What type of outfit might they wear them with?
>> How your piece of art looks hanging on the wall surrounded by other home décor items
If you create too many types of products or product options, you likely only have time to snap a quick pic and upload.
When you limit your product selection you have time to plan. You might create product collections 3 – 4 times per year, photograph all products in a collection at once, and then spend a day or two editing; as opposed to setting up a photography session every week after making new products.
DO YOU HAVE TIME TO PLAN A POWERFUL CRAFT SHOW DISPLAY?
Your craft show display not only has to display your products, but it should also encourage shoppers to buy.
Products don’t do that on their own.
If they did, businesses wouldn’t spend big money on:
>> building beautiful stores
>> display fixtures
>> mannequins and bustforms
>> visual merchandisers
You need to think about:
>> how to display your products so shoppers notice them at a busy event
>> what to display your products on/in so they’re easy to shop
>> how to get shoppers to imagine your products in their lives
>> how to communicate your brand so your space stands out
>> how to make a connection with shoppers (because when a connection is made, a sale is more likely to be made)
If you’re spending every working hour leading up to a craft show creating stock and you don’t have time to think about how you’re going to display that stock, you may benefit from limiting your product offering.
It not only frees up time to plan your display, but limiting products also helps you speed up production, which increases profits.
CAN YOUR PRODUCTS BE GROUPED TO TELL A STORY?
One of the easiest ways to organize your online shop, craft show table, lookbook, etc. is to group like-products together.
If you have too many products and too much variation, creating groupings can be difficult.
A grouping should tell a story. For example:
>> pastel products grouped together tell a “spring” story
>> pillows and blankets grouped together tell a “cozy” story
>> bath bombs, salts, and bubbles grouped together tell a “relaxing” story
If it doesn’t make sense to group your products together (e.g. scarves and home décor wreaths don’t make sense together, masculine plaids and feminine florals don’t make sense together), you may be offering too many products or too much variation.
You may also be interested in:
If you’re realizing you need to cut back on products, don’t just go for it; make decisions based on numbers.
THE SUCCESS PLANNER will help you calculate and analyze important business numbers so you’re not just guessing which product is a bestseller or most profitable, or if your time spent on Facebook is really worth it; you know the answers.
WHEN IT’S OKAY TO ADD MORE PRODUCTS
Obviously, I’m not suggesting you never introduce new products. However, doing so should be calculated.
>> Coming up with a new design every time I make something isn’t calculated
>> Planning a new design based on customer feedback, then planning a launch and marketing around that launch, is calculated.
Again, you’ll know what’s best for your business and I’m only offering advice. But in my experience with thousands of handmade business owners and my own handmade business, creating tends to get out of control.
We have so many ideas for products we feel we have to make and get so excited about new product ideas that it starts to take over our business.
When we share that new product and it doesn’t get the response we expected, instead of tweaking it or working harder to market and sell it, we’re on to the next idea.
We need to focus.
If we were working for a business and being paid to dream up new product ideas while someone else took care of marketing and selling, it would be a different story.
But because we’re often a one-person operation, we have to do ALL the work. Which means we must be smart with our time.
Plan new products with a purpose.
To ensure you’re creating new products for a purpose, think about how a new product will work with your existing products, marketing, customers, etc.
Here are a few questions to think about:
- How will you sell this new product? Will it fit seamlessly with your other products? E.g. if I was pitching someone my cleansing balm, trying to work a sales pitch in for my new line of candles doesn’t quite jive. But suggesting my new product (a moisturizing oil), would be a little more natural (e.g. “The cleansing balm leaves your skin moisturized but in the winter months, I like to add a couple drops of moisturizing oil, like this one, to my skin”).
- Why do you need to add this product to your lineup? What purpose does it serve in your business? Is it an entry-level product that will attract more customers who are unfamiliar with your business? Or will it increase your sales per transaction because it’s an easy product for customers to add to their purchase?
- Why do your customers need this new product? How does it work with the products of yours they already own? What purpose does it serve in their lives and does it align with the purpose your other products serve? E.g. if I sell paintings of skylines, city streets, and landmarks from popular travel spots, I know my customers like art that reminds them of an amazing trip. Those same customers likely would NOT buy paintings of cats from my new line; there’s no connection between cats and travel. But if I introduce map paintings of popular travel destinations, my existing customers could easily add one next to a painting of mine they already own, creating a gallery wall.
- Is it serving the same customer? A new travel-themed painting would appeal to my existing customers. A cat-themed painting isn’t likely to appeal to the same customers. If the purpose of a new product is to attract a new type of customer make sure you’re ready to put in the extra work to find those customers, market to them, and sell to them.
- Is it based on customer feedback/behavior or something you want to make? You should be making decisions based on what your customers want, not what you want or what you think they want.
- Are you leaving enough time between product launches? Imagine Apple launched a new iPhone every month. The media would stop considering the launch buzz-worthy and people would stop waiting for hours in a line to get the newest phone. You must be able to create excitement and buzz around a new product, which is hard to do when it happens every week.
WHERE YOU SHOULD ADD VARIETY
Although it is possible to build a successful business on one product and one product only, that generally requires a product that is fairly universal (i.e. appeals to a wide audience…which has its own challenges), innovative (such as the product this business sells), or is consumable and encourages repeat sales (e.g. the lemon square)
For most handmade business owners, variety is required to give shoppers options, boost sales, and keep things fresh.
These are the following types of products I think most businesses should have:
PRODUCT OPTIONS – as explained at the beginning of this article, product options can help you limit the types of products you offer while still having variety for people to shop.
ENTRY-LEVEL PRODUCTS – these are products that introduce people to your brand and don’t require a big investment/commitment. More on that here.
ADD-ONS – products shoppers can add to their purchase to improve it, complete it, care for it, etc. More on that here.
UPSELLS – options that allow customers to spend more to get more value. More on that here.
IF YOU’RE HESITATING…
Not only have I received success stories from people who have cut back on their product selection, but I’ve also found my own success (in a variety of businesses) by limiting what I offer, and I’ve studied many successful businesses who’s key to success was limiting what they offer.
I started my handmade business by offering everything from keychains and bags to aprons and mittens. As I grew and improved, I limited my offering to just a few styles of bags, with a focus on one style (what I wanted to be known for).
Not only was it easier for me to prepare for craft shows, take photos for online, and pitch to retailers, it was also more rewarding financially. My business became more profitable and I made more sales.
I think a lot of makers are reluctant to implement this change.
I get it.
You’re creative and your business is not just about money. What you create brings you joy and you’re worried making the same products over and over will take away some of that joy.
If your business is more of a creative outlet and the money is just a perk, then create without limitations!
But if you truly want a business that can partially or fully support you, you have to be smart with the numbers (THE SUCCESS PLANNER will help with that).
Those numbers include your time. The more time you spend designing new products, perfecting prototypes, shopping for materials, etc. the less time you have to spend on marketing and selling.
The creativity and fun does not have to be limited just because your product line is limited; it just becomes more focused.
Please leave a comment to let me know if you’re the exception (tons of products and tons of sales), if you don’t think limiting product selection will work for your business, or if you simply have a question.
Although I can’t answer every question, Made Urban has amazing readers and questions/comments get the conversation going 🙂