Here's how to start a craft business off on the right foot.
This 15-step action plan will guide you through the administrative tasks you need to address to get your business set up for success.
We're going to dig into "fun" chores — like choosing business insurance, registering your business name, and setting up a system to manage your company's finances — that can be tempting to overlook or avoid.
It's easy to become engrossed in the day-to-day work that goes into building a craft business.
I'll bet you enjoy designing and making new products a lot more than buying business insurance.
You probably find the idea of planning a craft show booth more compelling than registering your business name.
Those administrative tasks may not be the first jobs you want to tackle. But getting those components in place is essential to the well-being of your business.
You might feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. The great news is, most of this work only has to be done once and you're done (other than the occasional review).
If you get good advice and learn how to start a craft business right from the start, you won't have to spend time fixing mistakes.
If your business has been around for a while, but you didn't put all of the fundamentals in place when you got started, you may have a little extra work to do. But it's a good investment of your time.
You'll be glad you did the work.
Before we dive into the action plan, I should make one important thing clear:
You do not want to get legal, accounting, or insurance advice from me! You need to talk to the professionals when you're looking for that type of advice.
That's why this action plan is organized around where to go to get specific information you'll need to get your business set up.
Here's where you'll go in your community to learn how to start a craft business right:
The internet is a great source for a lot of information for small business owners. But there are some things that, in my opinion, are better done in person with experts who can ask questions about your specific business and who know your local resources and laws.
That's why you're going to pay a visit to your local business development center.
Experts in these offices will have answers to a lot of your questions about how to start a craft business. They'll probably even have answers to questions you didn't know you had to ask.
If you live outside of the U.S., there's a good chance you'll be able to find an equivalent organization in your country. Look for some type of small business association office, or perhaps a Chamber of Commerce.
If you can't find an appropriate service for small business owners in your area:
Staff at your local small business office can help with all kinds of concerns such as:
They may offer access to a library of business-related books, workshops for small business owners, and market research information.
You probably won't be able to learn everything in one trip, so make a list of your most important concerns, and go into the office ready to make the most of your time.
Go in person if possible.
Don't just surf the organization's website. Call and make an appointment to meet with someone if at all possible.
A face to face conversation with an expert can often uncover better and more thorough information that's more directed to your specific needs.
When I'm speaking with an expert to learn about an important topic, near the end of the conversation, I like to say, "Is there anything I didn't ask that I should have asked?"
Sometimes you just don't know what you don't know, and that question helps to bring out any important topics that you may not be aware of.
You'll probably come away from your research with a few jobs to do.
For example, you may need to:
Each person's to-do list will be a bit different based on the nature of your business and the regulations in your area. Making a clear list of tasks right after your meeting will help keep you organized and encourage you to get the work done.
You may be able to do some tasks immediately, others may require a little more work or research. Don't let these jobs slip by - get them done as soon as you're able.
You can do a lot of the initial work of brainstorming business names yourself before you need to talk to the experts about doing a formal name search and registering your company name.
My 12-part series on how to name a business will help you find a business name you'll love!
Hello, My Name is Awesome: I've read countless sources of business naming advice, and this is my favorite! It's full of practical advice and actionable strategies you can use to find the right name for your business.
The next stop on your quest to set up your craft business is your local arts association or craft guild.
A small business development office is a great place to get expert advice on running a business in general.
Arts associations and craft guilds are devoted to supporting artists specifically. They may be able to provide you with targeted information about how to start a craft business specifically.
Arts associations often provide support for craft business owners such as:
List the type of support that would most benefit your business. This list will help you decide which arts associations to contact.
If you're in the U.S., the American Craft Council is a great place to start. They are a national-level organization, and they list state arts and crafts councils on their site.
There are plenty of arts associations at local, state, and national levels. A thorough search should turn up several that are relevant to your business.
Try searching several combinations of terms:
For example, if I were a potter who lived in San Antonio, Texas, I could search:
All of those searches will give you different results for a variety of arts associations that could possibly provide information relevant to your business.
You don't have to contact every single arts association you find.
Do a quick search:
For example, a local organization would provide more opportunities for you to connect in person with other artists. A guild that's specific to your type of craft would have craft-specific information such as product safety requirements for soapers.
You'll probably find a lot of relevant organizations. If you find a few that look interesting but aren't your top priority at the moment, save the links to those organizations for later. The services they offer might be more relevant to your needs in the future as your business grows.
If the membership fee is in your budget, consider joining the most relevant association(s) you find. Members typically get access to all kinds of resources.
If you choose a local organization, see if they have regular meetings and plan to attend. You can gain all kinds of information, enjoy networking opportunities and build relationships with like-minded people when you make personal connections with other artists in your community.
Remember that job list you made after visiting the small business association? That list is going to get longer. (Yay!)
Note any courses, networking events, or other opportunities provided by your arts association that you want to take part in. Add them to your to-do list. Make a commitment to get them done.
Your local small business development office should be able to provide plenty of information about bookkeeping, tax requirements, and business registration. However, depending on the nature of your business, you may need more specific advice from a professional.
If you have personal home insurance, and you're starting a business based in your home, your business activities might impact your personal home insurance.
Make an appointment to talk with your insurance agent. Provide complete and accurate information about your planned business activities, and determine whether they would impact your existing policy. If they do, your agent will be able to give recommendations to protect your coverage.
Your insurance agent may also be able to provide appropriate business insurance. While you're there, you can ask about the types of business coverage they offer and request a quote.
Your existing insurance provider may be able to meet your business insurance needs at a price that is acceptable. However, consider checking out other business insurance providers to ensure you're getting the coverage you need at a competitive rate.
Once you talk with someone at your local small business development center, you may decide you need more help with financial matters involving your business.
If you don't already have an accountant, you can ask for recommendations from your small business development office and from other local business owners you know. When in doubt, it's better to ask for professional advice than risk problems that could arise if you skip this step.
Similarly, if you think you may need more professional help with legal matters involving your business talk with a lawyer. You can start your search for a lawyer who has the expertise you need by asking at your business development office and asking other local business owners who they would recommend.
You've just finished a mountain of research. You've spoken with small business experts, experts in your local crafts scene, and insurance, financial and legal experts as needed.
At this point, you're an expert in starting a craft business. But you've probably come away from your conversations with a few tasks to complete.
Pull out that to-do list you started, and make sure it gets completed. Prioritize the tasks, and set deadlines to get the work done.
These are the kinds of jobs that can linger because other things feel more urgent. Don't let that happen.
Make a commitment to get it done!