First off, I LOVE your column! I’ve been thinking about starting my own business for a long time, and it’s been great seeing real advice from one woman to another about how to make it happen.
So, a couple of years ago, I decided to start up an Etsy shop. I’m a stay-at-home mom, but my kids are in school, and I’m a lifelong crafting enthusiast, so I figured hey, why not? Plus, there’s this exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum that’s all about elevating traditional women’s handicraft like macrame and quilting, and it just got me really inspired. But the hardest part wasn’t the work that went into making my wares. It was getting people to care at all. I folded it up after a few months.
That experience more than anything else gives me pause about starting up my own business. Where do future customers come from? How do I get them excited? Heck, how do I even get their attention? There’s gotta be people out there who want Rick & Morty handstitching samplers. So what do I gotta do?
- Aria F.
Can I just say upfront that your name is lovely?
To your question. What you’re describing is all too common. The marketplace is flooded with options, which can make it hard to stand out. And while I can’t say I’m terribly familiar with Rick & Morty, I have to say that your instinct is probably correct; there’s a lot of people out there, and the odds are that you’re not the only one who wants that show (I googled it) to intersect with handcrafted decor. Your problem, as I see it, is twofold: 1) you’re offering a niche product, potentially in a crowded market, and as a result, 2) you don’t stand out or simply aren't reaching the right audience.
The first one is secretly an opportunity, so let’s talk about number two first. How do you get attention and, most importantly, keep it?
The traditional answer is just the word “marketing” repeated over and over, and it’s not bad advice. But effective marketing requires a real upfront investment that a lot of home-based companies and sole proprietorships like yours don’t always have. The key word to profitability is scale, which isn’t something you seem quite ready for. But there are all sorts of ways to get attention. What are you doing so far? Social media is great, but what I’d actually want to recommend is getting yourself some press. Lucky for you, the internet is absolutely chock full of specialist publications that cater to extremely specific audiences, and while you might not find one dedicated to cartoon embroidery, there are certainly web publications that focus on pop culture and crafting respectively, and there’s probably some crossover between the two.
So what about number one? The niche nature of your product?
This is where you’re lucky. If nobody else is offering it, then there’s nowhere else to get it. So I want you to really think about what makes your work, your work, because being specific, authentic, and owning your brand is how you stand out. I might also recommend branching out beyond a single television show, which I’m assuming you’ve already done, and catering to a larger potential audience that might want other kinds of products as well. What opportunities are out there? What are the kinds of crafts the people you want to serve are also looking for? I’d start doing some very basic consumer research; poll your friends and colleagues. Talk to your competitors. Engage with the larger community. Nobody succeeds in isolation; an island alone in the sea sinks under the waves.
The thing is that the internet thrives on the profitability of niche interests. Just look at Kickstarter. It’s no longer necessary to maintain a large, middle-of-the-road inventory to turn a profit by selling to the masses. It’s just a matter of finding out what you can do that nobody else is doing yet. Because that’s how you get attention. I would bet that cartoon-themed handicrafts are a dime a dozen. What do you do that isn’t? What makes your product different from what's already out there? That’s where your profit waits.
Do a little research, a little thinking and reflecting, and I think you’ll figure it out. Best of luck!