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5 Surprising Reasons Your Handmade Biz isn’t Making Money

I’ve talked before about pricing and selling handmade items, but the same principles apply to handmade businesses of all varieties. Because you may have missed it, I’ll summarize some key points here.

Here’s the kicker: whether you make items for sale, sell instructions/patterns for handmade items or are a teacher of a crafting skill, there are a few common roadblocks to earning the money you deserve. Warning: they may surprise you!

Reason #1: Your prices are too low

Counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

Here’s the thing: people often their perception of quality on what they pay. Think about it: if you were given the option of having a steak dinner at a restaurant for $3, what would be your first thoughts about the dinner? The restaurant?

You’re not assuming that you’re getting a lovely meal, are you? And why not? Because your alarm bells are telling you that the price is too low for a high-quality product. Not only are you going to assume the food is crappy, but you’re probably going to walk away from the entire restaurant. Who wants to go somewhere that serves (potentially unsafe) food?

Solution: Evaluate your prices

I’m not saying that you should to raise your prices just for the sake of it. But, you should ensure that you’re charging the correct amount… and not selling yourself short.

Do a market analysis. See what others who are selling comparable products are charging. This goes for teachers, too… do a little sleuthing to discover the going rate. You don’t want to be the cheapest one, around!

Reason #2: Your customer doesn’t know why they should pay for your product

I hate to break it to you: you can’t expect your customer to know why your product is valuable. Let’s say you charge $8 for a very detailed knitting pattern, which is slightly higher than average and seems very pricey in a sea of free patterns. Does your customer know that it’s full of step-by-step photos? That purchasing the pattern comes with unlimited email help? That the pattern has been tech-edited and is error-free?

How would they know unless you tell them?

Solution: Be clear about the value of what you offer in a concrete way

Maybe you think it’s obvious that any knitting pattern worth it’s salt would have clear instructions with photos. Maybe you’ve even attempted to convey this to the customer by saying “it’s a quality pattern”. But words like ‘quality’ mean different things to different people. So it’s up to you to concretely explain why your product rocks and is worth what you’re charging.

If you make products, do you make clear the materials and workmanship that go into your pieces? If you’re a teacher, is your skill at targeting in on student’s concerns apparent? I’m not saying this is easy to do… you may need to come up with creative ways of demonstrating what you bring to the table. But it’s worth doing.

Reason #3: Your customers don’t know what you do

Oy… this is even worse than the last one!

Let’s think about dinner, again. You really want a nice steak. Are you going to go to a restaurant with a reputation for being the best steakhouse in the area? Or one that serves lots of food… and sometimes it’s steak?

I think we both know you’d choose the one with a great reputation. And you’d probably be willing to pay more, too!

Are you heading towards being a person who sews dog hats, crochets baby booties and silkscreens onsies? Is that the best place for you to be headed? What if you could be the person who sews the BEST dog hats?

Solution: Make a niche

Who am I? I’m the chick who sells the most well-written crochet stuffed animal patterns. And… they even come with amazing customer service. I’m constantly writing tips and posting videos on the blog, and I take great care to answer questions that come in via email. That’s what I do.


Why don’t I design knitting patterns? It’s not because I can’t… because I can! But, customer service is my number one priority, and I know that I couldn’t provide the level of tips, videos and tutorials for both knitting and crochet (at least, not right now). So I don’t.

Can you find a niche? Don’t worry… you can still crochet baby booties on the side. But maybe just not for your business!

Reason #4: You’re not interacting with your customers

What’s the difference between you and a big company? YOU are a person. YOU make each item (or teach each class, or write each pattern) with your own little hands. YOU are a crafter with passions and ambitions that your customers want to hear about! In fact, the average customer is willing to pay more/more likely to buy from a crafter that they feel a connection with.

How do you build this connection? Maybe by sharing photos on Facebook. Or by posting stories about your work on your blog. Or even by putting a little bit of you in your item descriptions.

Solution: Share!

I know it’s hard. We all have a limited amount of time. As a small-business owner, you’re handling shipping and accounting in addition to the actual making of your product.

So, start with one way customers can connect with you. Begin with the medium that makes you most comfortable. And begin sharing your story!

Reason #5: You’re giving away your work for free

As crafters, we love what we do. It can be easy to forget that you should be getting paid.

I’ve heard it happen so many times: teachers who are roped into teaching a group of school kids to knit. Designers who add a new size in the pattern at a customer’s request. Crafters who put too much time doing modifications of a custom design without charging for the overtime.

Stop it! How are you going to earn a fair wage if you’re giving it away for free?

Solution: Set boundaries

I’m not gonna fib. Almost everything about running a business is hard. Especially setting boundaries. But you have to do it.

(I’m half kidding: don’t actually be mean. But, I’m serious about not working for free.) Don’t hesitate to quote a price for what is being asked of you. Watch, I’ll show you how it’s done:

Customer: Stacey, I LOVE the owl in your Etsy shop! I was wondering: can I order one with horns and pigtails (my husband is a Vikings fan), and about 24″ tall (he’s a big guy!)?

me, option 1: I’m sorry, but those modifications are pretty serious, and that’s not something I’m able to do. Thanks for thinking of me, though! When you need a just-plain-cute owl, I’m your girl!

me, option 2: Ooh! Sounds like so much fun! My rate for custom work is $xx per hour, and I estimate that those modifications will take about 2 hours, plus require $xx in additional materials fees.”

See? Either way, I’m not doing work that I’m not getting paid for.

Any of these reasons give you ideas for changing how you do business?


  1. Trish SAYS...

    Thank AGAIN for your informative blog entries! I really appreciate the way that you share your expertise. I am sure that you are helping a LOT of people!

  2. Maryann Crusoe SAYS...

    This, my dear, is a Very Good article.

  3. I’m writing up a post about being “craft worthy” and one of the things I point out is not to do something for free if it’s not a gift. In this case, what people want to charge (because they’re not a business) is really up to what they feel is fair. Not what the asker says is fair, since they will try to low ball you out of ignorance.

    Asking for higher prices and setting boundaries is such a difficult thing because a lot of people are programed to humble themselves so as not to step on other people’s toes. It’s not egotistical to demand a fair price. It’s feeding your soul knowing that you’re doing right by you!

    • You’re right on target, Vanessa! Can’t wait to read your post!

  4. Abby SAYS...

    Great post! I’m sure this will help me with my (small…) Etsy store 🙂

  5. Thanks for sharing! I did miss it and your post hits on a lot of great points (plus you added in some cute pictures, and that never hurts).