October 26, 2016

5 Reasons Your Handmade Business is Not Gaining Traction

hand planer

Are you working harder than you think you should have to work in order to gain traction in your handmade business? If you are working hard and getting results, eventually you will learn to work smarter so you can get the same results with less effort. This would be a good thing.

On the other hand, if you are working hard and not getting the results you seek, your unnecessary struggle could be due to one or more of five specific handmade business mistakes and things that are missing from your entrepreneurial equation. Keep reading to find out what they are, and how to fix them.

Are You Making These Handmade Business Mistakes?

1. You Have No Target Audience

The first question I ask when coaching a new entrepreneur is, “Who is your target audience?” Nine times out of 10, the answer is something like, “Everyone.” This is a fear-based approach to business that wrongly assumes that if you omit anyone from your target audience, you’ll make less money. The opposite is true. The more focused you are on a specific niche, the more money you’ll make, the more fun you’ll have, the more freedom you’ll enjoy, and the less you’ll struggle in your business.

Make it a goal to sell your product to the exact same person over and over again, just with a different name each time.

Drill down deeply into the psyche of your one customer, and then find him or her every day in different places. Doing this will help you pinpoint your perfect buyer persona and ensure that the people who are most inclined to be attracted to your product can quickly spot you in a crowded market place.

Action Step: Survey your customers annually to find out what makes them tick. Get the usual demographic information like name, age and gender, but invest the bulk of your survey exploring their psyche. What keeps them up at night? What are their biggest challenges and pain points? What makes them happy or sad? What inspires them? What kind of change are they seeking in their lives? Use Survey Monkey (or a similar service) to do this.

You are limited to 10 questions with Survey Monkey’s “freemium” service, so either upgrade so you can ask more questions (more than 20 is too many), or be very intentional about the 10 questions you ask.

2. You Are Not Embracing Your Role as Leader

If you are not proactively embracing your role as a leader, you are hurting yourself and your business. I am a member of several paid membership groups (both local and virtual) where everyone is invested in themselves and in each other. We build each other up, and we offer tips and solutions to help each other with all kinds of business challenges.

While you can achieve some level of success toiling away on your own island, you will eventually burn out. You’ll have less fun and you’ll stunt your growth as a human being. You can and should avoid this fate by surrounding yourself with other creative entrepreneurs who are leveraging their successes, failures, challenges, and expertise for the benefit of themselves and other similarly situated people.

I cannot overstate the value of this kind of interaction. It’s one of the reasons I launched the Indie Business Network, and why membership programs like IBN are so popular. People who surround themselves with like-minded entrepreneurial leaders gain traction faster than people who do not, and their businesses are more successful. It’s that simple.

Action Step: Find at least one group of like-minded entrepreneurs, and join them. If you cannot find such a group, create one.

3. You Are Not Blogging

Maintaining a blog sharpens your entrepreneurial saw. It also helps you to organize and clarify your thoughts. Search engines love sites that feature fresh content regularly, so if you are not blogging weekly, you are missing out on 52 opportunities a year to attract new customers to your site without spending any money.

Blogging helps you to establish yourself as an authority in your field, and it builds your confidence as a business leader.

I hear many creative entrepreneurs say that they do not blog because they have nothing to say. If you are making a living selling the products you make, and you have nothing to say, you should cut your losses and close down now.

Action Step: Set up a blog and start blogging today. It does not have to be perfect. A blog is free to set up on WordPress. Start one today and blog at least once a week. Your business will grow, and you’ll be a better business leader because of it.

4. You Are Not Building Your Customer List

According to the 2015 Wasp Barcode Technologies Survey of Small Business, email is the top marketing tool used by small businesses. (Interestingly, according to the report, use of Facebook as a marketing tool is declining.)

When I started the my business, the first thing I did was launch a website. The second thing I did was publish an email newsletter. I didn’t have a single customer and my only subscribers were the six people I had met at a soapmaking meetup the week before.

Perhaps the fact that I was a journalism major in college helped me know in my gut that a newsletter would be critical to my success. Whatever the case, I was right. Fast forward 16 years, and I’m still right.

An email newsletter gives you the kind of intimate access to your customers that you cannot get with any social media outlet or even with a blog. People can read it at their leisure, and they can hit the reply key and communicate directly with you.

Perhaps best of all, you own and control your newsletter, and the subscriber list you create. All of social media can die off tomorrow, but with an email newsletter, you’ll be unscathed because you have direct, one-on-one access to your customers. Few things can support the long term sustainability of your business like an email newsletter.

Action Step: Start a newsletter today. I recommend Mail Chimp, but you can also use Constant Contact, Mad Mimi and others.

5. You Refuse to Embrace Technology

One of the things I consistently hear from handmade business owners is that they are not tech savvy. This self fulfilling prophecy is the crutch that forms an eternal excuse for you not to make a video or set up a blog or try out Snapchat.

Not everyone will have the same level of technological acumen, and that’s OK. But every entrepreneur must learn enough about technology to know how to use it for the benefit of his or her business and customers. If you were not embracing technology a decade ago, everyone would understand. If you’re not embracing technology today, you’re committing business suicide.

Stop telling yourself that you are not technologically savvy, and become technologically savvy.

Action Step: Look at how businesses similar to yours use technology, then make a list of all of the things you see others doing that you think would benefit your business. Use your favorite search engine to find classes or programs to help you learn how to incorporate those things into your business, and then do it. Make this an ongoing part of your business routine so you don’t get left behind.

What did I miss? What other handmade business mistakes can explain why you’re not gaining traction?

Hand Planer Photo via Shutterstock

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Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria Coles Johnson Donna Maria is the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, a trade organization providing mentoring and coaching services, and affordable product liability insurance, to makers and creative entrepreneurs across North America. An award-winning small business advocate, Donna Maria has hosted the Indie Business Podcast since 2005. She blogs at Indie Business Blog.

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8 Reactions

  1. All good points! I know that I am partially guilty of #5. While I embrace new technology, I do it a little too passively. I have watch hundreds of scopes, but have yet to do one myself. The same goes for webinars.

    Thanks for writing this! It was the kick in the butt I needed!

  2. Still working on that target audience, I need to define it. Thank you so much for the great advice. Very clear with a number of very important points.

    • Donna Maria Coles Johnson

      Yes! Once you define your target audience, things become more clear to you and to the people who want to buy from you. When they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are talking directly to them, one of the biggest barriers to making a purchase has been removed.

  3. Thank you for this excellent article. I really appreciate that I was able to read it and not “opt in” and go thru 10 steps before a promised download. You have good real life suggestions that I am going to work on right now and then I am checking out the Indie Business Network for sure.

  4. Aira Bongco

    You have to be more active and more consistent. Also, your products should be useful if not indispensable that they simply cannot help but buy from you.

  5. Hi Donna,

    I really enjoy reading your article!

    The only thing I’d say you’re missing is the tracking of activities. This is very important for business owners because it helps them identify what strategies not working so they can make the call to stop and try something else if necessary.



  6. As a struggling handmade hobbyist trying to turn business these are very helpful. Thank you!

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