Well I know the difference between an artist and seller. The straight seller is in it for the money, (and there's nothing wrong with that by the way. We all need money), but the artist just wants to create. If they didn't have the landlord and the electric company after them, they might not think about money at all, and they're kinda pissed that they even have to think about finances.
But, we can't live in la-la land. We have to sell if this is more than a hobby. So how does that work?
Well for me, I started out as a crocheter 6 years ago, and made handmade sewn goods a decade before that, it was all about inspiration and OOAK (one of a kind) goods. I was making stuff for me more than for any customer.
In the 90's, I mostly made things with cowry shells, mudcloth and ankara prints. That worked out well because there was a kind of cultural awakening going on in New York at that time, and those types of cultural goods were in high demand, so I really didn't have to think about it any further.
But once I learned to crochet 6 years ago, well the 90's were over and not everyone in my neighborhood was thirsting for African things. Still, there is a good sized market for it and while I mostly sell amongst them on land, I'm looking for as wide an audience as I can get online. There are the men, the women who I call "glam" (who like diamonds and pearls and bling), the high end customers, the bohemian style customers, and so forth. I have so many styles and things that I like that I can create things for all of them, even though the cultural community will always be my home base.
So how do I know who to cater to most if I want my business to be successful?
On top of that there are the little bursts of inspiration that every creative person gets. I LOVE following those to see where they will take me.
But will those bursts of inspiration be enough to pay my rent?
Back when I worked for my family, we too made a lot of our goods, but some we bought. Me and my mother would do the buying together. She could count on me to get the odd and funky, unconventional pieces and If times were good, I could get quite a few. But if times were tight, we had to get the conventional stuff because that's what sells fastest and pays for rent and salaries. The reason I was always allowed to get some unconventional pieces was because when we had a piece like that, the person who had the not-so-common taste would not only buy it, but become a customer for life because we had a piece that spoke to them. Problem was, it could take two years for that certain someone to find that piece. Meanwhile, the conventional stuff sold to everyone and ran out quickly.
So when I started my own business, my dad advised me to make more than one of each style and make them in different sizes and colors. I had to wait a minute to take his advice because I was still churning out OOAK pieces and I didn't yet know which ones would catch on. But because I do a lot of made-to-order, eventually I could easily see which ones were the "sure shots".
I noticed that other artists had taken to doing exactly that, with much success. They had named their pieces, and they had a host of colors their items were available in. Etsy and many other sites facilitate this by offering "variations", a feature where the customer can choose what sizes, colors and more for the item. They also did made-to-order, offering the customer the same choices.
And they were successful doing it too.
So I'm finally doing it too. I started on land when I vend and do consignment. I send out the most popular styles in different colors and watch them sell like crazy.
I set up my own website with Prestashop (free!) and it calls this feature "combinations", so I get to make one entry offering the different variations. I've had a really hard time doing well with online sales so I'm hoping that this will be the thing that turns it around. So far I've been selling out of those items to the point where I can't list them online, which is hopefully a good sign.
Even if OOAK is where your heart lies, try this method if you haven't already. Don't worry. You won't lose your creative edge. But with an inventory that moves, you won't just have to come up with stuff to fill up your table or online store. You can wait until you are truly inspired before you make your next piece. Plus the artist in you won't let you only just make the same stuff over and over without doing something new.
Besides, that next burst of inspiration might just be your next sure shot, hot seller!