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Arts and Crafts Entrepreneur

Selling your handcrafted items might sound like a dream job, but turning a hobby into a business isn't always easy.

Yet many people have successful part- or full-time jobs selling their handmade products.

Bob Krackow lives in Arizona. He was a Wall Street executive for more than 30 years before he started Desert Artisan. His online shop sells unique pendants, earrings and bracelets that Krackow makes from resin, glass tiles, original photos, altered art and various media.

"When I created works over the years just for the sheer pleasure of it, people always said, 'You could be selling your pieces,'" Krackow says. "Well, now that I'm out of the corporate world, I've taken the opportunity to do just that with my online Etsy shop." is a site where people can sell their own handmade items or buy materials to make their projects.

Rosemary Hill, from California, had knitted several lace shawls, but got frustrated when they kept falling off her shoulders. "I looked and looked for shawl pins online, but couldn't find anything I liked," she says. "So I made my own." Knowing that other shawl knitters must have similar problems, she took samples of her shawl pins to a local yarn store. The owner loved the pins and bought several to sell in the shop. Hill's company, Designs by Romi, was born.

Sometimes fate inspires people to turn their crafts into marketable wares.

Mary Gulbrantson is the owner of a business in Illinois. She started her business, Urban Farmgirl, by accident. While recovering from a car crash, Gulbrantson was stuck at home and feeling bored. So, she looked around for something to keep her busy. She and her husband had just replaced some windows and doors, but hadn't yet thrown out some old wood covered in layers of paint.

"One day I saw the pile in the corner and decided I would make a picture frame out of it," she says. "I hobbled downstairs, made a rather large frame and really liked how it turned out. I put it up for sale online just to see what others would think of it. It sold for $300, and I was shocked. I decided to make another and listed it online with the same result. At that moment, I knew I was on to something." Gulbrantson has since begun refurbishing and hand painting old furniture, giving it a stylish new lease on life.

Mila Lansdowne is a painter and silk artist. She was encouraged by others to turn her hobby -- hand painting silk scarves -- into a money-making venture. "At that point I was supplying neighbors and friends with my craft at a very low price level," she says. But she decided to give it a try.

In addition to scarves, Lansdowne's company, Art for Happiness, sells framed, hand-painted silk scarves and reproduces images of her silk paintings on bookmarks and greeting cards. The company also creates handmade books, and recently began selling silk-art kits so people can try Lansdowne's techniques at home.

While Lansdowne hires assistants to help make the mass-produced items, she still makes many things herself. "The scarves have certificates of authenticity signed with the brand name," she says. "The scarves are hand-signed. The scarves that are produced by helpers have 'AfH' on them, but the pieces of art and high-end products have my name on them."

These crafty entrepreneurs all sell signature items that they market around the globe. While Krakow primarily sells his pieces online, Hill sells online and through specialty shops. Their items are small, light and easy to ship. Lansdowne's scarves are also inexpensive to ship, but she also sells wholesale at trade shows. Occasionally, she shows her work at art galleries, which promote the one-of-a-kind artistic value of her framed works and signed scarves.

Gulbrantson's hand-painted furniture isn't easy to ship, so she prefers selling her wares at major flea markets and craft shows. However, in colder weather she sells online. She also sells to boutiques around the world.

"I ship mostly very large items, so the price can be quite costly," Gulbrantson says. She shops around for the best price, sometimes using freight companies. "I'm located in Illinois. The farthest I've shipped a piece of furniture would be Singapore or Australia."

One of the hardest parts in turning your hobby into a profitable business is determining the price. You need to figure in the cost of the materials as well as how long it takes to make each piece. You also need to earn a profit.

"Don't let your love of your craft lead you to undervalue your work, or to think that you shouldn't make a profit," Hill says.

"My goal is to price my pieces so they are affordable to almost everyone, while at the same time being fair to myself for the work that is put into each piece," says Krackow. "I accomplish this by purchasing materials at the most competitive prices I can find. I essentially apply a formula to my pricing that covers my material costs as well as factoring in my time to create each piece as well as other residually related costs."

Those other costs might include things like electricity, water, legal or accounting advice and taxes.

Lansdowne buys supplies directly from manufacturers to keep costs low. Because her one-of-a-kind pieces are more expensive, she's found a way to maximize profits on each piece by photographing the works and using those images on other products. "This gives me the 100-percent assurance that I'm making money on this work," she says. While there's a smaller profit margin on the less expensive items, there's more potential for sales.

Hill makes more than 50 styles of shawl pins, as well as earrings and pendants. Some are made of sterling silver, but customers can buy the same designs in different metals. "I sell more nickel, which is lower priced than sterling," she says.

Successfully selling your crafts means running a business. So you need to be sure to comply with local and federal laws. You may need special insurance, legal advice and accounting help. Krackow's business background has been helpful for him, but he says, "If you do not have the business background, you should seek the help of a professional."

Gulbrantson currently does most of her own bookkeeping, but is planning to hire an accountant. "It takes a lot of time to do paperwork, and that is time I could be creating." She also says running a business isn't for everyone. "It takes strong will and dedication. You have to have a deep love for what you do, or you cannot become a success."


Ten steps to selling handcrafted products

A free online store where people can sell and market crafts or buy supplies and raw materials

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