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Confession: I’ve been a vocal believer that the way to that handmade nirvana, of endless sales and stress free production is niche marketing. After all it worked for me with Ainslee Fox Handmade! But this weekend I changed my mind . . .
When I first started sewing to sell, I made it all, I was even asked to make tab curtains at one stage! Sales were pretty slow and I was trying hard to figure out what people wanted to buy, so every week I made something new.
Then something amazing happened … I made a particular dress and it sold right away. So I made another, and another, and the same thing kept happening. Before too long I was just making the one style. I got really quick and good at it and demand remained high. It was easy for customers to know what they were going to get from me, and I knew who they were, which made marketing easier.
Since then whenever anyone has asked me what the key to my success was, that’s what I’ve told them. Niche market. Make one thing and make it better than anyone else.
So when Mr Fox (my husband) first started talking about starting his handmade business I’ve got to admit I was a bit of a bossy boots. I told him he couldn’t make bowls and pens and memo holders and key holders – he had to choose one and he had to make it unique. And he had to be the best at it, or there was no point! … What a dragon!!!
On the weekend we went to a local market and Mr Fox took me to see his mate’s stall. His mate sells pens, toys, wine holders, bowls, artwork, absolutely everything timber … and he’s doing a roaring trade! It was like everything I’d believed about selling handmade was wrong and then it hit me – there’s a big difference between selling at markets and selling online.
At a market your audience is anyone who’s going to that market. They’re not necessarily looking for something specific. And there’s a lot less competition than there is online. Online your competition is anyone, anywhere, world wide with an online shop. Customers don’t browse the web looking for anything, well sometimes they do, but generally they search for something specific. To stand out in that sea of competition niche marketing certainly makes things easier.
But unlike what I had believed, before the weekend it’s definitely not the only way!
Turns out its down to your own “secret sauce”. Your business is unique and what works for you mightn’t be the same as what works for anyone else. And to be honest – that sucks!
I want Mr Fox to succeed, I want you to succeed too.
The more successful and happy and innovative people there are, the better the world will be!
I don’t want you to have to struggle and stuff up and think about giving up. And I know you want there to be a simple answer out there too. A course or an ebook or an expert who’ll be able to give you the answers.
But there’s really not one size fits all answer.
It’s not time to give up though – there’s things that you can do to help you find your secret sauce.
1. Ask questions. Find mentors. Mentor others. Share what works for you and learn from what works for them.
2. Read broadly. Take courses or hire experts, if you like that sort of thing, but don’t expect them to have the whole answer.
3. Experiment. Try stuff out. If it doesn’t work, well at least you know more than you did before you tried!
4. And if someone, like me, tells you that the way to guaranteed success is niche marketing or storytelling or selling on etsy or at markets or glitter business cards or whatever, remember to take it with a grain of salt.
You have the answer to your businesses secret sauce – trust in yourself and don’t give that power away!
A few weeks ago we introduced One Thimble’s Agony Aunt – Seam Ripper. On the weekend she got in touch and let me know she had a question she wanted to answer on the blog.
So over to you Ripper …
I HATE hemming!! It’s the thing I like least about sewing. Do you have any tips for how to make it easier and faster instead of pressing and pressing??
I have a few tips, but I’m sorry to tell you, all involve some element of pressing. To me, pressing a garment well at each step is responsible for the difference between homemade and handmade.
My personal favourite method is to use my narrow hem foot/rolled hem foot on my sewing machine and press well after. This takes some getting used to but once you’ve got the idea about how to start and how to hold your fabric to feed it through you will never look back! There is a fabtastic video on the OT blog (link) to get you started.
My second favourite method is to overlock the edge and use the overlocking as a guide for pressing because the overlocking is 1/4″ evenly you’ll get a lovey, even hem. You’ll find that the edge stitch of the overlocking will help the fabric turn up as you press.
My third favourite would be my clover hot hemmer – it’s marked with grid lines to help you press the fabric evenly and of course you can iron over it!
If you’re making a special occasion garment you’re going to want to use a deeper hem and hemstitch. A narrow hem lacks “weight” and can sometimes flip up while being worn and the stitching on a hemstitched hem will barely show on the right side of the garment. You don’t have to hemstitch by hand though you can do it on your machine. Check out this blog post (link) to get you started.
I hope this helps and I promise you, the little extra time it takes to press will be so worth the compliments you’ll get for your finished garment.
If you’ve got a sewing question that you’d like to see answered in One Thimble Issue 9 please email email@example.com
If your question is published you’ll receive a complimentary copy of the issue of One Thimble your question appears in.
Here’s a quick “how to” for sewing Blind Hems. You often see this hem on pants or fancy dresses. It’s a terrific little technique for sewing a hem so that your stitches are almost invisible on the right side of the garment.
Finish the raw edge of the hem.
Turn the hem up the required amount and iron.
Turn your outfit right side up, then flip the hem allowance to the top, so that only the finished edge
of the hem sticks out beyond the garment.
Turn the whole thing over.
Stitch with a blind hem stitch. The straight stitches are sewn on the finished hem and the little zigzag
stitches catches the garment.
Fold the hem down and iron. There will be small stitches on the right side of the fabric, but if you
match your cotton it will be almost invisible.
I absolutely LOVE my “job”. It’s so wonderful to be able to meet amazing indie designers and I feel so grateful that they let me include their work in One Thimble so you can meet them too! I think its pretty cool that we’re forming connections all over the world between contributors and readers alike. Networking, seeing people collaborating with others, it makes me feel giddy with excitement!
Stephanie from Swoodson Says came up with a pretty cool idea and organised a pattern swap between One Thimble Issue 8 contributors, so people could get an early start on their Christmas gift crafting! This blog post is a round-up of what they sewed! Hopefully it’ll give YOU some inspiration for what you might like to make to gift this year.
Amy from Momma Quail Patterns sewed a little collector backpack for her son and is going to make them to hold her nieces and nephews Christmas gifts.
Alicia from Felt with Love Designs sewed up a Little Collector Backpack for her daughter. You can check out her short-cuts for the straps too!
I sewed a Coco Flower Crown over on my Ainslee Fox Boutique Patterns Blog for my niece.
Rebecca from Hugs are Fun sewed the Coco Flower Crown flowers for her wreath.
Lauren from Molly and Mama sewed a Hexie Wall art for her daughter’s bedroom here.
Stephanie from Swoodson Says sewed a Jackalope Tee for her son and is going to make a matching one for his buddy. You really need to check out the cute size tags she made and find out more about the Inkodye project she used for the front panel
Michelle from The Toffee Tree sewed a Fat Red Bird Fedora for her son’s friends birthday. I especially liked her interfacing tip for the “midnight sewist”.
Rachael from Sew Today, Clean Tomorrow sewed the Desert Fox Softie. I really loved her explanation why her fox is the same colours as the pattern rather than the bright colours she’d initially intended … I’m sure you’ll be able to relate!
I’d love to hear what you’d like to sew from Issue 8 to give as gifts this year! Let me know by commenting below or in the One Thimble Sewing Enthusiasts Group on Facebook!
You started out with your heart set on the PERFECT name for your fledgling handmade business, but then a quick google search reveals it was the perfect name for someone else’s business first. Next thing you know you’re hitting roadblocks on every name you like and adding names that make your supportive friends look at you like you’re crazy, to your “names to check” list, in the hope that one of them will be ok!
Oh how I know that pain ….. At one desperate stage my handmade business Ainslee Fox, was going to be called “No Snow” and One Thimble was almost “Mill Road”!
I’m pretty sure naming your business is a bit like childbirth, you get amnesia as to how much it sucks when its done and your new name is set in stone … or at least ink on your business cards! But Mr Fox (my husband) is in the midst of coming up with a name for his handmade business, so I’m revisiting the naming dramas by proxy. Rather than wasting all the stellar naming advice I’m giving him I thought I should write it down in case it could be of help to you!
Please note I'm not a business expert these are simply my opinions based on my experiences. If you've got any other naming tips please let me know and I'll add them to this post!
My naming “rules”
1. Make it short and sweet.
2. Make it easy to spell.
3. Make it easy to pronounce or sound out phonetically.
4. Make sure written it doesn’t look like something rude. If your name has a few words see how they look mooshed together like an url … are any unintended words revealed?
5. Make sure it’s not already being used by someone else. This also goes for non-business use too. If you choose a common phrase you may find that you’ll struggle to come up in search engines as the other more common mentions of the phrase would come up first.
6. Make sure it doesn’t mean something different in different languages (check google translate).
7. “Made up” words are good. But still check them – we discovered words we “made up” were actual words when doing this for Mr Fox.
8. Run your name past some people who fit your “ideal customer” profile as well as people of different ages and demographics. Your name may have pop culture connotations you weren’t aware of.
* Extra Tip from Sharon : Don’t use a name that limits your business too much in the future. For example, my engineering business is called VSA Project Services, not VSA Engineering. I didn’t want to limit it to just engineering, but also construction/project management and contract administration. I am now doing asset management reporting which is totally different again, but the business name still encompasses that. Another example would be including the word Baby in your clothing business name when you may want to branch out into other demographics down the track.
Tips for thinking of names
1. Make a big list of all the names you like. Try doing this “stream of consciousness” style ie set a timer for 5 minutes and write down everything you think of – don’t edit as you go write everything down whether it’s good or not.
2. Think of your product and your “ideal customer” what sorts of words, sounds would appeal to them. If you’re aiming to make pretty, girly baby clothes to sell to new Mum’s, then grungy or dark words are probably out! You want your ideal customer to feel good saying the name of your business when they tell their friends about you!
3. Write down words that have meaning to you (example: nicnames, colours and words you like, places you’ve been, mispronounced words from your childhood, your favourite words).
4. Carry a notebook around for a few days and write down everything you think of. Even if the words you write down are not good names they might send your thinking off on a tangent that will help you come up with a good name.
5. Chat to friends and family and see what they think about your product and see if any names come up for you while they’re talking.
6. Hire someone to name your handmade business. There’s lots of experts who can help with this (and a large range of price points).
7. Try the Business Name Generators mentioned in this Blog Post over at Craft Maker Pro HERE.
Places to “check” if your name is in use
1. Google your chosen name and also alternative spelling or spelling errors of your name to check that they aren’t in use.
2. Check social media platforms for the availability of your name and also check alternative spelling or spelling errors of your name to check that you aren’t in use (example: ainslee, ainsley, ainslie).
3. Check availability of the domain name for your chosen business (example: .com, .com.au, .net etc).
4. Check selling platforms for other businesses using your chosen name or close alternatives (example: etsy, made it, ebay etc).
5. Check business name availability from the appropriate government agency (example: in Australia that’s ASIC -> HERE Choose “Check Name Availability” in the drop down box in the top right corner ).
6. Check trademarks – local and international. (example: in Australia that’s IP Australia -> HERE and ATMOSS -> HERE ). It’s really important to understand that you can register a business name, but if that name breeches someone’s trademark you can still be legally required to stop using that name, even though you have registered that name. Trademarks “trump” Business Name Registration. You might be in breech of trademark even if your name is partially different to a trademarked name if that different part is a synonym of the trademarked name. Trademarks are complicated and expensive. To be very sure that you aren’t breaching anyone’s trademark you would need to hire a lawyer.
My advice to Mr Fox is to do his best with checking for trademarks. If he finds out down the track that he’s infringing on a trademark he will need to change his name &/or seek legal advice.
What to do next
1. “Get” the name on all the social media platforms you can think of. Even if you don’t intend to use all of those platforms up front.
2. Register the domain name for your intended business name. In Australia you’ll need to have the business registration for that name first in order to register the .com.au of that name – (I imagine that there’d be similar rules in other countries) but you don’t need to have registered your business name to get .com domains. Consider registering variations of your domain names (eg. onethimble.com and also onethimblemagazine.com etc). You don’t need to get a website right away but if you have the names “saved” they’ll be there when you want them. Having variations of your domain keeps your options open.
3. Open a store using your name on the shop platforms you imagine you’ll use.
4. Register your business name.
5. Consider trademarking your name (but many people don’t do this until they are more established).
Oh and in the end remember that names grow on you. Don’t use not having the perfect name as a form of procrastination. I distinctly remember having second thoughts about Ainslee Fox and wondering if I should change it a few months in. After a while when your customers think of your business they’ll think about all the things your business means to them rather than the words set in ink on your business card.
There’s lots more that will determine the success or failure of your business than the name … “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare from Romeo & Juliet