Today I’m so excited to share a guest post from Diane Gilleland, better known as Sister Diane of CraftyPod. CraftyPod is an amazing collection of podcasts created by Diane that focus on crafting and business. Diane is also a co-founder of and contributor to Make & Meaning. She’s been sharing lots of thoughts about the idea of Free on both sites, and I’m so excited to have her bring the discussion to CMBA. Thanks, Diane!
In all the discussions of Free I’ve been having this year, the idea of abundance (and its inherent challenges) comes up again and again. With so much being shared for free in the craft community, the reasoning goes, how in the world can any of us hope to make a living from craft?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: we crafters are blessed with living in a culture of abundance. If you want to learn just about any technique, you can do a quick search and find free instruction. If you’re stuck for design ideas, a quick scan of your favorite blogs will refill your well of inspiration.
Obviously, this is great. But not-so-obviously, I think all this abundance has deeply changed the way we value crafts and handmade items. It’s very natural to become used to anything that’s a constant presence in our lives, and to begin seeing it as nothing special. As much as we may all love our crafts, in the online environment, we may be learning to take them for granted. (Ali Hale explains this much better than I can.)
But this state of affairs is no cause for alarm. Of the many great ideas in Chris Anderson’s book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, this is my favorite:
“Every abundance creates a new scarcity. A hundred years ago, entertainment was scarce and time plentiful; now it’s the reverse. When one product or service becomes free, value migrates to the next highest layer. Go there.”
Our current state of abundance presents a great opportunity. If you have a craft business, or aspire to one, here’s a strong path to success: go find the scarcity that’s migrated upstream. Here are some ways to approach that:
Finding the scarcity when you’re designing product
It’s true that some kinds of crafts are pretty abundant – if you don’t believe me, try searching “earrings” on Etsy sometime. But even within a crowded product category like jewelry, there are scarcities to be found. Earrings made from readily-available beads? Abundant, and perhaps harder to sell. Earrings made from an intriguing and scarce material, like repurposed electrical fuses? Those have a better chance of finding their market.
Materials aside, it also make sense to look for the scarcities in your customers’ lives, and design products that address them. You may love to sew mixed-media wrist bands, for example. But if you aren’t selling enough of them to have a viable business, try this: look closely at the people who are buying. Who are they, and what are their scarcities?
Let’s say you do some research and discover that your customers are mainly stay-at-home moms with small children. Here are some things that might be scarce for them:
- Staying organized
Can you design any products that address these scarcities? Maybe you can develop some well-pocketed stash bags that clip to a stroller, and use your mixed-media skills to embellish those. You’ll be helping your customers keep better track of their stuff so they don’t lose time hunting for keys and cell phones. That’s addressing a scarcity, and that’s a compelling product.
Finding the scarcity when you’re designing services
Maybe you don’t make product to sell – maybe your business is built around a craft-related service. Can you teach knitting in your local community for profit? You sure can – if knitting teachers are scarce. But if your city is replete with knitting teachers, then it’s time to look for the scarcity. What classes are not being taught in your area?
While we’re at it, what craft-based services aren’t being offered in your area? My city, for example, is loaded with craft classes. It’s rather challenging to make a living from teaching. But what’s scarce? Handbag and jewelry repair services. Clothing reconstruction services. Small business consulting for artists and crafters. In these areas, there’s money to be made.
Finding the scarcity behind your community’s abundances
You can also find whole new business ideas by looking at the communities you participate in online. Every community of like-minded people has certain things or ideas in abundance. Let’s look at the crochet community as an example. Most crocheters have an abundance of stash yarn. And an abundance of patterns. And an abundance of ambition to crochet more.
…So, what are some of the scarcities that lie behind those abundances? Here are just a few:
- Time to knit all that stash yarn.
- Space to store it
- Ways to organize all those knitting patterns
See? Within those scarcities are some great business ideas. (Consider Ravelry, which is a thriving business because it manages to address all those shortages at once.)
Finding scarcities in your competitors
If your business operates in a crowded field, like the aforementioned jewelry design, then you’re coping with a market abundance – and facing many competitors. This isn’t such a bad thing when you consider that all these competitors present you with a free opportunity to look for scarcities.
Start by looking closely at your competitors – not only at what they sell, but at how they deliver it, how they market it, and how they present themselves. What are most of them doing? (There’s the abundance.) What is nobody else doing? (There’s the scarcity. Follow that scarcity.)
Finding scarcities in your conversations
Whether you’re chatting with customers face-to-face at a craft show, trading tweets online, or responding to people who comment on your blog, you have a constant opportunity to look for scarcities in these conversations.
What questions do people ask you over and over again about your work? Even a question that may seem threatening to your business, like “How did you make that,” has business potential in it.
Could you package a basic tutorial for your process as a downloadable tutorial or ebook? Could you produce a how-to zine to sell? Could you teach an online class in your technique? Could you teach live classes? You don’t have to reveal all your tricks and trade secrets here – just share the basics. All you’re doing is capitalizing on a scarcity your customers are feeling – that of knowledge. You can sell that knowledge right alongside your main product, because different kinds of customers will be attracted to each.
As you can see, there are lots of opportunities here. Every one of us has skills and knowledge that, while abundant for us, are scarce (and therefore valuable) to someone else. Connect the dots, and you can develop all kinds of new income streams.