designing an mba

growth, ceilings, and scalability

Many of you probably harbor dreams of growing your business.  I say dreams because, for many, your business seems stuck at a certain level.  In order to grow your business beyond it’s current level, you have to first identify what is holding your business back from growth.

I think a lot of crafts businesses tend to hit one of two ceilings when trying to grow – you either hit a marketing ceiling or a production ceiling.

Because the solutions to breaking beyond those ceilings are drastically different, it’s important to recognize which one you’re running into in order to move your business beyond its current stage.

The marketing ceiling

Do you find yourself with more product than you know what to do with?  Are you drowning in materials?  Do you constantly make, make, make but are frustrated because you can’t seem to sell, sell, sell?

If this is the case, that inventory exceeds demand, then you’ve hit a marketing ceiling.  When you hit a marketing ceiling, it means you either aren’t doing enough marketing, or the “marketing” you are doing is ineffective.

The first thing you need to recognize is that the solution to moving beyond a marketing solution is not more making.  I think a lot of makers, particularly those who sell on Etsy, fall into the “make and list” school of marketing.  You think, “if I just keep making more stuff, and I just keep listing more stuff, then eventually it will start to sell.”

But listing stuff online (or taking piles of stuff to a craft show) is not an effective marketing strategy.  (I would argue that it’s not even marketing at all.)

So if you find yourself with more inventory than sales, I challenge you to put down your tools for a week and focus on your marketing plan.

The production ceiling

Do you find that you can never make enough products to keep up with demand?  Do you go to craft shows and sell out consistently?  Do you have a long lead time for products in your online shop?

If so, then you’ve hit a production ceiling.  Your business can’t grow because you physically cannot produce anymore product, which means you can’t bring in any more revenue.

Dealing with a production ceiling actually has two solutions.

The first is to raise your prices.  I’m constantly amazed by the number of clients who tell me that they are so stressed out, they spend hours and hours making product, only to sell out at every craft show they do.  When I ask them if they’ve considered raising their prices, most haven’t even considered it.

Raising your prices in this scenario is actually good old-fashioned supply and demand economics.  If your production (the supply) can’t keep up with demand, then the market dictates that you raise your prices.

Yes, you might sell less products when you raise your prices.  But you can potentially earn the same income (or more) with less work, so the tradeoff is worth it.

However, there are times where your prices seem to be working.  Where you do make a comfortable profit from each piece, and raising prices isn’t the right solution.

In that case, you’ll need to hire additional help with production to break through the ceiling.  Help with production can take many forms, from hiring independent contractors to do piecework to hiring an employee that may handle more aspects of the production process.

I was incredibly humbled to watch this video interview that Tara recently conducted with Julie Boyles of JJBoyles.  (I’ve embedded the video below so that you can watch as well.)

Can Rob Kalin Scale Etsy? Tara Gentile interviews Julie Boyles from tara gentile on Vimeo.

In the video, Julie talks about scaling her business by working with independent contractors.  She mentions that when she was trying to figure out how to do this, there really weren’t resources to help her get started.

Which made me realize this is an area where I’ve been lacking on Crafting an MBA.  I think I do a good job of helping those struggling with the marketing ceiling, but I don’t talk enough about how to scale production for your business.

To be fair, I talk about it less because it’s something I’m only now figuring out for my own business.  In January, I hired a 30-hour a week employee to manage production, and we’re finally settling into a rhythm I’m comfortable with.  But it has still left me with a lot of uncertainty about the direction of my jewelry business and how I want it to grow.

I’m incredibly interested in the topic of scaling production for many reasons, top among them is that I am interested in how crafts businesses can create meaningful employment and help improve the economy.  I am also interested in learning how other crafts businesses make the leap from the “one person at home” model to a full-scale production studio, because this is the kind of business I hope to build.

I also want to make sure I’m serving the needs of my audience here on Crafting an MBA.  To that end, I have a few questions for you.  Which ceiling is your business running into – marketing or production?  And if it is production, where are you stuck when it comes to bringing in or seeking outside help?  And finally, what dreams do you have for your business?  Are you happy as a solopreneur or do you have dreams of a bigger craft empire?

I’d really appreciate it if you could take a minute to answer these questions in the comments, or you can email me your thoughts at megan(at)craftmba.com.

42 responses to “growth, ceilings, and scalability”

  1. Michelle Erfurt

    Which ceiling is your business running into – marketing or production? Marketing… My craft ‘business’ is an offshoot of my music therapy blog. Music Therapy is my full time day job. I just happen to love to sewing, so creating sewed products that help me at work happened naturally.

    What dreams do you have for your business? To connect music therapists with products/information/services that will help them save time, work more efficiently, improve their private practice and make more money.

    Are you happy as a solopreneur or do you have dreams of a bigger craft empire? I’d like to have an empire, for sure, but I don’t believe that crafting will be the focus.

    Thanks so much!

  2. Ruth Garcia-Alcantud

    Marketing. I’ve ideas, and I only have to “make” one product as I sell patterns in different sizes, so production is not an issue for me.

    I dream of having a steady income – even if it’s just a small amount. I see I’m only earning when I put something new out and then it quickly dies. I believe this may be because I’m too shy to keep pimping my product out, I believe people will get tired of reading about it.

    I’m ok being a solopreneur, I think. At the moment I still hold on to a part time job because after recovering from a bad episode of depression I don’t think I want to be by myself for very long and I enjoy the social aspect of a shared office – however I’m a perfectionist and don’t know that I wouldn’t step on my assistant’s job if I hired one!

    As for future dreams, I do want to expand, and want to offer different goods. I just keep thinking “one day, one day…”. I need the kick to do it.

    1. Mika

      Quote: ” I believe this may be because I’m too shy to keep pimping my product out, I believe people will get tired of reading about it.”

      THIS! THIS! THIS! You hit the nail on the head..I keep thinking people are like “Oh, her again, whatever”. Hard to overcome those feelings!

  3. Stephanie

    During the end of last year I hit a weird combination of both. There were certain styles of jewelry I was making that would sell immediately. At one craft show I ran out of finished products, so I started making more, which also sold, and then I ran out of materials to keep making that style! But on the other hand, some of my other products just weren’t moving at all, they’ve been sitting with my finished inventory for well over a year.

    My solution was to focus on producing more of my “bestsellers” in order to meet demand and cut my losses on the stuff that wasn’t selling. I salvaged the parts I could on some of them and put them back into my raw materials inventory, and I’m going to see if I can sell some of the other pieces at a sale price at spring/summer craft shows.

    Also, the fact that this is a side business for me limits how much time and energy I can put into both marketing and production, so I have to use what time I have as wisely as possible!

  4. Anna

    My business is hitting a marketing ceiling as well. Since I don’t really make anything that I sell, just samples to show off my beautiful fabrics and patterns, I feel like I spend A LOT of time marketing, but since sales aren’t really reflecting that right now, I guess I’ve hit the ceiling. The funny thing is that I posted a picture of one of my shop samples on Facebook and actually sold it! So I’d be extremely interested to hear how to better market my shop and stand out among all the other online fabric shops.

    Goals for me? I’m happy being a soloprenuer right now, but I really need my business to support me. I feel like besides the happy good feelings I get when I teach a sewing class, my business isn’t really giving me much return for all the time I invest in it. Ugh, it hurts to say that. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts soon.

  5. Jenn

    Hey Megan! You hit my nail on it’s head! I’ve got the production problem, haven’t had a day off in 3 months, and they’re 16 hour days. while this is a great problem to have, the thought of hiring makes me tired, I’ve had great experiences and awful experiences w people. But my plan, which seems to be the plan I’ve followed since day one is to say Yes! To giant projects which forces me to grow, for instance I will be showing at the New York Gift Fair, which has a much larger audience than other wholesale shows. I’m hoping to get slammed w orders (maybe another catalog!) but I know I need to hire and train now to be able to confidently take those kind of orders. applying to the show was my way of forcing myself to grow. because it can be easy to stay in the rut of frazzled business owner but that’s really not sustainable, enjoyable or healthy.
    Back to work!
    Jenn bell

  6. Laura

    Ceiling: Production. My lead time is fairly long (10-14 days) and I do find that I consistently sell out of 2 or 3 different bag styles at every craft fair I do and then it takes so long to build my stock again which means less shows, less profit. I need to hire someone to help but I feel like I’m not quite making enough money to hire someone–like I’m *almost* there but not quite. But then again, if I hire someone and cut my lead times down, I’d probably sell more and thus have enough money to hire someone. It’s like I’m hitting that wall and If I could just get enough courage to bust through it, it’d pay off. Then there is that voice in my head that whispers, “What if it doesn’t pay off? What if I hire someone and can’t pay them because I was wrong about my business growing if I hire someone?.”

    It’s funny because the first giant leap I took, back when Pansy Maiden hadn’t even had her 1st birthday, was quitting my day job. That was super easy. I just did it and never looked back. But now I have so much invested in my business that it’s hard to loosen my grip. And I’m starting to feel the “Big Black Death” for a craft business: Burnout. Well, that sounds really dramatic. I’m not about to give up on Pansy Maiden but there are some days I just want to crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head, sleep for 12 days, and spend all my waking hours watching Drew Barrymore movies. I have raised my prices and that has definitely helped. If I raise them anymore, I fear I will price myself out of the “craft market” and head over to a market I am less familiar with: Fashion.

    Future: I want to hire a person or two who can help me, buy a couple more machines, keep building my brand, keep everything in-house and handmade.

  7. AmyD

    Oh I loved this video interview! And the questions you pose are so important. I worked at home by myself for about 1 1/2 years. Then had interns off and on for a couple years. It’s now me, and two part timers. (plus a contracted bookkeeper)
    The hardest thing for me is that, with other people working here too, I need to have my shit together. There are no longer those days when I can just mess around! They need the work to be ready!

    I go in waves with the marketing and production. I’d like to be able to keep both on an even keel rather than this weird cycle. That’s our current company goal. We are working on building better systems to hopefully keep production steady.

    I think we need an admin person, but I want someone to just walk in a take over. Which means I either need a better system or hire a pro. I’d rather create a better system. ugh. See?? I’m rambling because the answers are still eluding me!

  8. Jennifer Lachtara

    Ironically, I am at a marketing ceiling – ironic, because my day job is advertising/PR/Marketing for another small business. However, when it comes to marketing my *own* work, I lack the confidence to really “sell it” and “close the sale.” I know at art shows, I am shy in my booth both in verbal and body language. I don’t feel comfortable engaging the customer and really selling why my pottery is something that will enrich their drinking and dining experience. There is just something about the way I was brought up – being told not to be boastful about yourself or your accomplishments – that I need to overcome if I am to be successful. Not only does this affect the way I engage my potential customers in my booth at shows, but it seems to also affect the way I write about my work in print and online.

    My New Year’s Resolution was to join Toastmasters this year in order to build that confidence in speaking to people – ESPECIALLY about my work. Unfortunately, I have kept putting it off. But I am resolving (once again) to do it after the last show of the Spring season (this weekend). Hopefully, in building my speaking confidence, I will build my confidence to sell.

    Right now, my dream for my business is that it makes enough money that I can let go of the day job and transition to full-time artist. I am pretty comfortable with the idea of staying at solopreneurship, though if I find myself at a point where I would need a production assistant, I don’t think I would turn down the opportunity to become an employer – giving a talented artist a chance to earn a living in their chosen field.

  9. Julie

    Production.

    I make jewelry and sell on Etsy, my own website and average around 40 craft shows a year. My work space is very small and doesn’t have space for an employee. The last few weeks I have been in high production for craftshow season. At the shows I sell a lot of lower dollar items and I feel all the production time takes away from making higher dollar items that I enjoy creating. Also, I have some new techniques I want to teach myself and am not finding time to do so.

    So, I had to make some decisions. I have decided to scale back on lower dollar items, reduce the number of the shows and am looking for a larger home to rent within my budget.

    I lay in bed at night and image having a huge studio space with a few employees. The hurdle is making the income as a one person business in such a small space and figuring out how to expand within that income. I am confident I am capable of running an empire!

    1. Ester

      Woah nelly, how about them aplspe!

  10. Ricka

    Hi! Megan, i am working on scaling production. Everything is done by my hand. Sometimes, i feel really to figure it out how to make my production smoothly. For me, starting the new business, it is unable to hire employee. I had read the forum from etsy talking about how to grow your etsy business. We got to increase our inventory, so that is easy to get more shopper browse your shop. That is i am wondering point. Should i pile up my inventory to intensify my shopper???

  11. Meredith

    Great post! We outsourced the actual production and fulfillment of our prints to an indie print shop because making and mailing things was our least favorite part of our business. We prefer designing and don’t mind marketing. We’ve hit some snags with using our print shop, but even the problems we’ve had are nothing compared to the headache of doing it all on our own.

    Re: marketing, so many makers do not get it. It’s a tough nut to crack. They will not come just because you build it. The best thing to do is create a marketing plan that has some ROI measurability built into it so you can see what’s working and what’s not and adjust as needed.

  12. margaret

    Deffaintly Marketing, there’s never seems enough time in my day. I juggle twenty hours a week in an office where I make enough to support our family, watch our two little boys whenever I’m not working and only get an hour or two in the evenings to devote to me. There’s plenty of days I don’t even want to do anything but sit and be with my husband because we haven’t had time alone in ages.

    But there’s also a tiny fear of success and that little evil voice in my brain telling me I am not orginal enough to “Stand out”. I haven’t found a “voice” yet with my crafts. I’d love to be able to grow and quit my day job to support our family. I’d even love to be able to hire firends and family to get them out of their day jobs as Julie was saying she was doing.

  13. Mo Tipton

    Your post is so timely, because I’ve recently been thinking about the long-term viability of my business specifically in terms of the production ceiling. My pieces take a good amount of time to make, with the exception of a few items that are easier to make in larger batches (I sculpt miniature polymer clay food for both dollhouse and jewelry applications), and I often toy with the idea of hiring someone, particularly during the holiday season, but I always run into a mental wall.

    At the moment, I work out of my house full-time, and the idea of someone else hanging out in my studio/bedroom doesn’t fill me with glee, and I also have trouble figuring out what this person would do exactly–photograph my pieces? Write listing descriptions? Package orders? With the exception of the latter task, I sometimes think that I’m so much of a control freak that it would be like pulling teeth to pass the reins over to someone else. Plus, there’s only so much “making” I can do in one day, unless I want to completely trash the health of my hands and wrists, so I like breaking up the manufacturing with other admin tasks. And then we’re back to square one with the production ceiling caving in…augh!! ;)

  14. Julie Boyles

    Thank you Meagan for bringing up this discussion, and for including the video. I hope it’s alright to jump in here with a few comments.

    For anyone thinking of adding people to your business to help out, it’s very important to become familiar with the IRS laws for independent contractors vs employees. There’s a lot to it, but basically these people can’t have ANY supervision from you at all while doing the work for you. They have to function as their own business, such as hiring a contractor to do work on your house etc. Just google IRS and the information is easy to find.

    For those of you that feel like you’re not quite making enough to hire some assistance, think about it this way. If you have some good performing items and it’s hard to keep up with the demand, getting some help=more inventory=more sales. When you get more cash flowing in it makes paying other people a little easier.

    Be up front with your contractors/employees about what to expect and be willing to be flexible. I tell my contractors regularly how much they can expect in the coming weeks/months and try to stick with that. But, for example, my husband is laid off right now, and when taxes were due I was low on cash flow so there wasn’t any work for them that week, and I took over. It was only temporary, but they know from the start it’s possible this might happen. (I think they were secretly glad for the short time off, it’s a busy season for everyone!)

    The most difficult thing for me is still having work ready for my contractors when it’s supposed to be. I’m getting better about it, but it’s not where I want it yet. It seems to work best when the work I’m sending to them is for “the future” not immediate orders. This has been the best way to build up the inventory I need. So right now, I’m working on sending them stuff for Back to School season, and after June we’ll be working on Holiday stuff.

    Shoot, I’m still not sure about all of this, and am trying to figure out things as I go! I’d love to hear some more of your ideas!

  15. Soledad

    Marketing. I think the easiest way to do it would be to just let go a good amount of dollars into it and see what happens, but I just can’t be that generous with myself. I hope I get around it sooner than later.

    Recently I went back to college and that brought in two things: the good one, I got super inspired and developed my new line that I think shows who I am as a crafter and artist, or at least where I want to go, which has me super excited. The bad one, is that I don’t have that much time to spend on social media (which I don’t really like anyways) or any kind of networking. Also, my first language is not English so although I can write here, it’s probably taking me twice the time that it would take any other person, so I don’t write too much either (which I do like). So, bottom line, my beautiful jewelry is having problems finding its amazing owners!

    Dreams for my business? A steady income, for starters. Then, a good income. Someday, I would love to have a home decor line. I have so many projects that I don’t think I have enough life for all of them! LOL. So yes, I would have to hire someone I guess…. but that’s not a goal on itself for now.

  16. Sara

    Hi Megan,
    So I’m opting for the comment rather than email, but this article is SO. VERY. TIMELY. for me at least.

    Right now, I’m struggling with a dead end full time job that suffocates me and my dream is to take my stationery company to the next level. However, I suffer from production ceiling. I’ve had the luxury to always have this job so I can take on custom orders, which was not where I originally intended to begin, but have ended up. I’m not complaining because I realize now that what gets me going is really working with clients. When I do a custom order for someone and it’s for their wedding or party and they’re really happy, then I’m really happy.

    Regardless of that, I do still want to have product that doesn’t require customization and because I’ve been lucky enough to have longish term customized orders, my “wholesale” item production is none existent.

    I’m gearing up for my first tabling event, which is a whole longer story, ever in June and right now I’m grappling with production, how much should I make, how much can I make, etc. I figure I’ll learn a whole lot in this endeavor, but still, production ceilings suck.

    This article was just the kick in the pants I needed to keep moving toward creating production that I can sell and then determine where the business is going to move.

  17. Darlene

    I am definitely running into the marketing ceiling. My sales have been really slow this year and my first instinct when that happens is, “OMG, my products must suck, I need to make something new that people might like.”

    You are right, I need to work more on marketing… it’s hard when you’ve got a day job and your available time is really late at night when you’re home from the office. I am more inclined to want to pick up my tools then because at that hour I don’t have the brain to figure out how I should be better marketing myself (so far, all of my marketing efforts do not seem to be having any impact on my sales).

  18. Jessica

    I’m in the exact same boat as Stephanie above: I can not keep my zombie critters in stock, and custom orders for them are 6-8 weeks out–further than I’m really comfortable with. And of course they’re my most time-consuming pieces. Other pieces I have get lots of hearts on Etsy, lots of oohs and aahs at craft shows, but they just don’t sell regularly. I also find that what’s popular one craft season sometimes is a total dud the next–I’ve had a few disappointing shows where I’ve made extra inventory of something that was selling really well, only to find it go completely flat. It seems to be totally arbitrary too, not usually in-line with what’s “trending” in the field in general.

    Anyway, recently I’ve started thinking about how I can make smarter, since I can’t make faster or hire anyone right now. I realized there are some components of my zombie plush that I can make in advance, so I’m working on building up a stockpile of those parts, which should cut down on my lead time.

    But I also have a day job that keeps me from devoting as much time to my business as it needs. So I actually recently started working with a mentor from my local Small Business Association to help me figure out a smart scaling pattern for both marketing and production so that I can (hopefully!) grow my business into a full-time venture. We’ll see how the plan progresses. . . .

  19. Kathy Frey

    This is a tough post for me to read because I remember 5 years ago when I hit the production ceiling and built my studio to have 4 employees, and then the economy dissolved that 2 years ago. Luckily I have done enough marketing to keep my business going as a solopreneur, yet I think now I’m hitting the marketing ceiling. I’m afraid of repeating that same horrible cycle. I’d love to have a versatile part-time assistant who could help with everything from photography to office work and production yet still allowed me several days of independent work, in which I can be very productive but rather single-minded in the tasks I pursue each day.

    My cash flow has been sufficient to keep me going, yet it doesn’t seem to support the idea of an assistant or even an investment of marketing (professional photography, catalogs, mailings, and wholesale trade shows). I do lots of almost-free marketing with emails, blogging, and social media yet I’m worried I’m losing even more footing from what I built in the busy years. I’ll keep following and exploring your blog for ideas on how to re-start a marketing plan! Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  20. Florence

    Hi Megan,

    Great post and a most important issue. After 5 years as a weaver, I’m currently studying craft and entrepreneurship (for an MBA). Only today i was tackling with the very nature of craft, which seems to just excludes it from traditionnal business growth. Production ceiling was for me the biggest challenge as a self-employed weaver, as I couldn’t make enough of the successful pieces. Actually, I injured my back trying. My teaching mentor takes interns (like me) every summer to help her production and couldn’t do without this unpaid help. I think a lot of craft business don’t make enough profit to allow for a 2nd salary (and sometimes a 1rst) and therefore are stuck in their growth. So I’m all for raising prices, cutting costs and saving on physiotherapy by doing yoga!
    Glad to discover the Craft MBA.

  21. kathy

    I’m a new start-up, social enterprise … I found your blog, and am a ‘craft mba’ fiend! The posts, replies — all of it! Just brilliant!

    Thanks

  22. Charlotte

    I hit the production ceiling BIG TIME and am facing a bit of burn out!! I love what I do, but it all becomes overwhelming at times. This gave me a new energy to work thru it, set up a system of piecework and find someone to help me with production….Here’s to six figures!!!

  23. Anika

    This post was so timely for me!

    Definitely a marketing ceiling for me. I should know better, as I have marketing education and experience. It’s easier for me to see this problem with other people’s businesses than mine. I am working on my facebook page and going to research what other marketing would be good for my business (photography and crafts). I’m going to look on this blog for ideas.

    I would love to have a business mentor to bounce ideas off. It wouldn’t even need to be someone way more successful than I – just someone who is interested and understands and will listen and give me a kick in the pants when I need it. :)

    I would love to stay small and not hire anyone to work for me. I want to be able to stay home with my daughter (18 months) and have a flexible work schedule.

  24. amy

    I’m going to bookmark this to read again later…maybe much later. In reading this, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’ve hit the time ceiling. I just can’t do what I want to do with my business and be a full time mama/biz organizer for my husband.
    I feel as though I’m constantly stopping and starting, and that my marketing efforts are typically less effective because I lack continuity. I’d love to hear your thoughts on slow marketing endeavors.

  25. Maria

    Production! I provide apparel design and development for local apparel startups and I am amazed at the demand. Therefore, I recently decided to bring in help one day a week, sometimes less, sometimes more. The part I struggle with is handing over the work and trusting that it will be quality. Then I worry about losing efficiency because my help takes twice as long (and we charge hourly), and I will still need to review the work before handing it to a client.
    Looking for tips on how to manage the outsourcing of production and motivating my team as we grow!

  26. Jen

    Definitely production ceiling.
    I’m stuck with the idea of hiring someone to help me because I’m a bit of a control freak and I get stuck with the idea of increasing prices because my prices are already far above what I’d pay for something like what I make that someone else made (if that made sense).
    I think the key for me is going to be narrowing my field or taking the leap into quitting my day job – either scares me senseless. I’m concerned about only making one item (my biggest seller) in case styles / fashions change. Quitting my day job isn’t really practical either with me being our families bread winner (hubby at uni, daughter 3yo) at the moment, just got to hold on until hubby has a “real” job, but I feel the time is now & if I don’t do something now the opportunities are going to pass me by . . . hmmm a quandry, but you’ve given me good food for thought.

    1. Nelia

      It’s great to find an expert who can explain tihgns so well

  27. Jahje of Baby Jives

    I loved that video interview with Julie and Tara – because I had just realized I had a looming issue with my ability to produce. I have been lucky to see my business taking off and I honestly had a week before that interview when I picked up my phone to see I had made a sale and groaned instead of grinned. I knew then that I needed to get some help asap so I put the call out and found someone who is going to start working with me to help produce the components for my mobiles. Somewhat like the independent contractors Julie talks about hiring. I am happy to have some of the labor off my back but honestly if things keep growing at the same rate I am not sure what I will do next, I guess hire more people to make parts. The other issue I am facing is that I would like to try and have another kid and as my husband points out right now we are both so busy we can barely manage time for one so how do I care for a newborn and run a business. My whole goal as an independant business owner was to create something that I could run from home while raising a family. So that is really what I am trying to figure out now. I love what I am doing but am not quite sure how scale up my production, manage my life, and still keep my hand in everything. So I am looking for tips on how to outsource and still maintain my hand in all the work.

  28. Christine

    production ceiling.

    to be able to hire help with production would involve moving my studio out of my home, incurring large equipment expenses as well…because of that, I resist doing it, and find myself raising prices, trying to be more organized with my time and production etc.

    but I do lay awake at night dreaming of how I can get it together…

  29. Connie

    Marketing ceiling…

    I am definately stuck at the marketing ceiling. I find it frustrating that I know that I have nice quality and unique handmade products at an affordable price but just can’t seem to make as many sales as I would expect with the amount of time and energy I put in on a daily basis. When people do buy my dresses they LOVE them, I just can’t seem to get my name out there. I use facebook alot, but still only have the same few people checking my page. I also think, as you said, that is I keep making more new dresses in prettier fabrics then the sales will inevitably follow, and that I just have to be patient. I have always felt that I need to market my product more but just don’t know how to go about it. I justify my disapointment by telling myself that I wouldn’t be able to handle larger demand with having two little kids… Would love to get some tips on marketing! I am so glad that my friend sent me the email this morning about your blog, I think it is just what I need at the moment. I am not the only one who is stuck and that is comforting. thank you.

    1. Connie

      what dreams do i have for my business? Of course I would love to be making enough money creating at home to quit my day job and possibly be able to hire a few extra hands if I needed to (that would be a dream come true). So I guess that answer the next question.. Are you happy as a solopreneur or do you have dreams of a bigger craft empire? Craft empire that I have complete control of the quality of production is a steadfast dream of mine.

  30. kriket

    Wow – it seems so many of us are in the same boat – as designers, makers, marketers and sellers it feels as though something has to give – but every one of those facets of running a business is important and so what do you do to get past these ceilings? I think Tara had a good point when she said you need to think that we do not just ‘make’ things, we are running business’ that are about products we make. I could relate to so many of the comments that people have made on this post and want to know how do we ‘streamline’ what we do. If I approach my craft from the angle that I am running an indie business’ and not just making to sell a few pieces in order to make my costs back it really changes my perspective.

  31. Kirsty

    Ceiling: Production and Marketing!

    It is such a comfort to hear that I’m not the only person struggling with these issues about business direction. I doubt my ability to survive if I took on some help full-time so I’m very fortunate to have a friend who is job hunting at the moment and she is going to help me out temporarily to see how having hired help impacts my business (financial and production wise).

    What do you suggest for a marketing ceiling? Is there such a thing as a definitive guide to the mix of marketing you do, or is it simply suck it and see? This is what I’m a little scared of, wasting valuable time and money focusing on marketing that won’t produce results.

    Thank you for such a great article, all the comments have been a comfort and informative to read.

  32. Alissa

    I have been at the production ceiling where all the time in the world couldn’t keep up with the orders, but now times have changed with the economy and it is a marketing ceiling.

    Facebook, blogging, pr, cold calling– where to start? Stores aren’t buying the quantities they once were, and they are scared. We never had to follow up with orders a few years ago, and now we do. I am terrible at marketing, and can admit it!

    We need a set of standards–how to market correctly. how to cold call, how to write a pr release, how to find out who to send them to, how to find stores that are interested, and how to sell to stores outside of a giftshow.

    Media and internet have changed, stores have changed and buyers going to gift shows are changing as well. We have to learn how to keep up and adapt to change.

  33. zandra (zeal: handmade home)

    I’m so glad you’ve put this dilemma out there! My problem is definitely w/ production. By the end of last year it became pretty clear that if I wanted to make any money at this, I’d have to increase my volume. I have no idea how to find independent contractors. I don’t have the cash to hire anyone full time (or even part time). I’m scared to death of trying for a bank loan and putting my house up for collateral. I don’t think I can charge more for my products, but truthfully, I think it would freak me out if I went from selling most of my product at a show to only selling half (or whatever). I’m really looking forward to reading other people’s posts on this and hearing more CraftMBA! Thanks!

  34. Smaller Box :: Blog :: Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

    [...] Growth Ceilings and Scalability – Megan at Crafting an MBA talks about what’s holding you back from growing your business [...]

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  38. Bethany Dasko

    I know this is an old post, but it’s the topic I’m researching (and what brought me to your blog!) so I’m going to answer anyway.

    I’m hitting a definite production ceiling. I am struggling to get my Etsy orders out with the little time I have, and am trying to weigh my options for what I need to do in order to get to the next step. I have zero social media presence, and while I’ve been collecting emails since I’ve been in business on my mailing list, I rarely send anything because I don’t have time and I also don’t know what I would write about (which, is a very difficult topic I think since most “Here are some things you can write about” articles I’ve read on the web are mostly pertaining to information businesses). I sell custom phone cases – I don’t know what I’d blog or newsletter about on a consistent basis!

    My dream is to grow the business enough so my husband and I can work together (he has a 4 hour daily commute, ugh) and minimize our hours while supporting the family comfortably… we want to have more time for LIVING life and not so much working.

    Which, I guess, answers the solopreneur question as well. My biggest debate at the moment is deciding which would be of greater help to me – building a dedicated workshop by my home (my current one is at my parents’ house, which is an inconvenience) which would allow me to put in more hours, or hiring a VA to take over social media and newslettering, etc. I would love to do both, but could probably only do one to start with and I am really debating which would be of greater benefit to me.

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