Getting back on track


When things aren’t going well enough and Failure is waving its bony hand

Man Sinking in Quicksand in Movie Scene

Not Waving but Drowning

This bit is to help park the emotional side.

The struggling craftsperson  is undergoing a sort of bereavement. 

They face the  loss  of  self belief.

You are doing something weird, you are grieving for something that you fear is going to happen and by reacting like that you are helping to make it inevitable

Faltering craftspeople   display  classic grieving behaviours. Here’s the list:

Denial and Isolation

You stop talking openly to other crafts people about how things are going so you cut yourself off from  help and moral support.

You no longer record statistics properly: neither your meagre income nor your fat expenditure

You hide away in creating “stock”


You secretly  resent your fellow craftspeople  finding all sorts of reasons to disapprove of their products and them. You feel this most acutely at shows where they are selling and you are not

Your special loathing is for the hobbyists who undersell you

You are cross with the public for not being prepared to pay properly for handmade things, also for having no discernment: they don’t want good stuff.


You become a sucker for all sorts of instant cures you plunge about wildly starting up and abandoning different projects.

You spend on equipment, materials, shows without proper consideration. You become a risk taker .


You lose all self-confidence.

You are more a supplicant than a sales person.

Your body language keeps the customers from even looking at your stall.

Even when you do make sales you are selling at a loss


There is nothing you can do.You decide the whole sad state of affairs is beyond your control.

You block all positive moves.

You decide you were deluded that you had any ability as a craftsman. You are universally useless.

O Dear


 How to haul yourself out of trouble

Sinking businesses know something immensely valuable. They know what doesn’t work.

That is a very, very useful starting point for rethinking.

It is a lot further ahead than the bright-eyed startup position.

Collect Evidence

You need to trawl over what has happened in your business so far.  Don’t get hung up on the evidence. Drop the despair fest. Look at it like this: if you had a damp box of matches and every single one of them failed to light you could conclude that matches simply don’t work Or you could notice that they were damp…

The sort of evidence you need is

How much money did you make last year?

How much did you spend on your business last year?

Name all the types of products you tried to sell. Selling price of each, how many you sold and stock left.

How  many hours do you work at your business per week ?

What do you spend most of your working time on?

List all your unsuccessful face to face selling venues

List any successful face to face venues

List all your online selling places and your costs and turnover on each for the last year

List all your social media and how many likes/followers on each

The evidence collecting is the worst bit but it has to be done

Analyse the Evidence

Work out what went best, note down where you think you got it wrong. You have the benefit of hindsight: so apply it .

Decide what you need to achieve

It is crucial that you crunch your finances.

What is your timeframe to make this work ?

When does the money run out?

Should you seek some part-time work to buy the chance of survival?

How much money do you need to make a year for your crafts business to be sustainable?



Put closing down entirely as a real option. Putting it up there takes the pressure off, it cleans the decision to continue

Don’t continue for pride’s sake, continue because it is what you most want to do and only if you have a clear course of action that addresses the problems.

You should be able to get yourself to this position on your own but it is at this point that you would really benefit from help. The sort of help you want is someone listening to all you have realised and talking through your options and decisions for the future. They might bring new ideas and directions to the table and unearth any weaknesses in your own proposals.

If you have no one to that with ask me it will cost £30 for an hour’s discussion

2014-04-25 17.01.56

No Magic Bullet

Pissed off with me? Read this far and no solution  just a lot of instructions ?

Yup that’s right. You got yourself into this mess so you have to dig yourself out. No mentor can haul you out, all  they can do is  help you consider your conclusions based on proper analysis .

If you are seriously off track its going to take a lot of effort and research to turn things round.

You have to stop, look back, evaluate, conclude, discuss, plan and put the plan to work evaluating as you go.

A huge task to undertake when you are at a low point emotionally and financially. Starting the business was fueled by glorious (but misplaced) self belief.  Now the batteries must run on determination. If you can find that determination you  probably have a 70% chance of running a decent little business in 5 years.

From now on keep tight hold of the facts, never look the other way because they may be telling you something you don’t want to know.

Creativity runs on emotions, business runs on facts. 


More Help

Try this Low income Diagnostic chart 

Check you are pricing properly

Are you aiming for the most lucrative  customers

Been there got the t shirt Perfectly natural to fail first My story

Can I help?


Established craftspeople share your early miss-directions in the comments. You might save younger businesses who are about to go through the windscreen



Craftsperson Types – Which Are You?

Craftspeople read through these twelve types and see if you can recognise yourself.

 Of course you won’t be able to, but I bet your friends will see you loud and clear in one of these types below

The Phoenix

Keeps reinventing it’s business, to the confusion of their customers and finally to their own confusion. The next big idea is always the One. They end up drowning in a  gaggle of websites and aliases.

The Eeyore

Anticipates everlasting disaster, their gloom drives customers away. They dislike their customers anyway because they blame them for not buying . The Eeyore sees its medical conditions as a great conversation opener.

The Cuckoo

Has derivative products,  always producing  what every one else is doing: the cupcakes, bunting, seashells, beach hut, shabby chic,  vintage  vibe. They are never ahead of the pack but nor are they ever far behind. They excel at marketing and have lovely looking displays and websites. Very often they used to work in PR.  Never known to under price their pieces.

The Ostrich

Has their head in the sand about progress and figures, hears only what they want too. Says things like “I have faith that this will work ” Can get into terrible debt and is is often financing their crafts business out of  a redundancy payment.

The Wren

Shy, retiring, hesitant, apologetic, timorous.  Explains everything wrong with their pieces, “that should really be longer, I didn’t get the colour quite right there.” Is pathetically grateful to her customers and will do what ever they ask. Favourite word is “sorry”. Sometimes unbelievably successful, but you would never guess.

The Peacock

Mainly spotted at craft fairs and teaching workshops showing off. Has a loud penetrating voice, flamboyant plumage, is larger than life and  frequently male. Attractive to some and repugnant to others, has their own coterie, and  a tendency to bully.

The Mother Hen

Her stall looks like a jumble sale, her website bursting at the seams with conflicting messages and her artist profile will tell you about her family. Her work is apparently  photographed at twilight and is never centre frame. She is a skilled crafts woman  invariably making something ugly and unfashionable. She is liked by all and always has toffees in her bag.

The Dodo

Doesn’t take credit cards, doesn’t have a website, doesn’t have email and doesn’t drive and is glad to tell you so as if it’s an achievement and makes them mysteriously superior to the poor mortals who can do all those things.

The Beaver

Never stops, works away; never flies, never drowns. Lives on an even keel, sensible, reliable, content. Sells steadily and has a weekly routine.

The Rottweiler

Believes in standing up for herself ( they are generally female) can be found hunting down the organiser at craft fairs and laying down the law in online forums. Has a slightly patronising way with customers. mostly all bark, they are mortified if told they are aggressive. 

The Queen Ant

An Empire builder who talks the talk and walks the walk of a big conglomerate. They are totally money orientated. They have business names that end in  They shamelessly self promote and network. Their conversation is all about themselves. Their actual product is underwhelming . Queen Ants metamorphise into business gurus but they boss their clients rather than nurturing them.

The Thoroughbred

Comes from money, is the arty one in her set, primarily sells to friends who she advises on all matters arty, most likely to be found at the Selvedge Fair. Can be a bit icy to customers she wasn’t brought up with.

Which am I?

I am the product of a brief but passionate liaison between a Phoenix and a Rottweiler

Which is most you?

Do the poll and lets see  what the predominant type is. If you think that like me you are a hybrid then tick the two most like you, but please don’t tick more than two. Then hit vote. If you had fun then leave me a comment or write me another crafts person type


Mosaic Artist

Mosaic Artist at work

Janine Nelson has a big studio in  South London, she runs mosaic workshops and makes small-scale mosaic pieces from old china under the name of Smashing China. She hosts school visits at a local  museum three days a week and works hard in her studio for the remainder.

“I think I’m feeling in a fairly good place even though I’m not making money or selling much”

Back Story

When Janine talks about her career it seems more like a swirl than a progression. Jamaican born, she was bought up in rural Hampshire and did Fine Art at Camberwell School of Art ,   went on to do  teaching training at Goldsmiths College then taught   secondary school art. She subsequently did a self funded textiles MA at Goldsmiths before falling for mosaics

“Everything I wanted to do has been self funded by teaching”

Her teaching hours have fluctuated according to the fragility of her bank balance there have been interludes when she has been able to spend all her time on her mosaics  using capital saved from her teaching income. In 2007 she had accumulated capital that has now evaporated by half. She also has her part-time museum job 

“For the past three years what is coming in doesn’t match what is going out.

 This year I havent used my savings and have managed by cutting running costs  but this is only to be expected given that I was working as a full-time teacher and went down to part-time museum work!”

She is lucky to have  economic studio space, she rents a double unit at the Lewisham Art house  co-op for  a minimum of 5 monthly hours  running the organisation and £150 a month rent.

Janine’s partner is a fine artist with a studio in the same building so they are acclimatised to this hand to mouth way of managing.

“You never know what is going to happen – the next email, the next phone call”

Reality Check

All crafts people have to be determined about pursuing their craft, you can’t give up just because you have a meagre income, it takes time to find out  what sells, and how you need to spend your time . You learn as you go and you keep evolving your product and the way you sell it, until you hit on something that can produce a living wage. Even then you get feast  and famine, it’s never a smooth income.

However Janine had absolutely no record of her costs and income, not even a simple total. She thought she might have made “£400 to £500” this year. She is trying to get her business off the ground with her eyes tightly shut. Each new direction is looked on as the turn in  her fortunes.

You have to analyse your figures, you can’t hide from the reality,  it allows the worry and self-doubt to bed in deeper, it doesn’t evade it.  There are so many unknowns, its at least worth using the knowns that you have actually experienced.

Where is the money coming from that she has made? Product sales? Teaching? Where is the money going to? Materials? Overheads? Travel? Fees?

With some answers, you can tweak, for example the products that have sold, could they be priced a bit higher in future? Are you buying materials in bulk to get good unit costs but carrying a lot of stock you may never use? Lots of questions sit in the figures, they contain the clues, you need to look at them carefully.


I like a lot of what Janine makes, I like her mosaic additions to vintage plates I think they would look stunning on a dresser.

They are very pretty and understated, you come to notice her additions as a delightful extra, your eye has a private feast.

Look how the Heron stoops under the foliage, he is so delicately done  and is so at one with his landscape

Flying Duck plate

And here is a most solitary duck struggling to fly

 These plates should surely sell, they are absolutely on message, for the vintage, retro upcycling fashion of the moment. Tea time and dressers and cake stands and Cath Kitson. They are thoughtful, individual pieces with a bit of character and a real eye for pattern. The maker of these should be making far more than she is

So why isn’t she? The answer is simple the public would have great difficulty finding them. They are beautifully displayed on Janine’s cleanly designed attractive website Smashing Chintz but you can’t buy from there. She very occasionally goes to a fair but then she has to absorb the costs of taking part.

Online Craft Market Places

Her latest move is to put  some of her work in an online shop which she has asked me not to name.

This sweet little Scottie dog embellished plate costs £45 through the online shop. When I spoke to her she had sold 3 or 4 plates through this site and had been on  for five or six weeks. Given the quantity of produce the visitor has to pick from, that is a good response.  

Janine says that she was approached by the online shop after taking part in a craft fair at Bovey Tracey. They said that they had a special offer on and she only had a limited time to decide. The deal on offer was £400 joining fee and  30% commission or £600 joining fee and 20% commission

 She took the first deal. So she makes £31.50 if she sells that plate. Here are the sums:

  • The vintage plate is worth about £3 (that is the price of a  similar plate is on eBay)
  • Materials (grout, template, glue )
  •  Tools to make the mosaic
  •  Studio overheads
  • Three hours making time
  •  Time to process the order itemising and photographing it for the website.
  • Delivery and packaging costs and time ( the site encourages vendors to make this free to the customer for standard UK delivery)
  • Eventually she will have recouped the £400 entry fee, but at this stage she is working entirely for the good of the online shop.

So money made =NONE

Not on the High Street is not unusual there are a lot of online presences that tempt the novice but there is an optimum size for these operations.  You can get swamped by other products so that even if the whole world is coming to the site you havent that much chance of a sale. Think of Etsy.

The site’s interests are still served as they continue to take on new recruits and entry fees, they are selling product so they have commission coming in. You can always try to buy your way to extra sales by buying  catalogue space but then you are  again reducing your margins.

I think that the small craftsman needs to be in control. Janine has a great website, she simply has to import something like PayPal and she can sell directly.

She takes workshops, so can collect contacts and tell them when there is new product. Twenty interested people who are visiting to see your stuff and no one else’s are  likely to produce more sales than a thousand casual visitors who flicker through a gigantic site.

 Craft websites are not a  numbers game, its how long do your visitors  look and where did the interested ones come form? All this stuff can be discovered through linking your site to Google Analytics which you can do for free. They provide oodles of geek speak info but after a while you get to understand enough for it to be useful.


There was something else that Janine said that worried me and that was about how much time she was happy to spend making her mosaics. She explained that cutting the china and using the grout meant you are exposed to cement dust. You need eye protection, rubber gloves, goggles and a dust mask which she uses, but she says she can still feel it in her lungs and for that reason she wouldn’t like to spend more than two or three days a week actually making.

I am concerned that two or three days making leaves very little time to experiment and try out new ideas, you need time to play around to see what else you can produce, is there another way of doing things?

“It’s quite rare to have a making day as I am doing all the other stuff on the computer and ordering materials “

That means she cannot produce enough stock at her current prices to make a living even if she sold it.

This cow takes four or five hours to produce ( he is still ungrouted in this picture) he sells for £80. If you make for 2.5 days you could produce only five cows which would mean a potential sale of £400 with all your costs to come off that. 

That means if you sold everything you could make ( which nobody ever does) you would have a gross income of £20,000 a year less all your costs.  So prices have to go up or making time extended at a risk to Janine’s health.

Very sensibly Janine is looking at developing her product

She still has technical  issues to overcome but she needs another product which is less labour intensive. It would be nice if it related closely to her mosaics because they are rather lovely

Works 4 days a week , income from sales about £500 this year, teaching fees are in addition to this figure

QUIZ Will you make it as a self-employed creative?

Longing to set up a creative business, take this quiz to investigate your survival chances

Scoring : If more than one statement is true use the one with the highest score.

Results:I f your answers are mostly

 Ones  Don’t do it

 Twos and threes  It’s worth a try

 Threes  Go for it, you have a real chance of success  


Do you have any savings which you are prepared to lose?

  1. None or less than £1000
  2. Under £5000
  3. Over £5000

 Do you have another source of income?

  1. No
  2. Yes, but it doesn’t cover my living costs
  3. Yes and it covers my living costs

 Are you motivated by money?

  1. Yes it is important to me, I equate my worth with my earnings
  2. It is not important to me, but I am fearful about risking my financial security
  3. Not particularly,  I am ready to make real economies to make it work

What capital outlay does your business need?

  1. I need to buy the materials and equipment
  2. I have most of the equipment but need to buy some materials
  3. I only need to spend to replace what I sell


How much time can you spend building your new business ?

  1. While the children are at school
  2. Evenings and weekends
  3. As much as I want

What suffers from the time you intend to dedicate to your business?

  1. Less time with my family
  2. Social life
  3. Nothing suffers significantly


Where do you most want your business to be in five years?

  1. Making real money  and employing staff
  2. Financially secure and outsourcing some aspects
  3. My skill widely appreciated and a good home/work balance

Why are you starting out on this route?

  1. I need a job
  2. I think I would like to work for myself
  3. This is all important to me


Do you have a place to work?

  1. I am going to rent  space
  2. I will manage from home to begin with but  the room has to be dual use
  3. I  can have a dedicated room/outhouse at home

The location of  your workplace

  1. I  live in a very isolated location
  2. I have a limited market for my work on my door step
  3. I live in a location with plenty of suitable outlets for my work


Which of these describes the attitude of those around you?

  1. This is something I want to do but it mystifies those about me.
  2. My friends and family are really supportive
  3. I have several self-employed creative friends and  family

 Which of these describes your previous experience or training?

  1. I have an arts background
  2. I have been employed in this field
  3. I have a business or sales background

Which of these is true about your health?

  1. I have had mental health issues
  2. I have some health issues
  3. I am really healthy with lots of energy


How do you see your skills?

  1. My friends and family tell me I am really good
  2. I am very skilled at my craft
  3. I am hugely creative

Which of these describes your work style?

  1. I am collaborative
  2. I am a bit erratic and bossy
  3. I am determined and organised

Give yourself an extra 3 score for each of these skills you possess

  1. Social media literate
  2. Very computer literate
  3. Good sales person
  4. Highly organised
  5. High tolerance of repetitive tasks

 Which of these describes your personality?

  1. Introvert
  2. Extrovert
  3. Bit of both

Do you drive?

  1. No
  2. Learning
  3. Yes

How did you do?

I am going to try it and see what my score would have been when I started my enterprise …

not every question exactly fits but I scored :

1 one, 5 twos and 12 threes so that would have made me mostly threes which is fine as it did work out for me.

You might argue with some of my rankings, so write me a comment and I will tell you why I ranked as I did. Also write me a comment if you think I have missed out an important factor. If you can convince me, I will change the quiz.

I haven’t put anything about what your actual enterprise is going to be because it  isn’t the idea that is really important but how you implement it. If it’s a remarkably terrible idea, or you are totally lacking any skill, then you will probably fail, however well you do in the quiz.