“How much would you charge me to make this?”
“Can you make my cheer team shirts for super cheap?”
“You should make this art I found online and sell it on Etsy!”
“I’m never buying another card again– I’ll just get you to make them all!”
I have to get something off my chest… Buying a Cricut Maker does NOT make one an Entrepreneur! But for a lot of people, the temptation to make things to sell with the Cricut Maker is very powerful. Even for people who just know someone with a Cricut Maker, there is a very strong association there. The Cricut Maker can be used to make money, but buying the machine isn’t the same thing as starting a small business.
Starting a business is a lot like digging a well. You know there are people with money to spend, just like you know there are underground sources of water. When you dig a well, you often hit pockets of water that aren’t good enough to supply a well. If you stop there, your well doesn’t have enough water in it or doesn’t refill fast enough to give you a constant supply of water. Success can be that way. We can make sales and feel like we have just enough to keep going until the next sale, but in the end, our sales aren’t enough to sustain us for a long period of time. We don’t need a perfect well, but we do need a well that can still give us water if it doesn’t rain for two weeks straight. Success in business is that way, too. We have to revise our business to survive even if we have a rough couple of weeks where we don’t make many sales. You don’t want to spend a year digging a well just to find out that it’s a dry hole, just like you don’t want to spend every weekend for a year at craft shows just to realize that your business isn’t giving you a reliable income.
These are my favorite tips for starting a small business with a Cricut Maker.
1. Make it official!
First, protect yourself by making your business official. Look up the requirements for your state/country. Do you need a business license? Do you need to collect sales tax? Do you even qualify as a business? Would the IRS consider your business a hobby? Speaking of the IRS, they want you to pay taxes, so keep track of every penny that comes into or out of your business. If you aren’t willing to do this step, skip the entire idea. Entrepreneurs need to do this to protect themselves and their personal assets.
Don’t worry though. Lots of people successfully make the transition from hobbyist to entrepreneur. If you’re in the U.S. there’s a good chance the U.S. Small Business Administration has an office near you. Frequently, states also have a Small Business Development Center, where Business Advisors are hired to help you make it official
— they help hundreds of hobbyists become successful entrepreneurs every year. Plus, the Small Business Development Center is usually free with very low cost seminars if you would rather take a class than meet with a Business Advisor in a one-on-one meeting. Small Business Development Centers can help you with financials and business plans to make sure your business has the best chance to succeed.
If you’re in Alaska, the Alaska Small Business Development Center
2. Pricing is everything!
Pricing is everything. It’s how you get people to pay you money. You can undercut everyone else, but only if you’re so efficient that you’ve figured out how to save in other ways. If you’re undercutting everyone else, it needs to be because you got your materials for cheaper, made your product faster, or found some other way to lower the time, effort, and money you put into making the project.
In a lot of ways, the next few points tie into this point– because there are a lot of factors that go into pricing. If your prices are too high and your product isn’t selling, you definitely need to lower your prices… but you also have to lower your costs without taking a loss on each sale.
If a product is a failed product, it’s better to try to sell it for something to offset your losses rather than just trashing all of your inventory. Also, consider selling slightly imperfect items for a fraction of what you normally sell them. Having periodic sales to move inventory is not a bad idea– as long as your pricing still sustains your business.
3. Pay yourself first.
You have to pay yourself. If I’m going to work on my Cricut Maker to make money, I want to make at least $12.50 an hour. That means $12.50 for all the time I spent designing a project, going through test runs, ordering materials, running to the post office, and on and on. It’s less than minimum wage in some places.
At $12.50 an hour, I would have to work an extra 40 hours a month just to be able to pay myself an extra $500 a month or $3,000 a year. For those 40 hours a month, I’m also giving up my other favorite activities– such as reading, spending time with family, napping, hiking, walking my dogs, and camping. Make sure your business is worth your time!
If it’s custom work, I want $25 an hour. The reason for that is that custom work often isn’t something I’m really excited about. I’m working myself for the benefit of someone else.
For example, I really like making little bows with my Cricut Maker. They’re fun, and they go together pretty well once I figure out how to cut my fabric. Custom shirts with Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) is a whole other beast. If I mess up a shirt, I’ve wasted not just the cost of my materials, but also the cost of the shirt. I need a Cricut Easy Press with the pressing mat, and it just takes a lot longer and a lot more effort to do custom shirts than cute little bows that I make up on my own. So if I’m making bows to put up for sale on my Etsy store, then I plan to pay myself $12.50 an hour, but if I’m making a custom shirt for a customer based on the customer’s wants, then I plan to pay myself $25 an hour.
Know what you want to make. Keep track of your hours, and make sure that you get paid. You don’t work for free or for cheap. Maybe you trade services such as Cricut Maker projects for yard work or freezer meals. No matter what, you have to get paid if you’re going to do this for a side hussle. If you can’t figure out how to do it and how to pay yourself, don’t do it for a business. It’s not going to work, but don’t give up either! Just keep working on ideas– maybe your first 99 ideas won’t quite pencil out, but your 100th idea ends up being a completely viable income!
4. Your business buys your materials.
You need fabric or vinyl or blanks along with findings, tape, glue, paint, brushes, and more. All of these items, including the items you use for test runs, need to purchased by the business.
Be as efficient as possible in the use of your materials. For example, my Cricut Maker will only cut images up to 11.5 square inches. So even though my material is 12 inches square, there’s a bit of waste built in. If I am cutting squares, I can get four 4″ squares per 12″ x 12″ piece of material, but if I lower that to 3.75″ squares, I can get 9 squares per 12″ x 12″ piece of material.
Also, if you have a custom order that calls for 2″ of the ugliest yellow material you’ve ever seen and you have to buy a 3-foot roll of it, the customer needs to buy the entire roll unless you know for certain your business can use it for other products. It seems a little unfair, but that’s part of the cost of doing business.
Don’t start a small business where you have to spend $100 a month on materials for your Cricut Maker if you can’t make that $100 back in a reasonable amount of time. Start a business where you make your $100 back plus a couple hundred more every month.
5. Recover your other costs, too.
You probably spent about $400 on your Cricut Maker or less if you got it on super sale or if you opted for one of the other Cricut machines like the the Cricut Air Explore 2. You probably had to buy extra mats and an extra blade or two. Plus you had to have packaging and posting if you are selling on Etsy. Oh, and the Etsy fees.
There are a lot of ways to break up the cost of things. For instance, you can say that you want to make the cost of your machine back in the first three months. You’re going to sell glitter bows on Etsy, and you think you can sell 50 bows a month for the first three months. Then, you just divide $400 by 150 bows. That means that the cost of your Cricut Maker is covered by the first $2.67 of each bow. Let’s assume that each bow costs you $0.75 in materials to make, and you’ve decided that your per-bow cost of your paycheck is $2.00.
Etsy charges you $0.20 to list each bow, plus they take 3.5% commission.
Here’s what your total costs might look like per bow, assuming you live in a state without sales tax:
$2.00 You get paid first!
$0.75 Materials to make 1 bow
$2.67 Cricut Maker Recovery
$0.20 Etsy Listing Fee
$0.29 Etsy Commission
$8.66 Per Bow Cost
Now if you go on the Etsy website right now and look for bows, you’ll find tons of adorable bows for a lot less than $8.66. I found one listing of 5 bows for $12, but they were plain fabric bows and cost a lot less than a lot of the mermaid and glitter bows you see people making with their Cricut Maker machines. The glitter bows are all running between $4 and $8.
Now ask yourself this. Do you think the people selling glitter bows for less than $4 are paying themselves? Are they recovering the cost of their machine? Are they entrepreneurs or are they hobbyists?
6. Don’t get distracted.
Have you ever met someone who has a good idea every 5 minutes? One of those people who open their mouth, an idea comes out, and then for the next 20 minutes they are mentally hashing out all the ways it could work out.
That person can be so inspiring, and when you’re in the brainstorming phase of your business, that person can be downright helpful. Once you’ve decided to start your business, you need to stop brain-storming and focus on what you’ve decided to do.
If you decided to open an Etsy shop to sell glitter bows, and someone invites you to do a giant craft show the next town over, it can be really tempting to just load up all your Etsy inventory and head to the craft show. It’s one more way to get your products out there, and there is a chance you will sell a lot of bows at the craft show. Plus, some of your craft show customers might start buying from you on Etsy. What person in their right mind turns down an opportunity where people are trucked in by the bus load with the express purpose of buying crafts?
A focused person might turn down the craft show. First, the craft show is a distraction– and it might be a very lucrative distraction, but it could just as easily be a let down. An Etsy store has very different costs than a craft show. Big craft shows can charge hundreds of dollars for a small booth, while you’d have to sell hundreds of bows before Etsy’s commission reached $100.
If you want to start a craft show business, start a craft show business. If you want to start an Etsy business, start an Etsy business. Even if you are starting an Etsy store, it can be good research to go to craft shows just to see what’s new and which crafts are selling really well. It can be a great source of inspiration– just don’t let your plan get derailed by distractions, even ones that seem like they could really rake in the money.
7. Original Content Only!
A well-meaning friend took a watermarked photo of a piece of art she found online and told me I should use my Cricut Maker to make the same picture to sell on Etsy. There are so many things wrong with this, but let’s just keep it simple. Don’t rip off other people’s work and try to sell it.
Let’s use the fancy glitter cups as an example. There are some really great ones on Etsy, but there are also some that clearly use Copyrighted or Trademarked images– such as the Coca-Cola design. Most companies and artists don’t take legal action if you use their art for personal use only. So if you make yourself a Diet Coke glitter tumbler using the Trademarked design, you are unlikely to get a cease and desist letter. However, if you are using the Trademarked design to sell $40 Diet Coke glitter tumblers on Etsy, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get a letter from the Coca-Cola lawyers.
If you are going to use Copyrighted or Trademarked images, go back to the first point and make it official. Contact the company about how you can get permission to use their property for your business. A big company like Coca-Cola might take a while to get back to you (if ever), but another crafter might actually like to join forces on social media. Being upfront and honest from the start might help you find like-minded people and new customers.
When we got our Cricut Maker, my husband spent hours on a logo-creation app on his phone to make different sticker designs. He then forwarded me the best ones, and to this day, one of his early designs is still the best Alaska sticker I’ve ever seen.
8. Presentation goes a long way to attracting a customer’s eye.
Whether you’re doing craft shows, an Etsy store, or a garage business, go for glam when presenting your products. To be clear, don’t spend more on presenting your products than you spend on making the product, but don’t post blurry photos either.
Make sure every piece of your business is well-represented. It doesn’t have to be fancy– simple and polished is much better than overreaching. Also, don’t go off the deep end spreading your business every where. If you have never used Twitter, Instagram, or hosted your own blog, don’t try to do all three at the same time. Pick one and start there. As you get more comfortable with one platform, start considering if there is a good reason to add another.
If you’re selling glitter bows on Etsy, you don’t need to hire a professional photographer and a newborn model to get Anne Geddes-style photos of your bows. You can use your cell phone camera to take your photos, but make sure the lighting is good and the photos are clear. If you happen to already have a professional camera and a newborn, go for the glamour shot… but don’t overspend on presentation.
If you print off a custom card to hold your bows, don’t just write your business name on the card with a Sharpie. Set up your project so that your Cricut Maker can print or cut your logo onto the card… or even get a local print shop to do a bulk batch if it works out cheaper that way. I know this goes against a lot of makers’ personal conviction that they can do everything themselves, but be reasonable. Yes, it is possible to make gift bags on the Cricut Maker. Is it reasonable to do so? Possibly, but if you just need simple bags, you can buy 100 of them on Amazon for $20, leaving you with more time and materials for making products to sell.
9. Set boundaries.
As much as possible, separate your personal life from your business life. You need a good work-life balance. No one wants to read a blog post about how sorry you are that you didn’t make a blog post. If you take an unscheduled break from business, just resume business as usual as soon as possible. If your business has to take a break due to personal issues, it’s fine to post a “we’ll be back as soon as we can message” on your business sites, but if you want to share the finer points of your personal issues, share your personal contact details. For instance, if your business is all about dog items, it is totally appropriate to include personal stories and photos of your dog in your business presentation. If your business is all about custom vinyl stickers, it might be oversharing if you include details about your recent struggle to potty-train your new puppy.
Set up a business-only checking account. Keep track of the miles you put on your car for business-only trips.
There are so many reasons for setting good boundaries, but I’m going to go over three big ones.
First– there are a lot of crazy stories out there– from online stalkers to business owners losing their house for an infraction they weren’t even aware they committed. Setting boundaries is just one way to help protect you from becoming a crazy story.
Second– what if you find yourself in a position to quit your day job? People want you to expand and they want to invest in you to make that expansion happen. You’re going to have to provide assurances that not only have you turned a profit, but also that you won’t squirrel away business funds for personal expenses. Keeping separate finances helps you pursue those opportunities if they arise.
Third– It’s hard to see in muddied water. If you’re pulling money from your business to grab a quick lunch and then using your personal money to buy a few supplies for your Cricut Maker, you might think it all comes out in the wash. It’s so easy to lose track of where the money went– think about it– can you remember how much you spent on groceries and eating out last week? How much of your grocery bill was actually for things like cleaning supplies and paper towels? Unless you’re some kind of grocery bill savant– you’re unlikely to be able to keep track of these kinds of details in the long run. These small details can have a big impact on evaluating the success of your business. If your business and personal expenses are intertwined, it can be hard to see if you’re eating up all your profits– or just failing to turn a profit at all.
10. Evaluate your success.
Let’s say you invest $1,500 of your personal money to set up a craft show business selling paper flower shadow boxes. You spent $500 on a Cricut Explore Air 2, extra mats, extra blades, paper and vinyl sheets, and shadow box frames. You spend $600 signing up for 3 weekends at a weekly craft show like the Anchorage Market Festival
. Then, you spend another $350 setting up a website, a way to accept credit card payments, and booth decorations for a simple but polished presence at the craft show. You also invest 40 hours of personal time setting up the booth rental, designing and making paper flower shadow boxes, and putting everything together so that you can easily set up and take down your booth every weekend.
You should evaluate your success every day. If by lunchtime you sold out of half of your entire inventory, you might consider how you will make it through the rest of the day– let alone the next day and the other two weekends. That kind of success is kind pie-in-the-sky thinking though… For a more likely scenario, if you sold five or six items by the end of the first day, you can think about how to improve sales the next day. Did people ask if you could customize the frame with someone’s name on it? You might need to consider bringing your machine to the festival so that you can easily customize frames while people walk around. Or, if people ask how much something costs and then slowly put it down and say things like, “That’s out of my price range,” then you might need to consider how you can lower your costs– either with simpler frames or less intricate paper flowers. If people are not buying after asking if you can ship the frames, you might need to consider doing flat-rate shipping. Also, if your sales aren’t great, ask established vendors how the day’s sales compare to other days. It may have just been the sort of day where no one was selling much of anything.
The bottom line is that after 6 full days of working at the craft show over 3 weekends, you need to be able to improve your business if you don’t feel successful.
If your business isn’t successful, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop. It just means that your business is actually a hobby. People need hobbies, and if you have an expensive hobby, such as crafting, there is nothing wrong with selling your items at or below cost just to continue funding your hobby, as long as you are honest with yourself about it.