Updated: Dec 22, 2020
There comes a time where most leather crafts people consider selling their work. Egged on by their friends and family, or perhaps some extra cash is required to buy much needed tools, supplies and even leather itself.
Whatever your reasons, selling your work can be very rewarding and a huge learning curve, especially in the beginning.
It can be an occasional deal, a true side hustle to supplement your income, or a full time business for those who want to take their craft to new heights.
However it is vitally important for your own sanity to start your journey on the right path so that you can enjoy the benefits as soon as possible with the least amount of stress and confusion.
This blog post is all about sharing my experience of selling bespoke leather goods to customers around the world.
Now as you probably already know, I have since moved into the online leathercraft teaching space, since teaching is such a passion of mine. But I want to give you the information I would have happily paid you £5000.00 for many years back (and I would still have made my money back with this info!).
They say that the only thing better than learning from your own mistakes, is learning from other people's mistakes. Well feel free to learn from some of mine that I got straight from the school of hard knocks!
So, let’s dive right in and begin with mistake #1
#1. Stand out and be unique - Stop playing 'Where's Waldo?' with your business and start making sales.
You may be tempted to make popular leather items that you've seen on social media or websites like Etsy, but this is a common mistake to avoid if you are looking to stand out from the crowd.
Simply put, if your work can be compared against other makers products, the likelihood of a sale lessens considerably. Unless of course, you like your customers sharing the same last name as you (thanks auntie.. again).
Be unique with your designs, use unusual materials, or create goods to compliment niche products like new tech on the market. This will make sure your work is incomparable, thereby standing out and getting seen in the fog.
#2. Stop making products that YOU choose to make, think about your customer first.
Unless you are making leather goods to sell to yourself in some sort of money laundering scheme, consider products that you know customers will want to buy first and foremost.
Ask yourself this: ‘was the last hide I bought because I wanted it, or was it selected due to a customer's request?’.
99x out of 100, most people will say it’s because they wanted it, pure and simple. That’s absolutely fine.
If leathercraft is your hobby and you make things for yourself and gifts for other people that’s ok, but if you're reading this, then you probably want to try your hand at selling your work, or at least you’re considering it in the future.
When the majority of your purchases are a direct result of customer requests, you have a business.
The absolute faux pas in business, is making products that you like, then looking for customers who may be interested. That can work, but it’s not consistent.
Customers come first at every stage of your business - that’s a sustainable method.
#3. Don’t wait for customers to find you, go looking for them. Stick your head out and say HI!
A window cleaner won’t earn a living sitting at home next to a ladder and a bucket of suds whilst staring at the phone. If people don’t know about the service, they can’t buy it.
Likewise, a social media account with a low following is not sufficient exposure. That doesn’t mean you have to start a paid advertising campaign all over the internet, but you need to start finding out where your potential customers may be looking rather than hoping they stumble upon your social media account.
No luxury goods customer ever saved the hashtag #unitersedgepaint, so go searching or you may as well be hiding.
Honey holes can be popular style forums where you can give advice to members (discreetly), or even paying the forum to showcase your work on there. Commenting on luxury Instagram accounts with a high following so that people can check you out is another way to help people find you.
Consider gifting your products to Instagram style and fashion bloggers with a respectable amount of followers in exchange for a review/ post/ stories. Often they charge a fee, but the boost can net a bigger return on investment.
That way people can see your leathergoods in context i.e. how it’s styled with an outfit or lifestyle, the quality, functionality etc.
Some of them have press contact details on their profile so it can be relatively easy to contact them. For a lot of influencers, this is their sole way of making income and they may be eager to partner with you if they resonate with your brand, products and aesthetics.
You could even approach luxury car dealerships and ask to set up a stall during an event or busy time - check their google business page to see times with the most traffic.
Sometimes they will let you do this for free to bring in curious customers. It costs nothing to ask, but do so in person, email is too easy to say no to. (Don’t ignore 4 and 5 star hotel lobbies either).
Let me tell you a quick story:
I once had some stitching to do, so as a social experiment, I went to a nice part of town with a chair, tool bag, clams and an apron and started stitching.
You wouldn’t believe how many curious people approached to see what I was doing, I even had people stopping in their cars to get out and ask me if I could make something or repair an item of theirs. That was a weekday afternoon in a quiet spot.
What’s stopping you setting up in a park around lunchtime near a business district and stitching up a project? You aren’t selling anything, and in most places it’s not illegal (check local laws) to hand out a business card or tell people how to contact you when they approach.
And they will approach as long as you keep looking up, smiling and saying hello - letting them know that you are not too busy to approach. Hell, you needed to get some stitching done anyway, so get out there and breath in the fresh air!
#4. Don’t assume that your leathercraft obsessions are customer obsessions too. Focus on what's important to them.
Perfectly straight stitch? Check. Angles on both sides? Check. Impossibly smooth edges? Check!
That’s fantastic! You're doing a great job, just don’t get caught in the trap where you obsess over the details to the detriment of good design and function.
Good design and aesthetics will outsell fine attention to detail for the majority of customers. That said, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t maintain focus on the finish of your products (they will notice the overall craftsmanship), it simply means that you need BOTH - good design and fine craftsmanship to back it up.
No one buys a perfectly finished boring product. You can easily add some flair by playing with colours, changing the shape of common designs, or adding something fun to the design.
You don’t have to add elements that are time consuming to make your work interesting for customers. Don’t be afraid, fortune favours the bold.
#5. Stop using macro or shallow depth of field photography in your product shots. Let them see your work in all it's glory.
Would you like to instantly gain 50% more likes and follows from people who will never buy your products? Ye..! What?
It’s true, close up macro (a camera lens that works like a magnifying glass) photography of your perfect stitching, or a distant window reflecting off your mirror polished edges will get engagement from other leather crafts people, absolutely, but it’s rare that another craftsman will buy your products.
The same goes for shallow depth of field, where the area in front and behind the object are blurred out, with a very tiny area in sharp focus.
It’s cool and it tells the eye where to go, but you can’t see the whole thing.
Customers want to see the product, I mean really see it! Give them some context, like having a wallet on a restaurant table, or a watch strap with an actual watch on it inside a luxury car.
Once you let the customer see the product in use, they can imagine themselves using it - that’s powerful! Never underestimate context.
With a few clear and context shots, sure, throw in come creative close-up shots too.
After all, if you went onto your favourite shopping site to buy a pair of jeans and all you got was close-ups of the buttons and the teeny stitches around the pocket, would you buy it? No, of course you wouldn’t.
You'd probably want to see a model wearing them in the street, hell you want to know the height of the model to get an idea of proportions! Think like a buyer.
#6. If you want to sell for profit, focus your core message towards customers. Share the leathercraft tips on a separate account.
Let me explain, if I was trying to sell my leatherwork to paying customers, I wouldn't write a blog post about selling leather goods like this one. That'd be a bit odd.
I would focus on blog posts about style, what to look for when buying hand made goods, leather quality, leather history and tradition, design and various other helpful articles that my target audience would find valuable.
Right now I am talking to people who are selling, or at least interested in selling their leatherwork.
If that's you, I've done my job correctly. Now let me tell you about Bitcoin..
Real living breathing customers don’t really care to hear about how much Tokonole you use, or that post you did comparing 5 different types of contact adhesive (solvent for the win - live dangerously). When they find this kind of information in your posts, they may assume that you aren’t selling and go elsewhere. It's confusing.
Whenever I post a finished product for the online courses or a 'making of' video on my @leathercraftmasterclass account, I always get DM's from people wanting to buy (they are always confused that I teach and don't make to order!), but I never get that same interest if I post about how to sharpen a skiving knife for example.
Can you guess what I would post about if I wanted to focus on product sales?
Customers love craftsmanship, but half the appeal is not knowing exactly how it’s done - it’s like magic!
Put it this way, if the magician David Blaine were to explain exactly how he was going to pull off his next trick, would you be hopping up and down shouting ‘OMG I peed myself’ after he performed it? No, the reaction wouldn’t be the same.
You want that ‘wow’ reaction from your customers, and that doesn’t happen when they know your ‘know-how’.
Keep some mystery on your business page, then feel free to share ideas and tips on another account or platform just for leather crafts people, or even a leathercraft forum (like the one here!).
That way you keep the business focused on your paying customers, because without them, you don’t have a business, you have an expensive liability.
Remember, they are paying for your leather, tools and all the fun you’re having. Reward those wonderful people!
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can't show customers some of your creative processes such as stitching, skiving, cutting out etc, just know that you don’t need to explain everything you do, or where you bought that new tool from. Decide who you want to talk to and keep it focused on them.
If you have a hybrid social media page which caters to the leathercraft community AND potential customers, just know that you are likely getting half results for each of those. Have two accounts catering for each if you feel the need, and each crowd will be happy.
#7. Don’t rely on your own biases. Get a second opinion with fresh eyes.
You won’t believe how important it is to have context for your own products and services by asking someone else to evaluate what you do.
In fact this blog was proof read by someone else before posting, not just looking for all the grammar and spheling mistakes, but relevance, entertainment and value.
Get an opinion on new product designs, your social media posts, photography for your website, or the website itself.
Always ask someone for their input who hasn’t seen it yet.
Better yet, ask someone who doesn’t understand leathercraft. If they understand what you show them, it's likely your customers will too.
Can you take raw honesty? If you can, ask them this:
‘Hi, can I get your honest opinion on this? I’d really appreciate your thoughts, but just so you know, being nice doesn’t help me at all.’
Hold the silence until they speak first (feeling brave?). What comes out will usually be gold, as they are creatively trying to find problems in your work in order to be helpful. Your ability to improve is based on your ability to find problems, and then solve them.
Just don’t ask your Mother, she will happily believe her own lies.
BONUS: Avoid trying to look smart and learn the power of your words.
It’s so easy to waffle on about your products using confusing industry terms, this impresses… absolutely no one who pays.
To the outside world chèvre is French goats cheese, Fil Au Chinois sounds like you are trying to make 'made in China' thread sound fancy, and ‘skive’ according to the Cambridge English dictionary is ‘to do something else when you should be working’.
Please remember that customers don’t know what you know. Avoid trying to impress customers with your ‘insider’ knowledge. Bank this: Confused people don’t become customers.
Alternatives (describe it rather than name it).
Chèvre: ‘The finest goatskins sourced in France using centuries of know-how to produce a truly luxurious feel’.
Fil Au Chinois: ‘Strong linen thread, still produced in Lille the same way for almost two centuries’
Skiving: ‘Painstakingly thinned at the edges to reduce thickness using a technique that takes years of dedication and hand skills to master, so that your X remains both durable and elegant’.
Think like a customer! Cast your mind back to the last thing you bought online. How did the brand describe the product? What images and words did they use? What made you desire that thing so much that you went ahead and bought it? There's a lot to discover from your own actions.
Be aware of negative word association that is commonly used in leathercraft. 'Edge paint' is an obvious one.
Can you imagine if Dior’s nail varnish was called ‘nail paint’? It doesn’t sound classy. In fact Dior doesn't even use the word varnish outside of France, they say Vernis! The French word for varnish. Fancy pants..
Paint goes on walls, not the edges of a finely crafted crocodile handbag or wallet..
Lacquer, even finish will sound nicer. Don't even get me started on 'crust'.
Just remember, have something to say about your passion, you put a lot of hard work and dedication into your products. You owe it to yourself, your work, the craft and your customers.
And promise me you’ll never reel off a list of materials used in your product like a recipe in a cookbook and end it all with ‘DM if interested...’. The marketing police are watching you. Be afraid, be very afraid!
Now, if you want to get ahead and create leather goods with impeccable craftsmanship, ensure your work stands out from the crowd and gets you noticed!
Click the image below to view the video course guide and I will reveal how to go from basic leatherwork to luxury leather goods in just days.
All in the comfort of your own workspace, even if you're just getting started.
See you over there!
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