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How to start a home business: Test the water first

Do you have such a knack for crafts that you just know you could make money selling them? Here’s what our experts recommend for starting a home-based business.

Home business tips

Your question: I’ve been sewing purses for friends and family for about a year now. I really enjoy making them and would like to take the next step into making them professionally. Is there a way I can test the waters of a new home business without jumping in headfirst?

The expert answers:

Designing for friends and family is a great first step in starting your own cottage industry or small home business. It helps you perfect your techniques, decide if you really enjoy the work, and also provides great feedback regarding your creations. This type of information is often invaluable and encouraging to an emerging designer. However, feedback from friends and family can also be slightly biased. Only when you start selling outside of your comfort zone will your product, pricing strategies, and marketing be truly challenged.

Start small

It’s wise to start small and focus on refining your product before you invest too much in the unknown. The best way to start small is to start locally. Shop your local boutiques and look for a store that would be a good fit for your product. To do this, you need to have a good idea of who your customers are and what their price point might be.

Be prompt

Once you find a store that seems like a great fit, call to schedule an appointment with the store’s buyer. Be prepared to pitch your product on the phone if needed and offer to forward information that day. This will help give you added credibility as a designer and gives the buyer time to review your product. It will also help remind them of your appointment and keep your designs fresh in their mind.

Go prepared

When preparing for the meeting, expect to bring a couple of purses with you to display, a product catalog showing all the variations, and sell sheets with wholesale pricing. Spend some time prepping your wares and determine a few different ways to display your purses. Look for props that will help get them noticed without overwhelming the product itself.

Market yourself and your product

In a crowded store environment your designs will have to be seen to be sold. Once at the meeting, be sure to answer the question, “why would customers buy this product?” This is the bottom line that all retailers need to know. Your ability to answer this question will help determine whether your purses are given an opportunity in the store. Emphasize the benefits, not the features, and always show confidence in your design. It may feel like your wearing your heart on your sleeve at times, but if you don’t believe in your product why should they?

Once you’ve demonstrated the product, talked up its benefits and explained the options and pricing, ask for the sale. If they say yes, congratulations, you’re on your way to becoming a paid designer. If they say no, thank them for their time and move on to Plan B.

Have a backup plan

If the store doesn’t want to take the chance on your purses, you can always offer to sell your items on consignment. This means that the store agrees to display the purses for you and pays the wholesale cost only when an item sells. This eliminates the “what if it doesn’t sell?” excuse for the buyer and gives you a foot in the door to prove your products worthiness. Either way, the ball is in your court and you’ve gained valuable experience marketing your product.


After the meeting, critique your performance and look for ways to improve your next pitch. You’ve succeeded in taking the next step and as you continue to grow professionally, so will your business. Don’t forget this is a creative process — have fun with it!

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