To Do What Everyone Else is Doing, or Do Your Own Thing?
When you’re looking to make money off your crafts, eventually you will come to the question of whether you should do what everyone else is doing or do your own thing. The following are my thoughts on the matter.
When you’re trying to make living, or any money at all from your crafts, you’ll eventually come to the point where you need to decide between doing what you want to do (catering to a niche market), and doing what is “sure” to make money. This is often one of the hardest hurdles for an artist to get over, because they wish that they could always be the same thing, but they often aren’t.
As a long-time member of the arts and crafts community, I have seen this issue arise time and again. Many people are trying to make money from their art, and find it difficult deciding between making what is currently popular and what seems to be selling at the time, or doing what they love for a niche market. When one is dealing with competition from other artists and mass producers as well, you begin facing the hard choice between loving your craft and just making money.
For me, I decided to do what I wanted to do. I love making Goth and Pagan inspired jewelry and art. I like dark humor and strange designs. I knew that it was going to be a hard road, but in the end it’s the one I’ve decided to travel down. Some people have more success with it than I have, others didn’t. I’ve found that by targeting my items at more specific markets, I can make what I enjoy making, and get some profit for it as well. Some people think that targeting a niche market is difficult, but when you’re making something that will only appeal to a particular group of buyers, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Of course, not everyone has good luck going mainstream and doing what they think will sell. If your heart isn’t in it, it shows in your work. Not to mention the fact that people’s tastes are changing all the time, so what’s hot right now might be old news a month from now, and no one will want to buy it anymore. Doing what’s popular can be a risky move. I’ve heard of artists making work to fit current trends, then having the trend change and being left with product that they can no longer sell because it isn’t “in style” anymore. When you’re making items for a niche market, as long as it’s not for a temporary trend such as the latest American Idol winner, you’ll have items that will always be able to sell.
Now, there are some things that are timeless, like scenic paintings, simple silver jewelry and sculptures of small animals. If you make one of the timeless items, you’re in a great spot. You’ll probably be able to sell your work, although you’ll have to compete with the masses of other people who are doing the exact same thing you are. If you don’t have a unique twist, you might get lost in the crowd. There seems to be a constant battle in the art & crafting world to do timeless work and be unique at the same time. It is possible though. Some examples would be to make scenic paintings of haunted houses (thus targeting the niche market of haunting buffs), or sculptures of endangered animals (targeting the niche market of conservationists and animal lovers).
If you’re not doing mass-accepted art, you might be trying. As I said, if you don’t love it, it can really come through in your work. I’ve seen many artists and crafters, myself included, who have tried to do what was hot at the time, and ended up falling on their face. They weren’t inspired, the quality of their work suffered, and they didn’t make any money. Some people get lucky, but most don’t. If trying to make items to suit popularity and trends feels difficult and fulfilling, it is likely that you will not be able to produce content that will bring profits.
In the long run, it’s usually best to do your own thing, whatever it is you love, no matter how odd or niche oriented it is. If you look hard enough, you’ll find a niche market for your work. Sometimes you even get lucky and people who aren’t part of your target audience start to like your work, and you really make a name for yourself. If you’re doing what you love, you might face some marketing challenges, but your art and crafts will show the love and devotion that you put into them. And as they say, do something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.
I always recommend doing what you love, then find people who will be interested in it. There are people who will buy sculptures made of bone and paintings made of chewing gum. Nothing is really too out there. As a matter of fact, it’s been my experience that the more unusual your work is, the more you can get paid for it. You might not sell a large number of items, but you’ll sell each item for a greater profit. Niche markets are often willing to pay a premium price to have items that are like no other. Selling to a niche market can also make advertising easier as well, since you can market to a specific type of people rather than trying to make your work stand out from everyone else’s.