Start your own craft business

 8 February 2011

Rachel McKnight is a Belfast-based jewellery maker. She discusses the challenges of striking out on your own, and offers advice for makers just starting out.

From graduation to craft work

"Be realistic with what you can do with time management, things like that. And apply for lots of funding."

"I graduated in 2003. For it, I'd done a series of 20 bangles. They weren't commercial in any way at all. They were more large-scale, you couldn't really wear them every day. So once I graduated, I was: 'What do I do now?'

"I got to work. I got some very basic machinery and I was cutting everything by hand. Iit was a very basic studio I'd set up.

"But the idea was: 'OK, I'm just going to put together a range of jewellery'. I actually only had maybe six or eight pieces. I went through the Yellow Pages to find shops, and that was tricky enough in itself, because I didn't know what the shops were like. I didn't know what kind of work they were having or how they would respond to the jewellery I was making."

Making a craft business

"Once the first order was in, I applied to a couple of craft fairs. The first one was St George's Market in Belfast, and that was a huge thing for me because it was about making stock and making sure I had enough stock.

"In the end I actually made too much. I sold more pieces than I thought, but I had still made enough stock to do me for maybe a few years. So I sold more and I was absolutely overwhelmed, but the best part was getting feedback from the customers. That was the main thing for me.

"The next turning point was Craft NI's 'Making It' course, so it was like a business development programme. Basically I'm working on my own, I do all my own accounts, I've got to sell as well. So I'm trying to get the balance right between making products, getting the accounts done but also getting work sold as well. So that still is a very challenging thing for me to do."

Advice to craft makers

"I make contemporary jewellery mostly using polypropylene and Perspex, and then also combining with silver as well."

"Anybody who's starting up a business, the most important thing is to get out and chat to people. Join as many networks as possible. Craft & Design Collective really helped me, and you also get to network with so many other people.

"Because I work on my own, it can be quite dreary in a garage with no windows sometimes and you lose the will to be able to chat with people.

"Mailing lists are incredibly important as well, especially when you're out doing a show, a craft fair or a trade fair, it doesn't really matter. Just collecting names, people you can get in touch with later on down the line, that's the main thing.

"Just be realistic with what you can do: time management, things like that. And apply for lots of funding."

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