Two women with long dark hair look at hanging displays of large handmade earrings, most of them dangling and gold or copper. The earrings are stuck in circular boards hanging from an unseen structure. In the background are trees and part of a market stall around which other patrons clusters.
Handmade businesses used to sell primarily through in-person events like craft fairs. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to embrace a hybrid sales model. — Getty Images/stockimagesbank

Before the pandemic, whole segments of businesses relied heavily on in-person interactions, including running product-based businesses in retail locations or operating on craft show circuits.

Once the pandemic forced shutdowns, owners of small businesses like those had to find alternative models to keep their cash flow positive.

“It's been a real eye-opener for a lot of makers,” said Sue Monhait, a business coach for handmade business owners. “Many of them ... were able to have a full life-sustaining income through face-to-face shows, so this past year they were really caught off-guard. They didn't have anything else in place.”

According to Monhait, if these handmade businesses wanted to survive, they were “pretty much forced into doing something virtual.”

The evolution of the handmade business industry amid COVID-19

Despite the seeming necessity of an online presence in the modern business world, Monhait noted that some handmade business owners simply didn’t see a need to set up digital channels.

“It’s somewhat shocking … to see that there's a facet of the creative industry that doesn't have a website yet, or isn't even on social media because they didn't need to be,” she explained.

Pandemic restrictions pushed these business owners to hastily put-together websites so they could begin selling online. Sophy Lakshmanan, a paper quilling artist who did 100% of her business at local craft fairs pre-COVID, was one such entrepreneur.

“When the pandemic hit, I had to stop and rethink my business as a whole,” said Lakshmanan, who owns Little Miss Paper Craft. “That’s when I set up my website and started using social media for business.”

Ximena Bervejillo, a textile artist who designs and creates handwoven accessories, learned that handmade business owners “need to dedicate a lot of time to the online part of the business, because it requires constant attention and feeding.”

Overall, this is a good change, said Monhait.

“Now, most makers have another option for getting sales,” she told CO—. “They've started to build up a little bit of a foundation of various sales channels that they can use to stay in touch with their audiences and be able to sell online moving forward.”

[Read more: Digital Marketing Checklist—All the Digital Tools Your Startup Needs Before Launch]

It’s somewhat shocking … to see that there's a facet of the creative industry that doesn't have a website yet, or isn't even on social media because they didn't need to be

Sue Monhait, business coach for handmade businesses

The ‘sales channel panel’: How to develop a hybrid business model

For handmade businesses to run successfully, Monhait has come up with a strategy she’s dubbed the “sales channel panel.” This involves combining all your marketing channels “in [one] place so that you can tweak and adjust the levels as you need to based on market conditions.”

Monhait coaches her clients to develop their own “sales channel panel” so they’re prepared if certain parts of the market drop, or if restrictions are implemented again due to the pandemic. Panel sections can include face-to-face shows, collecting emails, social media channels, a website and more.

“I [recommend] ... having all of these elements in place, and then you change the intensity of all of these different things at any given time,” said Monhait. “Whether you use them or not doesn’t matter for the time being, but have them ready to go in your quiver so you can pull them out when you need them,”

Similarly, Ximena Bervejillo, the textile artist behind Entrelanas Designs, advised other handmade business owners to take some time to learn about online marketing, social media strategies and other digital channels to support a hybrid business model.

“You don’t have to be an expert, and there are lots of resources available to learn how to take advantage of those platforms,” said Bervejillo. “You will feel more comfortable and confident if you know how to use them.”

[Read more: 5 Tips for Marketing Your Handmade Business]

Setting yourself up for future success

Regardless of where you sell your products, Monhait emphasized the importance of focusing on what makes you stand out as a handmade business owner—what you bring to the table that others don’t.

“Every industry already has many people doing something similar in terms of your product, but every person can stand out and be unique and make a mark for themselves in the world with a product that they want to make,” she said.

Lakshmanan added that creators need to understand that the customer journey isn’t a one-and-done deal.

“Consistency and finding your right balance is the key,” Lakshmanan said. “On an average, a customer has to see your product five or six times at least before they buy it. So do not be disappointed if they don’t buy in the first interaction.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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