Over the next four weeks Fiona Pullen, author, crafter, founder of The Sewing Directory and all round nice person, will be treating us to her knowledge and advice on how to start your own business.    In her own words:

Do you dream of turning your love of quilting into an income? Do you want to sell items you make, or even quilting supplies or patterns? Then this new series is for you. Over the next 4 weeks I will be covering the things you need to think about if you are thinking of setting up a creative business:

1) Planning

2) Pricing

3) Selling

4) Promotion

First up is research and preparation. It’s all to easy to casually fall into a creative business. Someone asks you to make something for them, then they tell their friends who also want to order from you, or you make some extra and list them on Etsy. Before you know it you are running a business without having taken the time to think it through properly. I have spoken to so many people who told me this is how they ended up in business.

I’ll be brutally honest, it is tough creating a profitable business in our industry, it’s even harder in the current economic turmoil. It is more important now than ever to do that due diligence and make sure your concept is viable before you invest too much time and money.

Where to start?

Looking at what is already out there is a very good starting point. You want to know if anyone already does what you plan do. If they do how will you stand out? What will you do differently? What will be your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)?

If for example, you decide you want to sell baby quilts, what will make yours different from the many already out there? Will you be using your own unique designs? Using organic fabrics? Is your style unique? Or will your USP be your customer service?

Whatever you do try not to make your USP price. Trying to undercut what is already out there will likely result in you making very little, or no, profit. Not to mention people are often sceptical of something that is much cheaper than other similar products.

Assess the competition

The chances are for most business there are already people out there doing similar. Don’t let this put you off, this means there is a demand. You want to study the competitors to see what they do well (and not so well!) You want to look at their pricing to help guide yours. You want to see how they reach their customers – what marketing channels do they use? Assess their website if they have one – What product range do they offer? How easy is it to use their site? What postage do they charge? What key words are they using on their site to attract traffic? Where do they advertise? What social media platforms do they use?

How will you do it?

As part of your research you need to start planning precisely what it is you plan to do. What products do you plan to offer and how much are you thinking of charging for them? Will you start with just a limited selection and add more in the future – or build up a full range before you launch. Who do you think your products will appeal to, who are your ideal customers and how do you plan to reach them? Will you sell on Etsy, locally or set up your own website? Where will you buy your supplies?

Write down your plans and next week we’ll look at pricing. If the numbers don’t add up it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Fiona is the author of the bestselling Craft a Creative Business, the newly released Making & Marketing a Successful Art & Crafts Business and the founder of The Sewing Directory