I am often asked about how to go about starting a quilling business. Probably the best advice I can offer is based on my own experience with Whimsiquills. I started quilling 30+ years ago as a hobby. I always enjoyed working with my hands, and quilling just seemed to suit me. I gave some of my work away as gifts and soon began to get requests from people who were willing to pay for my work. When I decided to get serious about selling my work, I tried a number of venues which helped me build up a customer base and advertise my work at the same time. Here are some thought starters:
Local Craft or Artist’s Guild-join your local or state craft guild. They often have directories of craft shows, craft malls, opportunities for demonstrations and workshops, and you are listed in their directories as a quiller.
Demonstrate- volunteer to demonstrate for your local women’s club, scouts, church groups, adult education, historical society, etc. When you demonstrate, have some of your finished work available for the audience to see, simple pieces as well as show stoppers. Encourage them to ask questions. I never charged for demonstrating, but always got paid by the new customers and orders I picked up.
Your name-put your name, addresses, and phone number on every piece you sell. Even something small like a magnet or gift card should have either a hang tag or a sticker with your information on it. I like to print a small card with an explanation of quilling on it, my company logo, and name etc. Many people who receive small items as gifts go on to become good customers, but they have to know how to find you. You can print stickers, and hang tags on your home PC.
Business cards-they are inexpensive (you can even print them yourself) and you can put lots of information on them. It’s amazing how many people will pick up a card and call later, even years later. (When I sold at craft shows, I used a double sided business card with the explanation of quilling on the back, so people would remember who I was). I also give customers magnetic business cards so they can “put me on their refrigerator”. You can purchase magnets to fit business cards at office supply stores; there is also magnetic card stock available that can go through an ink jet printer.
Press releases-if you win an award, attend a conference, give a demonstration for the historical society, and do a press release. Press releases are often followed up by newspaper interviews, sometimes including photographs of you and your work. This is wonderful FREE advertising. There is info online and in the library about writing press releases.
Mailing List- maintain a list of your customers and do periodic mailings. I usually did post card mailings, they are inexpensive, and if you print them on brightly colored card stock, your customer cant help but read it before s/he tosses it. I always get calls from customers after a mailing, sometimes all they need is a little reminder. Mailings also help keep your customer list up to date, cards may be returned with a new address from the post office, and some will be forwarded to customers who may call to give you their new mailing info. I never buy mailing lists or put anyone’s name on my list unless they ask to be included. Purchased mailing lists are a waste of money since the majority of people on them have no idea what quilling is anyway.
Home parties-I gave a very brief history of quilling, a short demonstration, showed sample pieces and took orders. I showed small things like baby frames, plaques for kid’s rooms, small floral pieces, and one or two larger pieces, like wedding invitations. The hostess received a credit of 20% of the total party order towards anything she ordered. I went home, completed the order and returned it to the hostess. Of course I got everyone’s name, address and phone number, which was the beginning of my customer list.
Local craft shows-PTA’s, churches, and local civic organizations often hold craft shows as fundraisers. The booth or table fees are nominal, and once again, it gets you out in front of the public and acquaints them with quilling. I always demonstrated at my table, which is enough to get people to stop and visit. As all quillers know, there are very few people who really know what they are looking at when they see a piece of quilling; demonstrating is a great way to educate the public. I would always have a sign up sheet for interested “potential” customers, and of course took the name and address of any one who bought.
Juried Craft Shows-these are a lot more expensive and often run for several days, some require slides or photos of your work and/or display set up. Juried shows are often well advertised, and you may be listed in press releases as a participating artist. I always demonstrated at these shows as well and had sign up sheets for “potential “ customers, as well as business cards. You can also have flyers announcing future show you are doing. It’s kind of “trial and error” deciding what you want to sell at craft shows. I found that small items sold well, but I always had some larger more expensive pieces on display as well. You also have to be able to produce enough inventory so you don’t run out of stock during the show. (Once I had a customer base, I stopped doing shows. I found the amount of time involved in traveling, setting up, doing the show, breaking down, and then doing the paperwork, took too much time away from production. But that is only my personal feeling; many quillers sell their work at shows.)
Craft Malls-once I stopped doing shows, I started selling my work through craft malls. I would rent space for a monthly fee, set up my display, and let the store staff sell my work for me. I did this for a number of years. Some craft malls are very good, others are poorly run. Your display needs to be “eye catching’, and you need to have an explanation of what quilling is that is very visible. As you know, people will stop and look at a quilled piece and not have any idea of what they are looking at. Signage is important, especially when the store staff is not available to answer questions. You really have to do your homework, (here’s where craft guilds can be helpful. They often rate craft malls) and once again have enough inventory to keep the shelves stocked. As always, my name was on every piece, and a sign up for my mailing list was available.
I no longer do craft malls, since my customer base is so large that they keep me pretty busy with custom orders. A large percentage of my work is wedding related. The quilled wedding invitation is still a best seller and brides love them. Many of my best customers received their own invitation as a gift and go on to give them to friends and family. I also do anniversary, baby, graduation and other special occasion frames. I don’t advertise at all, my customers do it for me.
Hopefully this information has been helpful; if you have questions (or ideas) feel free to give me a call. Our toll free number in the USA and Canada is 1.877.488.0894