“Do you ever wonder how much money other handmade or creative business owners make?” asks jewelry designer Mei Pak. “This has always been a socially taboo subject, but I think we’re all a little bit curious, right?”
Pak runs Tiny Hands, a polymer clay jewelry business that creates scented food jewelry, such as snow cone pendants and red velvet cupcake rings designed to look and smell like the real thing. In 2014, Pak made a bold decision: She published a financial report of her business on her blog.
“I was inspired to publish my income reports mostly as a way for me to analyze how well I did for the year and what I could focus or improve on in the next,” Pak says about her choice, noting that she also hoped to inspire other people by showing that it was possible to succeed with a handmade business.
“I was also familiar with people in other industries publishing income reports online and I’ve seen how positively readers respond to them. I felt it was important that I shared what I could about what it’s like in the handmade industry because there’s so little existing information out there currently,” Pak explains.
“I think [the lack of income reports] leads people to question the feasibility of being self-employed and earning a real income in the crafty space. I wanted to show them that it’s definitely possible!” Pak says.
Pak’s business grossed more than $200,000 and netted a little over $107,000 that year.
Even though she was confident in her decision to publish her income online, she still had reservations about sharing financial information in such a public way.
“It’s definitely scary showing so much transparency about something that’s typically taboo to talk about,” Pak says. “I was concerned that people would judge me or decide to stick around (or not) based on how much money I was making.”
She’s been pleased with the response.
“People who have voiced their opinions and feedback have been overwhelmingly supportive,” Pak says.
In 2015, Pak did it again, despite having netted $60,000 less due to hiring a high-end public relations agency to promote her jewelry — a move that ultimately failed to bring in any new leads.
One of Pak’s goals is to become known as a creative business expert. She started a new site, Creative Hive, as a place to build out this new part of her business. Openly sharing her income there has helped prove her expertise to an audience of handmade business owners.
“I err on the side of complete transparency with my blog’s audience. It’s just too much work for me to filter myself on what I should or should not share publicly. Thankfully, that’s the exact reason why my audience follow me,” Pak says.
She’s now able to sell business support e-books, courses, consulting sessions and memberships to an exclusive community: her Creative Hive readers who hope to grow their own creative businesses.
Other makers share their income online for different reasons. Blogger and sewing pattern designer Stephanie Woodson began posting income and traffic reports on her blog, Swoodson Says, last year.
“So many people talk about ‘blogging full-time’ in hushed tones, but that number surely means different things to everyone,” Woodson says. “It is so rare to see any actual black and white numbers shared, so I figured I might as well share them myself!”
Woodson is a mom of two toddlers and doesn’t work on her business full-time. For her, the income reports are primarily motivational.
“I am very deadline oriented, and knowing that I’ve publicly announced how I will share these numbers each quarter works really well for me. It forces me to make time to analyze what I’m doing and compare it to the previous three months, which is a huge positive when it’s so easy to just roll from deadline to deadline or project to project,” Woodson says.
In the 4th quarter of 2015, Woodson grossed $1,879 from her business with a net income of $1,190. Her blog averaged 1,500 daily visitors.
“I cringe, a bit, to think of anyone pitying me or not taking me seriously because I am not wildly successful (yet!),” she remarks. “Most of the income reports I’ve read are when people are spending 40-plus hours a week on their site, and usually have been writing for quite some time — I’m sure it is easier to share income reports when people are saying ‘What is your secret?!’ and you’re pulling in five or ten thousand, and everyone comments to say how inspired they are.”
Woodson has gotten resoundingly positive feedback from other bloggers with small audiences, though.
“I have had several pattern designers and bloggers who write or work part time contact me and say what a relief it is to know they aren’t the only ones not raking in the dough,” she says.
Being privy to someone else’s income also can have a motivational effect on readers of these reports. Designer Kristin Nicholas notes that at one time it was possible to see the total sales for each pattern on Ravelry. Although not a formal income report, the transparency of these numbers proved motivating for her when she was just starting her freelance career.
“I remember when I found out that one cabled hat had been sold over 5,000 times,” Nicholas says. “It was then that I began paying attention to online pattern sales and started doing them myself.”
Nicholas is not alone in feeling motivated by seeing what’s possible for other people’s businesses. After reading an income report on the food blog Pinch of Yum, web developer Sarah Bailey implemented one of the blog’s strategies and was able to grow her own income as a result.
“I realized they were making bank on hosting referrals because they’d created a page called ‘Creating a Food Blog in Three Steps’ or something similar, and they were getting affiliate income from the hosting company,” Bailey explains. “That’s when I created my recommended hosting page and signed up for affiliate links. I’ve made a good bit of money since then from a couple of companies and now I send my clients disclosed affiliate links if they choose to use a company I have signed up with.”
For others, the effect of reading income reports has been less positive.
“I believe [income reports] do more harm than good. The first time I read an income report (Melyssa Griffin’s), I was shocked. I had a moment of ‘Go you! You are doing small business owners proud and I look up to you for that. You have authority in your field, and it validates my spending so much time listening to what you have to say,’” weaver Vanessa Lauria says. “But then, it played with my inner business self-esteem. I thought, how is it possible that this woman younger than I is making more than I’ll likely see in a number of years? And then, I got a bit frustrated and sad. Is everyone, including me, a sucker?”
Lauria points out that many online income reports are written by information service providers like Griffin, rather than crafters, and therefore aren’t serving makers directly.
Instead of posting hard numbers, crochet designer Stacey Trock has published her income as a series of percentages of the total earned by her business, Fresh Stitches, in a given year. Trock is wary of publishing actual numbers because she feels each person’s financial situation is complex.
“I don’t publish actual dollar amounts because I think it’s too easy to misinterpret, and different dollar amounts mean different things.”
“Someone making $40,000, a lot in this industry, would barely be able to get by in many urban environments. I also think raw numbers fail to take into account family factors. For example, I have no family nearby, but others have a mom who watches the kids every day. So, I’m [so many] hours less productive, not because of my biz, but my family situation. My hubby also can’t stay at home. So, I think raw numbers just obscure complex factors and tend to attract ooglers,” Trock explains.
It’s interesting to note that sharing hard financial data may have particular repercussions depending on which niche of the craft industry your business inhabits. Knitwear designer Andi Satterlund remarks that as far as she knows, there aren’t any income reports published by knitters. Reflecting on why this might be she says: “I’m not sure if it’s Ravelry itself or the way the community there makes everyone feel like a bunch of friends who are on equal footing. Money and success are tense topics. A good income report would come across as greedy because knitting isn’t seen as just business. And on the other hand a low income report could be embarrassing and harm credibility.”
Indie yarn dyer Stephanie Alford agrees.
“It could be a good report,” Alford says, “But how many of us are confident enough that all readers are going to fully understand, and it won’t end up in a Ravelry storm the next day?”
Some crafters, like art quilter Clara Nartey, hope that more creative business owners will come forward and talk about their income publicly as a way to help others make sound decisions about what’s possible in the industry.
“I find that lack of knowledge about income levels in our industry poses a barrier to entry for serious entrepreneurs because they can’t logically evaluate the viability of turning their hobbies into income-generating businesses,” Nartey says.
Others, like weaver Lauria, now avoid reading income reports. “It only makes me feel bad instead of empowered,” Lauria says. “I prefer to keep my eyes on my own spreadsheets.”