You may be entirely forgiven for wondering what a dyed-in-the-wool commercial embroiderer like me has to say on the topic of hobbyists going pro. While I may have started in commercial, commodity decoration, from the inception of my career, I took interest in the creative exploits of hobbyists, amateurs, and boutique creators.

As I discussed aesthetic inspiration with them, they often looked to me for tips gleaned from my work at those commercial multi-decoration shops when wanting to turn their passion into their career. These conversations have left me with second-hand experience of the pitfalls my friends in the hobby embroidery, printing, and heat press worlds fall into on their way to decorating for pay.

Below are five of the most common things you should keep in mind if you’re thinking of making the transition.

No. 1: Being in Business Means ‘Doing Business’

Those of us who aren’t born to be entrepreneurs, for whom handling money, paperwork, and managing accounts is difficult to tolerate, will find that their creative careers come with red tape. If you have absolutely no interest or ability to keep these tasks in hand, you’ll need a partner that can handle that side of the work. Even so, if you are to be more than a heavily invested employee, you have to stay aware of the back end, even if you don’t keep the books.

No. 2: Direct Your Energy

If you love design and the process of decorating, then the siren song of new projects, decoration methods, and equipment will continually lead you astray. Though it’s great to experiment and keep watch for opportunities, too many decorators find themselves chasing the next product, client, or worse, equipment that tickles their fancy and subsequently outspend both their time and capital budgets.

Define the customer for your particular work, develop a specialty, prune away the things that don’t fit, and play to your strengths. Find a niche, focus on its needs, and dedicate yourself to fulfilling a role in that niche before wandering broadly. If you do find yourself desperately drawn to a new decoration style or market, consider opportunities and obstacles related to that equipment, process, or direction. It’s good to grow, but do it purposefully, and make sure you can feed the branches of your work you want to bear fruit.

No. 3: Calculate All Your Costs

It’s less frequent these days that hobbyists flatly undervalue their work, but even though most are well aware that their labor has value, they are unaware of the real cost of decorating. Most not only determine their pricing by looking at unrelated businesses with models that don’t mirror their own, they also miss the mark even when they do care to calculate overhead and expenditures by undervaluing or ignoring their labor and opportunity cost of having their time tied up in a particular job.

Plan to do more than break even, but you can’t understand profit if you don’t know the costs you are taking on or the throughput you can reasonably achieve. Though I’d love to see more decorators pricing on the value they bring to clients rather than concocting a simple calculation based on labor and materials, without the latter, there’s no basis for proving your profit if you don’t know your numbers.


Courtesy of Erich Campbell

No. 4: Demand What You are Worth

This may seem like I’m restating the previous point, but it deserves a second hearing. Even as a hobbyist, if you are producing results that you feel are worth paying for, you must have amassed expertise and done labor that is valuable. You are exchanging your technical knowledge (perfected over time), access to uncommon and often expensive equipment, and your individual and irreplaceable creativity when you sell your work. Make sure you get something worthwhile for the precious hours of your life spent not only in doing the work, but getting good enough to do it for others.

Second, if you don’t believe your work is worth buying, neither will your customer. Evaluate with others who you can trust to honestly review for you — either you’ll find you’ve been too harsh, or you know what you should work on to get to the place where you have something you truly trust to be valuable that you can offer.

No. 5: Marketing is a Must

With the world of social media making the idea of self-promotion much more common, fewer decorators are caught off-guard by the notion of marketing. That said, they sometimes fall flat when it comes to true sales.

There are still some who have the toxic view that creativity or “art” should always be free or driven by personal inspiration, paid by the calling to the craft, and some creatives get bogged down by comments to that effect or the concern that doing something they love for money is selling out. In truth, if you believe in your work, sharing it, selling it, and telling people about it isn’t selling out, it’s sharing something you feel will enhance people’s lives and businesses, and giving them the opportunity to participate with you in making it happen. Don’t do yourself or your potential customers a disservice by hiding what you offer, what it can do for them, and what it takes to be a part of the process.