Insights into Scrapbooking as a Business
I always grew up hearing, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." Several years ago I was looking for a way to make money while staying at home with my four small children, and I decided that I would offer my services as a personal scrapper for those who like the look of finished albums but don't have the time, skill, or desire to create them on their own.
As with any home-based business there are several things to keep in mind before you jump in with both feet.
- Workspace - You will need a dedicated space to spread out and get projects done. I was usually hired to complete entire albums, not single layouts, so a "project" would take me a couple weeks or more. I needed a safe place to be able to leave layouts out that were in different stages of development.
- Storage - You'll need a safe place to store your customer's photos and memorabilia. You'll need a way to classify, sort, and organize the things they give you. In my experience these things were rarely handed over already organized in a way that was helpful to me. Also you need a way to keep one customer's personal items separate from other clients if you work on multiple projects at once.
- Financial Arrangements - I believe that if you want people to take you seriously then you need to be serious about your business. Get business cards made, set up a separate checking account for purchases, get your resale / business license, and record, record, record: purchases, expenses, travel - everything. If you get sloppy with your record keeping you will cost yourself money.
- Taxes - See a tax professional before you get your first client. Make sure you know how, when, and what to file. Even a part-time business has tax responsibilities and requirements.
- Office Hours - When will you work? Can you dedicate eight hours each day, or only a few hours here and there? Be honest and realistic about your family style, ability to work uninterrupted, speed at which you work, and other obligations. You don't want to promise a customer you'll have their album done in a week, only to realize it's more like a three-week project because your fussy toddler won't let you work unless he is napping during the day or sleeping at night.
- Fees - Decide how you want to charge your customers. Per layout? Per page? Per album? What do you feel your time is worth? What is the going rate for other personal scrapbook artists in your area? Can you get any of your supplies at wholesale cost? Do you live in an area where you have to pay lots of high shipping costs? Do your research and be realistic about how much your local customer will be able and willing to pay for your services.
If you have talked to a tax professional, obtained a license, set up an office and think you're ready to get into business for yourself you'll need to find clientele. Perhaps someone has already approached you with an offer; if so, great! Your best form of advertising is going to be word of mouth. Someone who sees a friend's finished album and asks then who did it may be your next customer. I like to put a small sticker with my contact information on the inside cover of each album I finished.
Other forms of advertising could be newspaper ads or flyers in local crafting, grocery, or family-type stores. You could set up a booth at local farmer's markets, weekend bazaars, and craft shows. If you are lucky you may be able to set up a small tabletop display at a local scrapbooking or stamping store during an open house event. If you offer a prize of some kind they may allow you to showcase your work and offer your services, especially if you are a loyal customer and you purchase your supplies from them to create the albums you are hired to finish.
The scrapbooking community is huge, but also quite small in some ways. Word of mouth travels fast, and if you provide good customer service and a beautiful finished project people will talk. On the flip side of that coin, if you deliver low quality work, finish projects late, don't communicate well or neglect to follow up with your customers to make sure they are satisfied then people will talk about that as well.
Communication is very important. Here are a few tips I've learned over the years.
- Have a contract. Draft up a contract for every single job, no matter how small. Have a detailed description of your services, timeline, costs, return policy if any, and the obligations of both the buyer and artist. This avoids any confusion later and helps make sure everyone is on the same page. There is nothing worse than having customers shocked at the end of a project about the total costs or being upset because they didn't understand what kind of time commitment was involved and they thought you were going to finish up their 25-page wedding album in one weekend.
- Follow up. Always call your customers and let them know what stage of the project you are on if it's been a week or two. You have their precious photos and memorabilia; people get nervous if they don't hear from you. I kept notes on the back of my contract for every client: extra family info, what time it's best to contact them, what we discussed last time I called, etc. This way when I call Cathy Customer I can ask how her son's soccer game went and let her know that I have a week left to finish up her project, that I'm working well (or not) within the set budget, and that she can expect to hear from me again with final payment arrangements and the finished project on X date. Also I called my customers about two weeks after final delivery to make sure they didn't have any further questions, there were no problems, and they were satisfied with their album(s). At that time I also let them know if I was accepting new clients and asked that if they were happy with their albums that they pass my name onto family and friends who might be able to use my services.
- Be honest about your budget. People who do not scrapbook have no idea how much supplies cost. Add in your labor costs and albums can get very expensive, very quickly. I offer my customers two options: they could supply me with all the supplies they wanted me to use and I charged for labor only, or I could purchase what I'd need and charge them actual retail costs. Since I had my resale license I was able to buy some items in bulk at wholesale and I could pass some savings onto my customers that way. However, many things I simply couldn't or chose not to buy due to storage and limited-use issues. My average album cost approximately $150.00 - $200.00. I chose to work on a per-project fee scale. I charged a flat fee for each project, but I had VERY specific guidelines on what each album would contain (number of photos, supplies, style, title treatments, adhesive use, etc.) Everything was laid out in writing before I started. I was able to keep costs down by letting the customers provide me with the album of their choice and by limiting the expensive embellishments, but customers need to be aware that a custom-made album is not inexpensive.
I have a few other random tips for anyone looking to start their own scrapbooking business. First, don't be a hard seller. If you meet with someone and it doesn't feel like a good fit, walk away. You end up working pretty closely with your customers and you need to see eye to eye. They need to respect you as the artist, and you need to understand their budget or time concerns and issues. If they can't afford your services, you can't complete a project in their time frame, or you don't have the artistic esthetic they are looking for, it's better to be honest and walk away from the project right away instead of being sorry later.
Second - know what you are worth! Your skills are valuable, you are an artist and you are providing a service that takes considerable time. Don't make the mistake of selling your work for less that it's worth just to get a sale. Once your customers hear that you finished up a whole album for only $50.00 they will not understand, nor will they be willing to pay you what that album REALLY should have cost. If you start off losing money, you're always going to lose money.
Set yourself up online. Get a free blog, start a simple website, or make sure you have an online gallery with examples of your work. It's the easiest way for people to look at your style and versatility as a scrapbook artist. People get nervous about meeting face to face when they are in the "thinking about it" phase. They feel like they have to commit if they meet you at your office or have you come to their home. Looking at your work and reading positive testimonials online is low pressure, and it gives you the control of showing off your very best work, and telling people a little bit about yourself in an easy, friendly way.
Lastly, and I hope this isn't a downer, know when to walk away. I decided awhile ago that it was time for me to stop working for other people. Scrapbooking had become a chore for me, a job. I had years of my own photos piling up because I was busy making albums that showcased other kids' sporting events and birthdays. I had lost my excitement and I could tell it was starting to show in my work. It was time for me to go back to scrapbooking for personal pleasure. Not everyone will get to that point; maybe others are better at balancing their own hobby with their financial obligations than I am. However if you do decide to scrapbook for others as a profession just be aware that things might change for you too. It's not a bad thing, it's just a part of the metamorphosis that comes from being self-employed and putting so much heart and soul into creating something you love for someone else's pleasure.
All in all I really enjoyed my customers, and I'm happy I created so many albums for others to treasure and pass down to their children. I wouldn't take back that experience for any number of finished albums of my own, but I'm also happy that I knew when it was time to hang up my trimmer and join the ranks of non-professional scrappers. It's a great business, with lots of potential for financial and emotional reward, but it is definitely a serious job with its own stresses and obligations. I wish anyone making the leap to professional scrapper the best of luck. Believe in yourself, and enjoy every layout you create. Each one will have a little piece of your heart. After all that's what makes our scrapbooks special, whether they are our own or for someone else.