Once-bustling high streets are full of empty shops to let. Businesses we thought would be there forever have gone bust (I remember shopping in Woollies in the 1960s and 70s when it was one of the main shops on pretty much every high street in the country - and yes, I'm painfully aware of how that statement ages me!).
So what chance has a tiny handmade business got?
Well, plenty actually. Handmade has got a lot going for it. And being a small business has a lot going for it too, as you can respond to customer requests much more quickly than a big business can.
People are increasingly looking for "something different". We live in a world where we've all got the same stuff. Furniture from IKEA, cardigans from Marks and Spencer, settees from the big superstores - almost everything we own, use and shop for is mass produced.
So, how much mass production can each of us take before we rebel? Well, it's happening right now - people are quietly rebelling by making and buying handmade - and it's an exciting movement to be part of.
The handmade corsages, felt keyrings, beaded bag charms - they're all ways of adding something different to what we wear.
The handmade greetings cards, personalised message plaques and shabby chic hearts - they're all ways of giving something different for a birthday, wedding or housewarming.
There will always be people who want to buy something different and of course there are still people with well-paid jobs who are ready and willing to dip their hands into their pockets. If you listen to all the doom and gloom you'd think we were all paupers struggling to survive. We're not! There may be less money to go round, but it's most definitely still out there.
Despite the recession, online sales figures continue to increase - not just for handmade, but online shopping overall continues to rise. As small businesses, we all need to sit up and take notice of this trend - because it's a trend that's not going away anytime soon. The reason for all those boarded up shops isn't just the recession (although that is a factor); if people are buying more online, then they're buying less in the high street.
If you have a small business, ask yourself the following questions:
Are you making something different?
Is your business online?
Are you making the most of it?
Are you promoting it?
Is your business growing?
Are you selling to a global market?
You should have answered yes to pretty much all the above questions - and if you didn't, then consider whether you want to do something about it - because if you want to, you can.
There are countless ways you can promote your own online shop. The main ones that don't cost money (although they do take up time) are blogging, Facebook and Twitter, so they're usually the best place to start (the links in this paragraph lead to more information and open in a new tab - do check them out).
Setting up these things takes longer than maintaining them does once they're up, so don't try doing everything all at once. But once they're in place, you should be able to keep up with them all with just a couple of hours a week (preferably spread out into smaller chunks of time). Of course, addiction to any or all of them is possible, so you may also need to start being strict with your time!
If you're considering setting a business up right now, you need to think about a couple of other things:
- start-up budget
- income from day one
And ensuring you have an income? Your income from a new business is unlikely to be very much at first, so you might want to consider either setting up your business just working evenings and weekends around your day job - or turn that idea completely on its head and work on your handmade business in the day while you have an evening job, which is what I did - part-time teaching at a local college meant I could work mostly evenings in my "day job" with the odd afternoon here and there, meaning I felt I had more time to set up the business.
Is it possible to earn a living from handmade - in a recession? Yes, it certainly is - but, although handmade is more popular then ever before, selling your products is not simple. There's a huge learning curve: selling online (or anywhere!) takes time, effort and planning.
Don't let anyone put you off having a go, though - it might just be the best thing you ever did.