So you have discovered a true passion for doll making and want to take it from a hobby into a full-fledged business? Then read on, this post is for you.
I have gotten this question so many times over the years, that I finally feel ready to give a helpful answer to. So, I was thinking, what I would do different if I was brand new to this online world of doll making and wanted to pursue it as my business.
There is a difference between starting dollmaking just to learn, to have it as a hobby, or to make a few dolls for your children or friends.
Once you have made a few and have been bitten by the dollmaking bug, is very hard to “justify” making all these dolls for others without considering the enormous expense one incurs just to create them. So the thought comes “what if I sell them?”.
You start getting excited at the possibilities of dedicating your heart and soul to dollmaking, and having it be your “main” activity or “job”. But let me tell you, things are not as easy as they may sound at first.
You might begin making Pinterest boards, and buying a notebook to jot down all your doll ideas? The design process of doll making sure is exciting but it is very far from the reality of running a business.
How do you go about creating a business out of your passion for making dolls?
Let me tell you, there are so many tasks involved, some of which you might never have done before, some that might come like second nature to you due to previous jobs (I do feel that everything we do in life contributes to a much bigger “story” later on), and some you might not even be aware of.
That’s why I am here, for you, today.
Where do you begin? First let me tell you how I started, so you understand where I come from.
My Beginning and what I would do different.
A little intro then. When I started making dolls might look a lot like where you are standing right now. With no clear idea of this ever becoming my business, with no real knowledge about dollmaking (I do hope you are much farther along than I was when I started) and basically I did everything by the seat of my pants, moved or motivated by requests my then customers started soliciting of me.
It was an entirely organic way to grow, but it also took nine years.
So, you might not have that many years to see it thrive, and although it won’t be easy and it won’t happen over night, I sure hope that this process helps you turn your dollmaking passion into a business much quicker and with a little less left to luck and serendipitous occurrences, like it happened to me.
Back then Facebook business pages were just starting (I waited almost 5 years to start mine! whereas I see people start theirs even before they sell dolls nowadays…or even before they have a clear grasp of high-quality construction but that’s for another post some other day).
Pinterest and Instagram weren’t even invented. It was an internet land ruled by blogs and Etsy was just starting as a phenomenal market-place. That for a bit of background.
Since things are much, much different now, I will give you a list of things that I would do if I was just starting out today. If I was convinced that my dolls were high-quality enough to withstand child play for lots and lots of years, or be unique enough to be sold as art dolls.
For starters, we are going to assume you have been making dolls for at least a year, solid (not like, I made three dolls and I want to sell them now).
We are also going to assume that you have created a pattern by yourself (not using someone else’s to sell from), tweaked it the way you need it to be, in such a way it speaks for you, and that although still learning (I am still learning yo! and I am almost nine years in since I started) you have amassed enough knowledge to offer your dolls with the complete and utter trust that you are putting forth a wooly someone you are proud of and that you will stand behind its quality a 100%.
Those HAVE GOT TO BE the premises, alright?. I honestly feel that if those are not your premises, then this post might not really apply to you just yet.
You might be better off working on designing your own pattern, or working on your quality in order to put a doll product that you are extremely proud of. Do remember, we all evolve and learn along the way, but we have to have a quality standard in order to sell the dolls.
With all these points behind you, supporting you, this would be MY game plan if I was just starting out.
1 | Make a plan. For your Business.
When you are about to go on vacation, with the whole family, the cat and the dog must find someone to look after them, right?.
Even if you are like me, and don’t like to map out exactly where you are going to eat, what places you will visit and where you are going to stay every single day, you like to live in the moment and leave things a little more free, you still have to plan some stuff.
When will you leave? How much do your tickets cost? where will you land? where will you spend your first night? what is available to do around there that might be interesting? what kind of clothes should you bring? you get the point.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but it’s going to be the same way for this little business of yours. While I am not one to map out a marketing strategy and tell you what to do every single day regarding your business, I think it helps immensely to have clarity.
A clear idea of where you are going, how much it will cost you, what other things do you need to set up in order to have this baby moving.
This will be so helpful. Please trust me. Being a one-person show is very freeing, you don’t have to consult with anybody else, but your brain is like a different person, and you need to be able to see a little far ahead of where you are standing, in order to move with intention and the least effort possible.
Because believe me, being a one-person show means that all the hats, all the hats and all the balls in the air, are your responsibility and yours alone.
What I think would be helpful is to have like an idea of your business. A focus. This is usually the mission statement on a business plan but I always found that way too formal for my taste.
It would be helpful because it will give you a small pool of ideas to work from, and we want that to begin or our over-excited brains start panicking and want to do everything, for everybody and that is the quickest way to burn out and do nothing at all.
What do I mean by focus? Let’s say: you want to create dolls for children in the ages of 5 to 10. So then you start thinking what children in that age group like. You stay away from making baby toys because those come with nightmarish quality/safety things to do and we are just starting and we want things a bit easier.
(----Please DO RESEARCH all the things that you need to cover in order to comply with Safety and Toy Regulations in the country where you live and where you will be shipping to most often. Selling dolls comes with a rather long list of requirements to fulfill in order to ensure your dolls are safe. It is your responsibility to be aware of all that before you start selling your dolls.----)
Or maybe your focus is “I will make mythical creatures and only mythical creatures”. That could be an awesome mission statement, but then…things morph a lot in your business, especially in the first five years, and if you name your business Superb Mythical Creatures (TM) you might find that three or five years down the line, you got to do an entire brand revamp and you already have IG/Pinterest/Facebook/Etsy-whatever with the name Superb Mythical Creatures.
Finding the focus for your business, we do know you will be making dolls after all, will help you find a name that allows for not only growth but also lets you explore with a bit more freedom a few different aspects of your creativity.
Having a focus, will also help you decide which market to tackle. Are you going to make strictly waldorf dolls? or a bit more sculptured and with fancier clothes? or will you be making cloth dolls in the rag doll style?.
Is your style fancy and frilly? or tomboyish? or old time? To whom is this going to appeal? Who do you think would buy your doll? Do they have a lot of money or are they just buying special toys for birthday and seasonal events? Do they attend waldorf-inspired play groups? Are they at home, taking care of little children, with little time to help dressing dolls with a lot of buttons and ties and what not? etc.
All these questions help you nail down an ideal customer profile. And while I never did this in the beginning, my dolls all appealed to my then ideal customer. I was very lucky. Because I was speaking and creating for people just like me.
Once you figure out your focus, your aesthetic, your ideal customer, then work out a price list. A price list that gives you a lot of room to grow, but that earns you money. You can’t be everything to everybody. Start small.
Don’t have like a hundred and one styles of dolls, with 5 different styles of hair, and 8 different sizes. I had two sizes I started with. Because I was experimenting and so will you.
Believe me when I say this, it is very important to get good at something first before you go and do something else entirely.
It also helps you out a lot because people recognize that ONE thing you are making all the time, they remember you. So start with what you like/attracts you most: let’s say crazy wild hair. Let people know you for that, and then shazzam-them. Change, explore, innovate.
Pick a thing, do it non-stop, become known and very good at making it. Then experiment. Introduce a new style of doll, a new character, a new toy. People who already trust the work of your hands will be more eager to trust you again with this new adventure. But if you start with a gamut of things, it’s hard for people to connect with you in a sea of dollmakers.
Become known for something, one thing, then expand.
I know this is not sexy advice, but it’s good advice. Take it if you want it.
So, you are making a plan…but you are leaving room for experimentation, for growth. Things will change all the time and things you were initially inspired by might not be there in a year or two.
Also, you will have to pay attention to what people gravitate towards initially and do more of that. Some ideas will flop, others will flourish.
And in order to be competitive and stay in business, you will have to dance a very good balance between what you want to create from the depths of your soul and what your customers want/need to buy.
2 | Get a website.
You will be surprised at how many talented and thriving dollmakers don’t have one and I think this is a big mistake.
So many dollmakers, wether new or seasoned, start with a Facebook page or an Instagram account, grow their business, without ever putting the time to create a place of their own (totally understandable, just creating the dolls, selling them and shipping them is enough work to sink a ship!).
While starting this way can certainly be “enough” to earn some sales, if something ever happens (and believe me, it happens all the time!) to the platforms you are using, you are left with empty hands, scratching your head (hello! ever-changing flippin’ algorythms!) and not being able to communicate with those that are interested (or were interested) in buying from you.
More than these technical reasons, your website is your home.
Think of social media as the place where you hang out, the park, the coffee shop, the crafty corner in town. Your social media channels are where you make friends and establish relationships, but your website is your home.
It’s where everything is, where things happen, where people can dig deep to know you. It’s like your online business card, your assistant, public relations and sales manager all in one.
Your website will always speak for you. It will always be there. You own it, nobody else does. You can make it super deep and reveal a lot of you (like mine), or you can make it super simple. It’s all up to you.
I will strongly recommend you make a website from the get go. As soon as you can. Because people will know where to find you, you will start getting traffic, which will help you with Google searches, and you will slowly build content if you decide to blog (hello SEO!) and most importantly, as your customer base grows so will the people that visit your website.
If you already have a strong Facebook presence, and then all of a sudden you create a website, it will be much harder to train your customers to visit your website because they are used to just checking Facebook, or seeing you pop up in their feed.
If the algorythm changes, and you no longer ‘pop up’, they will not have the custom of visiting your website to see what’s going on with you.
You can use Weebly, Wordpress, Blogger, Squarespace, etc. I highly recommend Squarespace as, it’s the one I use. Not only because the templates are awesome, but because I find I can do everything I can possibly want to do with Squarespace.
I dont know coding, nor want to get into it (I have enough on my plate as it is running my online business and making my sweet wool children), and Squarespace gives me the ability to tweak my website in the most beautiful ways that I didn’t even know possible.
But I know some of my friends love Wordpress, so everybody has different tastes. There is so much out there that you really have NO excuse to not have a website.
I will strongly recommend to create a website and not just a blog, because I will always advise you to start small. It’s much easier to start with the good bones, than it is to elaborate once you have been doing it for a few years. You can start with the website, and then start blogging in your own site, versus doing it the other way.
Migrating a blog or starting a website once you have a lot of ‘subscribers’ is not for the faint of heart I tell you. There’s always people that get lost in the translation, it’s a bit of a headache to do it all by yourself, and things can go wrong.
I was fortunate enough to migrate my Blogspot blog to Squarespace without any hiccups, and believe me, I did this because I had no choice. I had run out of space in my Blogspot account and needed to find a way to store everything somewhere else. I found Squarespace and I’ve never looked back.
Regarding your website I will recommend simplicity. Not too many bells and whistles. Just a few pages:
- a blog. You don’t have to blog daily or even weekly, but ‘constant’ is good. Post photos of what you are up to if you are not the long-writing-kind. Share some of your latest dolls. Post photos of what you are inspired by. Simple things. Start small.
- a contact page. So that people can get in touch with you. Very important.
- a gallery or portfolio. So people can see what you make, maybe with prices, or maybe not. But enough material in there to give people an idea of what you do and how awesome you are.
- an ‘About Me’ page. Let people know who you are. A bit of your life history and what brought you to this place. Let them know what you can do for them.
- a SHOP. You can either house it in your own website (Woo Commerce, Shopify or Squarespace Commerce are some brilliant options) or link to an outside market place (Big Cartel, Indie Cart, Hyena Cart, Etsy, Dawanda, etc). Choose the platform that best serves you and that you find easier to use.
3| Be Blog Happy.
I highly recommend blogging, not just because it worked big time for me, but because I see the power of it in so many ways.
It is longer than an Instagram post, it doesn’t disappear from your Facebook feed, it gives perpetuity and solidity to your presence. People can always come back and see it, it will always be there.
It also allows you to introspect and put into words or images what you have to give to the world, and while this may seem daunting, is one of the greatest aspects of delving into any art.
It allows you to examine your own life, your motivation, what inspires you, and to see how you translate that into the world.
Blogging gives you the opportunity of connecting at a deeper level with people. Whether you are sharing bits of your life, your doll making process or just your finished work, it is really a great way to be of service to others, while creating the best platform for your business.
Yup. I know you are going to ask. It’s not easy to blog, not easy at all. But it’s not like impossible to do. Like everything else, it becomes easier as you do it.
Besides, you clearly love what you do, you clearly have a thing for notions and fabric, you have technical and doll making issues you are trying to overcome, and sometimes you drop your coffee on your work. That’s all something that can be turned into a blog post. It’s relatable for others and soon you will start connecting with people that gravitate in the same wavelength you do.
Like I said above, you don’t have to blog every day. I was blogging a lot in previous years, because I was using my blog a bit as a motherly journal too. Sharing our homescholing adventures and what not, but nowadays I devote this blog just for the love of dollmaking, sharing my passion with all of you, teaching you a thing or two, and I leave all the other stuff for my social media channels.
Which brings me to the fourth step.
4 | Choose your poison, I mean, your social media.
Ah. I wish this step wasn’t super necessary and perhaps it’s not and we all just like to say it is because we are all terribly addicted to social media.
For dollmaking I will recommend two platforms and only two platforms for now: Instagram and Facebook. Good thing they are brothers (or sisters?) and they make our life beautiful and hard at the same time.
While I can tell you from experience that you do not need to be on social media to create a fan base, I can also tell you that it will be much easier if you do.
Since this post is all about what I would do different and therefore recommend, I think you will be able to create a reputable business if there is social proof of your work (people sharing photos of how lovely your doll is in their homes, or how much the love playing with her, etc), if you are able to communicate on a more informal and daily-ish basis with your fan base, and if you use it with “intention”.
What exactly do I mean by using your social media with “intention”? Well I mean that (wait for it) you have a plan for it. Ha! And you thought all the planning was over. Say what? We are just getting started here.
Have a purpose, an intention for your channel, whether that is Instagram or Facebook. Perhaps you want to use it to showcase your work, but I would recommend adding something else that humanizes your brand. That shows who you are.
So, besides making dolls, you also have little children at home? Post some stuff related to that so that people get to know you. Or perhaps aside doll making you have a thriving passion for antiques, lace and vintage doilies, which actually ties every now and then with a doll. Post that stuff up!.
You need to use your channels of social media not just to share your work, you need to show who you are in there. They are not galleries of your dolls, don’t treat them as such. You can have a gallery in your website, social media is not for that. Remember, social media is to interact, to connect with people.
For Instagram I recommend variety. A healthy variety of doll-related posts, not all face shots for the love of cheese!
Create variety too in the way you portray your dolls, sometimes a profile, sometimes at play. Sometimes just the hands, etc. Then pepper that with matching imagery from your life, your interests, the things that make you, you.
I personally find more appealing accounts that follow this guide line, but I also follow people who irrevocably post photos of nothing but bolts of linen. I just find them so freaking inspiring!.
Like I always say, be you. Perhaps you want to be the doll maker known in Instagram for posting only photos of her doll’s feet and people have to visit your website to see the whole doll. Intriguing. See what I mean?.
Facebook I treat much different. Facebook gets immediate announcements, sometimes only text. I don’t share my life or wild-edibles’ obsessions on my business page, but I love that I can link up to blog posts, to my store listings, to the work of my colleagues, etc in a de-facto way because people are able to click on my links, something that cannot be done via Instagram posts unless you hit the “link in profile” thingy.
Sometimes I share videos or music that makes me cry of sheer happiness. I do posts almost entirely doll photos and sneaky peeks. I find people visit me on Facebook for that. They are not expecting to read a post about my breakfast, but instead process shots and general chit chat of what I am up to.
The reason I am recommending only these two channels is because that’s where your people are. Snapchat is for younger audiences and not normally very active for doll makers and doll buyers. Same with other platforms. You have to be where your potential customers and where your fans already are. I also recommend everything in small bite sizes, so start with two platforms and build a community, then expand.
I don’t think of YouTube and Pinterest as social media. I think of them more as Search Engines, like Google, as that is how people use them most often.
I hope to revamp and revitalize my YouTube channel very soon, I have like so many plans it hurts my brain at night, so expect a lot of action there over the Fall.
YouTube is obviously not just a search engine, but it is incredibly empowering to extend the credibility and life of your brand. All the world is moving into more and more video, so having a channel that makes it easy for you to do just that is a very clever step to take as a business. And not like "24-hour-and-it-vanishes" videos, but something with substance, that aids you in telling the story of who you are and what your work is all about.
I am normally active throughout the day on Pinterest. For Pinterest, I alway pin one or two images to my business board as soon as I publish a blog, and then I just try to pin regularly to my boards. Not all my boards are about doll making and/or dolls, but I do have a few and I recommend you do the same.
You want people to recognize you as a doll maker and so if all boards are travel places, shopping and reno-inspired boards, the people that will follow your boards will not be very keen into checking your doll making website as their interests lie somewhere else.
You also have something really, really cool on Pinterest. If you own your website, you can verify and upgrade your account to Business, and so all pins from your website become “rich pins” which allows you to a) promote them and b) they come with information of who they belong to, which I think is incredibly important.
I won’t get into the more advanced features of Pinterest as I am learning to use them all myself this last year and so I need a bit more time to digest everything properly before I can give you more tips. But I can tell you right now, one of the biggest sources of traffic to my website comes from Pinterest, so definitely important.
I just want you to remember, social media is a channel to connect with others, to let people know you, and to interact. The ultimate goal is to create relationships and to hopefully guide people back to where it matters: your website.
5 | Leave room to grow.
Now, do you see anywhere above a to do list for “branding”? No. Because you will not know who you are until you are making and selling dolls, how can you start that from the get go? Or maybe you do, and if so, kudos for being so smart.
I would advise to pick a name, build your website and storefront, start blogging and doing your steps in social media, and then little by little tighten that ship. You will evolve. You WILL grow. Leave some room for that to happen.
Don’t expect to have all the ducks in a row before you even begin. I will say the most important aspects is a website/store where people can find you and buy from you and a plan. Research the business requirements your state or country has, your accounting method, what legal requirements you have to abide in order to sell toys (like labeling and testing for example), and start growing your customer base.
You will make mistakes, hopefully not very big ones. You will have cancellations, and one or two cranky customers who are impatient to receive their doll. Hopefully no quality issues. You will learn to edit photos, write listing descriptions, and how to ship your dolls safely. You will have to file taxes and pay a lot of bills in order to support your business online.
But you will be your own boss, you will make dolls, you will play with fabrics and yarns as part of your job, and you will get to make some pretty awesome relationships with your customers and your colleagues.
I honestly can’t see doing anything else for a living. I am so happy doing what I do, that time spent away from doll making is usually spent somewhere else masterminding what other aspects I can grow or learn. it is my passion, my profession, my vocation and my calling. All in one tiny and incredibly challenging package.
I don’t just make dolls for a living. I help others play. I co-create stories with children, young and old. I facilitate others being creative and learning doll making.
I strongly believe in the healing properties of play and so I do everything in my power to contribute to that. Whether you are playing with a doll I made or using one of my patterns to play creatively in making one. This allows me to support my family, live by example showing my children that we can be our own guides in life, while getting to live my most authentic values. Play, nature, simplicity, art, creativity.
Running my business online has allowed me to relocate a few times without greater hassle. To continue exploring my own creativity and learning much more along the way.
I hope this can be a reality as well for you, if it’s in your nature to do this. Doll making is a great art form and a very rewarding profession. I wish you the best of luck and if you have any questions or comments to add, please post them here for all of us to read them. I will answer your questions here.
So that's it. I hope this post didn't make you fall asleep. I have been working on it for quite some time and trying to condense and give you truthful and helpful advice. I think this advice can apply for other types of business as well, especially if they are online.
I wished I had someone to turn to when I started, that had warned me about trying to sell my dolls before I had ironed out all the quality issues. Or someone that had given me some guidance regarding social media or website maintenance. But truth be told, the guidance I got from my doll making colleagues a little bit further down the line was indeed priceless and the support I get on a daily basis from them and my husband is truly worth gold to me.
I really, really hope this is of help to you and that it gives you the best things to have in life: clarity and hope.