Tips for starting an embroidery business
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So… you love embroidery and are thinking about starting an embroidery business. Great idea. Embroidery is an in-demand service. Companies, sports teams, organizations, and even individuals all want and need embroidered items. Plus, it’s a business that you can run from home around your schedule. While I support this idea wholeheartedly, I would like to make a few suggestions before you jump in feet first. Here are some of my (and my friends’) best tips for starting an embroidery business.
#1 Take every opportunity to use your embroidery machine
Start by getting very comfortable with your embroidery machine by using it as much as possible. One way to do this is to use every opportunity possible to make a gift on your embroidery machine. The more you use your embroidery machine, the more comfortable you will be with it. And the quality of your work will improve.
“I suggest learning how to use your embroidery machine so well that you know how to do it in your sleep.”
– Lisa A.
“Make sure you have at least 12 months practice behind you. Go to classes, and watch a lot of Youtube videos to learn different techniques.”
– Rebecca B.
Making gifts on your embroidery machine is also a great way to launch your business because it’s great practice. In addition, recipients will start to see what you can do and ask you to do it for them. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve been asked to embroider as a result of giving embroidered items as gifts. Don’t hesitate to include your business card with the gift.
#2 Consider working for a boutique
One way to learn the biz quickly is to do it for someone else. If you spend a year or so running the embroidery machine for a boutique, you will have better embroidery skills and a much better idea of how to run an embroidery business. Just be careful that you will not be breaking any non-compete agreements by eventually going out on your own.
#3 Investigate what type of embroidery services are in your area
Does everyone in your neighborhood run a side business offering embroidery? If so, you may be facing an uphill battle. How to find out? Ask your friends/family members where they go to get embroidered items. Google it. Visit shops. See what is out there before you launch your embroidery business.
But, just because other embroidery businesses exist in your town doesn’t mean that you should not start an embroidery business yourself. It just means that you need to differentiate yourself from the other businesses. If your local market is saturated, you may want to primarily focus on building your online business through platforms like Etsy and/or eventually your own online store.
#4 Register your business and file the appropriate paperwork
How do you appropriately set up a business?
“If you are serious about making this a business instead of a hobby with sales, there are things like business license, tax ID, insurance and incorporation/LLC which you will need to review closely. You will also have to keep all receipts for both purchases and sales.”
– Penny R.
Start by checking out your state’s department of revenue website and read the relevant information pertaining to starting a home-based business. You will need to collect sales tax and submit it to the state, so you need to figure out how to go about doing this.
For liability purposes, you may want to set up a LLC (limited liability corporation). One reason why small business owners establish an LLC is to protect their personal assets if they were to get sued.
You will also probably want to set up a bank account strictly for your business. And, you may want to get a credit card for business related expenses. A dedicated credit card makes expenses so much easier to track.
I’m sure there are many other legal/accounting tasks you should do. It might help to dive into a book that deals strictly with this topic.
Disclaimer: I’m not offering legal or accounting advice here. I’m just suggesting you speak with these professionals before you get rolling and providing a preview of what they might suggest you do.
#5 Invest in helpful embroidery accessories
Having the right embroidery accessories can make all the difference in the world. Would you want to try to remove stitches using regular scissors and a toothpick? I don’t think so. Check out my post about the top 10 accessories needed by any embroidery enthusiast.
#6 Stock up on supplies
If you are running an embroidery business, you will go through a lot of thread, stabilizer. So, it’s important to buy bulk. Find your favorite suppliers and stay fully stocked.
Trying to get up and running on a shoestring? Look for opportunities to buy embroidery supplies on Ebay or Craigslist. Not to be morbid, but embroidery enthusiasts die every day. And the people who are left cleaning out their house want to get rid of their stuff as quickly and easily as possible. This can work in your favor, providing you with an opportunity to buy embroidery thread, stabilizer, etc… at a bargain basement price.
#7 Learn how to take care of your machine
I hate to be the person to tell you to read the embroidery machine manual, but…. READ IT! You can learn some basic maintenance techniques that will help keep your machine out of the shop. Just do what they tell you to do.
From your manual, you will also learn how often your machine should be serviced. Just like a car, take your embroidery machine in for service when it is recommended.
#8 Have a backup plan when your embroidery machine breaks
Despite your best efforts, your embroidery machine will need to go to the shop. But, what do you do to get it fixed? You should know exactly where to take your embroidery machine for service and how long repair generally takes. Where you can get service may actually be a factor in what type of machine you buy in the first place.
“Find a local embroidery machine dealer to buy a machine from. Buy the best you can afford, certainly get one that has bigger than 4×4 or 5×7 hoops. A dealer is your BEST source of help and info.”
– Laurie G.
Consider purchasing an inexpensive embroidery machine for back up. The back up machine may not be as powerful as your main embroidery machine. But, it sure will come in handy if your primary machine breaks down. It will be hard to keep customers happy if you can’t deliver product in a reasonable time frame.
#9 Find good embroidery blanks suppliers
It’s fine to introduce a product for a season to keep things fresh and interesting for your business. But if you start offering something that you can’t reliably get, it will be frustrating for customers when you can’t fill orders because the blank is no longer available.
Instead, when starting an embroidery business, come up with some product ideas made with blanks and fabric that are easily accessible, e.g. baby onesies, solid colored hoodie sweatshirts, headbands, simple T-shirts, anything that you can always get. You can actually get quite a bit through Amazon that you can have at your door within 48 hours.
There are some great blank suppliers that have a variety of athletic and outerwear, but you can get killed on shipping if you don’t order a minimum. However, if you are fortunate enough to live near one of their warehouses, you can pick up your order and save on shipping. And, this opens up the possibility for offering a lot of different products.
#10 Make a menu of embroidery options
People get overwhelmed with too many options. So provide the customer with a handy sheet of maybe 6 to 10 different typefaces and monogram styles. This goes for thread color as well. I would suggest offering no more than 20 different thread colors for names or monograms.
If the customer really wants something other than what is in your standard line of offerings, then you can tell them they will incur an additional fee for you to purchase the thread or the typeface for their product.
#11 Establish your pricing
Price your items to make running your embroidery business worth your time. If you price your work too low, people will assume the quality is bad. People value what they pay for. Plus, you will start to feel resentful and hate doing the work.
Not sure how to price your embroidery services? Take a look at this previous post about how to charge for embroidery. If you feel like you may be paying yourself too high of an hourly rate, consider the money invested in acquiring the embroidery machine and the money needed to maintain it. Also, think about all the money you have spent on stabilizer, thread, etc…
If customers say your prices are too high, then politely advise them to go somewhere else. The customers that complain about prices don’t understand what goes into embroidery and are not customers you want to do business with.
#12 Make it as easy as possible for people to pay you
Take payment upfront and make it as easy as possible for people to pay you. It has now gotten easier than ever to send someone money. At the minimum, you should have a PayPal account associated with your business email. You can even set up a Venmo account associated with your business for payment as well. And, if you have an Etsy store, you can take payment for goods delivered in person through your Etsy shop.
If you really want to get fancy, you can set up your own website where you can take payments for custom and standard items. It’s pretty easy to set up an e-commerce site on platforms like Shopify. But, it’s certainly not necessary to have your own website when you’re just getting started.
#13 Brand yourself
You may get quite a bit of business through word-of-mouth and craft shows for your embroidery business. But, if your local market is saturated with embroidery businesses and/or you decide to sell online through a marketplace like Etsy, realize that you are competing against many other Etsy sellers offering embroidered items. So, in order to stand out, put a brand on what you do.
“What can you offer that others don’t? Do you a vision or a unique design aspect? What will make you stand out. Thing about that.”
– Jennifer G.
Your brand could be inspired by where you live or a particular hobby or interest. For example, perhaps you love to sail and be on the water. Your Etsy shop could feature nautical themed personalized items. It gives you a unique angle as a starting point for your embroidery business. You can always offer simple personalization, but the brand gives you a distinct voice that people can relate to and understand.
#14 Figure out your turnaround times
“No one died because they couldn’t get an embroidered t-shirt the next day.”
– Amy V.
Give yourself enough time to complete the order and stick to your guns. But, under promise and over deliver whenever possible. For example, you may tell your customers that you have a two week turnaround time. If you finish the order sooner than that, then they will be happily surprised. And, happy customers mean more business. Also, if you have a standard two week turnaround time, you can also offer faster faster turnaround time for an additional fee.
#15 Decide if you will embroider on customer supplied items
Have a clear policy about embroidering on items the customer supplies. It is the worst feeling when you screw up an item that your customer has supplied. For this reason, I would never say yes to embroidering a monogram on an expensive handbag.
A good rule of thumb is: if you don’t feel comfortable replacing that item then don’t say yes to embroidering on it. It’s just not worth it. There’s too much other low hanging fruit out there.
#16 To appliqué or not to appliqué, that is the question. Decide if you will offer appliquéd items.
Appliqué is fun and adorable. But, it can also be very time consuming. And the moms who want a first day of school shirt for her kid may not be willing to pay the price.
Plus, appliqué requires choosing appliqué fabric, etc… So there can be a lot of back and forth with the customer that is time consuming. For these reasons, it may not be worth offering appliqué unless you simplify the options and set the price high enough.
#17 Develop an order form
Develop or buy a straightforward and comprehensive order form. Always have the customer complete the order form when placing an order. It will allow you to prioritize orders. The order forms that come in first will be the orders you complete. In addition, you always have information to go back and reference. If you execute what is on the order form then you can’t be liable for a mistake.
I would suggest making your order form as an editable PDF form. You can make this an editable PDF form so that customers who request an order through email can provide their information via your standard order form and email you the information.
#18 Make a drop off / pick up box
Consider making a drop off pick up box. If you were serious about running an embroidery business out of your home, you do not have time to chitchat with every person that comes by to drop off or pick up an item to be embroidered.
A solution to this problem is to create a drop box outside of your home with a changeable code that you can give customers. You can leave items in the box for pickup and allow customers to use the box to drop items off.
#19 Learn to digitize or find someone who can do it for you.
Inevitably, you will be asked to stitch out a custom design or logo on a garment. And, in order for that graphic to be stitched out on an embroidery machine, you will need to digitize it. There are many excellent digitizing services available.
If you decide to digitize yourself, just like when starting out with your embroidery machine, make sure you practice, practice, practice before charging customers for your digitizing service.
Oh – and definitely be sure to pass the digitizing fee onto your customers.
#20 Get Creative About Networking
I joined the PTA and other groups. You have to get your name and products out there.
– Lori G.
If you are naturally shy, the idea of networking can seem just about as appealing as visiting the gynecologist. So, maybe don’t think of it as networking. Just get involved. Get out of your house. Show up and serve. The more people you meet, the more people will get to know you and learn about your business. And, every person you meet is a potential customer for your embroidery business.
Do you run an embroidery business?
What tips would you offer new embroidery business owners? I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Leave a comment below!
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