Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there! I’m Mike – also known as The Crafty Gentleman. I run a DIY and craft blog from my home in the UK. Through my blog, I share simple craft tutorials you can make yourself at home – ranging from sewing to woodwork, and everything in between! My simple goal is to make crafting accessible to everyone.
My main revenue stream is sponsored brand partnerships, whereby a company pays me a fee to feature their product within one of my blog posts. Over the years, I’ve worked with some really cool brands – Etsy, Hobbycraft, Cricut, Pinterest, Gorilla Glue, Singer, Janome, Brother, Bosch, and lots more.
I also recently launched an online shop, selling craft accessories and gifts for the modern maker. All items are designed, handmade, and packaged by me from my home studio.
As well as running my website, I also make regular appearances on national television, and at craft events across the UK and internationally. I was recently named the 5th most popular DIY blogger in the UK, and my work has been featured across The BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, The Telegraph, NBC, and more. Despite these successes, it’s still a ‘pinch me’ feeling that I get to make money from my hobby!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve always been interested in crafts and DIY. As a young child, I used to spend hours and hours making scrapbooks, cards, decorations, and gifts – and I’ve never grown out of it!
I got my very first sewing machine when I was about 17, and it quite literally changed my life. I felt like I had a superpower, it was amazing! It opened up a whole new world of crafting to me and inspired me to seek out even more ways to up my craft skills.
However, by the time I’d reached my early 20s, I was feeling pretty disconnected from the craft industry. It was set up for a different demographic to me. I was a young man, but I felt everything was aimed at older women or young children. Haberdasheries were full of pinks and florals. I struggled to find craft supplies and projects that I liked.
So I decided to do what any good millennial would do: I started a blog. I started posting simple craft tutorials of the things I like to make – completely on a whim, with no plan for it to become a business. But soon, my readership began increasing. And then I started to get approached by brands offering sponsorships deals. It was pretty crazy!
I quickly realized that I’d tapped into a niche market of contemporary, accessible, gender-neutral crafts. I put together a rate card and started working with brands and sponsors. I also began teaching craft workshops across the country and doing regular media appearances – including television work. And everything else has grown very organically from there.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When I first began offering sponsored blog and social media posts, it was a very straightforward process. I designed a simple media pack (which had an overview of my blog, my audience demographics, follower numbers, and some of the brands I’d worked with). I then started sharing that 1-pager document with the brands that reached out to me, along with the fees I charge for specific content creation work.
For a long time, I was hesitant to charge for my work – I was happy to work in exchange for products. But there came a point where I was being offered more work than I could have said yes to – something had to change. So I started to charge for partnerships. And brands agreed, no questions asked!
This process was simple to set up, but it’s saved me endless hours of back-and-forth emails with every company that gets in touch!
The main challenge was (and continues to be) calculating an appropriate fee for my work. Not only do I need to consider the time it will take, the skill and complexity required, and the associated costs I might need to absorb (like consumable craft supplies) – but I also need to put a value on the audience I’ve built, which the brand will have access to through the work I do. It’s been a journey of many years to reach a fee that I feel accurately and fairly reflects all of these considerations. I’ve spoken with peers, researched online, and tested the water with a varying range of fees.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I unknowingly started my business back in 2013, when it was just a hobby. There was no launch strategy or business plan – it was all very slow and organic. I started with a free WordPress domain, I took photos on my iPhone and I treated it simply as an extension of my social media. It wasn’t designed to make money; it was just for fun.
I got my first brand deals coming through after about a year and was making a regular income by 2016/17. It was around this time that I started to treat it more like a business. I tightened up my branding with a consistent color palette and visual identity. I invested in better equipment, moved to a self-hosted domain, and put together a more structured service offering. In 2019, I was making enough money that I was able to go part-time in my day job.
I’ve learned so many invaluable things from this non-typical journey to business ownership. I’ve learned all about website hosting, coding, photography, editing, and branding. If I’d started with the ambition of creating a business, I would probably have outsourced a lot of this work to specialists. But, because I was just doing it for fun to start with, I just got stuck in and explored things on my own. Yes, I made a lot of mistakes along the way (like accidentally switching off my entire website!) – but that’s the best way to learn.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
One of the most important aspects of my business is website traffic. It’s one of my main assets, and one of the key reasons that brands want to work with me. So attracting new visitors to my site, whilst retaining existing ones, is crucial.
Make sure you enjoy what you do. If you focus on an industry or niche that you’re passionate about, the journey will be so much easier.
I spend a lot of effort on website SEO, making my site as search-engine-friendly as possible. This often influences the content that I create (through keyword research), as well as how I make it (word counts, image sizes, page structure, etc). I’m also very active on social media, especially Instagram and Pinterest. Outside of Google, Pinterest is my main traffic driver – I get more than 730,000 unique viewers on my Pinterest content every month.
Once on my site, I try to make it as easy as possible for the reader to stay. I have easy-to-navigate menus, so you can scroll through my 100s of craft tutorials quickly. I end every post with a plugin widget that recommends which posts to read next. I also have a simple pop-up to capture email addresses, and another to encourage people to follow me on Instagram – so they can explore my content on other channels, too.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The last 6-12 months have been the most successful yet for my business. I’m making regular revenue through multiple streams, including sponsorships, media appearances, influencer work, and passive ad revenue. My website traffic is at an all-time high, and growing – as are my social media followings.
I’m also working on some really big partnerships at the moment, although I’m sadly not able to give specific details yet! But they’re the biggest projects I’ve ever worked on – due to launch in the next 1-2 years.
If you run a creative business, it’s also really important to develop a consistent visual identity.
I’m also continuing to develop my online shop. After a successful launch last month, sales have understandably slowed down a little – so I’m currently working on some marketing ideas for the run-up to Christmas.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The core of my business model is brand partnerships, and this has been a steep learning curve. For a long time, I was hesitant to charge for my work – I was happy to work in exchange for products. This was okay at the start, as I was building an audience and learning the ropes. But there came a point where I was being offered more work than I could have said yes to – something had to change. So I started to charge for partnerships. And brands agreed, no questions asked!
So I upped my prices to what I felt (at the time) was a slightly ridiculous fee. But brands were still happy to pay it because they could see and appreciate the value they would get in return. It was a real lesson in the importance of charging what you’re worth, not what you think they can afford.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My website is built on a self-hosted WordPress domain. I purchased a pre-designed website theme, which I’ve customized through my coding edits.
My online shop is managed through Woocommerce, which has a great WordPress plugin – so it seamlessly integrates with my main website and keeps all of my traffic on one domain. Of course, I use Google Analytics as my primary web analytics tool.
I use a Canon EOS 80D and Adobe Photoshop to take and edit all of the photos for my site. I also run them through a free online tool called Tinypng to optimize the image file sizes, which helps with load times.
My mailing list and CRM is run on Mailchimp. I’ve got a pretty small mailing list (approx. 1000 records), so their free account is perfect.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The Hashtag Authentic podcast by Sara Tasker is great for anyone running a small online business. I’d also recommend the book The Multi-Hyphen Method by Emma Gannon (and her podcast, Ctrl Alt Delete) – it fundamentally changed how I think about work.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
It’s pretty obvious, but make sure you enjoy what you do. If you focus on an industry or niche that you’re passionate about, the journey will be so much easier. It’s not all going to be fun (you can never avoid tax returns and chasing up invoices!), but the core of what you do has to be enjoyable.
I’d also highlight the importance of investing in yourself. After all, you are the business. Take online courses, attend workshops, build a network of peers. Keep learning, and keep growing your skills.
If you run a creative business, it’s also really important to develop a consistent visual identity. I used to have a pretty scattergun approach to my branding, but have since put a lot of work into my brand aesthetics – and I’m so glad I did! For instance, I use a lot of cold colors (blues, greens, whites, greys) and focus on simple, minimal designs. A consistent visual style will make your work more recognizable and memorable.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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