The designer/maker spectrum

When I first started my creative work it was totally a hobby. I had some materials lying around, owned a few tools, and liked to make things. So I made things! Initially furniture, and now also guitars and sculptural art work.

If you’re like me, eventually you had too many things lying around and you had to start selling them to either make some space or start funding your addiction to new tools. Others of us start off with the intention of being a full-time creative professional, or starting a side hustle so that we can work part time and be creative for another part.

No matter where you fall on this spectrum, there are advantages and risks to each placement. The biggest risk anywhere on the spectrum is undercutting each other and doing damage to the creative professional community. When I was a student I used to play music at events in exchange for things like drinks tickets or free attendance at other events. Later, when I became a full-time musician, I found that other hobbyist musicians (like I had been previously) were taking work out from under me by not putting an appropriate price on their services. If you respect creative people then you need to appropriately price your items. If you have surplus stock to clear out, make it obvious that you’re having a ‘clearance sale’ and name the percentage discount!

Many of us view other creatives as the competition and fail to think about the billions of dollars spent every day on mass-produced items. Our community are actually all working to gobble up the market of mass-produced stuff, which will only happen when we work together.

Below I’ve laid out the designer/maker spectrum as I see it, as well as a few of the advantages and risks of each place on it!

The spectrum

Introducing the most professional image you’ll ever see! The problem is that I’m less of a designer and more of a maker myself… Maybe I should carve the spectrum, or weld it together!

Designer/Maker Spectrum
Designer/Maker Spectrum

 

A. The Hobbyist

At one end we have a certain type of individual who kind of just likes making things. You occasionally sell items on Felt and maybe attend a market here and there. It’s mostly for fun, and sometimes covers its own costs, you think.

The advantage of selling as a hobbyist is that you can subsidise your passion, and keep your workspace slightly less cluttered. Rather than absorbing all costs you can start to make two or three of something at a time and sell the extras. You can experiment with new skills and make things with the intention of selling them before making another version that’s just perfect for your own design.

The biggest risk of being a hobbyist is undercutting professionals and devaluing the exact skills that you enjoy using. When you list your items and charge yourself out at slave-labour rates you are asking others to match you, whether you mean to or not. If you respect creative people then you need to appropriately price your items. If you need to just get rid of things then make it clear they are ‘priced for clearance’ and include the approximate discount as a percentage.

B. The side-hustle

People doing the side hustle view their creative work in a similar vein to a casual part-time job. It’s something you do weekly or monthly, or maybe as occasional week-long blasts. You are vaguely aware of your income relative to costs, and are making a wee income on the side that sometime pays for bits of life outside of the creative work itself.

Advantages of the side-hustle can be more significant than you realise. You can start to claim a lot of costs and offset your own personal taxes – i.e. you might get a tax refund. You can make some more income to fund your creative work and keep trying new skills. If you’re working from home then talk to an accountant about how you can claim some of your living costs, or start by reading this handy accounting cheat sheet we helped to create.

Risks that the side-hustle often bring include growing costs and stagnant income. We fail to account for all of the costs we are incurring and end up losing more money the busier we get. This often comes down to pricing, but can also relate to the growth of the business through things like equipment purchase or advertising costs. If you’re doing a side-hustle and you’re not confident with money or tax, then give your bank a call and ask to sit down for a free consultation with a business banking advisor. You’ll be surprised how helpful they are, and how much you can get done for free. You might decide that you want to be more of a part-timer after all.

C. The Part-timer

Part-timers treat their creative work like a part-time job. You’re doing something for it most days, or definitely most weeks. You know your costs, you have stock and have intentionally bought some things in bulk to keep your costs down. You probably have your own brand name, maybe a social media page or a simple website. You make money, and do it to make money, but also do it because you love your creative work.

Nailing it as a part-time creative is deeply satisfying, but is a lot more admin-heavy than a lot of people are prepared for. When it works you can have a really great time doing what you love. You can pull a lot of life’s costs into the business, and open yourself up for wholesale or retail selling. If you set yourself up as a business (read more about that at the end of page 2 of this document) then you might be thinking about growing or selling your business in the future. If that’s you, you should be talking to an accountant or bank, and perhaps a lawyer also.

The big risks of part-time designer/making mostly relate to the sheer number of things you are responsible for. Tax and finances, marketing and promotion, photography and Felt listings, postage and shipping, applying for and attending markets. And that’s before you’ve even designed or made anything!

When part-timers fail it’s usually because they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Step one is to make sure that you’re actually making money and keeping on top of your creative process and admin. Lay out the tasks you have to do in priority order. We recommend prioritising your craft – actually making your work, and then photography, pricing, and listings. After your items are actually listed and for sale in a desirable format then you can start to put time into further promotion as needed. If things are selling too fast, lift your prices. Too slowly? Review your photos and listings, and have a look at how to make use of social media. Lastly, schedule a time every month to keep on top of your money and tax obligations. If it takes you a long time then get an accountant!

D. Full-time creative

Full time creatives are, in essence, small business owners. You know all about your tax obligations, or pay someone to help with that. You understand the important balance between making and doing marketing and promotion. You are selective about which markets you attend and how much time you put into pursuing new things. Your friends and family know that your creative work is your job.

At this point, the world is your oyster. You can start to explore different relationships with your craft – running workshops and classes, advertising your skills for bespoke commissioned items (for the right fee), or selling your items or designs for royalties or wholesale.

The biggest risk for full-time creatives can be protection of your designs and style. If you intend to be in trade for years to come, or have a desire to sell some or all of your business then it’s worth looking into trademarks and this excellent report on copyright and the creative sector. It’s hard to give generalised advice but if you fit here and have specific questions or concerns then do get in touch on jason@felt.co.nz. I spend a lot of my time working with small business owners to help them take their next steps forward, and would love to help with any challenges you are facing.

Taking your place on the spectrum

What happens for many of us is that we don’t stop to think about where on the spectrum we would like to be, and end up getting caught between two positions. When this happens we can get the worst of both and miss out on the best of either.

You can either decide where you want to be and start acting accordingly, or you can look at where you’re actually at right now and settle more comfortably into that groove. Some of us feel the pressure to be ‘doing more of this’ or to become ‘more professional’, but the truth is that there is no wrong or right place to be.

Your creative life is yours to define and own, and we exist to help you do exactly what you want to do.

2 thoughts on “The designer/maker spectrum

  1. Thanks for the great article. Very insightful. It’s so important to be honest with yourself where you are currently at, then set goals to get where you want to go. I’m a full time creative, and the financial logistics of that sometimes threaten to take the creativity out of what I do. I find having a passion project or something fun along side the “Bread and butter” works well for this.

  2. Thanks Joe, and I totally agree about having a side project. It took me some time personally to ‘get sick’ of being creative all the time, but when it arrived I really mixed up the range of things I was doing. Sidenote: Loved seeing your work at New Frontiers this week! Ka pai, keep it up!

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