Everything You Need to Know to Start Your Craft Brand

By Ben Zifkin founder of Hubba.

Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

How many things do you own that you love?

Make a list of the products and services you actually enjoy buying. If I was doing this exercise, at the top of my list would be The Dollar Shave Club.

Why? Because they took a generic, awful experience — buying overpriced razors at the store — and replaced it with something simple and comfortable.

Where giant retailers feel clunky to interact with, The Dollar Shave Club feels intelligent.

The Dollar Shave Club was the quintessential craft brand. They took something basic, perfected it, and put it directly in their customers hands.

We’ve all daydreamed of doing something similar. Everyone has something they’re passionate about, that they know they could do better than any existing business. But they don’t.

The notion that building a brand is too complex, expensive, and time-consuming for one person holds most people back. But the truth is this:

It has never been easier or more cost effective to start your own craft brand.

This guide will cover how to validate your idea, how to start production, how to market your craft brand, and how to get your product to your customers, all without a big company’s budget.

Once you’ve finished reading this, you’ll have no excuse for not launching your craft brand.

How To Validate Your Idea For A Craft Brand

The biggest struggle you’re going to face before starting your craft brand is validating your idea.

1. How To Find A Market For Your Craft Brand

Trying to define your idea without the proper context will leave you frustrated, so your first step is to scope out the world you want to play in and see where you fit:

  1. Visit a retailer in-person or online and look for products like yours.
  2. Note what brands are being sold and what products those brands are selling.
  3. Do this research for every retailer where you would consider selling your product.

Firsthand knowledge of the retail landscape helps you understand how products like yours are being categorized and reveals if there’s an opening your craft brand can fill.

Once you know your product category, you can determine your USP — unique selling proposition:

  • What makes my product stand out from its competitors?
  • How am I going to deliver unique value or meet an unaddressed need?
  • How can I raise the expectations customers have of products in my category?

Once you’ve got a handle on your product’s category and its USP, the final step in validating your idea is talking with as many people as you can about it.

2. How To Learn About Your Own Idea — By Talking Too Much

Seek out advice from people who’ve created a product, chat with friends of friends who can give impartial feedback, and get input of retail buyers.

Not only will you receive some insightful feedback, but by explaining your idea to a thousand different people, you’ll start to understand it at a much deeper level.

Every conversation also increases the likelihood that someone says to you, “If you’re going to do this, I need to introduce you to this person who can help you get started.”

Without even asking for help, you’re now building out your network.

You may already have a network in place if the world you’ve chosen is a familiar one, but if you’re jumping into something new, new acquaintances can connect you with:

  • Creative entrepreneurs who can give you new ideas.
  • Retailers that can give feedback on your product.
  • Investors who can give you start-up funding.
  • Suppliers that can help with the logistics of your business.

Validating your idea might feel abstract compared to something like production, but a craft brand built on a bad idea is not built to last.

Speaking of production…

How To Start Production When Your Craft Brand Has No Budget

Creating a brand has historically been a massive, expensive endeavor.

You needed a mountain of capital to build or lease facilities, procure bulk quantities of all your materials, and pay a manufacturer to produce an entire product line for you.

No more. There are two things you need to know to get production started:

1. How To Pick The Supplier For Your Craft Brand

Before the craft brand model emerged, brands had to hope the product their supplier gave them resembled their original vision.

Now, you can work with multiple manufacturers to get samples of your product, and when you choose one, you can ask that manufacturer to produce smaller batch orders.

You can also solicit suggestions from your network, research those companies online, and avoid getting stuck with a supplier you hate.

You don’t have to wonder if you should pay a premium for a North American supplier, or opt for the cost effectiveness and potential headaches that come with using an overseas supplier.

People who love or hate their manufacturer are always happy to share details with you.

2. How To Articulate Your Craft Brand’s Vision

Selecting the supplier that’s right for your craft brand is only the first step toward production. The next challenge you face is articulating what you want that supplier to produce.

Explaining your idea to people with broad generalizations is easy. Diving into the nitty gritty of an idea that’s only existed in your head in order to create a tangible product is difficult.

Once you articulate what you want, you must decide how to properly measure and evaluate whether the manufacturer actually executed your vision.

Don’t be one of those craft brands that chases multiple suppliers across different continents because you don’t know what you want.

A proper quality assurance framework can save you years of frustration and wasted money.

Once you’ve produced your craft product, you have to get people interested.

How To Market Your Craft Brand — And Beat Big Companies

You have a product that you know is special — how do you convey that to people?

In “The Rise of the Craft Brand” we looked at how Hampton Creek tackled this problem with Just Mayo, their plant-based, egg free, healthier alternative to traditional mayonnaise.

As a craft brand, Hampton Creek knew it couldn’t go toe-to-toe with a goliath like Hellmann’s that could offer cheaper prices and better retailer availability.

What Hampton Creek learned is that craft brands don’t have to run with the big boys.

1. How To Grow Your Craft Brand With Inbound Marketing

Consumers are increasingly looking to buy from brands with a story to tell.

Much like the production phase, marketing was historically costly for new brands. It meant taking out print ads, doing massive promotions to retailers, or splurging on a Super Bowl ad.

Old world marketing required tons of capital and new brands struggled to compete with huge companies and their multimillion-dollar advertising budgets.

New world marketing is about creating amazing inbound content marketing channels.

To sell its high-quality dog shampoo, World of Angus connected with dog owners by building the world’s most extensive database of dog parks, establishing two websites dedicated to dog content, and actively maintaining social media accounts to share photos and stories.

The aim of these online platforms isn’t to sell dog shampoo. World of Angus wants to add value to the lives of dog owners by connecting them with others in their community.

Inbound content marketing resonates with customers more than traditional advertising and costs pennies on the dollar compared to the old world approach.

What content can you create for your craft brand that will add value to your customers’ lives?

2. Make Your Audience Work For You With Influencer Marketing

Another option for craft brands that’s emerged recently is influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing doesn’t mean getting Kim Kardashian as your company’s spokesperson, but rather connecting your craft brand with influential people in your category.

World of Angus could send shampoo samples to a popular dog blogger. Hampton Creek might contact a YouTube star who reviews food about a possible Just Mayo review.

There are entire suites of tools dedicated to making influencer marketing easy for you. Want to prospect key influencers in your niche? Try the free version of Followerwonk.

Do your research. Compile a list of 10 ideal influencers in your category and reach out to them with an offer. Hustle and figure out the best way to get to them.

Consumers are more likely to believe your product is awesome if they hear it from a third party they trust rather than hearing it from you. The message comes across as more genuine.

Influencer marketing reaches a connected, passionate audience that your craft brand couldn’t reach on its own, plus it’s cheaper than traditional advertising, even if you pay influencers.

How To Distribute Your Craft Brand To Your Customers

Society has come a long way from the days of moving products on cargo ships and trains. Now there are drones delivering your Amazon packages and Uber drivers bringing you food.

You don’t need a warehouse or a fleet of trucks to get your products from point A to B — there are entire companies who can do that for you.

The process of deciding how to do that looks the same as it did on the manufacturing side:

  • Decide if an on-demand or bulk production model is right for your brand.
  • Solicit suggestions for drop shippers and third-party logistics companies.
  • Research those suggestions and test them out until you find the right fit.

Logistics companies are in flux right now as they adjust to world with Uber and drone delivery.

The rapidly shifting landscape has empowered small craft brands to design fulfillment solutions that work for them instead of accepting whatever logistics companies tell them.

Rather than shipping products in a full truck, what if you shared a truck with multiple craft brands and split the cost? Go a step further: Instead of using a truck, what if you had a workforce of 20 people who delivered products in their cars and you paid them per delivery?

Get creative with this fulfillment piece and find a logistics company that’s open to new ideas.

Every step of starting your craft brand involves building good relationships. If you build trust with the companies that produce, distribute, and deliver your product, you’ll increase your chances of creating a successful business and save your sanity in the process.

How To Run Your Craft Brand from Your Garage

What do juggernaut brands like Apple, Disney, HP, and Microsoft have in common?

They were all started out of someone’s garage.

Those companies have all since opened sprawling facilities all over the world, but as a craft brand, you can set up shop in your garage and never leave.

If you can use third party companies to manufacture, distribute, and ship your product, you can take the same approach when it comes to managing the back end of your business.

Craft brands don’t need to invest heavily in infrastructure or hire a large team.

You and a few employees can manage your inventory on Stitch Labs, sell online through Shopify, and use cloud-based servers through Amazon.

Don’t want to handle customer support or website development? Outsource it to a third party.

Forget about a marketing team — you can develop content in-house and distribute it through blog platforms and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube.

A small team with the right vision and passion for their brand can accomplish something that used to take an army of employees and millions of dollars in infrastructure.

When you add it all up, there has never been a better time to start your craft brand.

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Ben Zifkin is the Founder and CEO of Hubba, a B2B product information network that let’s brands share rich product content with their trading partners. Hubba has been recognized as one of Canada’s Top 3 Best New Startups, Top 20 Most Innovative Companies and Fast 50 Companies to Watch. Ben has spent the last decade helping some of the world’s largest organizations leverage technology to meet their business goals. Living and working in North America, Europe and Asia, Ben has become a trusted advisor to retail and brand executives.

You can follow Ben on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Originally published at medium.com on October 31, 2016.