I am passionate about helping people start small business and specifically small businesses that define themselves as Upcycling Businesses.
And even more specifically, upcycling businesses that sell their products online. Let me explain…
So what is an Upcycling Business?
I’m going to be honest, this isn’t a super well used term. And when it is used it tends to be used in reference to furniture painters and no one else.
But for me it is wider than that. For me an upcycling business means a business where the maker uses a base material for the products they sell that no one else values.
Either the business owner is taking literal garbage or trash that you would find in a landfill or a recycling bin or it is just something that has lost its value over time, like a certain style of dated furniture, clothing or bric a brac (like a vase or a lamp shade).
So why am I so enthusiastic about these types of businesses?
Top Reasons to Start an Upcycling Business
By definition, because people generally don’t want the materials that these business owners are starting with – at least not in their current condition – there is a low barrier to entry for these businesses when you are talking about the cost to start producing their first products for sale.
Of course making upcycled products isn’t free – you need to pay for the supplies to transform the object into something someone else wants, but if you are creative all things considered an upcycling business is going to be cheaper to start than, for example, another type of handmade business where raw materials need to be purchased – sometimes at a premium.
I’ve talked about this elsewhere on the blog where I’ve discussed accounting for upcycling supplies in product prices at length.
Unique Selling Point
USP stands for Unique Selling Point in marketing speak.
And with an upcycling business you already have one right off the bat – you have turned something that otherwise would have remained unwanted into something valuable again. That’s pretty unique and pretty cool – I consider that a selling point!
And the more creative the upcycling is the more of a unique selling point it is.
I’ve worked with PangaeA Bags in the past – they make designer handbags out of broken unwanted footballs (or soccer balls if you are from the US). They are pretty cool and the fact that these sought-after bags are made from disused sports equipment is a pretty strong USP.
Okay, this is the obvious one.
Upcycling and starting with something that already exists as your base material is better for the environment. Simple as that.
We might all think we are disposing of less or doing our bit, but in reality, the amount of both actual rubbish and just old ‘stuff’ we throw out on a weekly basis as individuals is staggering!
Anyone who stops some of that stuff from being thrown away or even lying unused in storage somewhere and puts it to good use is amazing in my books.
The Power to Change Minds
Related to that last point, one of the reasons I love working with upcycling businesses so much is that just by being out in the world selling their products, and telling other people what they made them from, they are playing a role in changing people’s minds about what is valuable and useful and what isn’t.
Customers who buy (or even just see!) a set of drinking glasses made out of old wine bottles or a keychain made out of old typewriter keys are just bound to look at their own consumption just a little bit different afterwards.
Granted they tend to wax lyrical about how ‘I would never have the skills to do that – you are so creative!’ when speaking to the business owner and kind of tell themselves a story about why they couldn’t do it themselves (a bit of a cop out in my books as most crafts or skills aren’t actually that hard to learn if you really want to!)….but regardless, they have had their mind expanded by seeing those products at least just a little bit – and that can only be a good thing.
A key reason why I love upcycling businesses is tied up with one of the reasons why I just love upcycling full stop.
And that is the powerful feeling you get when you transform something unwanted, unloved and unused into something valuable, admired and useful again.
That’s an amazing thing to be able to do. I’ve written in the past about how it can be beneficial to people’s mental health and for a small business owner this holds true as well.
If you can start with something that nobody wants, transform it and sell it enough times to feed your family and put a roof over your head…..I mean just imagine the level of confidence that would give you!
That’s the definition of empowerment as far as I’m concerned.
Why Upcycling Businesses Should be Online
So maybe you are sold on how great upcycling businesses are but you are wondering why I mentioned that I am particularly enthusiastic about upcycling businesses that sell online?
Don’t upcyclers tend to sell their products at craft fairs and markets?
They do, but I don’t personally think that is the easiest or fastest way for these types of businesses to grow.
You can Reach more Customers
Now it’s horses for courses in terms of where you should be selling your products, and I’ve talked a lot with my upycling start up business students about ways to research their own niche and their own customers to really get an idea of where it is best for their specific business to be selling.
But that said, it is just easier to reach more people online than offline and it’s even easier to reach more of a specific type of person – that person who is the ideal customer for what you are selling.
You can target your advertising methods to exactly those people you know would need want or value what you are selling….and many more of them than you could ever get in front of at an in-person event or storefront.
And yes you do need to advertise! No one is going to ‘discover’ you unless you make it easy for them! This is a subject I could go on about at length but I won’t do it here. But I will just say that it is much cheaper to advertise online if you are super clear about who you want to advertise to – pop me an email or download our free Upcycling Business Quick Start Guide if you want more on this subject.
Design a Life on your own Terms
Not everything I love about small businesses or online business has to do with just upcycling businesses.
I have run both an upcycling business and an e-commerce business (my current main source of income) and what is the most valuable for me about it is being able to ‘be my own boss’ as they say.
Don’t get me wrong that can be hard too, but for me as a mum of 2 young kids, my ‘why’ for starting my current business was all about time freedom and time flexibility.
I think in all sorts of different stages of life working for someone else can be really limiting and constraining.
It isn’t just as a parent that you have other pulls on your time. As we get older many of us have elderly relatives to care for that can’t easily be done before 9am and after 5pm.
But really don’t get me started on all the reasons why working a job with set hours (especially those set by someone else) is neither healthy or particularly productive…this is my personal bug bear – can you tell?
I started my online business when my first son was a baby because I couldn’t negotiate the flexible working I wanted with my full time salaried managerial office job, and frankly, I haven’t looked back. It was stressful at the time, but in hindsight it was the best choice I ever made.
I’ve been able to replace my full time income working less hours and giving me time to be more creative and pursue my passion – upcycling.
The thing with an online business is that often times the hard graft is upfront.
You need to get your positioning right, you need to set yourself up on the right online marketplaces for your business, and you need to work on things like product listings, keywords and photography.
No doubt all those things take time. But once you’ve learned them and you’ve done them once they become less and less time consuming each time you do them.
Now I can’t help asking myself – where would I have been able to take my upcycling business (that I had before my kids), if I had known some of the models, concepts and systems that I learned when I had to hustle and research to set up my e-commerce business?
I feel like I could have made that my full time job, I just didn’t have the tools at the time.
Now that business ended for more personal reasons that I’ve talked about elsewhere but nonetheless it’s part of the reason why I have what might sound like a bit of a strange passion for helping upcycling businesses to learn how to sell online.
The End of Local Shops?
Now I don’t want you to misunderstand me here at all – I am not against local shops, craft fairs or any other type of in-person selling. I’ve been a stall holder at these types of markets and fairs…and a customer too.
It’s great to go out and actually touch and feel the things you are going to purchase and speak to the person who actually made it with their own hands.
I just think from the maker and the seller’s point of view that type of selling should only be a small part of the mix. We live in uncertain times and right now, and most probably into the future, online selling is going to be more reliable, easier and more scalable.
Scalable just means you can sell to more people without having to double or triple your efforts. Let’s face it there are only so many craft fairs or handmade markets you can get to yourself…and you do still need to have time to make your products after all!
Even if you own your own brick and mortar shop you’d be missing a trick not to also have an online presence.
Think of it as a bit of insurance – whatever happens to business rates, temporary shop closures or other variables you can always reach your customers online and those customers can be located so much further afield than the folk who would naturally be walking past your shop door on a day to day basis.
What kind of products can you sell online?
One myth I hear a lot is that you can’t sell upcycled products online because they are all one of a kind and therefore it would take far too long to list them and promote them.
I just have to fundamentally disagree with that. There are lots of ways of grouping products or having example listings for commissioned products that work just fine for even those businesses that ONLY deal with one of a kind sales.
All things being equal though it will be easier to sell online if what you make is at least somewhat repeatable – as in you make similar items over and over with slight variations.
It will also be easier to sell online if the items yo make are small to medium in size and easily shipped.
Now that doesn’t mean you can’t sell furniture and other bulky items online, you absolutely can but you’ll be making your money on fewer items sold at a higher price rather than dealing with increasing the total items you sell – which would likely be the strategy if you have smaller more shippable items.
What does it take to start an online upcycling business?
Are you interested in starting an upcycling business? Are you afraid to even say you want to start a business?
I get it. My upcycling business was what I would have called a ‘hobby business’ or a ‘side hustle’ when I was running it. Frankly that’s probably one of the reasons why it didn’t go as far as it could have.
The difference between my upcycling business and my successful e-commerce business is not the products I was selling but the attitude I had towards those two businesses.
When I was running my upcycling business I had a full time job, there was no imperative for me to make it any more than a hobby business for a bit of extra cash.
The drive to get that time freedom and the necessity to make money to live didn’t come until I had my kids and I felt like I didn’t have any other option.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s relatively easy to start a side hustle or a hobby business. The difficult bit is taking that side business and turning it into your livelihood – the main place you make your money to live.
Many people think that if they start a hobby business and their products are ‘good enough’ they will ‘take off’ or ‘be discovered’ and there will be a point where it just makes more sense to concentrate on the business than on whatever they were doing for money before.
Having worked with a range of businesses, I have to say this kind of business progression is a bit of a fairytale.
In my experience the ones who truly make this transition are the ones who have a really strong desire to make their upcycling or their craft their full time job.
Because it’s that desire that gives you the reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other and that putting one foot in front of the other is the real difference between those who succeed and those who don’t. Those who DO and KEEP DOING on a consistent basis are the ones who get where they are going.
I’d love to hear what you think about all my rantings from my soap box! Have you ever thought about starting an upcycling business? Is something standing in your way? Is the idea of selling online exciting to you or scary? I read and respond to every comment I get, and I would so love to hear what you think so do scroll down and leave me a comment!
If you want to dive deeper into what you should be doing first to start an upcycling business download our FREE Upcycling Business Quick Start Guide here.
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If you are looking for more small business tips and ideas check out these posts too:
- How to Price your Upcycled Handmade Products
- 9 Ways to Beat Imposter Syndrome for Creative Business Owners
- How to Flip Furniture
- How to Find Free Furniture & What to Do With It!
- 31 Books about Upcycling to help you waste less and make more!
- What is Upcycling & What can you Upcycle?
- A Small Business Owner Story: From Side Hustle to Ditching the Day Job