Want to start your own quilting business? Take these steps first…

August 9, 2016

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If you love machine quilting, it’s possible to turn your passion into a nice income. In this post I’ve pulled together some steps to make your machine quilting business successful while keeping the fun in it.

1. Start with a business plan

While it’s certainly possible to start a business with just a few scribbled notes on a cocktail napkin, it’s much harder to actually make that business a success without some serious planning and forecasting.

Your business plan acts like a road map for your company. It should include a description of your business, an outline of how you will manage it, a list of services you will provide (e.g. quilting, piecing, binding), products you will sell (batting, thread, fabric, notions), an analysis of your market and competitors (other longarm quilters in your area), financial projections (what do you expect to earn in 1, 3 and 5 years) and a marketing/advertising plan.

You don’t need a lawyer or other professional to help you with a business plan, but you may need their services once you decide to take the plunge. Look for someone who specializes in small businesses to help you decide what type of business structure is best for you, such as a sole proprietorship, limited liability corporation (LLC), or S-Corporation. Each type has a different tax impact and liability risk. You may also need help from an accountant and insurance broker, along with a financial institution.

You can get started using the Sample Business Plan from APQS as a template for creating your own personalized plan.

2. Research your market

It’s one thing to quilt for a handful of friends and family members for a small fee or for bartered services, but if you expect to expand beyond your inner circle and hobby status you’ll need to do more legwork.

Find out about quilting in your area. How many quilt guilds are there? How far do the members travel to the meetings? (This will tell you whether they may be willing to travel farther to bring you their quilts.) What piecing and quilting styles are popular in your area? Do quilters tend to make quilts as gifts or for everyday use, or are there more “competitive” quilters? (This will help you discover how to create a niche for your business.) Talk with the quilt shops and fabric shops in your area. What do they see as trends? Where do they get their store samples quilted? Can you create a cooperative arrangement that benefits you both?

Learn about your competition. What other longarm businesses are in your area? What types of machine quilting do they do? Find ways to differentiate yourself from your competition by looking for needs you can fill. For example, can you offer a faster turn-around time? How about machine binding services? If other longarm businesses are booked out more than a few weeks then that is a great sign that there is room for your business.

3. Hone your skills

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Before jumping head-first into a longarm business, make sure you have something to offer that will make customers happy and come back for more. You don’t need a huge stock pile of designs or a wide skill set to get started, but it is very important that whatever you do, you do it well.

It’s okay to start with a small “bag of tricks.” Perhaps you have eight to 10 overall designs that you do really well, and you can do them quickly. That means your customers have enough variety to choose from with the advantage of getting their quilts back in short order.

Don’t feel pressured to take on quilts that require a skill set that you have not yet developed. If your customer expects feathers but you’ve never done them before, it’s better to politely turn down the job or to ask the customer for time to practice first. Then show your customer samples of your work to gain approval. Word of mouth will be your best form of advertising, so you want those words to be positive.

4. Determine your commitment

How much time can you devote to your new business? Quilting for yourself means you can set your own schedule. Once you start quilting for others you can still set your schedule, but it will soon become full of deadlines for customer quilts.

Sometimes the allure of more income can take over your calendar and can leave little time for what made machine quilting “fun” in the first place. Be sure to budget time for your own quilts so that you can continue to do what you love so you don’t have to “work” at it!

Check out the Start a Business section on the APQS website for more insights about starting a longarm quilting business.

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