Offering classes has a few advantages over other sewing businesses. It requires less investment in materials ahead of time, and you know exactly how long it will take and what techniques you’ll be using. With pre-registration, you’ll know how many students you’ll have, and can cancel classes if there’s not enough interest. Though it may seem like sewing classes are an ideal way to make extra money from your sewing skills, there are definitely some things to consider before getting started. Check out these ideas for creating and marketing your own sewing classes!
1. See what’s already available
Before plunging headfirst into planning your new classes, first take some time to assess what kinds of classes are already available in your area. Lots of craft stores offer different types of sewing courses, as do some community colleges, quilting clubs, 4-H groups, and other community organizations. If there are lots of sewing classes on offer in your area, you might have to do some careful planning in order for your business to compete. Remember, as much as you enjoy your craft, if a business can’t get customers, it’s hard to stay afloat! It’s not a bad idea to check out some of the classes on offer in your area. Not only will it help you get ideas about what works in a classroom environment and what doesn’t, you’ll also be able to see what kinds of skills are being taught and better assess how you might offer classes that complement, rather than compete. If only basic projects are being taught, perhaps you can offer classes on more advanced level techniques, or if the local classes tend to focus on garment construction, consider offering classes on quilting or specific skills like applique.
2. Assess your skills
One of the great things about designing your own classes is that you can play to your strengths. Be honest about your abilities and the kinds of skills you feel confident you can teach to others. Sewing is a very broad category, and no one needs to excel in every aspect of it. If you’re a dollmaker and do most of your sewing by hand, that’s great! You have lots of techniques to share, so don’t worry about teaching your students how to use a serger in garment work. If you want to offer expertise in more areas, you can always team up with another local sewing enthusiast who has a different specialty. This is a great way to learn new skills for yourself as well! Though it’s important to know how advanced your skills are in different areas, it’s also good to remember that many beginning students will still need to learn the very basics, including how to measure fabric, what types of fabric are suitable for different projects, and what kinds of tools they’ll be using. Don’t be afraid to start from square one. You can always jump ahead if your class has more background knowledge.
3. Think about the finances
One of the ugly truths about start-up businesses is that many of them fail. The good news is that you can prevent your business from being one of them by making a plan before you start your business. First, think about your goal. Is this a side business that you’re hoping adds a few hundred dollars to your income each month, or are you planning to earn your full income from this business? With that number in mind, it’s time to look at the figures. What will your expenses be? Are you hosting classes in your home, or renting a location? Are you providing materials to your students, or will they have to bring their own? Don’t forget to include your time, travel, and materials for your own demonstration projects. Now compare your expenses to your goal income. This will help you determine how many students and how many classes you will need to reach your goal. Keep your earlier research in mind. If most of the classes in your area charge $20 per student, you may struggle to get $50 per student for similar classes. Though creating your business plan can be a little eye-opening, don’t get discouraged. Be very honest with yourself about what you are willing and able to do, and about what is financially feasible. It’s better for your new business to have a slow start than to fail after you’ve invested your time and energy into creating it.
4. Consider the legal ramifications
In the excitement of planning your new business, it’s easy to forget about all the official paperwork that goes along with it. There are many different things to consider. Should your business be a single-proprietor organization? What exactly is a limited liability company, and what does it have to do with your business? Because your classes are educational, you may even be able to qualify as a non-profit organization, which has completely different legal and tax requirements than for-profit companies. When it comes to law and taxes, it’s definitely time to consult with experts. Talk to a lawyer, an accountant, or a small business advisor to determine exactly what’s best for your business vision.
Some people avoid officially creating their business as a legal entity because of the fees and taxes involved, but there are also major benefits to having your business on paper, including the ability to write off certain expenses, small business tax breaks, legal protection and other financial incentives. It’s also a signal to potential students that you’re a professional who takes your work seriously, meaning they might be more likely to choose your classes over something less official, even if yours are a bit more expensive.
5. Design your classes
You’ve crunched the numbers, done your research, and talked to some business experts. What’s next? The fun part! Now it’s time to design your classes. Your self-assessment of your skills will come in very handy here as you figure out your overall theme. Are you teaching quilting? Garment construction? Tailoring and alterations? Start with this main theme, and then break it down into sections. These will look very different depending on what you’re teaching, and other factors, like how big your classes are, but the main idea is the same. Each class should build on the preceding one (or a student’s existing knowledge) to help them reach the final goal (like piecing their own quilt or making and fitting a dress).
For example, say you’re teaching a class to children who are learning to sew for the first time. The goal is to teach them the basics of hand sewing and machine sewing. Your first class might cover how to use the equipment safely (scissors and hot irons and sewing machines could be a nightmare without safety considerations!). At the second class, they could move on to using hand-sewing techniques and using a pattern to create a simple project. Felt projects, since they don’t fray and don’t require hemming, are especially good projects for this kind of class. At their third class, move up to using a sewing machine to create a simple nine-patch quilt block, demonstrating how to cut fabric with the grain, properly pin pieces together, use a sewing machine for simple straight seams, and press those seams open. For their final, most advanced project, students can create a second quilt block and turn the pair of them into a throw pillow. Teach students how to properly clip corners and turn the pillow right side out, and how to use ladder stitch to invisibly close the last seam after stuffing the pillow. This final project calls on them to use all the skills they’ve learned throughout your course, and gives them a useful final product they can be proud of.
There are many different sewing projects that can be created relatively quickly and rely on a wide variety of skills. Check out this list for more ideas as you plan your new classes!
6. Think about branding
The easiest way to market your classes is to let them market themselves. That means creating a strong brand. Your brand is the image you create for your business, and it encompasses everything from what kind of classes you teach to the colors in your logo. Think about the words you want people to associate with your business. Creative? Spontaneous? Kid-friendly? If that’s the vibe you’re going for, opt for bright colors and bold fonts in your logo, website, handouts, print materials, and anything else you create. On the other hand, if you’re teaching classes on couture techniques, you want something classic, refined, and elegant. Black and white might be just the ticket, with a beautiful calligraphic script or simple serif font. Just be sure to be consistent. As you build your brand image, people will begin to associate your logo with your work, making it much easier to get the word out about your new business.
7. Use your community assets
When you’re first getting started with your classes, community assets can mean the difference between success and failure. Not only can you find groups that can help you test your class material—for example, local 4-H groups or after-school programs make great test-cases to hone your kids’ classes—but these groups may also help you find spaces to hold your classes or extra equipment for your students to use during class. Talk to local craft stores, sewing clubs, schools, and community centers. Many may be willing to work with you in exchange for donated class time, which can be a great way to build your brand, though do be sure to balance your volunteer work with paid opportunities to keep your business viable. If you’re running your classes as a non-profit educational organization, these groups might also be able to help with fundraising and donations. As part of your initial business research, it might be a good idea to create a list of all the community resources that could come in handy later on.
8. Don’t neglect the Internet!
Sewing is a time-honored tradition that dates back thousands and thousands of years, so it seems a little strange that it pairs so well with modern technology like the Internet. The vast majority of your potential students will rely on the Internet to tell them whether your classes will meet their needs, so when they type your business into Google, you want to make sure you turn up. Even if you don’t have a big budget or a lot of technological know-how, there are plenty of options for creating a simple (and free!) web presence.
- Create a website— There are lots of free hosting sites that will let you create a website using a drag-and-drop editor and beautiful, professional templates. These free versions will require you to allow the host site to advertise on your website, but once your budget increases, you can upgrade to remove the ads.
- Use social media— A Facebook page or a Twitter or Instagram profile is a great way to connect with potential students. For some small businesses, Facebook pages are even taking the place of a traditional websites. Choose the platform(s) that make the most sense for you. If you never use Twitter, don’t bother with a profile. No profile at all is better than one that hasn’t seen use in weeks!
- Utilize your email signature— This is such a simple trick lots of people overlook it. Adding a line about your business, with contact information, to your email signature makes it an almost brainless way to get the word out without being overt or pushy. Most people send at least an email or two every day. Why not make that part of your marketing routine?
When it comes to starting and marketing your own sewing classes, it might seem like there’s just too much to think about. Break it down into small, manageable pieces, and once the logistics are taken care of, you’ll have more time to focus on what you love—sewing!