Support Your Habit: 7 Ways to Make Your Beads Pay for Themselves

You’ve taken the classes, and you’re competent in most of the stitches. You’re on a first-name basis with bead-store owners, and you have an inventory you’d be hard-pressed to use up in your lifetime. You know your beads, and you use top quality materials. You’re not an intermediate beader any more. Where do you go from here?

Taking the leap from hobbyist to professional can be scary. Before deciding whether or not to make beadwork a career, test the waters with these proven activities for earning money with your bead skills. At the least, you’ll discover ways to offset the cost of playing with your beads.

1. Teaching

You probably know how classes are conducted in your area—make your proposal a seamless fit with what’s already available. Develop a unique project or teach a beginner’s class at your local bead store, community center, senior center, community college, alternative community education program, city parks and recreation program, or hobby store. Be sure to get permission from other bead artists with whom any projects and techniques you teach are clearly identified. If you’ve never taught before, don’t worry. Use your local bead group as a training ground to develop your classroom presence.

2. Writing

Write articles for beadwork, craft, jewelry, hobby, or children’s magazines. Read a few issues first (a collection CD is the best way to do this for Beadwork) to get a feel for the style of each publication, then send for contributors’ guidelines. These guidelines explain how and when to submit article proposals. They’re easy to write: Just include a working title, a paragraph or two describing the article, and photographs, if suitable. Don’t submit to several magazines simultaneously. Instead, send the proposal to the magazine you’d most like to work with, but if it’s rejected, don’t assume your article is not publishable. Send it on to your next choice, and call or e-mail the magazine if you don’t hear from them in a few weeks. Beadwork editors don’t mind if you’re not a professional writer, but if you want to polish your writing skills, practice first by writing for your bead society newsletter or an on-line forum.

your beads

WORD Contributor Linda Peterson ‘s version of Kassie Shaw’s Vortices Bracelet.

3. Speaking Engagements

Bead societies across the country pay for speakers on a variety of subjects: history, collecting, show reviews, techniques, special stones, gemlore, travelogues, and more. Develop a slide show or an engaging talk and present it to your local group first. Slide shows require a financial investment, but they can be presented again and again. Keep in mind that quilters’ and embroiderers’ guilds, gem and mineral societies, senior centers and other local groups are interested in beadwork, too.

4. Shows and Fairs

Selling your beadwork at an art show is one of the most expensive and time-consuming activities for supporting your habit, but thanks to the visibility that art shows provide, you can offset some of the costs by recruiting students, making commission sales, and garnering speaking engagements. Research local and regional art shows and crafts fairs carefully to find out where your work will probably be too expensive for a church bazaar.
Also be aware that booth fees vary tremendously, and expenses such as display and packaging materials, building a large inventory of work, and paying someone to help you sell can prolong the day you see a profit. If you’re not ready to invest a lot of time and money, consider the following alternatives.

Bead Society Events.
Participate in your bead society bazaar. Selling through your local bead group is a great idea for several reasons: The entry fees are usually lower, you don’t need a large inventory when you share a booth, and you probably won’t have to work the entire show by yourself. It’s also a great place to find out what sells and to practice interacting with the public.

Beadware Parties.
Private gatherings are also good venues for developing your selling skills. Ask a friend to host an artist’s night where you set up your merchandise in their home. Guests arrive ready to focus on your work, and because the pace is more relaxed than many shows, you have the perfect opportunity to educate your customers about fine beadwork. Unlike art shows, shoplifting, overhead, and bad weather are non-issues at beadware parties. Hand out business cards to the guests and offer your hostess a thoughtful gift.

your beads

WORD contributor Dayana Krawchuk’s version of Robijo Burzynski’s Briolette Bauble Earrings.

5. Galleries

Perhaps your work is suitable for a local gallery. If so, you may be asked to produce certain kinds of items within a certain price range, and the gallery will take as much as fifty percent of the selling price. If this practice is acceptable to you, visit several galleries in your area to see where your work fits best, then call ahead to make an appointment. Even if your work isn’t gallery ready, there are other display venues to explore: salons, boutiques, hospital and hotel gift shops, and artist cooperatives.

6. Product Marketing

Creating and publishing a beadwork book is a big investment of time and money. You may be ready to produce one, but if you’re not, consider developing pattern sheets or kits instead. The piece that consistently elicits rave reviews from other beadworkers probably has good potential as a commercial product. You can do the marketing yourself, locally or on the Internet, or you can wholesale the product to other vendors.

your beads

WORD contributor Natalia Trukhina’s variation on Shanna Steele’s Copper Connections Necklace.

7. Bartering

There’s no reason to limit bartering situations to the beading community. Wear your work and bring samples to appointments with photographers, health-care providers, and any other professionals you deal with. Trade your beadwork for web-page design, farmer’s market produce, printing and copying services, and child care. You can barter for holiday gifts with street vendors and at crafts fairs (but get permission first). To barter efficiently, don’t trade for things you wouldn’t normally buy, and keep records of all transactions.

your beads

WORD contributor Flo Hendry’s version of Amy Kohn’s Two to Tango Bracelet.

Final Advice

Don’t waste time. Every strategy you use to help support your habit takes away from your beading time. Carefully choose one or two activities and work at them efficiently. If you’re spending 30 hours on a magazine article or driving 500 miles to teach a two-hour class, you’re not supporting your habit.

Report everything, even bartering activities, on your tax return. Keep good records and consult a CPA about how to file the income from your career. Have fun! Let each activity be a learning experience, and stay open and responsive to unexpected opportunities you might not have anticipated.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2000 issue of Beadwork magazine.

Mary Tafoya beads and teaches in Albuquerque, New Mexico, visit her website at and on Etsy at

For more advice from experts in the jewelry business, visit the Interweave Store.


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