At the NNEP (the National Network of Embroidery Professionals), we receive a high number of calls and emails from people considering starting an embroidery business or adding embroidery to their existing business. Over the last two decades, I have developed a list of what you should know or decide in order to launch a successful and profitable embroidery operation. While this is not intended to be an Embroidery 101 primer, what follows are the keys that will likely determine the level of success you are able to achieve within the first year or two as an embroiderer.
Everyone asks, “What machine should I buy?” My response is always the same: “The commercial machines that are now available are all quality machines, they create gorgeous embroidery. I think you need to be asking different questions.”
Try instead: What kind of training do I get with this machine?
There is a key difference between “training” and “education.” Training is provided by the machine manufacturer or the company from whom you purchased the machine. It is when you learn what buttons to push to make the machine function.
Education, on the other hand, is the process of learning how to make your machine sing, dance, and do anything you want on behalf of your customers. Much of your education comes from experience and by connecting with other embroidery professionals that have the same machine or same needs. You get education at industry trade shows, through online communities, and by connecting with other embroidery business owners in person and online.
Next question: What digitizing software is compatible or recommended with this machine?
Most of the embroidery machines are sold with a specific brand of digitizing software, one that is designed to interface seamlessly with the embroidery machine. There are some software products that can be used on a variety of embroidery machine brands. Since you will be using this software daily, I strongly encourage you to spend time exploring the software before you make your final decision about which machine to buy.
You will be more proficient sooner on the software that you are most comfortable with from the beginning. It is more of a “right brain, left brain” thing than a “good software, better software” comparison. Some software will just seem easier for you to grasp, and that is the one I recommend you consider strongly.
Also, find out: What kinds of support do I have access to with the purchase of this machine?
This goes back to the training question. Once you have your machine, where can you get additional information when you have a question? Is there a manual or a toll free number? Can you return and repeat the training? Are there classes, DVDs, or videos online? Does the company offer any follow up with you?
Clearly define your objectives for your business: Do you want to become proficient at creating excellent embroidery or to become capable with digitizing software. Focus on one task at a time. (Image above courtesy Nathaniel Schulde, Litchfield Embroidery Services, image at left courtesy of Colman and Company)
Again, training is not the same thing as education. Learning how to get your machine to work falls under training, but getting it do more complex work may fall outside the scope of what the company provides, as this is more along the lines of “education,” and you may have to seek other resources to acquire that information.
And finally, ask: How do I get this machine serviced?
There is nothing more frustrating than having your machine not working optimally when you are facing a looming deadline on a significant order. Here’s one hint if you ever find yourself in that situation: contract out the order to keep the customer while you get your machine back in top condition.
But, for a more permanent solution, you’ll have to fix the machine. There are different models within the industry. Some companies have their own technicians. Other companies direct you to independent technicians which you contact directly. Either way, find out what technicians are in your area that they recommend, as these people will now become part of the resources you will need.
One of the biggest challenges for new embroiderers is to clearly define your objectives for your first year as a professional embroiderer. Do you want to become proficient at creating excellent embroidery or do you want to become reasonably capable with the digitizing software? In my experience, it is very difficult to do both successfully within your first year.
You make income when the embroidery needles are going, so I encourage new embroiderers to develop that skill first. Within the first year, everyone should learn how to do keyboard lettering and basic designs that combine lettering and stock designs. Beyond that, using a qualified digitizer is one of the best things you can do to become profitable quickly.
There are many qualified companies that contract digitizing services. Use them while you get your business launched. Watch how the designs sew out. In doing so, you will be laying the groundwork for becoming proficient with digitizing software down the road.
It simply astounds me to discover that, although someone just paid thousands of dollars for an embroidery machine, they are hesitant to spend several hundred dollars to support that machine with the tools that make using the machine easier.
Yes, hoops are expensive. But your time is worth more! Get a set of duplicate hoops in the sizes you use the most frequently. If you are hooping unusual or thick items, get the hoops that are designed to handle these products—they exist because they work.
If you intend to embroider more than six garments or products a day, consider a hooping device. They are designed to help you get consistent design placement and protect your wrists from fatigue.
Also, quit doing the “desk pat down,” looking for the only pair of scissors you own. Buy several pairs of fabric shears and snips and keep a pair on the machine, near the hooping area, and where you trim garments.
One of the biggest factors influencing your success rate is your mindset. If you are determined to solve every challenge on your own, congratulations—you will win the prize for “most determined to figure it out.” Unfortunately, other business owners that look to outside resources for information and assistance will win when it comes to their profitability, success, and growth.
When you remain isolated, you reinvent wheels that have been perfected by many other embroidery business owners. Connect online, attend industry events, or check with the folks that sold you the machine and see what resources are available to you.
Time management is another critical skill that influences the level of success you will achieve. When you spend 45 minutes helping a customer decide on which shade of purple is “just right” for that baby blanket, you will quickly discover that you are losing money… lots of it! Customers will take as much of your time as you let them. Learn to manage your time and ordering process so that you are serving their needs, answering their questions, and getting paid appropriately.
One of the most common complaints we hear from new embroiderers is that they are really, really busy, but they are not making money. And they have no idea why. The first thing to look at is how you are spending your time. Being busy does not equate to being profitable. Profitability is the result of spending your time sewing and selling profitable orders. These are the only two ways you make money!
There are many other factors that will help you get started, but those mentioned here seem to have the largest impact at the beginning of the process. If you would like to bounce your ideas or concerns about starting an embroidery business around with me, email me at .