I have run my own small sewing business from home for more than a decade. The flexible nature of my work has given me time to take care of a family while exercising my technical and creative skills. I offer my experience in hopes it will help someone else launch a similar small enterprise.
I began by hemming pants for a few friends. I went on to simple alterations after my church started a First Place class in which members were losing weight and needed clothes to wear until they reached their goals. Word-of-mouth provided all the work I could handle while still caring for young children.
As my alterations expertise has grown, I have taken on more complicated work, including formal wear. I am careful to pace myself, however, and sometimes turn down work during busy seasons. In a sole proprietorship, it is important to know your limits–or to decide to hire help and grow the business. I have chosen to stay small, since I do not want to deal with renting space or hiring employees. I enjoy sewing more than managing.
Make a Profit
While it seems obvious that a business should make a profit, many small businesses make mistakes that keep them from being profitable. Turning a hobby into a business means looking closely at your work, your time, and your costs. Decide what you need to make per hour and charge based on the time it takes to do the work. Be sure to account for the little things, e.g. thread, needles, seam binding. Either have customers provide all needed materials, or charge for the items you supply. I buy frequently used items such as white thread, needles and pins in bulk from a dressmaker supply company.
Estimating time required for various jobs is a skill that comes only with experience. One advantage of starting small, e.g. with just hems, is that you can become very efficient at that task and know with confidence how long it will take and how much to charge. Create a chart of charges for common jobs such as hemming pants, shortening straps, or taking in side seams. Your chart will help you explain to customers exactly why certain jobs cost more than others. People are often willing to pay more when they understand your pricing is not just pulled from thin air.
Avoid custom work, since a custom job is hard to estimate for a business beginner and few people will be willing to pay for the amount of time custom work requires. If you want to specialize in custom work, you will need a customer base willing to pay you like the professional you are.
Find a profitable niche, have the proper supplies and equipment, and stay in that niche until you have the resources and desire to expand. Alterations require basic sewing equipment, while bridal gowns require space, pressing equipment, and time that a home business may not have. Do what you are equipped to do, do it well, and charge a fair price for your work.
The Myth of Multitasking by Dave Crenshaw and Overachievement by John Eliot are excellent books for helping with motivation and focus. For alterations, start with The Busy Woman’s Fitting Book by Nancy Zieman. The Singer Sewing Library consists of many volumes covering every type of sewing from home decorating to bridal sewing.