5 Crucial Steps to Starting Out in Embroidery

Keeping these critical aspects of a successful decorated apparel business in mind will help you stay focused

By John Deer, Contributing Writer

Though it can be intimidating, don’t be afraid to turn your passion into a money-making business.

Image by AntonioDiaz – stock.adobe.com

August 9, 2023

It’s finally time to take the next step. You’ve been embroidering for some time now, and you’re consistently working on small projects for friends or family. The thought has probably crossed your mind a few times: “Should I turn my hobby into a business?”

We have to start somewhere, and it’s not easy to decide when we should officially become a small business. It’s not easy because of the intimidating amount of information you have to digest before turning your passion into a money-making machine.

“Where do I even begin?” is a commonly asked question. If you’re working on projects for friends and family, you’ve already begun. It’s time to start making an income from your creativity and your machine. You have a skill, and charging for it is a must. After all, fabric and thread aren’t cheap.

You have invested your time and money into providing value for your friends and family, so it’s time that you get the compensation you deserve. That’s how every business comes to life. You offer great value, and in exchange you earn money. True customers will always understand that.

The three personalities of every new business owner

Before diving into our five crucial steps/secrets, there are some things you need to know. In Michael Gerber’s book, E-myth Revisited, Gerber writes about the importance of understanding the three personalities you have as a business owner: The technician, the manager, and the entrepreneur.

The Technician:

This is the part of you that fell in love with embroidery in the first place. You enjoy doing the work, creating the art. You are the technician. You’ve honed your skill and, at some point, decided that you should get paid for it.

The Manager:

This is the part of you that craves order and organization. The manager puts systems and processes in place to ensure that things get done efficiently.

The Entrepreneur:

The entrepreneur is the reason why you’re reading this article in the first place. This is the part of you that has the vision to learn how to start an embroidery business, to start taking names and kicking butt. The part of you that knows you can get more out of your hobby by turning it into a hustle.

Embroiderer working on a laptop computer

The “manager” is the part of your business personality that craves order and organization. Image by marvent – stock.adobe.com

The problem is that these personalities don’t always get along, and that’s when a business typically fails. The technician, for example, dislikes doing managerial work. The technician wants to create art and be left in peace.

The manager, on the other hand, doesn’t always get along with the technician. The manager wants the technician to do things in an orderly way, and the technician doesn’t always agree because it’s getting in the way of the art.

As for the entrepreneur, he or she only shows up in the beginning, gives you that spark and then leaves you to figure out the rest. The entrepreneur drags the technician and manager toward bigger and better things, whether the technician and manager are prepared for it or not.

Something else to bear in mind: Remember to work on your business and not just in your business. In many ways this is the key to applying the following points properly. When starting a business, we forget that working on the systems that drive your business is just as important as the craft of embroidery itself. You must approach the systems that run your business with as much enthusiasm as you approach embroidery. With that, let’s get started on the five steps.

Step 1: Create a website for your embroidery business

Having a web presence is crucial to growing a business. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, but amplifying it through the internet is a must if you want to grow your business and brand.

Yes, it can be disconcerting to try and wrap your head around the process, but these days it’s much easier to build a website than you might think. If you can set up your machine, digitize your designs, or embroider garments for friends and family, then you can build a website.

Easy-to-use drag-and-drop website creators like Wix (wix.com) and Squarespace (squarespace.com) allow you to put a fully functioning website together in a short amount of time. Still uneasy about building your own website using these tools? Sites like Udemy.com provide cheap courses that will teach you to build your website in a day. You’ll surprise yourself, your friends and your family.

Remember as you are doing so to upload some high-quality images of your work and add contact information on the front page. There is no use in having a website if people can’t see your work and don’t know how to contact you.

Step 2: Find a decorated apparel niche by letting it find you

This is important if you want to grow and increase your income over time. Contrary to what many people believe, offering embroidery services in all sectors of the market will not land you more customers.

Think of the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none.” If you try to cater to everyone, your marketing message won’t be clear, and you won’t be catering to anyone. Having a clear niche allows you to target a specific audience and provide the specific services the audience requires. Here are just a few examples:

  • Athletic teams/schools
  • Weddings and bridal parties
  • Moms/moms-to-be/grandparents

It might be hard to find a niche right away. This is because you haven’t experimented enough. Start broad. Yes, finding a niche is crucial, but first, you must start broad and then narrow it down.

In the beginning, do precisely the opposite of niching down. Then find out what sort of machine embroidery you like most and can generate a decent profit. That’s the secret. When you’re just getting started, don’t worry about finding a niche immediately. It will eventually come to you – just don’t stay broad.

Step 3: Invest in embroidery software

One of the hardest things for new entrepreneurs to learn is to walk past a small pile of money to get to a bigger pile of money. I’m talking about reinvesting your dollars on software or systems that do time-consuming tasks for you and generate more income in the long term.

These days, for example, you can have your groceries delivered to your front door. Some people might scoff and say, “I’m not that lazy to have someone else deliver my groceries for me!” But these people aren’t entrepreneurs. Let me explain.

The entrepreneur understands that time saved is time that can be reinvested into the business to improve its systems and generate more profit. In this case, what if instead of spending an hour doing your groceries yourself and saving, say, $10 you pay someone else $10 to do them for you. You then spend that hour making $50 embroidering at home. Not only have you enjoyed embroidering for an hour, you’ve also come out $40 ahead.

As many embroiderers know, embroidering a design on one type of fabric doesn’t mean it will embroider the same way on a different kind of material. If you use a design intended for Pique Knit on Thai silk, for example, the design will become stitch intensive, promote puckering, and look bad.

This is where embroidery software comes into play by altering the design settings (such as density, underlay and pull compensation which often leads to a change in stitch count) for a different fabric with just the click of a button. Think about the time saved and how any money invested translates into dollars and cents. It doesn’t take long to realize these kinds of time-savers are not so much a luxury as they are common sense.

Step 4: Invest in a reliable embroidery machine

To produce consistent results and guarantee the same high-quality work on all of your orders, you need a machine that can deliver. It is one of the most critical aspects of your business. The more time your machine is up and running, the more value you can offer to your customers, and the more money you can earn.

Commercial multi-needle embroidery machine

Top-quality equipment is vital to turning your embroidery into a business. Image by marvent – stock.adobe.com

Many embroiderers learn to embroider on low to mid-range machines, which is completely understandable. However, if you plan on turning your hobby into a business, this is a necessary investment—a machine that is reliable and will last you a lifetime.

Think about it this way, if you’re doing some renovations at home you can likely get away with a common screwdriver. But if you choose to become a professional handyman, you’ll need to invest in a drill to save you time and streamline your workflow.

There are many options to choose from, and it can be quite intimidating. That said, if you’re going to take your business seriously and rest assured that your machine will deliver what you promise to your customers, I highly recommend using a multi-needle embroidery machine to increase your workflow.

For what it’s worth, my company, Embroidery Legacy, has long had a partnership with Germany’s ZSK, and I think they are honestly the gold-standard for quality, precision, and reliability in the commercial embroidery industry. If you choose to go with another machine, fine, there are a number of other great options out there. However, the ZSK line is a good point of reference when evaluating the competition.

Remember, you are the artist, and your customer trusts you to put their vision onto fabric. If your tools can’t deliver your promise, well, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Step 5: Test, Practice and Learn

The most important promise your business makes to its customers is the ability to deliver high-quality work. It doesn’t matter if you have the best machines, the best thread or the best systems in place if your embroidery skills aren’t up to par. That’s where learning and practice come in.

commercial embroidery machine in operation

As a professional embroiderer you never want to stop learning, practicing and improving. Image by anatoliy_gleb – stock.adobe.com

Practice is just that—practice. The more embroidery you do that better. With each and every project be sure to carefully evaluate what went right, what went wrong and what you could maybe do better or improve upon. Don’t just “set and forget” a new design when it comes time to stitch out. Take the time to watch the entire process, especially the way the needle makes its way from point-to-point. Is it doing so efficiently? You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn through observation.

Also make a point of continuing to learn through ongoing training. There is a wealth of programs out there, including those offered by my company, Embroidery Legacy. There are also plenty of “coaches” out there to help you avoid many of the common mistakes newcomers to the embroidery business tend to make. As is the case with software, be willing and able to spend real money on these efforts. Again, you’re a professional now, not just a hobbyist, and professional development is part of the job description.  

Award-winning embroiderer John Deer is the current head of The Deer’s Embroidery Legacy, a family business since 1958 with operations covering the length and breadth of the embroidery business, including production, education, digitizing and digitizing software. Embroidery Legacy’s long list of blue-chip clients have included Coca-Cola, Disney, and, yes, even the equipment manufacturer John Deere. For more on the five points covered in this article, which was adapted from an article on the Embroidery Legacy website, click HERE, or go to digitizingmadeeasy.com.