How to Grow an Artisanal Business

by Robert Moskowitz on January 15, 2013
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Many small-business owners rely on their personal skills and artistic sensibilities to produce the items they sell. That’s very satisfying, of course, but your “make one, sell one” approach will eventually limit your ability to expand your operations.

In order to grow your artisanal business, you’ll need to change your MO. Here are a few strategies for doing just that.

1. Fill a Niche

You’ll do better as the big dog in a small pound than as one of thousands of competitors in a much larger market. That’s because trying to satisfy too broad a range of customers with too wide a variety of products will raise too many obstacles, especially in the early years.

To find your niche, think about what you really want to make and sell, and identify the type(s) of customers who are most likely to buy from you. Target this narrowly defined market as thoroughly and enthusiastically as you can.

By focusing on a clearly defined niche, your reputation and marketing efforts can completely fill the space you’re trying to occupy. Later, after you’ve succeeded in doing this, you can grow your business by branching out into a complementary area or by offering new products in the niche you already own.

2. Share Your Passion

Just as your handcrafted products are an extension of your sensibilities, preferences, and passions, your business can and should reflect who you are and what makes you special. You’ll find that buyers of artisanal wares typically seek out and appreciate the maker of the items.

To move in this direction, you can:

  • display your photo;
  • offer your thoughts and favorite quotations;
  • give advice and make suggestions; and
  • reveal details of what you love in your products.

Sharing your passion is likely to help you drive sales and business success.

3. Redefine Yourself as a Business Owner

A suitable change in title — for example, from “jewelry maker” to “owner of a custom jewelry business” — will reflect and support a managerial approach to running your artisanal business.

As a business owner, you’re still involved in production, of course. (And for the purposes of this article, we’re assuming that “artisanal” production requires your substantial, personal involvement.) But you’re also responsible for all other aspects of the company’s operations, including purchasing, inventory, customer service, sales, marketing, strategic planning, finance, taxes, personnel, and general management. As you shift your focus toward expansion, extend the pride you currently take in making first-class products to handling these business-related tasks.

4. Adopt Efficient Systems

Making products one at a time often stems from — and fuels — an “ad hoc” mentality. You may like to do what feels right at any given moment. You may prefer to start and finish each item independently. Perhaps you rarely make the same item twice. Maybe you’re the kind of free spirit who rarely tackles the same tasks twice the same way.

An effective way to scale up your operation, however, is to systemize your production processes and business operations. With this approach, you look for the best way to do particular tasks and stick to those methods until you find even better ones.

For example:

  • If certain products sell easily, make and sell more of them.
  • Cut down production time for each item by using specialized equipment (check out what your competitors use).
  • Combine production processes so that you make several identical items together, not individually.
  • Plan your days and weeks to eliminate waste and capitalize on opportunities.

By operating more efficiently and effectively through carefully developed systems, you’ll nurture and capitalize on your artisanal business’s growth opportunities.

Robert Moskowitz is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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