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How To Grow An Artisan Business

Linda Whitney explains how to grow an artisan business and still retain the product’s handmade status How To Grow An Artisan Business

Artisan businesses are proliferating like preserved, wild mushrooms. Starting a business making your own products on the kitchen table or in your garden shed is flexible, convenient and gives you ultimate quality control.

But what if demand really takes off? By their nature, successful artisan products are original and of higher quality than mass produced items. They are handmade and unique to you, the sole manufacturer - that’s the secret of their success.

So when it comes to scaling up a business like this, how do you do it without compromising the individuality and quality of your product, working 24/7 or cloning yourself?

There are several possible answers, some of which may suit your particular circumstances:

Maximise manufacturing time

“If you only have three hours a day to work on your business, ensure those hours are devoted to the most profitable part of your business - making your product,” says Craig De Souza, executive director of the Association For Creative Industries, a non-profit trade association for the craft and hobby industry.

Emma Jones, founder of small business support group Enterprise Nation, also recommends maximising production time by reducing time spent on admin and other business tasks. She says: “Collaborate with other artisan makers to share running costs such as accounting and marketing. It may be you can also share delivery contracts to achieve economies of scale.”

Consider outsourcing production

Emma suggests: “While it can be hard to justify initially taking on staff, outsourcing some production to a trusted contractor can help to build momentum and help you hit targets on time, while bringing in more orders.”

Outsource production to customers

Craig says: “Rather than trying to make your product more quickly, which is likely to compromise quality, you may be able to sell the materials as a kit and make a video of yourself available online that gives step by step instructions for how to create it.

“You can then sell the kit plus access to the video and still sell the original product, handmade by yourself, at a premium that pays you properly for your time.”

Consider taking on staff

If you select the right people and train them well, the quality of your product need not suffer.

Invest in professional technology

This will enable you to produce more, once you’re sure demand will justify the investment.

Pop-up shops

Emma says: “It can be hard to fill a shop alone, so collaborating with like-minded individuals can give you an immediate outlet for your products, bring in buyers and create a buzz around your product that could bring in more business.”

Don’t just sell a product - sell your story

You can engage with customers direct - and tell them your story - by using social media.

“Friends and family buy your handcrafted products because they know you and understand your struggles to start a business and your dedication to quality,” Craig says.

“Other customers are just as keen to hear about this and you can tell them about yourself and your business journey through social media.”

However, Craig warns: “Don’t just set up a website to sell your products without selling your story.

“Customers for artisan products want a relationship with the producer. They want to know what you’re creating and be inspired by you.”

Franchise your business

If business really takes off, consider expansion through franchising.

“Other artisans can use the demand, brand design and creative collateral you’ve built up to replicate what you do, while paying you a fee to do so,” Emma says.

Get advice about how to grow

“You may be wasting time on things you’re not good at or that could be easily handled by technology, so advice could help you simplify things,” Emma says.

How I did it - Liz Wilson

Liz Wilson, a former teacher, is now an artisan bread maker trading as Ma Baker from her home in Fulham, London.

She says: “I did a bread making course, fell in love with it and started baking for friends.

“At first I baked four to six loaves in my domestic oven one day a week, delivering to customers by bicycle. Business grew, so I invested in a professional bakery oven and mixer, installed in my kitchen, so I can now produce 100 loaves on one day a week and teach bread making in my home on the other four days.

“Issues in scaling up include increased admin, longer time spent on deliveries and using my home kitchen for a bakery as well as for the family. I investigated the idea of taking on premises, but the outgoings would be so high that I would no longer make a profit.

“Everyone expects you to grow your business, but you don’t have to. I’m making enough money to keep me happy, my customers are happy and my family is happy.”

How I did it - Jo Macfarlane

Jo Macfarlane started her eponymous candle making company from her kitchen table in Anstruther, Scotland.

She says: “I started off making candles in batches of six and the brand has just grown organically.

“I have just moved into new premises and have an assistant working with me. I received funding for a large wax boiler, which means I can get on with preparing the glasses for the candles while the wax melts. I have gone from making 50 candles in a day to over 200.

“The increase in production came from having the boiler. I still pour in batches of six, but my boiler holds enough wax for over 200 candles. All the candles are prepared and wrapped by hand and personal cards are written for the website orders. Having an assistant to share the workload and bounce ideas off is vital.

“You can grow an artisan business, but stay true to yourself, your brand and your journey. Don’t be tempted to compare yourself with someone else and don’t water down your brand by jumping at opportunities not aligned with what you believe in.” Read more like this

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