How to Start a Home-Based Artisan Business

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An artisan is someone skilled in any kind of manual or "hands-on" manufacture. Traditional artisan products include tools, furniture, jewelry and other decorative items, but the term has come to cover everything from hand-printed stationery to cigars, wine and cheese. Artisan operations are typically small enough that they have direct involvement in the making and finishing of goods. Artisan businesses can be successful if the products are high quality and reach the right market.

The Product

Handmade furniture is a traditional artisan product.
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Identify your skill set, or the skill set of your employees. An artisan business is a risky proposition if the product is not made to high quality, and certainly better quality than its mass-produced competitors. The direct involvement of skilled craftsmen in the manufacturing process is a strong marketing positive, but only if the goods produced are appealing.

Handmade jewelry is a popular small business product.
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Calculate the cost of materials, production and other overheads. It may be possible to make very fine goods using the best materials available, but your business will not be viable if the resulting product cannot be sold at a profit. Investment in equipment and premises may be one-time, but materials, employee costs and overheads such as electricity will be ongoing. You may also have high lease costs if you do not own your premises. If you cannot cover start-up costs yourself, look for investors. Be prepared to show them examples of the product as well as a business plan, and expect them to look for a good percentage return on their investment.

Manufacture a series of samples products. Samples help to attract investment if necessary, test your production capability and capacity, and allow you to have something to show to customers. It is important to test capacity, as there is no profit in attracting orders your production team is unable to fill.

Small scale cheese production is now regarded as artisan.
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Select your business type. Depending on number of employees and risks involved in the business, you should file the documents required by local regulations to establish your business as a sole proprietorship, a partnership or a limited liability company (LLC). If you have no employees, a sole proprietorship is an easy and inexpensive option. If you foresee any risks in your line of business, consider becoming an LLC. This limits your and your partners' liability in the event of judgments against the business and helps protect your personal assets.

The Market

Traditional arts and crafts benefit from modern promotional tools.
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Research your market. The most beautiful and thoughtfully made product in the world will not realize a profit if nobody wants to buy it or buy it at your asking price. Whether your artisan product is wooden shoes or goat cheese, research the existing market. Are people already buying items of this kind, and how much are they prepared to spend? Does your product compete effectively in terms of quality and price, and what sets it apart from other similar products on the market?

Find out about your market and what it will pay for your goods.
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Make a plan to communicate with your market. Advertising is expensive, but modern media provide many alternatives, especially social media networks. An artisan business can start its own business page on Facebook and encourage friends and supporters to join. Many artisan manufacturers reach an interested audience by tweeting on Twitter. At the very least, you will almost certainly need to host your own website to display your goods and contact information. Depending on the product, it may make sense to take orders online and fill them by mail or special delivery.

Develop a plan to distribute the goods. Attracting orders just is the first step. Filling the orders may be difficult, depending on whether you are producing hand-carved dinner tables or highly perishable baked goods. How will you send the finished product to customers in a cost-efficient and timely manner. Ideally, you will have the opportunity to sell your product in stores that will handle orders and distribution for you, but you may need to establish your own distribution network first.

Be a spokesman for your product, on screen if possible.
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Be a spokesperson for your product. Be prepared to speak about your product and demonstrate interesting aspects of manufacture. Your audience will include local journalists, local television and radio and potential customers at trade fairs and similar events. You can also reach a potential international audience by posting videos that are inexpensive to make on sites like YouTube.

Tips

  • Learn about any laws or regulations relating to your product and make sure it is legal to sell, and also legal to distribute across state lines or the equivalent borders if the case arises.

References

  • "The Small Business Bible"; Steven D. Strauss; 2008
  • "Starting Your Own Arts and Crafts Business"; J.S. McDougall; 2008

About the Author

Kim Davis began writing in 1977. His articles have appeared in "The New Musical Express," "The Literary Review" and "City Limits," as well as numerous Web sites. Davis is the consulting editor for the "New York Times"/New York University collaboration, "Local: East Village." He has a Doctor of Philosophy in philosophy from Bristol University.

Photo Credits

  • cigar and cigarette isolated over white image by PaulPaladin from Fotolia.com