With the release of an Artisan grants program (see link below), I thought it relevant and timely to discuss exactly what an artisan business is, and some of their challenges and differences from most other businesses.
The word Artisan is French and means skilled craft workers who make or create items by hand. These items or products may be quite functional or may be purely decorative. The functional items could be anything from a particular food product to a custom made bed or items of clothing. The decorative could incorporate arts, sculptures, accessories, jewellery and much more. They are almost always distinctive or original.
Artisans often will produce a product, food or drink which uses local products. Frequently, a skill, recipe or methodology is used which has been potentially handed down from generation to generation. I think it’s fair to say that one of the major identifiers of an artisan business is that their items and products are frequently handmade rather than factory mass-produced. They are often customised to a specific customer’s need. Design can often come into the realm of what they do. Often, an Artisan has mastered a high technical level and possess very practical and specific skills. In short, they are a specialist at what they do.
When it comes to food production, the word ‘artisan’ is often used when goods are manufactured in a non-industrialised way. It may be a method handed down within the family – which also can have the danger of being lost; should the next generation (in some form) not take up this skill and ‘learn the trade’. The processes, such as fermentation, are given time to develop slowly and naturally, rather than via a quick mass-production process. Think about a specific sauce, type of bread, brewery or boutique wine or liqueur manufacturer and if their method prescribed akin to the above, you’re talking about an artisan business.
The following are potentially artisan businesses.
- Artist or Sculptor
- Boutique food producer
- Brewery, wine or liqueur manufacturer
- Designer / Architect
- Dental Surgeon
- Drink (non-alcoholic) manufacturer – such as cordials
- Gardener or Landscaper
- Painter & Decorator
- Tailor / Custom Dressmaker
What are the challenges of being an artisan producer?
Simply by the nature of what they do, this raises additional challenges beyond any “normal” business, such as:
- More time to produce. Given that they take more time to develop tastes, ferment, hand-make items or customise the products, this is additional time. Time costs money and cuts out the opportunity of mass production. Volume is down, so overhead costs need to be covered with increased prices, improved efficiencies and smart business.
- The skill or technique could be lost. If the owner moves on, or an age-long recipe doesn’t get handed down from generation to generation, then that knowledge can be lost. With time, those skills may be difficult to gain as the people of knowledge reduce in numbers.
- Quality also costs money. With customised and boutique products comes a demand and necessity for quality products to be used. If people are going to pay more for an artisan product, they will be often expecting high quality. For this reason, production costs are higher, not only with the cost of often additional labour, but also with the cost of raw materials.
- Sourcing the right products. Along with the demand for quality products is the need for quality suppliers of your raw materials. Often artisans use local products, but they also need to ensure that the quality is maintained and consistent.
- Marketing can be difficult … but also easy. As the artisan is often competing with the cheaper mass-produced item, that can make it harder to market and sell the product. You won’t be able to compete with these people … but you also may not wish to.
So what are the benefits of an artisan business?
- Marketing can be also easy. As I said, the artisan is competing with cheap (and sometimes nasty) products but that can also be their marketing angle. They are offering quality, unique, original and high-value items. Successfully branded and marketed, those will be all the benefits of the product and business. You won’t be targeting every man and his dog, but once you identify your target market and target only them, then your marketing can become laser-focussed and precise. Some people value (and seek) quality, uniqueness, excellence, originality and value. Artisan businesses often cater to a specific group, such as a vegan or vegetarian who are willing to pay that bit extra to meet their needs.
- You can start (and if you want) stay smaller, meaning less need for expensive equipment and masses of personnel. Chances are too – you are doing what you love. If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.
- And for the moment, the Queensland Government is giving you some matched funding with a $5K grant. Check out the information on this page, but remember, this particular grant is limited to food production and non-alcoholic beverages.
Artisan business owners are often creative, imaginative and purposeful people. They (like other business owners) will benefit from a business mentor or business coach. None of us is perfect; if you’re making a great product, are you also as good at marketing, sales, systems, HR, finances and all the other aspects of business? Most businesses (artisan or not) will benefit from the assistance of a business coach or mentor. It may be giving them fresh ideas for business, brainstorming solutions, improving processes or possibly simply holding the business owner accountable for business growth and improvement actions.