Have you reached a point where the quality and uniqueness of your handmade product has become an obstacle to growing your business? Perhaps demand has picked up and you’re struggling to fill orders. Or you want to make this your livelihood but you’re not sure if it’s profitable enough.
This is a critical juncture for artisan entrepreneurs. Before you expand your business, it’s important to take stock of where you are now and develop a vision for where you want to be. Here are five questions to help you make strategic decisions in alignment with your values and preferences before scaling your small business up.
1. Why do you want to scale up production?
There’s no single playbook for increasing handmade production. At NextFab, we have members who simply want an income-producing side hobby and others who can already envision their products featured in stores across the country. There are options for both of these artisans to boost production, but what works for one may not be the right move for the other.
So, before you make any changes to your processes, be honest and clear about why you’re doing it. Most artisan entrepreneurs have many reasons. For example, are you trying to:
- Create products faster to meet customer demand for quicker turnaround?
- Increase the profit margin of what you’re already doing?
- Make this your full-time business so you don’t have split priorities?
- Establish the foundation for a much larger operation?
As you evaluate options for scaling up, understanding your “whys” will help you decide which methods or systems line up with your goals and values. Think of them as your north star, keeping you on your path when you’re faced with many choices to streamline production.
2. What do you enjoy most about production?
For many artists, certain aspects of creating their handmade product are sacred. They’re at the heart of their unique creative vision and give them the most joy. What is this for you? Take some time to self-reflect.
Once you’ve identified what you enjoy most, you can build a production system that allows more time for these activities. Knowing this is powerful because it sets ground rules for what’s non-negotiable in terms of outsourcing. Melissa Guglielmo, NextFab North Philadelphia Manager, offers an excellent tip.
“Not every product has to be your greatest artistic achievement. Sometimes it helps to identify an easy, hot seller that serves as revenue to support what you really love to work on.”
3. What are you willing (and able) to outsource?
Even if you’ve decided that certain parts of your handmade business aren’t integral to what makes a product “yours,” it can be tough to let go. You might worry that you’ll lose quality control if you outsource. Or perhaps you derive great satisfaction from touching every part of the process.
Of course, it could also be the opposite. You may immediately know which tedious steps you’d love to avoid!
Either way, as you grapple with these changes to your traditional approach, here are some questions to help you identify what you might be able to outsource and adjust to the idea.
- How could you make more time for the parts of production you love?
- How could you add touches of personalization rather than being directly involved in everything?
- What safeguards could you put in place to ensure quality from outsourced partners?
- What aspects of production aren’t “creative” in nature and wouldn’t reflect on you as an artist?
For example, you might decide to outsource your website and marketing activities since it’s not an area of strength. Or, if you dread the monotony of hand cutting each piece, look for a cost-effective way to purchase pre-cut materials.
4. How much are you willing to change your artistic process?
The introduction of digital tools can drastically speed up the creation of certain products. However, it’s not the right choice for every maker. And that’s okay. You just have to know what you want. Do you have the interest or aptitude to learn how to use tools like a 3D printer, laser cutter, or a CNC routing machine?
Ryan Hyde, Assistant Director of Membership, doesn’t feel that incorporating these new technologies detracts from his artistic medium — custom bass guitars. He designs each instrument in 3D CAD software and mastered the CNC routing machine, which accommodates his growing orders. He notes, “Building the instrument is just one part of the overall process of a guitar maker, or luthier, so there’s plenty of ‘hands on’ work that follows.”
It might be helpful to see digital fabrication in action before you decide. Depending on how you feel, you could then take advantage of the educational opportunities at NextFab or outsource the work to one of NextFab’s partners.
5. What do your customers value most about your products?
Let’s switch gears for a moment and think about your customer’s perspective. If they had to choose between price, speed, and quality, which one do you think they’d select? Could you get some actual feedback?
With this insight, you can adjust your production process accordingly. For example, if customers are satisfied with your product pricing, but want the items more quickly, you can focus on outsourcing time-consuming steps. If quality is most important, you might look for a shipping partner so you can spend more time on the product itself, not administrative tasks. This is a strategic way to direct your time and energy to what matters most.
Now that you’ve done some self-reflection, you’re better prepared to research, evaluate, and implement methods for increasing your production and expanding the potential of your business. Ready to get started? Contact NextFab for a consultation with our expert staff and learn more about the benefits of membership.