Don’t let the word “artisan” fool you. If you’re picturing bakers in white aprons kneading loaves of whole-grain bread, or someone hand-crafting candles — that’s not necessarily what I mean.
Why You Could be a 21st Century Artisan
The 21st century artisan is a Web designer, or an author, or a manufacturer of a small but exclusive line of luxury items, or a consultant in a niche speciality, or an entrepreneurial-minded attorney who starts selling information products, or an online retailer, or a software developer, or … the list goes on.
Oh, and yes, it could also include the artisan baker or the candlestick maker. All of the above are the “artisans” of the new economy.
The third installment of the Future of Small Business Report  is out. This report outlines the growth of artisan businesses:
The next ten years will see a re-emergence of artisans as an economic force.
Like their medieval predecessors in pre-industrial Europe and Asia, these next-generation artisans will ply their trade outside the walls of big business, making a living with their craftsmanship and knowledge. But there also will be marked differences. In many cases, brains will replace brawn; software and technology will replace hard labor and raw materials, like iron. Yet in many respects, the result will be the same as it was centuries ago: artisans will craft not only their goods, but shape the economy with an effect reaching far beyond their neighborhoods, even their nations. * * *
The coming decade will see continuing economic transformation and the emergence of a new artisan economy. Many of the new artisans will be small and personal businesses — merchant-craftsmen and women producing one of a kind or limited runs of specialty goods for an increasingly large pool of customers seeking unique, customized, or niche products. These businesses will attract and retain craftspeople, artists, and engineers looking for the opportunity to build and create new products and markets.
The Report goes on to make some predictions about the future of small business, including:
- Large businesses will tap smaller businesses as a source of innovation
- Lightweight technologies such as online software, allow small businesses to manage growth with less time, money and technical skills
- The family-room factory emerges, as advances in production technologies allow entrepreneurs to develop a wave of innovative products
- Almost half of small businesses will be involved in global commerce in 10 years
- Large corporations recognize small businesses not only as customers, but as suppliers and partners
- Immigrants who bring foreign market knowledge and unique cultural perspectives will be better equipped to identify and customize products for niche markets
What it Means to You
My thought is this: if you don’t see potential new opportunities from thinking about the trends in this Report, you aren’t thinking hard enough.
So let your mind loose. Free yourself of old ideas that may be holding you back. Or what you think may be society’s perceptions.
Sometimes I know it can feel as if your business is at the mercy of larger forces and you’re not in control. We all tend to have those feelings. But focus on the many positive trends you are living amidst. You may discover you have more control over your destiny than you think, and you can prosper.
Remember, the space between your two ears is your biggest asset as a business owner.
Consider these six examples:
1) Are there ways you can market to or through large corporations — corporations that may need the innovative products and specialized knowledge of a small nimble company like yours? Example: Procter and Gamble is licensing new products such as the Swifter from small innovative companies. Other companies are actively seeking out small businesses as suppliers (think of corporate diversity initiatives).
2) Can you automate more of your business processes, put them online and thus reach out to a national, even global market? Example: one data backup service used to have to visit business customers in person to configure their servers to do backups, effectively limiting their geographic market to New York City. Once they figured out how to handle that function 100% online the potential market they could reach became global — overnight.
3) If you have an idea for a new consumer product, are you familiar with today’s low-cost, small-footprint production equipment? Example: One company has set up a luxury pet-collar manufacturing business, handling the production process, from manufacturing to shipping, all from their basement. Some day they may graduate to a dedicated production facility or outsource portions of the process, but for right now they are happy producing pet collars in their basement.
4) As a consultant or professional, are you taking full advantage of today’s in-house printing capabilities, that allow you to print your own marketing materials, presentations, reports and other documents? Or today’s content management systems that enable you to publish online easily and inexpensively? Example: one attorney is diversifying revenue streams (and getting away from the billable hour) by creating information products and selling them online. The creation of those products is handled entirely in house, with the aid of a virtual assistant.
5) As an author, are you aware of print-on-demand capabilities, that allow you to write a book and print small runs — literally a few books at a time? Enabling you to reach a small niche audience without being turned down by big publishers, or worse, having to spend BIG money to print thousands of books which you then have to store until they are sold?
6) If you are an immigrant or have immigrants working in your business, can you draw on that cultural knowledge and contacts in the former country to identify new products or services? Example: One company with connections in Asia now has a business that helps foreign businesses establish a presence in the United States.
These examples are just the beginning of what these trends can mean for you and your business. Study the trends, think about what they mean, and open yourself to possibilities. You just may trigger new opportunities.
You’ll find a lot of information in the Future of Small Business Report . The Report is based on research underwritten by Intuit and authored by the Institute for the Future. I participated on an expert panel that gave input for developing the report. The report itself is long, so if you’re pressed for time there is a one-pager PDF  that’s a quick read.
Steve King , who authored the report for the Institute of the Future (and did a beautiful job I might add), often comes over here and participates in the conversation. We’ll see if we can get him to come over and offer a few other practical ways to use the trends in this report in your business.