June 26, 2017

Portrait of the Handmade Business Owner


Imagine a community of entrepreneurs that has no geographical boundaries. They come from the nation’s most populated cities and its tiniest towns, and they actually make the products they sell — themselves.

Such a community exists — and it is not composed of crafters and hobbyists as you might, at first, conclude. Instead, it’s made up of professional business owners who are poised to become the business leaders of tomorrow.

Welcome to the world of handmade entrepreneurship, where customer service is being redefined, and where products that were once commodities are setting the stage for a kinder, gentler sort of industrial revolution.

This column will cover this new breed of entrepreneur. I’ll bring you their stories — their challenges and their successes. I’ll also offer advice from my 16 years serving the handmade industry as the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network.

If you want to know what’s going on in the world of makers and creative entrepreneurs, this is the place to watch. Let’s get started with a basic understanding of the types of entrepreneurs this column will showcase. To do that, we must first look at the products — the handmade products — they sell.

What is a “Handmade” Product?

The answer to this question kind of depends on who you ask — and when you ask them. A few years back, Etsy, the granddaddy of online handmade marketplaces, defined a product as handmade only if it was personally made by the Etsy seller.

In 2013, in anticipation of its 2015 public offering, Etsy relaxed that standard to allow sellers to outsource manufacturing. At the time, Etsy’s CEO was quoted in Wired Magazine and elsewhere as saying that as long as products were “handmade in spirit,” they qualified as handmade as far as Etsy was concerned. With the launch late last year of Etsy Manufacturing, it is clear that the company is committed to this expansive definition.

In late 2015, Amazon began challenging Etsy’s dominance with Amazon Handmade, and introducing a more restrictive definition of handmade. According to Amazon:

All products available in your Handmade at Amazon store must be made entirely by hand, hand-altered, or hand assembled (not from a kit). Products must be handmade by you (the artisan), by one of your employees (if your company has 20 or fewer employees), or a member of your collective with less than 100 people. Mass-produced products or products handmade by a different artisan are not eligible to sell in Handmade.

Who is the Handmade Business Owner?

Handmade entrepreneurs come from all walks of life, and they make everything from cupcakes and cookies to soaps and jewelry, from fresh juices to paper products. While they are as unique as the products they sell, they do have several things in common.



First, while they are committed to profitability like all business owners, they tend to care at least as much about creating a certain type of lifestyle that allows them to go big without necessarily growing big.

Second, they are generally very high touch. While they benefit from the type of automation that all entrepreneurs love, a kind of high touch personal customer service is a core value.

Handmade entrepreneurs are more about community than they are about competition.

It is these general commonalities that bind participants in the maker business community together in a kind of uncommon capitalism — one that usually values personal creative independence and autonomy as much as it does profitability.

Evidence of Growth in the Handmade Arena

While there is little doubt that the precise definition of all things handmade is and may always be difficult to pin down, it’s equally clear that products made on a small scale are becoming increasingly popular and preferable to products manufactured on a large scale.

Local and online handmade eCommerce platforms continue to crop up. In addition to Etsy and Amazon Handmade, there is Artfire, Made It Myself, Zibbet, Handmade Artists, and CraftsU.

Other handmade craft sites are listed here. (I predict there will be more. Many more.)

Shopify serves a growing number of artisan and handmade businesses, as do other online eCommerce companies including
Made Freshly and Indie Made.

Also getting into the act are city and regional websites like these in Michigan, Vermont, Kansas City, Denver, and the regional southeast.

There are also several up and coming handmade business magazines that are starting to make an appearance. For example, Crafts Report recently re-branded as Handmade Business Magazine.

There is also Handmade Magazine, and there’s UK Handmade, a digital publication for designers and makers across the pond.

Then, there are subscription boxes specifically for handmade products, including handmade tea, do-it-yourself cosmetics, and products handmade in Texas.

Undeniable Signs of Growth

However you describe it — handmade businesses, the maker movement, creative entrepreneurship, or any or all of the above — the signs of growth are undeniable and increasing.

In this column, I will keep you up to date on the specifics of this growing industry. I will also share tips and advice to help makers and creative entrepreneurs be successful in their businesses. Finally, I will introduce you to many of the amazing handmade entrepreneurs who make up this unique community, so you can see and experience it for yourself.

Tell me what you want!!

I would love to hear from you!

What do you think of this new column? What questions do you have about makers and creative entrepreneurs? Are you one? Tell me about your business and how I can serve you best through this column in the comments below.

Thank you for joining me here, and I look forward to meeting and connecting with you!

Handmade Knitting Photo via Shutterstock

4 Comments ▼
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Donna Maria Coles Johnson


Donna Maria Coles Johnson Donna Maria is the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, a trade organization providing mentoring and coaching services, and affordable product liability insurance, to makers and creative entrepreneurs across North America. An award-winning small business advocate, Donna Maria has hosted the Indie Business Podcast since 2005. She blogs at Indie Business Blog.

4 Reactions

  1. Aira Bongco

    I love how handmade businesses pour their hearts into each craft that they do. So I always go out of my way to support them. I feel that my money can go a long way if I buy from them.

    • Yes! It is great to see how small companies really provide an experience, not just a product. I do agree that’s one of the reasons we feel our money goes further — because we are buying so much more than a product when we buy from a handmade business. Thank you for your feedback, Aira!

  2. I love buying handmade. I enjoy the unique and creative items that can’t be bought elsewhere. I always start my Christmas shopping by visiting my favorite handmade sites. You know that love and care goes into every product. And I enjoy supporting small businesses. Handmade is true luxury. I’m looking forward to reading your column regularly and learning more about creative entrepreneurs.

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