An artisan process is one that relies on the personal skill of an individual. While there are many people who build successful careers founded on an artisan process, it’s difficult to transition them into a larger scale. There are also other concerns that prevent it from being a serious option in most industries.

Overview: What is an artisan process?

Artisan processes rely on the skill of individual craftsmen instead of manufacturing capability or the consistency of procedures. Creative occupations, particularly artists and high-end craftsmen, are among the few fields where this type of process is still dominant. The value created in this kind of process primarily comes from the limited time and unique skills of the person delivering the product or service.

4 benefits and drawbacks of artisan processes

There’s nothing inherently wrong with artisan processes, but there are some major drawbacks when it comes to business management. Artisan labor may work for individuals or small companies, but can fall flat when brought onto a larger stage.

1. Benefit: Make your own niche

Artisans can make their own niche by delivering genuinely unique or highly-specialized products. Making items where “no two are alike” has a lot of appeal in some markets. The artisan’s name also becomes a sort of brand that can’t be copied.

2. Benefit: Skills build value

Another benefit of the artisan process is that skills typically increase in value, which means the primary asset doesn’t depreciate over time. Skilled professionals often do their best work later in life and they can take this skill with them even if they lose their equipment or place of business.

3. Drawback: Hard to scale up

Scalability is a serious problem for artisans. Business is all about scaling up through repetition to leverage materials and time more efficiently, which results in more profits. The only way for artisans to really scale their business is to train others and have them work alongside them.

4. Drawback: Limited growth

Lack of scalability translates into lack of growth. Even if an artisan is lucky enough to become world famous and have thousands of customers clamoring for products, their sales are limited by their own time and ability. They can’t simply invest in more machines or take on more staff to handle growing demand.

Why are artisan processes important to understand?

Even though the artisan process is extremely challenging from a business standpoint, they still have a place in commerce. Understanding how and when to use them effectively can open up the door for unique opportunities.

1. Making a market

Businesses based on the artisan process need to understand their target audience and how to make a market for themselves. Developing a unique niche is part of the equation, but so is knowing how to get the most value out of a limited client base. Identifying cost to quality (CTQ) is critical. Many craftsmen aim at luxury and higher-end markets to maximize potential profit per client rather than trying to get lots of clients with lower price points.

2. Leveraging location

Location is also a bigger deal for artisans than typical manufacturers or service provides. There’s a reason artists, actors and other kinds of specialists tend to congregate in certain cities or districts. You need to know where people are looking for a certain product or service so you can capitalize on that expectation.

3. Cultural connections

Many artisans connect their culture with their work, which can be a powerful way to create a brand and build a market. Hand-made goods from different parts of the world have a cultural appeal that mass-made products fail to replicate.

An industry example of an artisan process

A life-long carpenter decides to start up his own business after finishing an apprenticeship with a local woodworker. Rather than build a business based around mass-production, he decides to create high-quality furniture with custom designs and inlays directly for clients. Over the years, his reputation increases through word-of-mouth and craft shows until he has steady demand to keep him busy throughout the year. At this point, his personal skill and limited time are the driving factors behind the value of his products.

3 best practices when thinking about artisan processes

It’s one thing to make a living as an expert artisan, but it’s quite another to run a successful business based on the artisan process. There’s no magic formula or guarantee that things will work out, but these practices are a good place to start.

1. Opportunity for innovation

Innovation is where artisans shine. The ability to be spontaneous or develop something new and different is one of the biggest benefits of this kind of process. Don’t waste this opportunity to experiment and innovate.

2. Be careful with compromise

It may be tempting to try to force an artisan process into bigger shoes by compromising quality and creativity. This usually ends up with the business being caught between specialty and generic, which is a bad place to be. It’s rarely a good idea to mix the artisan process with other kinds of strategies.

3. Consider partnerships

Since artisans don’t have the same clout as big companies, it can be hard for them to compete in the same arenas. Partnering with other skilled professionals can give these individuals more clout as a collective without sacrificing core values.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about artisan processes

1. What makes a product “artisan”?

Technically, things don’t have to be hand-made to be artisan. As long as the direct contribution of the individual is the most substantial and value-adding part of the process then it counts as an artisan product.

2. What kind of worker qualifies as an artisan?

The simplest definition of artisan is a worker who creates things in limited quantities through their own personal effort. Artisans can use a wide variety of tools and machines depending on their craft, but their own time, effort and ability are paramount to the completion of the process.

3. Why are artisans important?

Cooking, art and carpentry are just a few of the areas where artisans still thrive and drive entire industries. Artisans are still the leading innovators in many fields and they offer many interesting alternatives to mass-manufactured and procedural products.

The Art of the Artisan Process

There is plenty of power in the artisan process, but it’s hard to harness this kind of power in a scalable business model. Building a company based on this kind of production process is an art of its own. Artisans should carefully consider all their options before adopting conventional business strategies and models for their own enterprise.

About the Author