Female Artisan Entrepreneurs On the RiseBy: Charlene Davis
"Don’t quit your day job” is the most common advice given to hopeful artisans who want to expand their services to start small businesses. But what if the day job quits on them first? This scenario seems to be happening with disturbing frequency as the economy continues its downward spiral.
Even before the downturn of the economy, the job market started changing with more and more women leaving corporate jobs to start their own businesses. Now families are shedding traditional roles as husbands are laid off in alarming numbers and wives suddenly find themselves the sole supporters of their families. Grandmothers are forced to reconsider their options as retirement savings are quickly depleted. And single moms look for alternative means to pay the bills as prices skyrocket, while companies mandate wage and hiring freezes. To meet these challenges some artisans are trying to ramp up their businesses, while others are just getting started.
Traci Bisson is the owner of The Mom Entrepreneur (http://www.themomentrepreneur.com/) and has an online support group for female entrepreneurs. She has noticed a definite increase in women-owned entrepreneurial ventures; specifically product-based businesses. "I feel the artisan/craft industry would be a natural transition for mom entrepreneurs since it seems to have the lowest overhead costs and it can easily be done from home,” says Bisson.
Anita Crook agrees. She initially started her business three years ago in her garage to keep overhead down by handling orders, bookkeeping, marketing, selling, and shipping all by herself. "I did as much myself out of my home as long as I could,” she says. "This enabled me to start making a profit from the get-go.”
Crook is the "accidental entrepreneur” because the 60-something year old stay-at-home mom/wife/grandmother never had any intention of starting her own business. She is the creator and designer of the wildly popular "pouchee ®” (http://www.pouchee.com/), who just needed a handy-dandy purse organizer. "Actually, I needed a life organizer,” Crook says. "My husband had just lost his business and we had to sell off our retirement to have money to live on.” So she designed the pouchee® based on her own personal needs and then decided to try and sell them to store owners with a great deal of trepidation – they loved them! Three years later she has million dollar business empire with three assistants, a real office, and a warehouse full of 30,000+ pouchees®.
Rebecca Kelman (http://www.bybecca.com/) has had a small artisan business for the last five years hand painting beautiful, custom designs on glassware. However, when her ex-husband's business recently slumped, it became her responsibility to provide a greater level of support for the family. She did this by increasing her internet marketing efforts with a great deal of success, such as social networking and changing her website to a Yahoo store. But the biggest change has been internally. "Being able to step up and take care of my kids, at least in part, has done wonders for my self esteem,” Kelman says. "And I think that the boost has helped my children see that if you believe in yourself and work hard, you can make things happen.”
Last spring, Beth Crowell who used to work for the New York Stock Exchange, decided that with the changing economy she needed to get on the ball and have her fledgling jewelry design company (http://www.wiltonartisans.com/) start bringing in a second income. Within a few short months, she had created hundreds of pieces of jewelry and started selling them at artisan shows, on her website, and in a few local stores. Crowell wants to encourage all women in similar situations to take a chance on themselves. "I know it sounds silly, but you’ll never know if it’s going to work until you get out there with your product,” she advises. "This has been an incredible journey and I have met many wonderful women who are doing the same thing. We’re just trying to raise our kids at home while bringing in some additional income in a bad economy.”
The good news is that some experts feel the downturn has opened up a great opportunity for more women to start their own ventures because the market is ripe for them to do so. Elizabeth Gordon, author of The Chic Entrepreneur: Put Your Business in Higher Heels (http://www.chicentrepreneur.com/), feels that exploring entrepreneurship is one way to create opportunity out of a negative situation. "Necessity is the mother of invention and who better to nurture an idea, play mother to an invention and grow it into an enterprise, than a woman?” she asks. Gordon thinks that women make great business owners because they are highly creative and amazing at juggling multiple priorities, making them ideal in a startup situation. "All those skills you learn in running a household are remarkably transferable to the role of small business owner,” she says.
Gordon points out women have been historically underrepresented in the ranks of entrepreneurs. However, that has recently changed as women are starting new businesses at twice the rate of men. "Now that women make up an equal share of the workforce, I think we'll see even more female entrepreneurs emerge out of this recession," says Gordon. "And in this climate of opportunity if you play your cards right, you might just hit it big." Here's hoping a lot of women do.
Charlene Davis (http://www.cdavisfreelance.com/) is a nationally published writer specializing in business, retail, e-commerce, and food. She has written Design and Start an Online Travel Business in a Week, Start Your Own Photography Business, Start Your Own Clothing Store, and How to Sell Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories on eBay, as well as two additional books co-authored with Jacquelyn Lynn, Make BIG Profits on eBay and Start Your Own Senior Services Business (all published by Entrepreneur Press). Charlene wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.