Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Lure of Cottage Industries

Almost every designer I know has something going on the side. Sometimes you're trying to make ends meet with a little extra income. But often, designers and crafty people at large are looking for an outlet that's not so burdened by business complications. has built an amazing large business by taking advantage of this unmet need - add a bunch of small businesses together and you get a big one.

I have friends selling soft goods, painted and paper items, and even vinyl small-productions through Etsy. I haven't done it first hand but I sure understand the appeal. While my son and I enjoy making our own thank-you cards, I'm not driven to devote time and energy to create my own products for resale. It requires a good dose of traditional craftsmanship and I always outsource my model-making.

That said, businesses like Etsy and self-publisher represent something important in the evolution of business. We now have the timing and technology to allow anyone to have their own small business with little to no risk attached. That's incredible! What a relief! But why can't a designer find this feeling of freedom and accomplishment at "work?" What's wrong with all of the other businesses, the traditional jobs that we're always supposed to have? Most of them are just stuck in routines that are completely archaic...but some of the good ones have started figuring this out.

Small business means empowerment. Etsy and Lulu show us that empowerment doesn't even require the creator to have complete control over the finicky details - we can accept rules and limitations and still feel a giddy sense of ownership. A good creative environment should be a living Etsy - a bunch of small businesses, run under set parameters, but with the same level of empowerment. Who doesn't want their designers to come to work every day with energy and passion? When's the last time you stayed late to finish something because you just couldn't stop working? Etsy producers often do - they create their goods in their own personal time, evenings and weekends, and there's a reason. People create because they want to, not because they have to. Smart managers and owners know this...and I'm betting on their businesses to make it to 2010.

Etsy: Lead testing enforcement delayed for now

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