With online transactions dominating our activities in the months we were forced to stay at home, we saw the rise of online businesses. Now that things are starting to move back to normal and people are going out of their homes again, would it still be profitable to have an online side hustle?
This might be the time to explore more possibilities. The lockdown months proved that the world is more networked than we thought. Transfer of money, delivery of goods, and most of everything could be done online even from different parts of the world. We have been doing this before, but its extent and frequency increased further and faster when we could not do these transactions personally.
Given these developments, you could consider starting a side business now that links producers from different parts of the world to online markets. Unlike online shops like Etsy and eBay, you could go directly to communities and develop a line of products with them. Try a social entrepreneurship model.
Crafts done by hand are expensive and are rare in highly modernized countries where machines could do almost everything. But there are still many communities in developing countries struggling to maintain their crafts against mass-produced goods. And often, these craft items are more environmentally friendly compared to industrial products. Baskets and boxes made of dried leaves and vines are better than plastic containers. Clay pots are cooler than plastic ones.
Getting in touch with producers
If you don’t know where to start, you could look for non-profit or non-government organizations working with these communities. Have a business proposal ready so that they could connect you with an appropriate group or community.
You can also check out some top colleges in your locality. They might be doing extension work. Design your proposal so that it could contribute to the empowerment of communities. You could be the introductory link for them to meet other companies or designers who might also be interested in doing business with them.
We live in a very networked world. You might even have some friends or work contacts who could recommend community crafts they’ve seen when they were on vacation or heard from a friend.
While hand-woven bags and pots look great, they usually don’t last long because of the kind of material they use. This reduces the market value of these kinds of products. However, they could be refined and mixed with other materials so they could have a longer life.
Hand-woven material, for example, could be mixed with leather, which is more durable than fabrics. Bags with a leather frame could go well with weaved cloth as their accents and interior lining. If you don’t have the knack for making these designs, get a consultant. The important thing is that the aesthetics and quality of the product have to match your target market’s tastes and demand.
Teenagers or young professionals may not mind if the bag they’re buying would only last them a year, but if you want to market to a more sophisticated group, they would want their bag to be sleek and durable.
Once your designs are ready, train your community partners. As your business also aims to empower communities, they should be free to use the skills they develop in other initiatives. However, you could make exclusive the designs you develop. You could also agree with them on a lock-out period when they would only be producing for you. Once the period is over, they are free to market the products independently without having to go through you.
Selling producers’ stories is the most common and attractive way to market crafts, although some have considered it exploitative of the communities. However, if you angle your narrative well, you wouldn’t be selling their sob story or ‘exoticizing’ them. Rather, you would be highlighting their skills, assuring your customers that they are buying quality products, products that are better than the machine-produced goods commonly available in the market.
When you get into social entrepreneurship, what is important is that it helps your finances and improves the lives of the people involved in it. Treat the community producers as your business partners. Implement an equitable profit-sharing system. Because your producers are in a different country, they could easily be exploited.
An ethical business would consider the living standards in their country and the actual profits of the business. Be transparent with your finances so that your producers understand where the money goes and why they’re earning that amount. If done well, a business like this could impact several lives.