Craft Entrepreneurship Program Supports Local Artisans and the Local Economy

It’s no secret that our local economy is largely tourist-based; in fact, 80% of our local workforce is employed in trades and service sector jobs. Many jobs offer low-wages and no benefits, and family incomes fluctuate on seasons as well as unpredictable weather patterns. Meanwhile, according to the ongoing Regional Housing Study, 76% of our workforce overpays for housing and too many of our local residents depend on critical service agencies when pay checks don’t cover both rent and food. Now is the time to identify and pursue viable solutions that will boost our local economy and support the people who live and work here.

Sierra Business Council (SBC) and the Sierra Small Business Development Center (SBDC), as well as the Queen of Hearts Women’s Fund are some major players at the table. Through their joint efforts, the inaugural Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship Program was completed in Truckee, CA, in March.

Sierra Business Council (SBC) pioneers and demonstrates innovative approaches and solutions to increase community vitality, economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social fairness in the Sierra Nevada.

Kristin York, Director of Business Innovation at SBC, applied for the Craft Entrepreneurship program after hearing success stories from other communities at a national presentation. The North Tahoe – Truckee region was identified as a perfect site. The program’s mission is to empower creative people in underserved communities to create pathways to entrepreneurship with Etsy.

Seeing the potential of this program to cultivate economic stability for some of our low-income residents, the Queen of Hearts Women’s Fund awarded it a $10,000 grant. Shortly thereafter, the program presented 12 hours of instruction over 5 workshop sessions to 19 participants free of cost.

Krista Tranquilla, a local artist with pieces in 30 shops as well as Etsy, taught the Etsy-curriculum with the wisdom of someone who has been through it all. Krista quit her comfortable corporate desk job in 2012 to pursue her passion for jewelry, and she said that Etsy was a key step in developing her business, although it was overwhelming at first. Krista believes the program was a great fit for our community. “Our region is very entrepreneurial and participants were given great inside information from Etsy on how to jumpstart their online businesses,” she said.

“Connecting with this ‘new economy’ helps local woodworkers, jewelry makers, invitation crafters and artisans become self-sustainable and boosts our community’s economy,” Kristin York hopes.

Through this series, participants learned best practices for photography, product descriptions, search engine optimization and more. Not only did they workshop ideas and develop their products, but they also coached each other on how to use the technology and worked on refining their art’s direction. Furthermore, they cultivated a network that will continue to support one another as they pursue their Etsy shops and sharing booths at local markets.

While the long term effects may not be in yet, it is safe to say that the pilot Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship program was a success. Participants gained the confidence and skills necessary to continue forward. Several are pursuing SBC workshops around marketing, finance training and Quick Books. In evaluations, participants were overwhelmingly positive.

One participant reported: “I had my Etsy shop open for a few years. It took a few years of failing and accomplishments to understand just the basics of Etsy. This class has taught me all the missing pieces and helped me refine my shop. Without this class, I would still be lost and be spending my time on ‘How-To’ blogs and forums. I am very thankful that Etsy came to our small town of Truckee and I was able to attend the class.”

Another said, “This class is comprehensive and inspiring. It provides practical knowledge and builds entrepreneurial skills.”

With the Queen of Hearts’ grant, the program can run several more times, and the next date will be announced for this summer or fall soon. SBC has spoken with the North Tahoe and Truckee Family Resource Centers about running a bilingual or Spanish-led program.

As our region develops, it is necessary to examine how we can best support our local residents and families and economic stability for everyone. 

If you are interested in participating, email Jessica Perry Carr, SBC and SBDC Program Manager, at jcarr@sierrabusiness.org.

Sierra Small Business Development Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship Program

Krista Tranquilla’s Etsy Shop

An abbreviated version of this article first appeared in the May 11, 2016, Give Back Tahoe page in Sierra Sun. Every Wednesday, TTCF curates this page and shares the stories of local nonprofits, grant and scholarship recipients, and our own initiatives such as the 2016 Regional Housing Study. Please look for it every week!