5 Ways to Earn Money for a Knife Maker Business
How can you earn money as a maker? You can fulfill custom orders, develop and sell knife models, build a Youtube channel, and so on. Which ones should you combine into a business?
Over time we talked with a lot of makers and observed their businesses and we’ve realized that there are a few “archetypes” of makers, like characters in a video game.
These archetypes are what you become if you pursue one path to the very end. (Realistically, you’d combine multiple archetypes into one business.)
Below we’re introducing these archetypes: The Artisan, the Designer, the Content Producer, the Teacher, and the Supplier. Of course, this is just a first take, but hopefully, it can serve as a starting point for some of you to think in which direction you might want to go.
Let’s start with the obvious archetype—the Artisan.
1️⃣ The Artisan
The Artisan specializes in the making of custom knives, and that’s what brings in the money, too.
By developing a distinct style and customer base, they can charge a lot of money—and they have to as well, since they’re creating unique pieces. (Even when batching steps.) A personal brand can help Artisans raise their value and prices.
To build the business, apart from a workshop they need some sort of online presence. A newsletter may be a good idea.
To market their knives, typically they’ll make it into Forged in Fire and on the covers of the major knife magazines. Since they make pricey, specialized knives they need to seek out serious knife enthusiasts on social media, forums, or knife shows.
Artisans should not forget that their focus is part of a local community, which offers unique marketing opportunities.
Artisans will spend most of the time in the forge. The first skills they must master more than other archetypes is, yes, the art of knife making. The second one that comes with this business is communication—since with every knife they need to meet whatever expectations that customer had. It would help, if an Artisan spends time to learn photography properly.
An opportunity for Artisans to add income is to upsell, for example on care products. If they find a product they actually love, they may reduce their production cost by serving as brand ambassador.
Artisans combine well with Content Producers, since Artisans make very refined knives and (have to) acquire very specialized skills.
2️⃣ The Designer
Designers draft and produce their own models, and then sell them.
The money here comes from volume: A Designer will typically produce an order of magnitude more knives than an Artisan. The value comes from the brand they develop.
To build the business and build the brand, they’ll usually develop a few models for a market (like, outdoor or high-end kitchen), and then work on streamlining the processes around those models. To actually sell, Designers should try to control their online shopping experience.
To market these models, a Designer usually will double down on the niche. This might mean cooperating for example with influencers in the survival gear space, if that’s the nice, or making it into cooking magazines. Content from a Designer will be about building the brand more than showcasing the skill or techniques as Artisans do.
Designers will spend time in the forge but a lot is about figuring out supplies, processes, and then how to market and position the models. That’s then also the skills they must master. If you’re just interested in
An opportunity for Designers to add income is the same as for Artisans: upsell, for example on care products. Another is to scale up: hire people to work some or all of the steps.
Designers combine well with Suppliers. Why? Supply management is a thing for designers, to keep the cost per piece down and the profit up. Buying a bit more in bulk and selling these supplies to other makers then is a natural fit.
What about Teachers? That depends on the personality. If you thrive on the making and process side of the Designer archetype, then you should just scale up. If you love teaching folks, then branching out into teaching may work well.
3️⃣ The Content Creator
Content Creators make money by creating content related to knife making, either for knife makers, or for knife enthusiasts. They’re related to—but in my opinion not the same as—influencers in the narrow sense.
While they may make and sell knives, the focus here is on creating content. The money usually comes from multiple income streams: Youtube, ebooks, and merch. Or online courses, Twitch.TV and their own brand of knife care products. (Doesn’t mean they don’t love knife making—that’s just not the main focus money-wise.)
Building the business for a Content Creator means building a following. Figuring out the target audience as usual is key, but here it’s really an audience. 🙂
To market their content, Content Creators will cooperate with other Content Creators, and happily serve as brand ambassadors—which gives them credibility, too.
Content Creators will spend lots of time in the forge—making sure the lighting is good, and the camera captures just the right moment. Kidding—but only a bit. Content creators will spend serious time in front of small and big screen, creating, editing, and marketing their content.
Other necessary skills are communication. As with Instagram marketing, it’s not ultimately about content but about engaging folks.
Content Creators add income by adding yet another income stream—or by selling branded supplies.
Content Creators combine well with both Teachers and Suppliers. Teachers because that’s what the content usually will be about, so you may as well do it offline (if you’re into teaching!) And Suppliers, since Content Creators are very well positioned to market knife-making supplies or care products.
4️⃣ The Teacher
The Teacher sells the experience of making knives—the feeling AND the knowledge.
They make money by holding weekend workshops, offering courses, open forge days, and even online courses. Making knives for them is about maintaining their skill, and having fun.
Building the business for a Teacher starts with a forge that can actually accomodate multiple participants. It continues with developing a course model, where participants are almost guaranteed success—since it’s about the experience.
Every participant is also a unique marketing opportunity: Word of mouth will be the Teacher’s best friend, since course participant very likely have friends that also would love the experience. Staying touch with “alumni” is therefore critical.
Since it’s a very local business (people need to visit), local marketing should not be forgotten. You might even cooperate with schools, for example.
Teachers will spend lots of time with people, helping them succeed. If you hate people, this isn’t for you. Apart from people skills, it would really help if you dig into photography and video shooting/ editing, since the courses give you the best marketing material ever: people genuinely having fun.
Teachers might add income by upselling course participants on care products, sheaths.
Teachers combine well with Content Creators, if you’re so inclined: creating content is what you need to do anyway.
5️⃣ The Supplier
The Supplier is in the business of selling whatever supplies other knife makers need to make gorgeous knives. Examples: stabilized wood, damascus steel, or grinders.
For a supplier, knife making serves to demonstrate how nice these supplies can work to make a knife.
Building the business for a Supplier means figuring out sourcing (while keeping the costs down) and production of those supplies. As with Designers, Suppliers might want to setup their own online store—so they control the sales.
The best marketing a supplier can possibly get is awesome knives shared by their knife making customers. You should do everything possible to encourage shoutouts, mentions, and your logo in those testimonials. Cooperating with high-profile makers—supplies for exposure—is another option.
Suppliers will spend lots of time making—they’re like Artisans or Designers but for that supply.
To add income suppliers might simply add to the range they’re offering: wood care products for wood suppliers, belts for grinder suppliers, etc.
Suppliers combine well with Content Creators, if you’re so inclined: creating content is what you need to do anyway.
➡️➡️➡️ Agree? Disagree? Have more ideas? Would love to hear your thoughts on this! DM us or reply to the email!
Note that none of this is final—it’s simply the sum of our observations, and so there is a good deal of opinion in there, too.
Do you make knives? How about upping your game, make even better blades, market them better, and sell them online? Here is how we help you visit our page for-knife-makers.