Maker Culture” is a term that has emerged to describe various phenomena that occur when the internet and digital tools are embraced by traditional artisans, do-it-yourselfers, inventors, crafters and an endless list of creators and enthusiasts. While the passion for their craft is the motivation for most makers, some individual members of the maker community are discovering they have skills that meet the needs of individuals and businesses (translation: paying customers), the key foundation of a successful business; even an accidental business.

While the 3-D printer is an example of a maker-tool receiving a great deal of attention from the general news media, there are many other types of digital tools ranging from metal parts fabricators to laser cutters that are enabling short-run manufacturing and custom one-off products, the types of maker-related tools and skills that are attracting enough critical mass to establish identifiable marketplaces. With crowd-funding options like Kickstarter and community commerce platforms like Etsy, what once were part time passions can, with the right skills and savvy (and hard work), be nurtured into full time businesses.

Often, however, the individual with maker skills may lack other skills necessary to create a viable and sustainable business. For example, the inability to master marketing skills can often be the difference in remaining a hobbyist instead of creating a thriving small business. Learning how to create a compelling video pitch can be the difference in success and failure on Kickstarter. Not understanding the importance of building a community of customers can prevent an Etsy artist from turning a passion into a profession.

Recently, I had the opportunity to be a customer of a maker business that impressed me with their marketing prowess, as well as their craftsmanship. In a search for a source to help create a specific type of wood signage for a new office location, a graphic designer in our company discovered Mike Cheung and Paula Chang, the husband-wife team who created Tinkering Monkey in Oakland, Calif. A look at the company’s website was all it took to convince our team they’d found the right company for our job.

Not only did Tinkering Monkey have the digital equipment and processes necessary to allow our designer to create files that could be used by Tinkering Monkey’s laser cutter, the company has embraced a wide range of internet-savvy marketing tools and approaches that immediately convinced us that our company, in Nashville, Tenn., could easily work with their’s, based in Oakland, Calif.

Here are some reasons why:

An easy-to-understand and navigate website.


Visitors can quickly understand Tinkering Monkey’s services, skills and products.

Great story telling.


Mike and Paula’s About Page provides a potential customer with an understanding of why their company exists, not merely what their company does.

A product marketing approach to a service.


Rather than being exclusively a “custom” manufacturer, Tinkering Monkey has developed products that can be customized. In addition to signage and a wide range of wooden items that can be customized with a company’s logo, Tinkering Monkey also makes a popular wooden stand for retailers who use iPads and Square for credit and debit card transactions.

An always-on virtual presence.


Two high-def web cams allow customers to see their project coming together–or merely watch the cars and trucks go by on the highway outside the large windows.

A customer community.


Customers of Tinkering Monkey share photos of their signage and logo’d items with Mike and Paula who celebrate their customers pride with a special gallery.

Video that helps customers understand exactly what goes into their desired project.

This time lapse video made with a DropCam camera (and we thought it was a security product) not only shows off their craftsmanship, it allows me to show off the sign that’s now hanging in the reception area of our company.

Virtual (and actual) customer service.


While the site provides clear instructions for the specifications and other requirements necessary for a job, the shop is easy to reach by email or phone also.

A branding approach that makes a small woodworking studio look and feel like a fast-growing technology startup.


Really, doesn’t this look like a company Facebook would buy for a few billion dollars?