I had some advantage in starting a jewelry business because both my sister and my brother make their livings as crafts professionals.
They are light years ahead of me in the business of crafts, and they have been able to provide some really helpful advice and encouragement along the way.
Brooches by Virginia Brubaker
When I was first learning to make earrings with beads threaded on headpins, I was pretty frustrated with the quality of my wrapped loops.
They all looked a little lopsided to me, and I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong.My sister, M'lou, is a silversmith and she was in town so I showed her my attempts at making headpin earrings, explaining that I wasn't satisfied with the wrapped loops.
M'lou said, "They're fine. You could sell these."
I showed her how they weren't quite right yet.After all, her stuff always looks so, well, professional.
M'lou looked me in the eye and spoke slowly, emphasizing each word, "They're Fine. You Could Sell These."
The message finally sank in.
My earrings were good enough to sell.
So I started selling them.
Words of Encouragement
If you are making jewelry now and you are thinking of starting a jewelry business, it may be time to learn how to take a compliment. If your friends or relatives or co-workers are complimenting your jewelry, pay real attention. What exactly are they saying? And who is saying it?
My mother had a great sense of color -- and extremely limited vision, so if she complimented a necklace I was wearing, it really only meant one of two things: the general color scheme was pleasing to her, or she liked the length/width/general shape of the thing. That's really all she could observe.
But don't write off that kind of compliment, because my mom was totally undistracted by the details of a piece and could hone in on basic shape and color. Her vision forced a kind of perspective that can be really valuable to a jewelry designer.
In starting a jewelry business, you want to know what colors people respond to and what features of the pieces you are already making attract their attention. If you pay attention to unsolicited compliments, you can notice what it is about your work that attracts attention, and you can use that encouragement to keep you going.
Plenty Good Enough
Starting any business requires a certain leap of faith. When you are starting a jewelry business, you can take a series of tiny leaps, because the risks can be pretty small.
You really can start with casual selling, by showing a few things to women at church or at the office.
“You can take it one step at a time." ~Virginia Brubaker
Then it's just a tiny step to asking your hairdresser to put an earring display on her countertop.
Or if you need raise some money to buy better materials, you can use the materials you have to make simple earrings or stretch bracelets by the armload and sell them at a flea market to make enough money to buy more supplies. You can take it one step at a time.
A Simple Business Plan
A friend took me to a Chicago Cubs game a few weeks ago and my friend (who is quite the Cubs fan) was delighted to see the "necklace lady" setting up across the street from the ballpark. My friend was already wearing several necklaces she had previously bought from this woman, and she had pressed them on the other women in our party.
The necklaces were simple strings of 8mm plastic "crystal" beads in the team colors, with a couple of plastic baseball beads as spacers and the word CUBS spelled out in plastic letter beads. There were stretch bracelets to match.
The woman had a shopping cart with some kind of rod attached to it so she could hang a sparkly mass of jewelry to catch the light. The cart was filled with grocery bags full of more stock to sell. The foot traffic was pretty good as game time approached and I suspect she did okay selling her work.
It's a simple business plan. Sell outside every home game during the season. Have a lot of stock. Do your best to make it visible to passers-by. Sell it cheap, so there's no reason for fans not to treat themselves to a little team spirit.
If you are starting a jewelry business, you could take the same kind of idea and fancy it up, use better materials, have fancier displays, be more assertive or more charming as you greet the folks who are passing by.
You might make more money than the necklace lady at Wrigley Field. You might make less.
Seed Bead Brooch by Virginia Brubaker
A Little Failure is Okay
Business is an experiment.
You don't know what will work until it already has worked.
So in starting a jewelry business, you need to be prepared to try things out, and to try them out without making a huge investment in materials or tools that are only useful for this one untested project.
Sure, it's smart to study the fashion trends, the colors for the coming season, what the big name designers are doing, but in the end, only you can decide what you will produce, and only your customers can decide what they will buy.
Sometimes you will come up with a design which is desired by everyone who sees it. Sometimes you will come up with a design which is brilliant and admired, but seldom purchased. That's just how it goes.
The main secret of success is making more of the stuff that everyone wants to buy, while continuing to devote a part of your attention to trying out variations and new designs.
The other secret to business success lies in learning from what doesn't work as well as from what does.
Basic Competence is the Key
I suspect that most people who comtemplate starting a jewelry business can do okay if they just follow a few simple principles.
1. Develop enough skill to be "Good Enough," as my sister would say. Don't insist on perfection.
2. Treat your work as a business.
3. Keep expenses down.
4. Pay attention to what your customers want
5. Take it one experiment at a time.
So go ahead. Give it a try. Experiment with design. Experiment with ways to display your jewelry. Apply to a show that you would like to get into, even though you don't know if you can be accepted. Experiment with finding the next good place to sell your work. And keep experimenting your way to success as you are starting a jewelry business of your own.
About the Author
Self Portrait Made with Sead Beads by Virginia Brubaker
Virginia Brubaker is an accomplished seed bead artist, her work has been published in several magazines and books, and been featured in many competitions. She shows her work at Bead Dreams and Bead International shows.
Get Your Jewelry Business Started Today!
Your first step: Writing an Artist Statement. More important than having a jewelry business plan (which is essential), writing your artist statement first will help you define who you are as an artist and what your business stands for.
If you already have your business up and running, try visiting the Running a Home Based Jewelry Business section for tips on what to do with business opportunites, the importance of patience and determination in your Jewelry Making Business, and Having an Open Heart in Your Jewelry Design Business.