Jewelry designers and crafters often dream of turning their hobby into a business where they can do what they love all day long. I’m one of those. Though I’m already self-employed, I really wanted to turn my love of beaded micro macramé and bead weaving into a steady income. What I didn’t anticipate was intensive planning and building, plus a few major mental shifts before I could make money. Today, Wyoming Beads is off the ground — not terribly far off the ground just yet, but the process of learning these lessons finally built enough momentum to move forward.
Prepare to become a jack of all trades
The first thing to understand about building a jewelry business is that it’s not all about doing what you love. It revolves around it, but sometimes the actual creation part seems almost incidental to the monumental task of running a business. You will learn how to take great product photos, market your work, seek out new opportunities, become a salesperson both online and in-person, and build awesome and unique displays for trade shows. You will get in the habit of wearing your own work, and never leaving the house without business cards tucked in your purse or back pocket. How do I know? Because you won’t succeed in this saturated, intensely competitive market otherwise.
Develop an artisan jewelry product line
For most artists, developing a product line is against our basic nature. We don’t want to be stuck with one thing; we want to create something from a design, see how wonderful it is, and then move on to the next. We want to be able to go off of whims. Chances are, you hate hearing your work referred to as “products” too. These are all things you’ll have to get past if you want to make it into a business. Making one-of-a-kind pieces is great, but very few people can build an entire business around it.
I had to learn how to discipline myself. It’s not just make one thing and then move on, it’s making 5-10 variations of a design, taking great pictures of them, and then giving them trial runs in all avenues. Instead of making what I want for a trade show, I make what I need to fill the displays. If I want to introduce a new item, I have to be prepared to make about 30 related items so that it’s more than one lonely piece sitting on a tabletop. For every design and variation, I have to be prepared to make it as many times as my customers want to buy it – and kill it if no one buys, no matter how much I personally like it.
Find the right audience for handmade jewelry
Just because someone buys jewelry, it doesn’t mean they’re a potential customer for you. Way too many jewelry creators aim for bargain shoppers – they undersell themselves to attract customers, and then can’t figure out why they’re broke. In most cases, an individual artist absolutely cannot try to attract the bargain shopper. High-end jewelry is wonderful, but does cost a lot to get started and even more to care for and insure. Middle-of-the-road jewelry, then, is usually the best choice for people just starting a jewelry business. My own product lines include items made with silk or nylon, and using glass, stone, or high-quality resin beads. These look nice, but are within budget to make and sell for anywhere from $15 to $100 apiece.
Learn to control costs in jewelry creation
Supplies are one of the best parts of making jewelry. It’s so easy to spot gorgeous beads or unique findings that you just have to have. That’s okay to a point, but those extra supplies that you don’t use right away completely kill your bottom line. Large packages of beads also tend to save money, but cost in storage space and breakage over time if you’re not churning out the volume to justify such purchases. My own bead collection still has some pretties that I found as much as 10 years ago, but they just don’t yet fit into the designs I’m producing. Whenever possible, plan ahead and buy exactly the type and quantity of components you need with just enough in reserve to make a few replacement items, and maybe some to test out new designs.
Understand accounting and taxes for handmade jewelry
When you first start, cash accounting may make the most sense – that is, paying taxes based on what you made minus what you spent. However, it’s best to get a good inventory tracking system in place early, even if it’s just a spreadsheet on the computer that shows how many you have of each bead. Accrual accounting means that you report how much you made, less the amount spent on the materials actually used for the items that sold, and of course less any recurring non-inventory expenses. With accrual accounting, it’s certain that you’re only paying taxes on profit as you make that profit. Cash accounting is easy, but it can cause a problem if you load up on materials one year and then show pure income the next.
Diversify avenues for jewelry sales
There are hundreds of ways to sell your jewelry. Which ones are best? While anyone can offer an opinion based on their experiences, only your own experimentation will tell you what’s true for you and your business. Try to test out every avenue you can imagine, but be ready to drop any that aren’t generating profits within a reasonable amount of time. If none of them generate profits, the real problem is in your own business – it could be marketing, product selection, pricing, presentation, or any number of other factors.
Owning and operating a handmade jewelry business is an awesome experience, and I certainly wouldn’t trade it in or stop for the world. That said, you’ll find that only 20%-50% of your time is spent actually making things. Unless you can afford to hire a really talented and dedicated manager, the rest of your time will be dedicated to developing and running the business itself.