September 4, 2008

What is the best way to learn how to run a jewelry making business?

I'm fairly new to jewelry making, but I already love it enough to turn it into a business. I don't want to rush, though. I don't want to be a simple bead stringer. I want to take time to develop a variety of skills so I can put some real thought and craftsmanship into my work. I also know that I will need to build up my inventory and learn more about managing a home business.

I can find classes to develop my skills, but what's the best way to learn how to run this type of business?
That is a very good question. Artists are notorious for not being strong business people, so people say. It seems the side of our brain we nurture to be creative is not even close to the side that needs to take care of our business lives. For some artists that other side of the brain appears to reside in someone else's body.

I personally think a great place to start is to determine your weaknesses and strengths in business and then make a plan from there. Take an inventory of your skills. On one side write strengths and the other weaknesses.

Budgeting ....... time and money? Can you keep a check book, know how to run quick books, pay sales taxes, track upcoming bills, keep a running idea of inventory and items you may need to restock? Not just beads and supplies/tools (very important stuff) but business cards, envelopes, stamps, packing material, printer ink. Also can you keep track of large purchases that may need to happen in the future and budget along for them, printers, digital cameras, computers, car repairs, canopies, displays etc....? Can you set yourself a task and get it done when you say you will or do you have a tendency not to be able to say no to anyone and therefore always seem to be not getting everything done? Are you highly self motivated and able to set goals that you usually reach?

Selling ........... as in are you a strong sales person? Are you outgoing and charismatic? Do you naturally have the ability to encourage someone to see something they didn't maybe see before (your jewelry in a different light). Are you genuine, warm, outgoing? Do you have strong self esteem so you can also sell yourself? Can you see yourself taking four days out of a week to set up your jewelry at a show and having three days to make jewelry (don't forget two days to clean the house, answer emails, do laundry, etc.)?

Business sense .............. do you have down the basics of cost and supply? Do you have vendors you can trust who can get you what you need at a great price? Do you understand the dynamics around pricing your work to stay in business? Not just cost of beads but of overhead for running a business? Do you have computer, photography, web design skills? Do you know how to utilize social marketing networks, know of online jewelry networks? Are you connected with local resources, the chamber of commerce, local bead society, jewelry teachers, bead stores, women's (men's) business networks, local art networks, vendors in your area that do shows?

Skill ....... do you make something that others just don't? Do you have a niche market where you stand out? Do you have the ability to see what someone would like to have or need and fill that need for them? For instance can you look at your community know where your style will fit or be able to alter it to meet the needs of a particular client?

Take a truthful evaluation of your skills, and if you don't think you can ........ ask your best friend, husband, sister or someone to do it with you.

Now just because you have a list on the weaknesses side of the page does not mean all is lost. Do you want to hone those skills or does the thought of that make you want to poke your eye out with a sharp stick? Make a third list of things you want to learn and find out how to learn them. Sign up for a small business course, get online and look through Amazon for books on the subjects you are interested in or need to be interested in.

Now you have a shorter list of attributes that you just don't care to even have. Good! Can you find someone who you can farm them out to when you get to the point of needing to? I hire a bookkeeper to help me along. I am burnt out on selling so now I have a rep who sells my work for me. I can't take pictures so I have someone that does that for me. It's OK not to be able to do everything but it's not OK to let your business fail you because you didn't know you couldn't or can't. It's amazing what you can trade for jewelry or jewelry making lessons.

I am sure there is a bunch of things I missed so if anyone has any words of wisdom please chime in. I hope this didn't discourage you since that was definitely not the intent. I have seen so many amazing artists that have just never been discovered because they lack some of these basic skills and didn't even know they needed them.

I am a strong supporter of the informational interview. That is where you interview people who you see as successful in a field you want to learn more about. People are happy to share their experiences if treated with respect and not asked questions that appear you are just looking to find the easy way out. By this I mean jewelry makers can get their undies in a twist when new jewelry makers want to know their shows, their suppliers, their skills by just asking right out.

If you were to approach a jewelry designer and say just what you said above I think you would find most people to very forthright and encouraging. Asking questions like "What do you wish you knew when you were starting out that you know now? What do you wish you had done differently? Do you have any regrets? What do you think is the best way for me to get the skills I need to be successful in this business?" My hunch is you will receive a great deal of valuable information.

Good Luck!