Trials and tribulations of the first year in my handmade jewellery business September 11 2013, 4 Comments

This weekend marked the first anniversary of setting up my dream business, designing and making my own jewellery. To say the time has flown by is the understatement of the year. I have spent some time reflecting on the past year, the lessons learnt, highs and lows and of course where I go from here. Some things may be of interest to anyone else thinking of a similar venture.

I guess I knew when I made the decision in September 2012 to leave a 30 year nursing career and throw myself in at the deep end that it wasn't going to be an easy ride. I definitely wore rose coloured glasses and was naive to say the least. I had very little experience relevant to running a business. 

Simples right?? leave work, make jewellery! obviously I needed to make an initial collection of jewellery, I began with bare copper and brass wire as it was a cheap option, had health benefits, looked pretty and I was easy to work with. I hunted through charity shops for good quality beads and begged friends and family to donate unworn jewellery. I quickly realised that the copper and brass tarnished quickly and wasn't a great option for long lasting, good looking jewellery. see picture of first design.

Reality check! a major investment in high quality non tarnish wire was required. Gulp, panic as I tried out many varieties and finally settled on and ordered a few hundred pounds of beautiful wire. Next I needed to find good quality gemstones and beads so out with charity shop trips and in with specialist gem shows and bead shops. double gulp, more expense, quite terrifying in fact. Whatever budget you had in mind I would say multiply it many times. (me in Covent Garden bead shop)

I did the legal bits, informed the tax office, spoke to an accountant and filled in the relevant paperwork. Easy you may think! ha ha not so simple, It involved setting up spreadsheets for all in-comings and outgoings, travel, using a room as a workshop etc starting files for receipts, invoices, show bookings etc. I was lucky here in that my husband offered to do all my accounts and also book all the shows for me. This enabled me to concentrate on designing, making and marketing. I think I would have found it virtually impossible to do everything, as it was I was putting in 12 hour days.

I tentatively booked my first fair in a church hall in September, (remember you need public and product liability and a lot of events now ask for 5 million pounds) it isn't as expensive as you might think, mine is with Imber insurance.

I had a sleepless week leading up to the fair, read some blogs and realised I needed tablecloths, display items, mirror, packaging, receipt book, petty cash and somewhere to keep it, price tags, business cards, banner, boxes to transport everything, the list seemed endless and very expensive, few more gulps and stiff drinks (its only money after all) As it happened only three stallholders came and no customers, it did however give me the opportunity to practice a table layout (albeit a very poor one) talk to a more experienced cupcake lady and get some good contacts for future fairs.

One thing I have learnt is that there is never a bad event. Even if the turnout is poor and no sales are made the contacts and networking is invaluable. You never know who you might meet or what it may lead to. Other crafters have been generous, supportive, kind and helpful, sharing their experience and wisdom willingly. Since that first disaster I have experienced amazing shows like the Stansted Garden Show with many thousands turning up and unbelievable sales and feedback to being totally drenched with my gazebo blowing over at outdoor events during our horribly unpredictable weather. Lesson learnt not to do outdoor events in England at any time of year unless your products and sanity will withstand torrential rain, howling gales and the odd spot of hail and thunder!

Since then everything has progressed quickly, with bigger, more expensive events, improving designs and materials, better displays.

Tips when purchasing a gazebo ( buy the best you can afford) mine was a pop up 3m gazebo for around £130 however it is still way too flimsy for all but the calmest weather and is now buckled after just a few events. Other crafters are on their 2nd or 3rd getting stronger ones each time. Weights are essential as are tables, chairs, banners etc. It all takes a lot of space in a vehicle and a fit, healthy person to load and unload, set up, take down etc. Think hard before booking outdoor events.

During the year I taught myself to build a website, it was important to me to have total control rather than having to keep going back to a developer each time I wanted a change made. It was such hard work,  it took a month and a lot of tears of frustration, however the joy when I accomplished it was worth the pain. I read up and learnt about SEO, purchased a good quality camera, tripod and light box and had a few lessons from a photography student to enable me to take my own photos. Set up a face book page, twitter, pinterest, linkedin, google + and now do networking in my few minutes spare time.

You may by now have got the gist that setting up on your own is a massive task, you will never work as many hours, feel so passionately, spend so much money on things that you would never have dreamed of. No more shoes, clothes, make-up, perfume. Now its wires, findings, gemstones, polymer and show/fair fees.

Life turns on its head, My previously tidy house is in constant chaos with projects migrating from the workshop into the kitchen, photography in the sun room, display items and stock in the dining room, accounts and admin in the office. No number of boxes or storage is ever enough. A new shed had to be built for the gazebo, tables, chairs etc. I see less of family and friends and have no days off as each weekend is spent travelling to fairs around the Southern England but would I have it any other way?? 

At the end of year one, I have met the most amazing people, customers, crafters and contacts. Sold more than I could have imagined. Improved the quality and design of my jewellery dramatically, learnt new techniques and increased in confidence. Taught myself about accounting, marketing, designing, displaying, retail, customer service, selling online. Travelled all around the South of England to some amazing events and places. Had some wonderful feedback, sent orders around the world and yes I am still loving every minute, excited and eagerly looking forward to year two.

I have recently purchased a credit card reader and booked my first Trade Fair, the BCTF in Harrogate in April 2014 With the aim to ultimately see my designs in galleries and boutiques.

Today I took delivery of 200 luxury ivory jewellery boxes with black flocked inserts and my logo printed on the front. I am stupidly delighted and doing a happy dance as they look so stylish and professional. I still reinvest every penny in constantly improving every aspect of my business but am reassured that its heading in the right direction. For someone that didn't like roller-coasters this has been and is one of the most adrenalin filled rides imaginable but for the most part absolutely amazing. I wish I had the courage to do it years ago but as they say its better late than never. So I say, If you want to do it, DO IT !!