This post was really hard for me to do because there’s very little in my business that I would change or that I regret doing.
Nevertheless, I was able to come up with 5 things that I would do differently if I were to start my business all over again from scratch, after knowing what I know from making over a $1,000,000 in sales and spending 14 years running my own handmade jewelry business.
Hey there, my name is Mei and I help makers, artists and designers create a consistent income from selling their handmade products online.
1. I Wouldn't Spend So Much Money On Hiring Out Work
If I started my business today knowing what I know now, I would not spend so much money on getting other people to do work for me.
Here’s what I mean by that. I’m the type of person, and maybe you can relate to this because I’ve met a lot of creatives who are like this, but I need to have confidence in what I’m doing before I go and do it.
So if it’s doing social media, I want to feel like I know what I’m doing and that I know how to do it right before I actually start doing it. That means, educating myself on how to do it, like reading books, investing in courses, talking to other business owners who are doing social media really well, and then just having a strategy or a plan that spells out what I’m going to do.
All those things give me confidence. I like to feel prepared and when I do anything, I like to do it well and have it be successful.
The problem is, I just wasn’t confident. I suffered from low self-esteem and low confidence for most of my life. It was always hard for me to believe that I could do anything right.
So I would pay so-called “experts” or service providers to do the job for me.
- I hired people to do social media for me
- I hired people to pitch my products to magazines
- I hired Facebook ads agencies
- I hired SEO agencies
Last year I even paid $15,000 to have a mentor help me grow my business.
I have spent tens of thousands of dollars hiring people and these services are not cheap.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever hire help. I’m very happy with my team right now. I have a person doing customer service for me and I have 3 ladies who do production work. They make my jewelry and one of them also does shipping for me.
What I am suggesting is, for most of the marketing stuff, you learn how to do that yourself first and do it well. Then when you want to hire that out, hire someone in house and train them yourself so they’re going to do it like you as closely as possible so you get to have really good quality control.
The problem is, when you hire other people to do marketing work for you, they’re nevergoing to do it as well as you. This has been my experience over and over again.
It’s very difficult to find just the right people for your business and I spent so much money looking for those people.
For example, in 2019, I spent $20,000 on Facebook ads managers to help me do ads. I lost money doing that because even though my ads were profitable, they weren’t profitable enough to cover the service fee I had to pay to those Facbeook ads people.
When I started taking the time and having the patience to do the ads myself, I actually got even better results than these people I was paying thousands of dollars to.
A lot of the times when you work with service providers, especially agencies, they have a lot of overhead expenses which means the prices you’re paying includes crazy high profit margins.
One Facebook ad agency I worked with last year, wanted to charge me $6,000 per month and after I negotiated with them, they were able to drop their fee to $3,000.
That just gives you an idea for how big their profit margins are if they’re able to drop their fee by half and (I would assume) still make a profit from me as a client.
2. I Would Create a More Sustainable Product
I would spend extra time up front to create a more sustainable product.
I don’t mean eco-conscious sustainability, but more so product experience sustainability.
To be more specific, my jewelry is scented food jewelry. The scent in my jewelry doesn’t last forever. It’s impossible. It does run out after a few months and unfortunately, some of my customers place a lot of importance on the scent.
I wish they would care more about the designs but that’s just how it is.
When I sell my jewelry wholesale, my products would be out on the shelves for weeks before people buy them and at that point, the scent wouldn’t be as strong anymore.
That's a problem.
While I’ve figured ways to make the scent last longer, it’s still kind of a problematic product.
Not to mention, scent is a very subjective thing.
Like my snow cone scent; some people love it and some people hate it. Some people, can’t even smell certain scents. People’s smelling sensitivities are all so different.
The biggest issue I have with my Tiny Hands jewelry is the scent.
There were so many times when I thought very seriously about just removing the scent all together and stop selling them scented. But that’s what I’ve become known for and maybe that ship has sailed.
So, if I were starting a new business (and actually I did start a new business just a few months ago) I would spend the extra time to make sure my products don’t give my customers any trouble and that they give them a long-lasting positive experience in all areas of my product.
I do wish that people would just appreciate my products for just the design because I think that’s what’s the best thing about it, but unfortunately, that's not the case.
3. I Would Not Make a Product That No One Has Ever Heard Of Before
When I started Tiny Hands scented food jewelry and I did craft shows, people were surprised and shocked to learn about my products. It’s gotten better, but back when I started out, no one was searching for scented food jewelry on Google.
If people aren’t searching for your product, there’s no immediate demand for it.
You might think that’s a good thing because I had very little competition, but honestly, inventions are really hard to sell. Not only do you have to promote them, but you have an added layer of needing to educate people on what your product is to begin with.
This is probably the biggest struggle I have with my jewelry business.
It’s really hard for me to do any form of keyword-based marketing for this business. That’s includes marketing like blogging, SEO, Pinterest, or video marketing. All of these kinds of marketing is inherently, content and they’re all put on platforms that are search engines.
Pinterest is not a social media platform, it’s a search engine platform. Blogging and YouTube, you do it so people can find you through Google or through YouTube using keywords that they’re searching for.
It’s not enough for me to know what keywords my customers are using to find my product, because they don’t even know they wanted it to begin with.
I had to focus more on doing marketing that’s more discovery marketing. Getting influencers and bloggers and magazines to talk about me. Doing Facebook, Instagram and paid ads to generally just increase brand awareness first.
4. I Would Be A Lot More Careful About Not Letting Myself Get Burned Out
I had several bouts of burn out in the last 10 years, but the biggest one that was the most detrimental was when I was forcing myself to be creative with making new designs every month for my subscription product, the Necklace of the Month Club.
I made a lot of money doing it, but forcing creativity to happen is not fun at all. And after about a year or so of doing that non-stop, eventually, I just gave out.
It’s such a dangerous place to get to because you risk losing passion and love for your craft, which was what happened to me.
I have not made any new designs for that business for years and a part of it is because the thought of making a new design just gives me anxiety.
The great thing about this experience is that now I know, you don’t have to make new designs to make more sales. I have a great product line that keeps my customers full (no pun intended) for months and years.
They buy one design, they come back to buy another design and another after that. There are more designs in my shop than a person ever needs.
I would take time for other things in my life that aren't revolving around the business. Take time to actually pursue other passion and hobbies.
In my 14 years of running my business, I did nothing else. I went to school, but that’s it. My business filled the rest of my life.
It wasn’t until two years ago that I decided to pursue acting, which is my childhood dream. I wish I learned new languages and new skills like metalsmithing, painting, singing, or gardening. Because I didn’t have those things, I didn’t have an escape from my business and it was so much easier to get to that point of burn out.
In retrospect, this is really all about self-care and setting boundaries between yourself and your business. When you work from home and your income is directly tied to your effort and your initiative, it’s really hard to do that. Especially, if you’re like me, and you were raised to take care of everything else first, before you take care of yourself. Self-care isn’t something that comes naturally to me. So when starting a new business, this is definitely a priority.
5. I Would Put My Customers First and Have a Vision From The Very Beginning
This is going to actually make you spend more time planning out your business and your product before you actually get to put it out there into the world.
Usually my advice is to say, get your products out there as soon as possible, but this is a really good reason to slow things down. This can mean taking 8 years to become successful versus 1 month.
Here’s what I mean.
With Tiny Hands, I sell scented food jewelry because I just loved making miniature food out of polymer clay. That was my passion. I knew nothing about how business works and I didn’t consider at all what people were interested in buying.
I didn’t even ask if there was a market for what I was making.
For this reason, it took me a long time to really get momentum with this business. As of 2020, I’ve been running Tiny Hands for 14 years and I didn’t make my first six-figure sales year until 8 years after I officially started. If you want to look at it after I fully focused on the business and did it full time, then it would be 4 years after I went full time.
Now, I just started a new print on demand wall art business on Shopify and my husband is helping me run it and we’re already making $20,000 in sales for January, which is always a slow season for online sales across the board.
This is only our second month into this new business!
This new business took off so quickly because we focused on the customer first. We basically did things in reverse of Tiny Hands. It is really important that we make decisions about where we want our business to go now so that you’re not walking around in the dark just letting the wind take you wherever it goes.
When you have a vision, whether or not that’s what will end up happening, at least you have a direction to move in.
That, also, is what will get you to success so much faster.