Want to turn your handmade hobby into a highly profitable business?
In this post, I’m going to share five steps for starting your online jewelry business and I’ll give you a free and powerful advertising strategy that I still use to this day to promote your products when you’re just starting out!
My name is Mei and I help makers, artists and designers create a consistent income selling their handmade products online. I’ve been selling my own handmade jewelry at tinyhandsonline.com for over 14 years and it is such a dream that I’ve been able to turn my hobby into my career.
It has gotten a little crowded in the jewelry market since I first started, but in the US alone, the jewelry industry continues to generate about $70 billion a year in sales. So if you follow the tips I’m going to share with you in this post, you can still carve out a pretty good slice of that pie for yourself.
Starting a handmade jewelry business comes with its own unique set of challenges. I can tell you from personal experience that the pros far outweigh the challenges you’ll face.
Handmade jewelry-making is a low-investment business with incredibly high earning potential–– if you can find the right types of customers for your products.
If you love being creative and working with your hands, it won’t even really feel like work.
It’s also one of those businesses you can start on the side. So if you don’t want to (or simply can’t) dedicate your full time to starting a business, you can start putting your craft out there one step at a time, until you’re ready to make the full transition.
Whether you’re looking to start a profitable business first thing tomorrow, or you want to slowly turn your hobby into a full-time income, here are five steps you’ll want to follow:
1. Find Your Unique Angle
The jewelry industry is very profitable right now, but it’s a little bit oversaturated. So in order to be successful in 2020 and in future years, you’ll need to set yourself apart by finding your own unique angle.
You can separate yourself from the rest of the people making jewelry with a new jewelry making method, or revive an old-school technique by giving it a whole new spin that hasn’t been done before.
There are so many variables in jewelry making that can help you distinguish yourself, like the theme your jewelry follows, the types of materials you use, and the kind of audience you cater to.
You may want to serve a mainstream audience by getting into fashion, costume jewelry, which is more trendy and uses affordable materials like bead, wire, plated metal and synthetic gems. Or you can focus on fine jewelry using more precious metals and gems, which is a little more niche but sells at a much higher price point.
Those are just the broad categories of your jewelry business. And that's a great start, but to really set yourself apart, you’ll want to niche down even further.
You can combine separate niches together, into one idea. Like what I did with my food jewelry!
Or you could base your designs around a specific occasion or lifestyle, which is what the QALO has done. QALO is all about family orientated couples, who are proud of their relationships but are bored by the traditional and usually expensive metal wedding rings.
Another unique designer is Vivian Frank, who combines bohemian style jewelry with a more urban design, and only uses fair trade materials which are ethically sourced in the US. She handcrafts everything herself and once a collection is sold out, it’s gone forever, which only adds to the uniqueness and exclusivity of her brand.
The point is to study your competition and potential customers, and start asking yourself questions like:
- Can I cater to a certain hobby or interest or niche or group of people?
- Can I build my jewelry around a specific trend or lifestyle?
- Can I source special materials or design them using a unique method?
- Will I do customizations?
- Can I add special features or benefits to my jewelry that others don’t have?
You can use sites like Instagram, Pinterest and jewelry blogs to start gathering some ideas that inspire you and eventually come up with your own unique twist.
That’s how you’ll stand out in a competitive market.
I promise you that even though it feels like there’s no way to make anything unique these days, if you try and dig deep enough, you can find something.
It’s not going to be easy, because if it were, there would be far more people selling jewelry online than there are today. But having said all of that, being unique is only one part of the formula.
You want to make sure there’s a fine balance between what you love doing and what your customers want.
If you’re not passionate enough about your craft, you’ll have a hard time sustaining your business.
If you only make jewelry for yourself and don’t take into account your customers’ feedback, desires, and what they want, you’ll have a hard time selling.
Balance is where it’s at.
2. Master Your Craft
Now, you don’t need to be a master artist with a PHD and multiple degrees to start out. Some of the biggest brands in the business are still refining their craft to this day.
You do, however, need to reach a level of skill that customers are willing to pay for.
Depending on the kind of jewelry you’ll be making, there are different techniques you may want to learn, such as
- 3D printing
- Maybe even weaving,
There are just so many techniques you could learn!
There are several places you can go to learn the crafts you’ll need to design and develop beautiful products. You can start by going to local jewelry-making classes in your spare time, which is a great way to start connecting with people in the industry. Or you might want to consider more formal education at schools like the American School of Jewelry and the Jewellers Academy.
That being said, you don’t need to earn some full-fledged diploma in jewelry-making.
Think about it, when was the last time you bought jewelry based on a designer’s level of education? Never.
At the end of the day, all it comes down to is whether your customers like your art and are looking to buy what you’re selling.
That is why I highly recommend online courses. Not just because they’re affordable, but because the internet gives you access to all kinds of online courses in specialized skills that you might not be able to find in your local area.
3. Set Up Your Workspace and Get Your Supplies
Now it’s time to gather supplies and set up your workspace.
If you’re starting from home, you’ll need a workspace that is comfortable, accessible and well-organized. You want to be able to work efficiently.
You might need special equipment depending on the style and technique of your jewelry designs.
You may need to budget for things like a soldering iron, a laser-cutter or a 3D printer if you’re making your pieces from scratch. Or you may just be ordering pre-existing elements like chains, wires and beads, in which case you’ll only need some basic tools like a good pair of pliers, a hammer and some wire cutters.
If you’re low on budget, assembling pre-made supplies is an easy and affordable way to get started with making jewelry.
Whichever route you choose, you’ll want to make sure you have a steady and reliable source of supplies for your jewelry.
You can ask other makers who their suppliers are, just bear in mind, this information is usually trade secret so don’t be upset if no one wants to tell you. Or find your own suppliers online.
I recommend not going too crazy when first stocking up, and buying just enough supplies for a line of 10-12 pieces. Once you see which pieces do best with your audience, you’ll know which supplies you’ll need to buy more of in the future.
Another good way to lower starting costs is to see if you can reuse the same materials for different items in your line.
Once you’ve prepared your first batch of jewelry, you’ll need to get some product pictures done.
If you’re just starting out, you can learn to take some good pictures using very minimal equipment. Alternatively, you can outsource it to a professional photographer at affordable prices on sites like Fiverr.com.
With your products and pictures ready, you’re now ready to set up shop and start selling.
4. Set Up Your Online Shop
There’s a lot of ways you can go about selling your jewelry, and eventually, the more you diversify, the better.
You can sell your products at various fairs and even get into wholesale later on, but as a new business owner, the bulk of your sales are going to come from online customers, which is exactly where I suggest you get started.
Before you look into the big marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy, I suggest setting up your own store over on Shopify.
Shopify is a reliable online shop builder platform that’s incredibly easy to get started with and offers a ton of powerful marketing tools. I’m not going to get too deep into why I recommend Shopify over marketplace sites like Amazon or Etsy, but if you want to know, I’ve got a video talking about that here.
Shopify allows you to build your own site that you have full control over. Unlike marketplace sites like Amazon and Etsy, having your own store allows you to do things like build an email list, generate special coupons and retarget site visitors with your own personalized ads. This makes it so much easier to build a more loyal following and a returning customer base, which is what we need for long term business.
You should never rely exclusively on sites like Amazon and Etsy for your customers. It’s like you’re a guest on those marketplaces, and they’re constantly updating their rules, which could negatively affect your business from one day to the next.
It’s a roller coaster being in business for yourself, and being on marketplace sites exacerbates that problem.
So much is out of your control on Etsy and Amazon. In fact, Etsy just recently made some not-so-great changes for us sellers. And while I continue to use their platform, I’m glad it’s not my only source of income.
Whichever way you go about it, your own website should always be the core of your business. You’ll have a lot more freedom and control and it’ll have more longevity and endurance.
5. Market Your Products
Alright, once you’ve gotten your products online, it’s time to get them in front of your potential customers. But where do we begin?
There are so many ways you can promote your products.
You’ve got paid advertising like Facebook ads and Google Ads. Although they’re insanely effective, they’re a steep learning curve and most people jump in and lose money because they’re not prepared.
Paid ads require a lot of testing to do well. You have to be a scientist always experimenting until something sticks.
There’s also organic social media like Instagram and Facebook. Lots of other shops are doing this, but it’s a very slow burn way of promoting your business online.
There’s so much competition on social media, that it’ll take years before you make any meaningful, consistent sales from there.
For those of you who are just starting out, I’m going to give you a far more powerful and FREE marketing strategy I still use to this day.
In fact, you can run your entire business on this method alone, without ever needing any paid advertising.
That method is influencer marketing and media outreach.
Influencer Marketing & Media Outreach
Influencer marketing and media outreach is especially effective when it comes to fashion and lifestyle products, like jewelry.
It’s one thing to see a picture of a nice necklace, but it’s a whole other thing to see that necklace on a person you admire or displayed on the pages of a magazine that you love reading.
If you can get someone who has a really big audience, I’m talking like tens of thousands and upwards, to wear and promote your products on a platform like Instagram, YouTube, or on their own website, chances are high that their followers will become your loyal customers as well.
But how do you get influencers and movers and shakers to work with you for free? Especially when you’re just starting out — aren’t they expensive?
Well, that’s why I suggest working with micro-influencers or highly specific and targeted influencers. These are people who have a few thousand highly-engaged followers, but are still on the rise or they’re people who have huge audiences but who don’t get pitched jewelry very often.
Influencers are always looking for interesting content ideas for their audience. By sending them a free product you know they’ll love and providing them with an exclusive discount coupon they can share with their fans, you’re actually giving them valuable content for their audience, which in turn allows them to grow.
Sure, you’ll need to cover the cost of making and shipping them your jewelry, but even if a single person buys your product, you’ll have made your money back.
Also, don’t forget that influencers are friends with other influencers.
Getting your products out there is always going to be better than just keeping your products at home. That’s how my jewelry got on the TV show Parks and Recreation where Amy Poehler wore one of my necklaces.
It was because my jewelry was featured on a small blogger’s website, and the wardrobe stylist of the TV show happened to be a reader of that site and found my work there. You could end up on bigger influencers' radars just from the mere act of putting yourself out there.
Influencer and media outreach is so powerful, it’s how I started and established a consistent income for all my businesses. If you want to learn more about how to do this. I’ll include a link here for a step-by-step video tutorial.