My very first handmade jewelry business is a failure.
In this post, I'm going to be sharing with you everything that went wrong with that business so you can learn from my mistakes and avoid making them yourself. This is going to help you fast forward your progress in making a successful business.
Hi, my name is Mei and I help makers, artist, and designers create a consistent income from selling their handmade products online.
What Makes a Failure?
Okay, first I wanted to address that yes that title was totally clickbait and I apologize for that. When I say that my first jewelry business is a failure, I mean that relatively compared to all the other businesses that I've started and that I run today since starting that first business.
In the grand scheme of things, my jewelry business would definitely be considered a success to most laymen. Especially considering that over the lifespan of the entire business I have made cumulatively over $1,000,000 in sales.
However, when I say that it was a failure, I mean that it took a lot longer for that business to take off. Along the way, there were so many problems and challenges with it that it was constantly feeling like swimming against the stream.
If you've watched my live stream video on how my husband and I started a new online print-on-demand personalized art business we were able to make Over $75,000 in 5 months. I consider that to be way more successful then the experience I had with my very first business, Tiny Hands.
Even comparing it to Creative Hive, which is the second business I started. Creative Hive saw success in the high five-figure sales in a very short period of time.
Right now, we make about $12,000 to $15,000 a month in sales during a non-holiday month, so it's definitely not bad by any means. But compared to all of my other businesses oh, it's the worst with no real potential for growth.
I'm doing the very bare minimum for my Tiny Hands business:
- I don't spend a lot on Facebook ads
- I don't spend a lot of time doing marketing or promotion
- And we're more or less just letting the business coast
I've tried very hard in the past to grow the business to a $1,000,000 in a year of sales, and I've never been able to do that because of a lot of reasons I'll cover in this post.
Let's just jump straight into it.
The very first mistake I made was from the very beginning because I didn't know anything about business and how to do marketing.
If you're not familiar with Tiny Hands, it's a business where I make scented food jewelry out of polymer clay.
When I started this business, I wasn't thinking about making sales, or what people wanted to buy. I was purely approaching it from a perspective of what I love to make.
Growing up, ever since I was a kid, I always loved miniature food. My favorite toys were a kitchen cooking set and a Barbie Supermarket set who is teeny tiny miniature food.
When I learned that you could make miniatures out of polymer clay, I just fell in love with it. I was making my products because I had a passion for it.
That, in itself, is not a bad thing, but if you're not considering what other people are willing to spend money on or what they're looking for when they're shopping for products like yours, then you're just setting yourself up to struggle to make sales later on.
Think about it. I struggled for years not knowing if my jewelry was meant for people who loved food and consider themselves foodies or if they were for people who love jewelry.
If I just focused in on either one niche or market, I didn't see any success.
People who love food didn't necessarily love my jewelry and people who love jewelry, for sure we're not guaranteed to love my quirky, whimsical jewelry.
The reality is, scented food jewelry is not a concept that's widely known or searched for by people. People aren't looking for this type of product and that made it so much more difficult to sell.
This is why I always recommend to our Creative Hive Community and to my students to really take the time to find the balance between what you love making and what you know people are willing to pay money for.
That's just going to make your handmade business-building journey so much easier and faster.
The second mistake I made was not being clear about who my ideal customer was.
When I started Tiny Hands, I had intended for my products to be for other women like me. Adults who just loved cute, little things like miniature food.
That in itself wasn't a niche or a market that was easy for me to find online. How do you find those people online?
I eventually did have to find ways to find my ideal customers and I was able to use a lot of trial and error and then develop my own techniques, but it's a lot harder to do that than if you just start out already picking a predefined, existing and easy to find niche online.
When I talk about niches, I'm talking about things like:
- bohemian lifestyle
- natural wellness
- weight loss
- stay at home moms
- sports fans
These are all niches that are well-established and easy to get in front of.
Unfortunately, I had set myself up with a hard to find market online. This definitely does also go hand-in-hand with my first mistake, where I was only thinking about what I loved to make, and my customer was a second thought.
If you're starting any kind of business you need to prioritize thinking about your customer because they will be the lifeblood of your business. If you make a product for people that don't exist or are hard to find, then you're not going to make any sales.
The third mistake I made was not positioning my products correctly.
Here's what I mean by this: the people who buy my jewelry tend to be mom's, aunts, or grandmoms, who are usually buying my jewelry for little girls.
The reality is that people don't usually spend very much money on kids. It takes a very special kind of family to do that and they're not in the majority.
Here was the problem: it takes time to make my jewelry and we price the jewelry appropriately to account for that. My necklaces range between $20 to $30 each.
To most parents out there that's way too much to spend on an accessory for their kid that they know is probably going to be short-lived because most kids these days don't hang on to things that long before they move on to the next thing.
Already, there was a hugely detrimental mismatch between my product, my prices, and my ideal customer.
If I had the foresight, or the business understanding before I started this business, I would have known to create products that had lower or more accessible prices that matched what my ideal customers were willing to pay for.
I see this quite often with other business owners – people who like making crocheted keychains for example.
I know crocheting takes time to make, so you're going to have to price your keychains at a somewhat higher price point. The problem is people don't really value keychains. People don't usually spend very much money on keychains and they certainly do not value crochet keychains as much as say a leather keychain.
When you have that mismatch between your product, your price, your customer you're going to struggle to make sales as I did in the beginning.
The fourth mistake with this business is just creating a lower quality product.
Now, when I say that I don't mean that my product breaks easily or doesn't look good. I'm very proud of the design of my jewelry and I take a long time to make them.
Here's what I mean when I say it's a lower quality product. I've mentioned before that my jewelry is scented and if you work with candles or with soap, you've worked with fragrance oils before and you know that anything scented doesn't last forever.
The benefit with candles is that high temperature does help fragrances become stronger, but my jewelry is just jewelry and unfortunately, the scent in my jewelry does dissipate over time.
Like all scented products, this is a totally subjective experience where some people don't like certain scents even though I think the scent is really good and realistic. Not to mention, people also have different levels of sensitivities towards fragrances.
I've had customers before who have told me that they couldn't smell my jewelry and wanted refunds, and when they return their package to us we could totally smell the jewelry. For some people, certain scents will last longer than others.
We get this question a lot. “How long do your scents last?” While I have a ballpark answer of a few months, I can't give a confident answer and I really wish I could.
Not only is this a problem for customer service, but a meaningful percentage of my customers only buy my jewelry because of the scent.
I've literally had customers tell me that.
It hurts because I think the primary appeal of my jewelry is the design of it, and the scent is just a nice icing on the top, but not all my customers think that way.
When the scent does die out over time, people feel like the product wasn't a worthwhile purchase because it didn't last very long.
So much of this experience is out of my control. I wish I had set my business up to not include the scent. That would make things so much easier for me, and I would have a much higher customer satisfaction rate.
I mean, we have a lot of happy customers that love my products, but the biggest complaint I get is that the scent isn't there or doesn't last.
This scent problem also makes it a problem for me to do wholesale with long-term success. There were a few years where I really hit wholesale hard, I worked with sales reps, I went to trade shows, and I even eventually got my products in over 100 stores across the United States.
But what became evident was stores had little interest in reordering my jewelry and a big reason for that is because of the scent and the price.
Learn from My Mistakes
Because of all of these mistakes, it took me between 6 to 8 years to finally make a full-time income from this business.
But I don't think it needs to take you that long.
From everything I learned from this first business, I was able to take that experience and knowledge into my second business, Creative Hive where I was able to make a full-time living within two years into that business and with our new print-on-demand store, we were able to get to six figures in five months.
Over time, I've definitely developed a better sense and understanding of the different ingredients you need to start a successful business.
My very first business had very few of those good ingredients so it was a constant struggle, and my most recent business hit all the checkboxes because it started with very high-quality ingredients. The end result was a very effective and successful business that was so easy to make sales with right out the gate.
I really don't think starting a business is rocket science, but there are some specific nuances to it that if you don't get right can set you back years.