I’ve been a jewelry artist in Vermont for a little over 20 years. I have sold at various shops, markets, and craft fairs for nearly that long too. These days, you can find me in my big, beautiful showroom in the Sodaplant on Pine Street, Burlington, VT. My jewelry is sold in stores all over the United States and in Canada, which still manages to surprise and delight me.
My life changed when I started selling my work consistently. This allowed me to create a local customer base. There’s nothing like having direct feedback about your work from curious, interested people passing by. I was so enamored (and overwhelmed) by life as a vendor that I almost shunned the idea of broadening my reach by selling jewelry online. Reluctantly, I joined Etsy in 2008. I began to feel like I had the perfect mix of local, in-person, and national, online, sales that would allow my business to grow.
Instead, I got stuck in a cycle for 10 years, saving up money from my market and holiday seasons, living off that in the cold Vermont winters, and being broke again by spring. I couldn’t figure out how to achieve financial stability selling my own products.
Working all the time (entrepreneurs often work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40!) was taking its toll on my body. I really wanted to create a year-round, non-weather-dependent, stable, consistent income.
I turned to selling my work to stores wholesale as another avenue of revenue. In 2014, I was in fourteen stores in Vermont. Now my jewelry is in over eighty stores.
By generating more income, I could hire help in the form of production assistants and I could rent a space and then a bigger space for production. That also allowed me to manage my own retail space and sales. With this, in 2019, I was able to stop being a vendor at markets and fairs.
As a jewelry maker, having multiple sources of income has been key to achieving financial stability selling my own products. (And, differentiating work time from parenting time has been key to running my business and being a mom.)
We have all learned how to pivot.
We might be a little tired of pivoting but we need to retain the hard-earned lessons on learning resiliency and strategy.
The key, for my business, has been creating and strengthening multiple avenues of revenue so that when one or some are down, others can hopefully be UP. Between having my retail space, my website, Etsy, and my wholesale accounts, I can lean into these different channels at different times. Social media is another tool you can use to grow a following. I’ve done monthly giveaways with other makers for 3 years now.
Basically, don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
It has taken me so long to get where I am but looking back allows me to see a path I never really saw when was neck-deep in it.
If you are a maker or want to be one, here are some ideas for growing your business and achieving financial stability:
- Find multiple markets
- Do private trunk shows
- Create a wholesale line and get into shops (I use Faire.com)
- Seek out new avenues
- Create new avenues
- Try things. Even failure offers valuable lessons
- Make customized pieces
- Partner with other makers
- Collaborate with local businesses
- Do giveaways
- Make your own website
- Share studio spaces
- Read, listen, and learn
It’s easy to feel hopeless and lost when starting a new business endeavor, but it’s important to try to work with what you’ve got and to see obstacles as opportunities for growth.
Maybe start with one product on a website. Or try wholesaling just a few items.
If you’re ready for some help, hire one employee for a few hours or a day a week and see how much further along you get from just that step. I’m so thankful for my three production assistants and for my brother who has been my full-time studio manager for the past 2 years. As a mom, with school closings and staying home, having my wonderful team keep things moving has been so crucial.
There are ways to grow your business that aren’t overwhelming and each little step you take is going to elevate you until eventually you look back and see how far you’ve come! Achieving financial stability selling your own products is tough but it is not impossible.
You can use code MAMAMAKER20, for 20% off, valid today only at my online store.
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Guest Author: Jennifer Kahn
Jennifer is a Vermont-based artist whose designs fuse old and new, industrial and natural, urban and ethnic. She works with PMC, gold, sterling, brass, copper, stones, found objects, leather, and feathers.