Below are some resources for starting a business or building a website. These posts are not all-inclusive and are based on my personal experience building my home-based brand. I am in no way an expert on entrepreneurial endeavors, and continue to stumble my way through this journey. Hopefully, these posts will help you avoid the same stumbles.
Myths About The Self-Employed
"It's not a real job." Not only is it a real job, it's the job of many handled by, sometimes, a single individual! We need to know photography, branding, how to navigate social media, web design, search engine optimization, current trends in the market, how to budget, how to balance that budget, how to balance our time, and, most importantly, how to create. While we can (and I highly recommend it) outsource many areas of our work, this in itself is a job!
"It must be nice to be your own boss." Being your own boss certainly has its perks! But it also carries with it a degree of uncertainty and stress. In fact, no matter what job you have and how much you love it, I'm positive in my assertion that we've all experienced stress in our work environments, even if that environment is our home. This is totally normal! Being your own boss means we aren't accountable to anyone but ourselves. But that also requires a certain dedication which differs from that required by more conventional employment. We have to set our hours, stick to those hours, balance our home and business life, stay productive in the face of distractions, especially for those who work from home with children (and spouses!). But finding the balance, as tenuous or delicate as it may be, can be immensely rewarding!
"So you get to set your own hours? Ah, the freedom!" While we do have some ability to maneuver our tasks to accommodate emergencies or meet the expectations of family and friends, these adjustments are often not without consequence to our business or sanity. While conventional employment often provides paid vacations, sick leave and personal development days, these are definitely not in the wheel-house of the self-employed.
"It's too expensive to start a business." Well, this depends. While some business ventures can certainly result in costly investments, a handcrafted business can be successful with limited financial commitment. There are free or low-cost resources for those in the handcrafted market, such as customizable shopfronts through Storenvy, free photo editing software such as Photoscape, and free or heavily-discounted business cards through companies like Vista Print.
"If you build it, they will come." I've seen some iteration of this theory expressed often, usually expressed by artists who are disillusioned or disappointed with their lack of success, and usually as a result of an unfortunate, idealized expectation of success verses the time involved in reaching it. While 85% of small businesses survive their first year, the numbers drop dramatically when comparing survival with profit. And over 50% of small businesses will fail after their fifth year. These are depressing statistics, on their surface. But, recognizing this reality can, indeed, be the catalyst towards success, because it requires preparation and realistic expectations and goals. Knowing how to make a great product will never guarantee sales. So, prepare and be willing to learn about branding, marketing, web design, photography and bookkeeping (especially for those on a budget that does not allow for outsourcing these tasks). In the end, full-time, even part-time profitability is rare within the first year. And, to quote someone who was smarter than me "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." Keep your expectations realistic!
These are only a few of the myths I've encountered, the most prevalent of them, and even myths I'd embraced myself at some point during my journey of entrepreneurship. And none of these are meant to discourage budding business men and women from following their passion! In fact, I think preparation is the foundation of all successful ventures!
What are some myths you've encountered as a self-employed business person?
So when and why are modeled shots useful? While I do believe the primary photo in any jewelry or fashion listing should be a detailed shot of the product itself, modeled shots can show how a product wears. Instead of an inanimate object, the piece becomes part of a scene. When worn on a model, there's an understanding of the mood a seller intends with their work when they create a scene in which it is worn. Ultimately, it tells a story.
I've learned, however, it's not always practical to have every piece of jewelry modeled. It can, in fact, be a financial burden on small business. While I am a photography enthusiast at best, I am lucky to have the gear and experience to take decent photos without hiring a professional photographer. But this came at its own expense via an artistic interest of mine (as any hobby would). I am also lucky to have beautiful nieces who are open to (affordable) compensation for photo shoots. So, I understand this can be a prohibitive expense to many... to myself even! I believe in real compensation for the time any model provides, and would never utilize that time without compensation, relation or not. Therefore, it's not practical (neither in time nor money) to have every piece of jewelry modeled. Bartering, however, is also an excellent method by which new jewelry designers or sellers can pair with new photographers or models to add to a business brand.
So, you don't have the resources to have every piece modeled? Never fear! I'm a firm believer that a single one-hour life-style shoot, shared on your selling platform as a website cover photo, for instance, can complete the picture of your business without the necessity for a modeled shot in every product listing. It's a one-time expense I personally believe to be as important to a brand as a monthly subscription to the provider of a website or selling platform, or to the manufacturer of business cards.
With all this said, as long as you've defined your brand, have a clear understanding of the mood or tone your wish to evoke through your work, and know your market, you can certainly have a successful shop without modeled jewelry.
Pure Black or White Backgrounds CONS (an opinion): While the jewelry certainly speaks for itself, pure white or black backgrounds lack a story. I want a complete picture of, not just the product, but the artist, which is sometimes lost in the sterility of white backgrounds, or (conversely) the darkness of its solid black counterpart. The numbers don't lie, and it's proven to boost sales, but it's important that the choice to use a pure white or black background is in line with your brand and image.
Shades of grey tell a story, set a mood that speaks beyond the product itself, without falling into the trap of associations we might often make with other solid color backgrounds. We might see a red background and think "anger", for instance, but grey (or shades of grey) often provide an opportunity to allow the viewer to build a relationship with the image without a deafening demand to react to the image in a prescribed manner.
The Wrap Up:
In the end, it's ultimately up to the seller to decide what fits his or her branding the best. It's far more important to focus on the consistency and style of the photography than in the color of the background. And to be sure you're telling your story the way you envisioned, through your products and also the way in which you present them to others, and that these things create a cohesive whole.
Disclaimer: I am not a tax professional and this is not a comprehensive look at keeping records for your home or jewelry business. Please contact a tax professional for a complete list of IRS or tax requirements.
While I have devised a record-keeping system that meets my needs, here are some resources to help you establish a system of your own:
The system by which I've chosen to keep my records is electronic. I scan all receipts, and import into electronic files all mileage, cost of goods, and sales or expenses as they occur (ideally) or as an end-of-month record keeping task. These files are not only stored on my laptop, but on an external hard-drive, a secondary business computer and a cloud service. While at least one is always current, the other redundancies are updated monthly.
These e-files are broken down into the following categories:
Inventory (Raw Materials)
While most of the sub-categories listed above are self-explanatory, let's take a closer look at one possible way of maintaining records for inventory. I have, in the past, used Jewelry Designer Manager Pro, but found the program rather cumbersome for my needs. I've discovered, through the years, that keeping a minimum amount of materials on hand is most beneficial to me when calculating the tax benefits or disadvantages involved with ones inventory records. Purchasing materials as needed, verses an inventory surplus, means my capital is not tied up in unused materials. Remember: you can only claim deductions on materials in your costs of goods sold in any given tax year, not necessarily on materials purchased. However, inventory purchasing habits are entirely dependent upon the needs of your business, the nature of your product, and the market to which you sell.
Since my inventory of materials is limited, I find spreadsheets sufficient for my needs. Let's take a look at how I've set up my spreadsheets for inventory maintenance.
My categories include: Wire & Sheet Metal, Metal Findings & Incidentals, Seed Beads, Swarovski, Gemstone Beads, Gemstone & Glass Cabochons. Each category is listed alphabetically and these materials are stored in their containers alphabetically, so conducting an inventory checklist (quarterly, ideally) is as painless and seamless as possible.
When new materials are purchased, each are broken down by item name, size, number of items purchased, price per number purchased, price per each, and total cost in inventory. For wire, while most calculate the cost of wire used by inch, I have decided to calculate by weight, into price per gram. Sheet metal is broken down in price by sheet, but may be broken down further in my Cost of Goods spreadsheet, depending on how many pieces I'm able to complete from a single sheet. When a strand of beads are purchased, the strand is broken down by price per strand, price per bead, and total cost of beads available. Every time a bead is used in a piece of jewelry, for example, the amount of beads is subtracted from the Inventory spreadsheet and added to the Cost of Goods Spreadsheet.
Cost of Goods
When determining the cost of goods, each item used is transferred from the Inventory spreadsheet to the Cost of Goods spreadsheet and adjusted to reflect the amount used in the goods. So, for instance, I copy and paste the line "Copper Round Wire, Dead Soft 28g" from the Inventory spreadsheet, then adjust the "Grams/Pieces" column to accurately reflect the number of grams used in the piece while also subtracting that amount from the Inventory Spreadsheet. This way, both spreadsheets accurately reflect the transfer of inventory as each piece is constructed.
While this may sound complicated, once the spreadsheets are initiated, it's only copy and paste to keep each updated. I always maintain an unedited record of my inventory at the start of the year, and create a separate inventory list which is modified in real time, as jewelry is made and supplies are purchased or used. When an item is used entirely, the line item remains at zero in my End Inventory spreadsheet. This allows me to accurately determine all the supplies utilized from the beginning of the year, including supplies purchased and used throughout the year. At the end of the year, however, all lines with zero items is deleted, and this creates a "Start Inventory" list that will remain unedited in the following year. In essence, the "2017 End Inventory" list becomes the "2018 Start Inventory" list, minus all zeroed line items.
Cost of Goods is copied and pasted to the Cost of Goods SOLD list as each piece is sold. Customer name and date of purchase is added beneath the photo.
Now, using a program like Jewelry Designer Manager can certainly simplify the process for some, since it's all-inclusive in a single program and tax documents can be individually exported as needed, I personally found it more work towards its initial set-up than I was willing to invest and, upon discovering that tech support was not offered for the life of the program, I hesitated to perpetually re-purchase. I once had to transfer the program to a new computer, my files were lost and no tech support was offered to help recover those files, so I had to start from scratch. Insert the use of spreadsheets, especially those created in a free cloud service, which are updated and saved in real time and can be accessed from any device.
A Note On Bookkeeping Software
I admit that I am woefully unskilled in utilizing programs like Quickbooks to their fullest potential. For a couple years, I used GoDaddy Bookkeeping, which was incredibly intuitive and easy to navigate, though still (for me) an unnecessary monthly expense. While it tracked sales, payment processing fees, returns, in-state purchases (for state sales tax reports), receipts and quarterly tax payments made, I discovered these were all things easily exported from my sales platform and payment processors, into quarterly spreadsheets, and it proved itself a redundancy I just didn't need. I'm saving myself a yearly bookkeeping fee and only adding 10 minutes of work to my monthly bookkeeping processes. And, honestly, most of this bookkeeping and exporting of data would keep until my end-of-year review.
Ultimately, however, your sales, platform, payment processors will all determine your need for a specific bookkeeping software.
Bookkeeping, inventory, taxes are all evil words.
Evil, evil words.
Though I have an understanding with my bookkeeping process, and me and my process are cordial to one another and exist as a working business partnership, I will admit I wont be inviting my inventory out for a drink any time soon.
And while I understand this article is only a quick outline of things to consider, I hope you found it useful during the discovery and establishment of your own evil, evil bookkeeping system.
A while back, I wrote an article on giving and receiving constructive criticism and, in light of some recent social media activity, I thought it was a subject worth revisiting, but this time from the perspective of creative flow.
What I read online recently was a statement declaring there was absolutely no benefit to giving praise for artistic work unless praise is deserved. Seems straight-forward, right? I mean, are we enabling improper technique, poor design elements or incomplete production with our placating reactions of "Great work!" in response to art posted online?
This question, however, remains: deserved by whose standards? While one person might deem a piece of art sloppy or ugly or unacceptable, someone else might view it as a beautiful representation of creative expression. And, while I might not necessarily purchase for myself a particular piece of art, I tend to believe supportive reaction to that art is far more conducive to creative growth than a critical review.
Now, let's assume critical commentary is unwelcome or unsolicited. Let's assume we don't particularly like the work posted, either because we consider it sloppy or unattractive, per our standards or aesthetics. Should we then refrain from offering supportive commentary at all? More importantly, should we discourage others from offering support, per our particular set of standards?
Imagine this comment (real enough, as it turns out): "I'm so tired of reading 'Great work!' on jewelry that should never be posted online, much less for sale." This is a real comment. I've read some variation of it more times than I care to count during my years in this industry.
How many times have you been frustrated with a creative project so profoundly you've reached out to the public in a desperate pitch for encouragement?
So many, right? We've all been there. We've all been pushed to abandon our passions. And I even hazard a guess that many of us know when our work is inadequate on some level, to some set of standards. Yet, we need some consolation to continue, to push past our own perceived deficiencies and strive for perfection as defined by our own set of standards.
Six years ago, I gave up. I gave away my jewelry, my tools, my beads. I was discouraged, disappointed in my progress as defined by my own standards. And, after it was all gone and I was resigned to live a life without wire wrapping, a stranger contacted me. She found a photo of a piece I'd completed years prior. The photo embarrassed me. The quality was horrible. My wrapping was unimaginative, I thought, perhaps even sloppy. But she loved it. She praised it. She commissioned a copy of it and then purchased again. And again.
And it was then I realized that praise, or positive affirmation, is critical to maintaining creative momentum. Technique can always improve. By creating, it improves, whether we set out to do so or not. The act of creation is the conduit through which improvement happens. Praise, however, is a conduit through which creation happens.
So, then next time you refuse to offer "empty praise", I hope you recognize how that strips the spirit from creativity. Instead of denying someone your support, lift them up. If you can't comment on the positives of a piece in its entirety, pick out a single element you enjoy. You don't have to sacrifice your own aesthetic or standards to support the art of others. You just have to suspend judgment long enough to see what you might otherwise allow your perceptions to easily dismiss.
Facebook is the devil. I'm not gonna lie. It is the hulking heavyweight in a long list of distractions that permeate my day. And, to be honest, I sometimes invite these distractions in a self-sabotaging, fear-based montage of "imposter syndrome". You know what I'm talking about.... all those icky self-doubt shadows that ride the shoulder of every creative individual ever, throughout the entire history of creative individuals.
But it's not just Facebook that throws my work and productivity off balance. It's suddenly needing to clean my oven at 4pm on a Thursday, when it was just cleaned on Tuesday. It's re-organizing my bead trays for the umpteenth time this month. It's paying bills and grocery shopping and visiting the in-laws and birthday parties and graduations. And it's also every other hobby I can conceive of, with which to procrastinate.
Finding balance when working from home is, to say the least, challenging. So here are some tips I've learned during my five years in business for myself:
If you have tips or tricks for balancing your business and home life, I'd love to hear them in the comments below!
And A Note About Product Pricing.....
Time is finite. While it evolves independent of the individual, our experience with it is limited. Every moment is a gift, and every time we chose to express ourselves and share the stories of our experiences, we are gifting that moment to others.
As such, I'm always saddened to see artists undervalue their time. The five years it took to perfect that crotchet crocodile stitch has value. The semester of bench skills jewelry classes to learn the soldering of prongs has value. And that spool of wire you mangled last night while learning the channel setting.... yep.... it has value. Not just the wire, but the night itself! Just imagine you'd decided to spend those finite moments binge-watching Netflix instead (I'm not saying that's what I did last night, but.....). Those Netflix moments can't be as easily gifted to others as sharing with pride that very first bezel setting, for instance. And think of the inspiration the sharing of that accomplishment offers to others!
So, when pricing your work, consider more than your materials. Consider more than the overhead of your electric and cable costs, marketing expenses or website maintenance. Let's abolish the abhorrently insufficient "materials x 3" pricing model and use a structure that recognizes the value of time. You are worth it. Your time is worth something. Choosing to share the gift of those moments with others should be recognized, so let's charge for our handcrafted goods according to the value of that time.
Here are some resources to help you value your time:
The Birthplace of Creativity
In light of my recent post on copyright, and a post last year highlighting a concept I call "the creative divine", I thought it was time for a new discussion on the birthplace of creativity and our rights as creative souls.
I received a comment today that suggested we are all "vessels" receiving ideas from something higher, greater, even entirely outside ourselves and can claim no real ownership of them. And, while I agree with this idea from a spiritual perspective, as expressed in my Creative Divine post, I'd like to discuss the intricacies of this belief. Because like with all things this subjective, there is no black and white.
While the idea of legally protecting your work might seem counter-intuitive to the concept that ideas originate from an external "divine" source, these two concepts (one spiritual, one material) work well to support one another in furthering a socially creative and balanced universal whole.
My response to the idea of "vessels" was such:
So what does this mean?
Ideas may originate from something removed from ourselves, but in order to realize those ideas, we each imbue them with our own life story. A belief that "there is nothing new under the sun", an ideology rampant in the creative community, really suggests the artist isn't expressing their own story... they are re-telling the stories of others. And I entirely support the belief that people have a right to protect their own stories.
I'm not saying it's not acceptable to learn through mimicry (with permission, of course). That is part of our story as well. But it is not the whole of it. That we should stop sharing our story because of a self-sabotaging belief there is nothing original to express... that is a sad silencing of our own voice. Even with permission or tutorials, I encourage everyone to push beyond that story, and make it your own. Consider it this way: that tutorial is only the first chapter in a much larger book.
So I suppose my advice is this: read the stories of others, appreciate them, absorb them and use them to further your own. No idea needs ever be repeated twice when the vessels are always unique. Don't deny your own vessel an opportunity to spill out your story.
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