Q: For several years I have been making jewelry from my own lamp glass beads. As I began wearing my pieces friends asked if I could make something for them. Over time I feel I have gotten good enough at what I do to begin selling my work to a broader audience. Where do I begin?
A. I’d suggest you start small, but think big. Build your line and brand one small step at a time. You’ll probably want to begin by selling your work at retail. Further, I think it makes sense to choose shows that take place within driving distance of your home. This will help keep your expenses low while you’re perfecting your line and building a customer base.
As you begin, it will be important to hone in on the brand you will be building. I suggest you emphasize that you make the beads you use. Remember that everything you show the public must be considered with the same creative eye you use when making your jewelry. At the outset you’ll need to have a booth for displaying your work at shows. This could be as simple as a tabletop display, but it must be well-thought-out and designed. I’d suggest you visit as many shows as you can and focus on the jewelry booths. Note the best features of each and incorporate these in your display and into the booth you will eventually want.
Visual materials—either printed or digital—are also going to be important. You’ll need to announce your line and where customers will find it. You’ll have to decide on the information you want to present and how. You could then spend your time developing the materials; or, I’d suggest you hire a designer to do this for you. You’ll then want a whole series of materials including line sheets, order forms, business cards, and invoices. You’ll also want a care card that also includes a statement about your work and why it’s special.
The shows you do at the beginning may not be financially profitable, but don’t despair, this is to be expected. You may have chosen the wrong show; you’ll get good at this as your show savvy grows. Also, many shoppers don’t purchase until they have seen the work more than once. These shows however can be very profitable in terms of the information you gather. Most important, you’ll be able to get firsthand feedback by engaging shoppers in conversation about your jewelry. Further, you’ll have the opportunity to learn from your peers. Ask how they do things and observe their interactions with shoppers and how they close a sale. Be sure to inquire about other shows they do that might be appropriate for your work. You’ll find craftspeople ever so helpful.
Eventually you may want to begin selling in wholesale markets. This is another ball of wax with totally different players and rules. For now, focus on successful retail selling and when it’s time the next step will reveal itself. Be confident in the knowledge that a well-designed line backed-up by a well-thought-out promotion plan will keep your business growing and will keep you busy in the studio and office.
Donald Clark is the author of Making a Living in Crafts and was a partner in Ferrin Gallery for 25 years. In addition to writing, he is currently a consultant to artists, a personal property appraiser, and a collection manager. He also continues to create his constructions that have been shown extensively and collected internationally.