Victoria, Coaching for Geeks’ Mod Prime and resident Viking, runs Destai Designs, a small business selling chainmaille. This is her story packed with help for your own microbiz adventure!
I started my business in that magical year of 2013, the year of horse meat, resigning popes and questionable music. It was a bit of a rash decision, I admit, and it was mostly a result of drowning in bracelets I’d made. I kept having friends telling me, “just go on Etsy and sell them. You’ll be rich!” Well then! The path seemed clear. To Etsy I had to go. (And did – you can visit Vic’s Etsy store here)
Let’s rewind a bit. I moved to the glorious island of Britannia in 2004, when I was 20. I started out fairly normally – got an office job and a place to live. Moved to Brighton a few years later, and my wild ride began! I got a job as a video games tester (quality assurance, or QA), and it ran me completely into the ground. Two years later, I had burnt out to the point of not physically being able to get out of bed, much less make it to work. Thus, began my four years outside of the working life.
But, and here’s the important part, I came back. I spent a few years in hopelessness but then I had an epiphany. I had started making some fairly simple friendship bracelets and realised I really liked it. I started looking up more complicated macramé patterns. I made more complicated micro-macramé (i.e. jewellery in this case), and I started falling in love with other forms of jewellery making.
Long story short, I discovered chainmaille.
(AKA mail, chainmail, chain mail, chain maille – all listed for yours, and Google’s SEO benefit – Robin)
Now, when I first started my Etsy shop, I had grand ideas of selling several bracelets a week and getting a decent enough income to be able to splurge on geeky things, and becoming well known, and all that jazz.
However, I made pretty much every mistake in the book.
* Pricing was all wrong
* Listing descriptions were terrible
* The product photography was utter wank
* And I hadn’t taken the time to figure out where I was going.
So let’s start at the beginning, trying to impart some wisdom on the way.
When I first started, I was figuratively drowning in bracelets. They were EVERYWHERE. In drawers, on my desk, on the cat bed (don’t ask) and overflowing my own jewellery box. As a result, I didn’t think they were worth much and I priced them way low. I see a lot of other creators and artists making the same mistake, so I will tell you here and now:
Your Time Is Worth Something
If you spend two hours making a bracelet, you should at the very least get minimum wage for that time. And if you really think about it, you’ve got a unique skill set which is surely worth more than just the minimum. I won’t mention exactly how much I take per hour, but I only charge for the actual creation. Not the time I spend on admin, on running to the post office, or any of the other things that go into running a business. That’s why you also need to consider putting a percentage profit on top. And if you sell wholesale it gets even more complicated!
So what goes into the actual pricing, then? My formula looks something like this:
Materials + Hourly wage + Profit = Selling price
If you sell wholesale, you take off the profit part but double the rest, so it looks like this:
Materials + Hourly wage = Wholesale price
Wholesale price x2 = Selling price
Alright, quite enough of that. Any further questions, please ask in the comments.
I remember vividly telling everyone who would listen that the descriptions of my products should be easy to do. I wanted to put “it’s a bracelet, buy it” on everything. It took me years, literally years, to figure out how to write a good listing description.
What you want to do is start out with a BANG. Your first sentence needs to grab the attention of the reader. Sure, they can’t all be super zingers if you have 150 products but try to make it enticing nevertheless. Use the first paragraph to create an image in the reader’s imagination – maybe describe how it can be used or worn, where it would look amazing, and so on.
Second paragraph can contain all the technical information about the product, such as size, materials used, any allergy warnings and what have you. This can also be done by bullet points if you prefer. After that, follow on with any other information that may be important, e.g. whether it’s ready for use or if it needs assembly, if it needs cleaning, anything like that.
Personally, I always have an end paragraph with some information about who I am, what I do and how to proceed if something is not to the customer’s liking. It’s just a useful thing to have.
So there you have it. Three or four paragraphs is a bit more than “it’s a bracelet, buy it” and is more likely to entice someone into actually buying it.
I am no photographer. I am not going to give you super tips on this, because I kind of suck at it myself. Just keep the basics in mind – good lighting, a background that’s not too plain but not too busy either (or just pure white if you prefer), and keep the product in focus. Make it clear that the product is the picture frame, not the cactus next to it. You’re selling the piece of jewellery, not the box you’ve draped it over.
There are a ton of good product photography courses out there. You can find free advice all over the internet, and Etsy runs semi-regular webinars on these things. And practise, practise, practise. You’ll never get good if you don’t take a ton of horrible pictures. Trust me!
Where Are You Going with This?
I left this topic for last because it’s a tricky one. You have to figure out business stuff like target markets and demographics and marketing and social media and, and, and…
Figure out the important bits first. What do you want to do. Who do you want to sell to. Where will you find these people. I sell chainmaille jewellery and accessories. That’s a massive area to play with, so I’ve narrowed it down to my Destai brand of Viking Metal. I focus mostly on stainless steel, with some other metals thrown in here and there. My main market is people around my own age, so 30s – 40s, who are interested in alternative fashion and/or historical fashion and renaissance fairs. That gives me a good start! That means I can tailor what I do around those things. It gives me loose boundaries to create within, a focus, and a niche.
I am so very much not going into depth here. There are so many platforms, there are so many ways of doing it, and I’m not even all that good at it despite spending hours on Facebook every day. Running a business page or account on social media is miles different from just having fun on your personal account. It’s a surprising amount of work. I’m not saying this to discourage anyone; I just want you to know what you’re getting yourself into.
But at the same time, social media can be a make or break part of your small business. Use it. Use it well.
(Coaching for Geeks can help- we’ve made LOADS of mistakes so you don’t have to – Robin)
“So what happened with your own microbiz,” I hear you ask. I’ll be honest here. I didn’t make a sale for three months. And it took me six months before I even started to have something resembling a passable shop on Etsy. But I didn’t give up. I kept learning, and reading, and tinkering, and working, and eventually I started building up a Brand.
I’ve been at it for (*counts*) five years now and I have steady sales, if not enough to live off entirely. I am constantly making new stuff and try to increase the number of products I have available as I go.
I had another burn-out this year. It wasn’t as bad as the one that put me out of action for years, but it did hamper my progress a bit. What do you do when that happens? I tried to take care of myself as much as possible. Get rest and sleep when I needed it. Avoid stressors, as much as possible. Play games. Talk to friends. And slowly but surely I’m crawling my way back up from this muddy hole that I fell into. Never give up. Always remember you’re awesome. And then go out and be awesome in the world.
Victoria Sol – owner of Destai, a micro business in the jewellery trade. Victoria spends her time making chainmaille, creating music, wasting time on Facebook, and killing Super Mutants. You can find her in the Coaching for Geeks Facebook group as one of the regular contributors.