Selling Your Handmade Jewellery.
Part I - Laying Good Foundations.
Selling your handmade jewellery is probably an art-form in its own right. We have all come across "great" salesmen and women in our time, so why do so many of us lack confidence when it comes to selling our own work? How do we increase our marketing skills, capitalise on opportunities and find the confidence to turn from hobby jewellery designer into professional?
Even the best handcrafted jewellery will not sell itself. The act of selling is something that must be learned and practised. Who knows you might even start to enjoy it!
In these articles we will look at some of the most common ways self-representing jewellery designers can sell their work. Specifically I am looking at ways you can both continue to sell your own work directly AND get other shops, galleries, boutiques etc to also sell it for you.
I make the assumption you have properly researched and understood any legal aspects to selling before you start. Although I do touch upon this later on, ultimately when you sell to the public it is your responsibility to know you are acting fully within the law. So, by that I mean any local laws you need to adhere to, insurance policies you might need or tax implications. Even if you work full-time, you must still inform the tax office if you plan to sell your handmade jewellery for example.
Lastly I make the assumption that you have a workable wholesale and retail pricing structure in place. If not, see my earlier article Pricing Your Jewellery for tips on how to do this and why it is so important.
Be honest - are you ready?
Its a controversial question but one we must ask ourselves before selling to the public. Are you ready yet?
In fact, this is THE question I am asked most by aspiring jewellery designers - "how do I know when I am ready to sell?"
It's a small question, but has a big answer!
If you are making well-constructed, original jewellery, if you know and meet your legal obligations and you believe there is a market for your work - then yes, clearly you are ready to sell.
If you are new to jewellery-making though it might be worth taking some time to think this over. There is an old cliché "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." Never has this been truer than when walking into a respected gallery for your first sales meeting!
Fools Rush In......?
If you genuinely want to make a sustainable business from selling your work, it pays to lay good foundations.
Selling too soon can create a vicious circle. The maker rushes into selling, pricing their work deliberately low just to get a foot on the sales ladder. But then they risk getting stuck on that first rung. The maker builds up a clientele who only ever want simplistic, quickly made jewellery at rock-bottom prices. Besides, her work does not yet have sufficient quality or personality to attract higher prices anyway. So when the maker's skills and experience eventually do grow, she finds it very hard to break out of this trap, for fear of pricing herself out of the only market she has been able to create for herself.
There is nothing wrong in catering to any market you chose. I would get just as much satisfaction selling summer fashions to school kids as I ever did selling more elaborate work in "exclusive" outlets. In both cases it is still supremely satisfying and flattering to know that someone else fell in love with your design and chose to buy it.
But shouldn't it be your choice what markets you choose to explore? Rather than be forced to cater to one particular market because those are the only sales you can get?
Being ready to sell gives you the freedom to explore any market you choose, knowing you can hold your own against any other designer out there chasing those same sales.
So how do you know if you are ready? Well, I would argue that you need to be covered on four bases: Workmanship, Originality, Legality and Desirability. That is what we will look at in this article.
We all improve with experience. It is also true that good design is subjective - what is "pretty" is very much a matter of taste. But good workmanship is more black and white. It is either there or it isn't.
Customers do notice bad workmanship and sales can be lost that way. If you commissioned a tailor to make you a suit - would you be happy for buttons to be hanging off? The cut to be wrong? You may not be a tailor yourself but you still know good tailoring from bad when you see it. So too with your customers. Some aspects of quality they will need educating on, such as what materials you are using maybe. But a sloppily-finished bracelet or mismatched earrings are far more obvious to even the most un-trained eye.
Good workmanship isn't about the expense of the materials used either. It's about how much care you put into your work - whatever budget you are working to. Quality of workmanship is what artist-made jewellery is all about. It is what differentiates you from the factory imports and machine-made tat.
If you haven't yet mastered how to finish off neatly, or your wrapped loops let you down - my advice is don't rush things. Wait, practice, improve. Your good workmanship will be one of your strongest selling points - whatever market you pursue.
Likewise research the nuts and bolts of good jewellery design. What length necklaces to people prefer? How heavy does an earring need to be before it becomes uncomfortable for most people? Take a fresh look at your necklace - would it still be comfortable if the wearer was running for the bus or would it slap their boobies painfully into next week with its heavy pendant? What looks good on the necklace stand always has to feel good on the neck too!
When you have the workmanship nailed down, you have the building blocks to let your originality shine. You will have the confidence to design jewellery for any and every market. And with the internet - more and more markets are open to you don't forget. You won't need to settle for what your own backyard will give in terms of sales.
Originality - finding your own style
Copying is rife in the world of handmade jewellery. Much of it, I hasten to add, done unintentionally. But once you start selling you are also entering into a whole new world of ethics.
It is one thing to copy a design from a website or magazine for your own personal use. It's quite another thing if you then go and sell it. To sell another person's design is to profit from their style and their inspiration - not your own. This is rightly considered unethical by most beadmakers and jewellery designers.
Once you are selling you should be focused on originality, on developing your own style. Not just emulating what is selling well for others. Finding your own style is not as hard as it seems. Actually, I think a designer's style often develops naturally and usually very quickly if only they would let it!
If you only ever copy other people's designs (either from their sales collections or their published projects) - eventually this will hold you back. It will inhibit you in finding your own natural style. You have to let go of what other people are doing in order for your own ideas to come to the surface.
Learning new techniques is important. We all copy others at times to build new skills. That is why design authors such as myself publish projects in the first place. Reading magazines and books or taking classes are all fantastic ways to learn core skills. But techniques are just generic methods. Its important to take any technique you learn and try to use it in your own way. That is when your style will start to emerge. You will always learn more if you modify a project than if you just follow it to the letter.
Inspiration is also an important part of developing your style. But where do you find inspiration?
Again, that is a pretty big question. I can tell you where you shouldn't look. I would argue that if you are visiting other jewellery designer's websites regularly or only looking through jewellery magazines and books then you are looking in all the wrong places.
Look for techniques in these places, sure. Even fashion trends if you must. But when you use these as your primary sources of inspiration, it will be rather stale and second-hand inspiration by the time you come to use it.
Instead look under different stones. Think about the things that gives you a buzz in life. We all have different interests and passions and it's fantastic to take inspiration from that.
For example, things that give me a buzz include "Nature" - a big inspiration for me. Associated ideas that stem from that might include birds, leaves, shells etc. So I might find myself searching through biology textbooks or internet sites on plants. My next design might incorporate spiral seashell motifs or the patterns of fern fronds. I might chose the colour palette of my favourite bird or flower. (Mother Nature really is the ultimate colour expert!) Before long I have too many ideas to cope with!
I think for any given passion you can easily extract inspiration. Just sit down and think about Stuff You Like.
If you love food - your passion might inspire a series of polymer candy beads. If you are passionate about horses, you might take inspiration from the curves of the animal to create abstract brooches from Art Clay Silver. You might create beadwork inspired by all the harnesses and paraphernalia found in the tack-room. Who knows? Inspiration is a very personal thing.
The point is, there are always ways to prod your brain into giving up original ideas - you just need to give yourself a chance. Look to the areas of the universe that truly motivate YOU and that is where you will find your style. Not in what other people are creating.
I am a big fan of keeping notebooks for these thinking sessions. I cannot draw for toffee, but I still get some type of a sketch down, written notes too when ideas hit thick and fast.
If you hit a creative block, my top tip is to tidy up! It is amazing how quickly inspiration hits when you have a clean desk or have found several kilos of beads you forgot you had!
Another great trick is to limit yourself with a strict project. Give yourself a really strict brief such as "This week, I will only work in black and red" or "I will only create designs with triangular shapes today". It forces your brain to think harder if faced with less choices. When human brains are under pressure, they naturally get creative. It is a natural part of our highly evolved problem-solving skills. Try it - it really works!
When you start selling, it is your responsibility to ensure you are operating within the law.
These laws vary from area to area and country to country. You will need to think about tax implications (such as income tax on profits, national insurance, VAT or local sales tax if applicable). To find out about the tax side of selling in the UK visit HM Revenue and Customs
When selling tangible goods (either in person or by mail order) there are also other consumer laws you need to be aware of.
In the UK, sites such as The Office of Fair Trading , Business Link and Trading Standards all have invaluable advice on the legal side of selling. Things to be aware of include: The rules for selling online (Distance Selling and e-commerce regulations). What you can and cannot claim in advertising, how you describe your products and so on. Also rules for refunding customers and their statutory rights etc.
Insurance is another key issue. If you will be selling face-to-face you will almost certainly need Public and Product Liability insurance. This is in case you, your business or product somehow injure a third party and you end up fighting a law-suit. When selling at craft fairs, the organisers will often demand to see your certificate of insurance. Even if you are only selling privately or online it is still wise to have insurance. It doesn't cost that much and is well worth the peace of mind.
In the UK there are some specialist brokers who offer useful policies to craftspeople, such as Ian Wallace
Legality Continued... European Nickel Laws and Hallmarking issues.
Another major issue if you live in the UK or Europe is the European law governing nickel content in jewellery.
In a nutshell, any metal bead, finding or other jewellery item likely to be in contact with the skin must be nickel-free. If you want to check out the regulations in detail this site has a good overview: The Electronic Guide to the Nickel Issue
It is important to understand these regulations fully. If you buy beads and findings from outside Europe, they are unlikely to meet the standards required. Some of the cheap components from the far east might seem a bargain, but not if it makes your designs illegal to sell! Even most findings from the USA will not meet our EU laws and you must be very specific about sourcing nickel-free components.
If your jewellery contains sterling silver beads, findings or other components TOTALLING over 7.78 grams it must be hallmarked by law. Otherwise you are not legally allowed to sell it as "sterling silver". (The same applies to gold, only the threshold is lower at 1 gram.)
To get an item of jewellery hallmarked in the UK, you must send it to one of our 4 assay offices: London, Birmingham, Sheffield or Edinburgh. For more details on hallmarking and assay offices, see The British Hallmarking Council, specifically their links page.
Some of the assay offices offer discounts to students, including subsidies on getting maker's mark stamps made and even tours of their facilities. Contact the assay office direct or ask your tutor to see if you qualify.
Ok. So you have a well made product. An original product. You have all your ducks in a row on your legal obligations. All you need to check now is the Desirability factor of your work. Unless people desire it, they won't buy it!
So what does desirability mean?
It's subjective of course - but basically desirability is how you stir up and impart passion into your work. People seldom buy jewellery because they need it. They buy it because they have come to desire it. They desire it because your own passion for your work is infective.
Clearly the most important factor to desirability is that the jewellery itself is nice. Everyone's tastes vary of course - but if you ask your family and friends, you can usually get a good gauge of what designs they find the most desirable. At the very least it will let you know if you are hitting either extreme. Multiple ooos and ahs (or conversely gagging noises) are quite good indicators!
Other aspects of desirability come from how you present your work. That can mean how the work is displayed at a craft fair booth, your product packaging, your advertising and so on. Even how you present yourself and talk about your work.
When a customer buys jewellery, she is buying into the whole experience of the entire range and the designer behind it. Whether consciously or not, it is the whole shebang than creates the desire in her to make a purchase. After all - if you had put that one bracelet or pair of earrings that she did buy out alone on a bare table and hid yourself out of sight - would she still have purchased? Nope, probably not. She would have just walked on by.
An important part of desirability is that the customer needs to connect with you, the artist.
You don't need to be selling face to face to create this connection. If you have a website put a biography page on it. If you sell at fairs or through galleries, print out your bio in text large enough to read and frame it as part of your display. Preferably include your photo.
It really does make a difference. It helps people connect with you. Because even when selling face-to-face you won't have time to introduce yourself to every customer.
So let your framed bio (and a business card in with all sales) do it for you. Do you want to be remembered as "that girl who did the jewellery on the table near the fire exit" or by your own name? Which do you think people can Google more easily to find you again?
I have lost count of the times I have seen "about me" pages on websites that talk the talk, walk the walk, but don't include a NAME!
If I am going to buy handmade jewellery from any self-representing artist, I want to know who that artist actually is. A business name is nice, but the business didn't make those earrings - you did. So tell me who you are. And better still show me. I am nosy. I wanna see your face. I wanna know your cat's name. I wanna know why you love making jewellery. I wanna know what materials you are passionate about. But I also want to remember you. So again - I wanna see your name!
Create a stage name if you don't want to put your real name up on t'internet. But don't expect people to understand the passion behind the "individually hand-crafted" jewellery you are selling if you won't properly introduce yourself to them as that individual.
Take a look at your website right now. Is your name there? If not, take yourself off and lock yourself in the larder for a few hours and have a long think about this. Don't come out again until you are sorry.
Lastly, think about how you talk about your work. Are you apologetic for your prices? Do you downplay your skills as a designer maker? Modesty maybe ideal for 19th century wives but for 21st century businesswomen it can come across as lacking-in-confidence.
When you are offered a compliment about your work or your skills - take it gratefully. Change "oh it's nothing" to "thank you - I did work hard to get this design just how I wanted it!"
If you are passionate about your work, the desirability will become infused into the work naturally. So don't be modest!
So the foundations to your successful selling have been laid. In the next article I shall look at the different sales opportunities you are able to explore both directly and indirectly, now you are all fired up for selling!
© Emma Ralph 2007. May not be printed, distributed or copied in any form without the author’s written permission.