This Freelance Advice blog was originally posted on our sister site Tree of Opals.
Recently I became friends with Tania through a natural parenting group. I’d posted about how well things were going with our au pair from France; she had been babywearing and was enabling me to continue breastfeeding. Tania got in touch asking for a bit more info about having one and we got chatting. A while later she invited me to speak at a workshop for parents looking to get back into work and she sent me some questions she thought mums might ask of me.
We met up for a coffee in Bristol beforehand and went through the questionnaire. My face burned with embarrassment as she told me how helpful the answers were and on the day of the workshop I spoke to a handful of new parents. Here’s some of my advice:
What was the trigger for you deciding to become self employed?
I’d been self employed before but failed a few times. I wanted to make a bit of extra money for the family with a profitable hobby but didn’t really intend on it becoming a big success. At first I didn’t believe in myself but when I started to I decided to go all in and make my business work
When did you actually start making money?
Straight away in fact, word started to spread throughout my friend network and all of a sudden I was being asked for prices by friends of friends. I have had to work really hard to catch up ever since and every penny has gone back into the business. I haven’t borrowed a penny, it’s all come from sales.
How did you know your business idea would work?
I’ve seen a handful of other businesses doing breastmilk jewellery that are really successful. There are hundreds of thousands of babies born every day and that’s a lot of new breastfeeding mums so my business will always be sustainable. It was something I wanted for myself but I wasn’t keen on what was being offered already and I prefer to do things myself and I’m creative.
How do you manage childcare when working?
At the start I worked when I could get five minutes which isn’t easy with two under threes! My mum helped a lot and still does, and my husband got used to looking after our baby when our toddler was in bed. I was exclusively breastfeeding at that point but as soon as Tiny Boy went onto solids and dropped his daytime feeds down a bit I started thinking of childcare. My mum lives 90 minutes away so she can’t pop round on a daily basis so we chose to get an au pair. Sleeping arrangements mean we are a bit cramped but it’s temporary until I can sustain full-time childcare.
How much money did you need to set up your business?
A little over £300 from a child tax credit payment (sadly they stopped when I registered as self-employed but we are better off all in all). I used it to buy the basic equipment and my website domain which was enough to make some example pieces and establish a shop. Luckily my husband is a web developer who taught me the basics and the rest is self-taught. We also help other small businesses with websites but for now I’m focussing on jewellery so we only do word of mouth referrals
What are the three things you would say you need to do when starting a business?
- Trust the power of social media like Facebook and Instagram, you might need and learn to use them properly as a business but there are plenty of blogs about that (I made a Pinterest board with my favourites). You don’t have to pay but if you do, they make the best advertising platforms (Instagram ads was debuted in November 2015, I’ll let you know how it goes)
- Register with the HMRC… I’m frightened of that sort of thing so I hired an accountant straight away on a friend’s recommendation; Natasha who owns Busy Books is another local working mum who really understood my needs and has saved me money already
- Ask friends, family and relatives for their support, ask them to buy from you or recommend clients or engage in your social media posts. Word of mouth will always be a great tool which is why you should treat every customer and potential customer like a VIP, even the ones who frustrate you… especially the ones who frustrate you!
How do you know how much to pay yourself?
So far, I haven’t taken anything out of the business because all the things I’ve bought have been to support it. While it means I’m sort of working for free, I know that I’ll be making a real profit next year with a really great workshop and brand. I love doing what I’m doing and I feel more fulfilled than I did looking after the little ones every day
How do you say no to business
Last week I had an email asking for a piece that I no longer offer since I stopped doing silver plated. I’ve refused (politely) and recommended they find something else. I suppose I could have offered them a custom slot, which I charge for to dissuade time-wasters (a genuine client is happy to pay and will respect you more for your time) but the email caught me off guard. That was on Monday morning and they placed an order for another piece on the Wednesday evening*. They will be getting a product that I’m happier to make because it’s a good quality setting and although my profit margin is lower on it, it’s something I’d rather be known for. Stand your ground
How to use your time effectively
- I keep my studio neater than I ever thought possible; if I don’t have to hunt for something then it’s much easier. It seems to double every month, growing from a corner of the dining table to taking up half of the loft room and everything’s labeled or I wouldn’t have a clue!
- I charge a small amount for custom order enquiries as I found it makes the pieces more desirable and gives people a level of respect for my time and the process involved
- I’m very strict with clients, insisting they send their orders in labeled with their order number so I can tell at a glance what I need to start next. I have 18 plastic lidded tubs that are labeled for each client and I only work on one or two at a time. I’ll choose a couple of pieces to work on that need the same type of resin, mix it up, degas it and add any colours then work on each client’s piece. I always have a few moulds ready to use up any leftover resin to reduce wastage, save time and invest in the craft fairs I’ll be doing soon
- I don’t have any time constraints but I find if I’m getting too tired and work slows down, I nap. If I’m bored I switch to something else. I have a few different projects going on that I can switch between. To manage my supplies, I will try to work on a few pieces at once with one lot of resin (which takes up to quarter of an hour to prepare). Sometimes I’ll go out to a coffee shop to work on my laptop for a change of scenery
Where do you get your inspiration from?
- I’m lucky to be part of an exclusive group with the top keepsake artists in the world and we support one-another to keep learning and coming up with new ideas
- Etsy – I look at what other jewellers and artists are doing, but not to copy, only to be inspired. I’ve just started reading Steal Like An Artist which was recommended by one of my keepsake colleagues and it explains how to do it
- My clients are always challenging me to make something different, and I encourage that. This week I’ve done a totally custom design for one of the mums who donated breastmilk to Small Girl two years ago. It’s involving a lot of work but I taught myself to make blanks for mouldmaking out of modelling clay and I’ve already had an order request for another custom mould
- I’ve got a list on my phone of ideas that I want to put into plan. I rarely look back at it because I find they just start happening. Sometimes I have to tell myself to wait and focus on what needs to be done now.
What keeps you motivated
- I might prepare the next customer’s box or look at how many orders I’ve taken, or read my reviews
- If I have no motivation I don’t take it to heart, I think perhaps I’m not meant to be doing that there and then and I do something else. It might be switching to a different piece, technique, making something for a craft fayre, using a different media or going to the supermarket
How you juggle a house, kids and business as well as maintaining a social life
We all chip in with the housework because my husband has seen that I’m doing well and working full time. We have just started doing the KonMari method and I’ve given away nine black sacks full of clothes and toys so far; once the house is a bit less cluttered we will be finding someone to help with the cleaning. I see a bit less of my friends in person except for breastfeeding group and sling library but I’m always online to chat to people. We’re going on holiday over Christmas and new year so I can regroup.
How to use your time effectively, picking the right work and learning to say no to clients
- Orders come in automatically so I only put the products I want to make in my shop. If a client wants a custom order they pay for a slot to discuss it. If it’s something I can’t do, I refund them out of courtesy. I put my prices up recently when I realised how valuable my time was and I have had more orders than ever since. I still do some affordable pieces and I love to trade gifts, and I don’t charge mums who have lost a baby, because I want my jewellery to be attainable but luxurious too.
- Early on I thought discounts would get me more work so I could improve my portfolio but I was wrong. Now I won’t go over a certain level, and I don’t offer them any more unless I want to make a sale there and then so I might offer some money off as an incentive to buy now. I find that clients who pay less expect a lower quality product and it devalues you. That being said, if someone asks for money off, I love a good barter!
How do you retain clients? What techniques do you use?
It’s a bit early for me to have much repeat business yet but I’ve had two clients who have re ordered in the past month. Breastmilk jewellery tends to be quite personal so I don’t expect repeats there unless the client has another baby.
How referrals have worked for you
With cremation ash pieces I’m starting to build a name for myself as someone who is respectful and I have no doubt I will have family members of existing clients contact me when they see the pieces in person. I’m always that confident though, or tell myself to be! I can’t tell you how important it is to treat every customer well, no matter how much money they spend. It’s always a personal service
If you’d like to know more please leave me a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org
*Since I published this article, the lady in question read it and recognised herself… Needless to say I was embarassed but she was much happier with the new jewellery than she would’ve been as she hadn’t realised the old one was silver plated. I still think the saying is true: “the customer is always right”, but it’s your job to make sure they’ve got the right info!