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How Having Covid Affected My Small Business

How Having Covid Affected My Small Business

I’m writing this blog to explain how having covid affected my small business in August and September 2021. I’m starting this blog on Tuesday 31st August and I found out yesterday morning. Although super exhausted right now, it seems important to document this for future generations to understand how small business owners in the jewellery industry are affected by the corona virus.

Extremely Vulnerable Status

We conceived Lexi in December 2019 on holiday with Hakun’s family in the Faroe Islands. I had no idea how having covid affected my small business or how it would affect the world the way it has but I’m not convinced I’d have chosen to be pregnant in 2020 if I’d had any inkling. The pregnancy was straightforward but I missed a lot of the social aspects and milestones I’d had with my older two. I did pregnancy yoga on Zoom but it wasn’t the same; the kids would barge in and I wasn’t relaxed any more.

I isolated, only going out for hospital appointments. It wasn’t till after Lexi was a few months old, when I was no longer isolating I had a letter saying I was extremely vulnerable. I went back into lockdown and had my first jab within a week, not long after my mum. My husband, Haks, had his vaccination a couple of months later and we’re both fully jabbed now.

Getting Covid

I felt it was really unlikely either of us would pick up covid after having both vaccines. I went for a few days to help a friend after her baby was born and her partner went back to work. Once I got home I had a message from her telling me he’d tested positive for the virus (even though he was double jabbed) his first day back at work in a care home – I expected to get it then, but it came back negative. It wasn’t till my husband and I took the kids to London this weekend just gone that I suddenly felt ill on the train home. I did a test and when I got the second line I booked a proper home test.

How Having Covid Affected My Small Business

At the moment we’re really struggling as a family financially and emotionally. I don’t share this much but we’re currently homeless. We own a house, yes, but it’s got tenants in it which we wouldn’t evict even if we could. We literally can’t call it our home and we’re at the mercy of my mum till our house purchase completes. We’re used to having our freedom because Hakun works full time as a systems developer and making keepsake and breastmilk jewellery has always given me a fantastic income even part time. The silver lining of living with my mum is that she has Lexi for me every day. But with covid I can’t go in and my husband is too sick to work.

If I really think how having covid affected my small business, the worst part is letting my customers down. I’m pretty emotional typing this (my head hurts and I keep coughing, every time I cough I panic about my bladder!) and I’m sad that I can’t do much more than sit on the laptop. Without the energy to do a tutorial video all I can manage is a bit of SEO. Don’t forget, I still have to pay my shop bills even if I’m not there so there’s no retail therapy on the horizon.

My silver lining is Joanna, who’s shipping what she can from Norwich, on the other side of the country. You’re still welcome to order from here but you might find it faster to order from our Etsy shop here!

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How to Deal With Complaints

how to deal with complaints by Nikki Kamminga at Keepsaker Supplies

You can learn how to deal with complaints easily, effectively and without feeling personally harmed. Making memorial or breastmilk jewellery or DNA keepsakes is quite a unique area, somewhere in between breastfeeding counsillor, funeral director and wedding supplier. The wedding and funeral industries receive the most complaints of all industries because tensions are running high, and I believe that passes over to keepsake jewellery. Customers in this industry can be more hurtful than in any other area I’ve worked (from mobile phones to advertising to coffee shop and retail management) and it’s a combination of it being such an emotive thing we’re working with and the fact I feel closer to it because it’s my own business.

How to Deal With Complaints – The Paths

Whether you’re in the right or they are, or both of you, there are several paths you can take together. Please don’t forget that you have the power to guide a customer down a different path no matter how the conversation starts out. I’ll try to give as many examples below from working in this industry over six years.

The Full Refund and Keep The Jewellery
This is the path the most difficult customers often want to go down. It can be incredibly painful to get this kind of message. They’ve received their item and have found something to complain about. They want you to refund them completely but they will almost always refuse to return the jewellery because “it contains something so irreplaceable”.

Example (customer):
“I received a ring from you today after waiting absolutely ages and I’m very angry. It looks unprofessional and the colour is all wrong, it’s too dark! It doesn’t even fit me; I want a full refund but I’m not sending it back because it’s my gran’s ashes”

This is one of the worst case scenario complaints. They’re complaining about quality of the setting, the competence of the artist, the fact that it doesn’t fit and the time it took to arrive. You can apologise and do what they want by refunding without return, but then you’ll be out the cost of the setting and all of your work, plus shipping and overheads. I almost always* try to steer them away from this because I DON’T DESERVE TO WORK FOR FREE and neither do you! 

What to do – start off with an acknowledgement of their complaint and a genuine apology. Look back through any old messages and find some empathy for a client. They’re probably grieving their breastfeeding journey or their loved one. I would say, for example,

Hi Hannah, thank you so much for taking the time to come to me with this. I know it must be difficult to have received something you’re looking forward to for a long time and it’s not what you were hoping for. After your gran passed in March the crematorium have looked after her really well and the ashes were a lovely naturally dark colour. We usually try to let the natural colour of the ashes come through in the jewellery, which can hide some of the pigment we added in the green you chose. I definitely checked the ring size before setting the ashes, but if you feel like it’s not the right size you can take it to a local jeweller (please send me a photo of it on the sizer) or you can buy one here on Amazon. Please forward me your Amazon receipt and a photo of the ring on the sizing stick and I’ll refund the sizer.

Here’s a resolution I would like to offer. I will remake the ring for you in the size you like, please use a sizer exactly like this one to find your correct size. Please post me back the ashes and this ring, we will remove and return the stone, so the ring can be recycled, and make a new one. We can hide the ashes behind the pigment so you can’t see so much (or any) of your gran’s ashes if you’re not keen on their colour. We’ll send you a photo of the cabochons/stones we make to check you’re happy before setting one in the new ring setting. As a goodwill gesture we’ll even ship the remake to you free of charge by Special Delivery. Please let me know if you’re happy to go ahead
Yours Sincerely
Nikki Kamminga
Owner and Artist
Tree of Opals

The Partial Refund and Replacement
If your customer starts off with asking for a partial refund then don’t feel like you necessarily have to give them money back. When I first started out making memorial and breastmilk jewellery I was in need of every penny to pay for childcare, let alone contribute to bills. If I had an order it would either be spent on stock and consumables like moulds and settings or it would go to my girls’ nursery. I didn’t have business savings and I couldn’t afford to refund, so if it was necessary it would have to come out of our personal account.

This isn’t a situation I’d recommend you be in, with good profit margins you should easily be able to cover your overheads, childcare and some put aside. I lost £100 in my first year in business (I started off with £350 of my own money from a child tax credit) then I made a profit after about six months. If you can, put aside 10% to cover any refunds.

Still, you can avoid a refund at all by offering something of equal value. For example, if they want £50 back why not offer a £50 necklace, that may only cost you £10 to make?

How to Prevent Complaints To Begin With

The best way to prvent complaints in the first place is to try to do everything you can to get them to understand the important points about buying jewellery from you. That could be in the form of a phone call or email before you take payment, or an extra box on your checkout to ask them if they definitely read the product description and the FAQ’s. I make my customers write “I promise” in the box on the checkout on Tree of Opals and it does help cut down on complaints in the first place. Customers often won’t read them anyway, but at least you have them there to back you up in case you do get a complaint.

Always let customers know, regarding lead times 1. your maximum lead time (orders can take up to four months from receipt of payment and the milk/ashes etc) and 2. an estimated lead time (most orders take about a month right now but this will be longer during the school holidays). Also let them know if any of your settings are handmade, such as rings from us which are soldered or cast by hand in small batches and look handmade. I like to include a sizing disclaimer in my terms and conditions, along the lines of, “due to different tolerances in ring sizers the ring provided may be up to one whole UK (one half US) ring size larger or smaller than requested”.

I avoid most complaints in the first place with two important tools:

  1. Proof Photos – Prevent them saying they don’t like the colour by sending a proof photo – just make at least two cabochons (stones), on the back, email the client a photo and ask which they prefer.  Let them know that you’ll always return the unused ones free of charge but you can make extra profit here by offering to set the extra in silver for another £20/$30 (over half will say yes). They feel more involved in the process, fewer complaints about time too
  2. Free Ring Sizers – At Tree of Opals our way to remove ring sizing complaints is letting customers know we prefer to send them a free ring sizer with their kit to borrow. You can find kit supplies here in our country specific buying guides, here’s one from Amazon that’s ideal, we just ask for the letter that fits best so they don’t get confused about which number we need. The letter is the UK ring size and they’re a little more accurate than US sizes


How to Deal With Complaints When You’re In The Right

This one’s carefully phrased, the flip side of “you’re in the right” is “you’re not in the wrong”. Or even the possibility that your customer’s in the wrong. Whether that’s true or not, it’s always best to treat the situation like you’re both in the right. Don’t accuse the customer of being wrong, having misread something, having demanded too much, too soon or being cheap. It’s not going to make you or them happy and it’s going to lead to hurt feelings and bad reviews.

Then again, you don’t have to give in to a customer’s unreasonable demands just because you’re scared of a bad review. I like to try to find a middle ground for each situation so I’ve given as examples above. If you have lots of good reviews then don’t give in to demands of a refund if you’re in the right just because you’re afraid – real customers will see through a bad review if the rest are great!

Do you have any tips for dealing with complaints?

 

*The only situation where I’d give a full refund and allow them to keep the piece is where it’s not too expensive in the first place (perhaps £50 and under) and/or the client has my home address and has threatened me. If I’m worried about the safety of my family, I’ll do anything to get rid of them as fast as possible. I had a situation once where a client I think was mentally ill turned up at my home at 9pm and I honestly wish that I had given her a full refund. Preferably before I’d made the piece, when I knew she was a problem. You do need to put your family first and if a customer gives you any sign of being dangerous then please refund in full and block all contact. If they leave you a 1* review anywhere then you can fight it with any evidence of threats you’ve received from them.

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Discounts and Coupons

Honey

Join Honey here and you can add a browser extension to the top of your browser such as Chrome or Firefox and it magically shows you coupons as you shop! Use the code TENFIRSTHON for 10% off your first order through Honey discounts. Terms and conditions apply, individual use only, excludes sale items. One per customer (after your first order you will receive a code for 15% off, it’s at the bottom of your invoice)

Breastmilk Preservation Powder

You can get a free sample of breastmilk preservation powder here with the code FREEPOWDER, one per customer please and we ask you to buy something else at the same time – give it a try. If you need some breastmilk to practice with please join our Facebook group and request some, all you need is a love for breastfeeding, perfect for doulas and midwives, traditional bench jewellers and resin artists, and parents wanting to work from home.

Free stuff!

Just click here for freebies. We do ask people to buy something too if it’s a freebie that requires shipping, like the practice cremation ashes because Nikki loses a little bit of money on shipping. Sometimes we add little samples and free moulds to an order if you tick the box on the checkout, they might be pre-loved, have bubbles, be a bit wonky or otherwise grade C moulds that we think you might find a use for.

Store credit for reviews

You can leave a review for any item that you’ve purchased (paid for) and that has been marked as shipped and we’ll give you £2 per product (one review per product, no matter how many you purchased or how often you purchase). You’re welcome to leave reviews for freebies too but we can’t give you store credit, sorry.

To leave a review, you need to be logged in using the account you ordered on, the items must be marked as shipped. Go to the product, click on the stars or the reviews tab, and leave a review.

If you need reminding of the products you’ve purchased, simply go through your past orders at My Orders and there’s no time limit on how long ago the purchase was made. Store credit is assigned manually every few days, if you can’t see it on My Coupons or on the checkout when you go to pay then just get in touch.

Affiliate commission

Our affiliates can earn hundreds of pounds a month, and you can be paid in store credit or by PayPal*. When you recommend us using your links and they place an order, you’ll receive 10% of the value of the order, full info in our T’s and C’s. Our top earning affiliates can request a discount code which can be used instead of the link. You can customise any link on our site with your affiliate info, so if someone’s looking for a specific product you know we sell, you can lead them straight there. To sign up to become an affiliate just visit our Affiliates Page and fill in some details!

*If you’re paid on PayPal you’ll pay fees so most of our affiliates choose store credit.

Blue Light and Civil Servants

Bluelight members (NHS, emergency services and armed forces) and civil servants (police etc) get 15% off by showing the Blue Light card or police ID.

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Instagram for Breastmilk Jewellery Makers

Instagram for Breastmilk Jewellery Makers

Instagram for Breastmilk Jewellery Makers can feel like an uphill battle but it’s not too difficult use Instagram to find new clients. I find it really slow but the most organic way is just taking out your phone once an hour, looking for a hashtag used by your clients for breastmilk jewellery, and being genuine. Please give me a follow on @KeepsakerSupplies and you can see how I do my posts.

Breastmilk Jewellery Hashtags

The best way to find clients who are breastfeeding and proud of their journeys is to use certain hashtags. I used to search for people using #EBF or #ExclusivelyPumping etc. Make a list of the ones that speak to you, that you may have used during your own nursing journey, especially niche ones. For me, the niche was #BFAR and #BreastfeedingAfterReduction because of my reduction surgery when I was 18 years old.

Every hour follow 20 new people who are using that hashtag, then like a couple of their posts. Comment then as much as you have the time for (genuine comments only, if I really actually personally like something I’ll say). It then grows very niche targeted audiences. Don’t try to sell anything; genuine clients will come because they will notice you, then they will approach you.

Hashtag Manager Spreadsheet

Instagram hashtag spreadsheets are a great way to collate 30 hashtags for each kind of post you do, making sure they cover different areas (such as breastfeeding, crafting, being a working mama). I can’t tell you how much I love The Spreadsheet Alchemist’s Hashtag Manager Spreadsheet, and it’s even a free download! This is definitely not sponsored by her but I have so much love and gratitude to Kristi for this freebie and have told her so. You can support her business by going for some of the paid spreadsheets once you see how useful they are. Here’a a little screenshot of ours, showing that I like to use local hashtags to encourage support of local businesses.Keepsaker Supplies hashtag manager screenshot for Bristol tags

Being in the UK but selling internationally has always meant I use both UK and USA spellings and some countries like Australia and Canada use some from each. In the UK and Australia we spell “jewellery” with two “L’s” with an “E” after them, whereas in the USA and Canada they go for the simpler form “jewelry”*

Mixed Case Hashtags

I’m a passionate advocate for equality and I believe that when we know better, we do better. Recently I found out that traditional hashtags are really difficult for some people to read. For example: (text reads hashtag only lower case which is harder for people to read) #onlylowercasewhichisharderforpeopletoread might be decipherable to you but would be very hard for someone with additional needs, anyone who struggles with reading, dyslexia folk and especially hard for anyone using a screen reader. 

The RNIB recently asked people on Twitter to use mixed case in their hashtags because it helps so much, so if you want to help make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to read your posts please bare this in mind when you’re putting up your own posts. 

Post Scheduler

I use Later to schedule posts for my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Best of all, it starts out free and you can schedule one picture to post to all four of your social media channels at the same time. I do one a day on Facebook and Pinterest, and three a day on Instagram and Twitter, I reuse older images for the second two perhaps once a year. I use the Instagram planner to make sure the posts look right on the feed and drag and drop to change the order, so there’s a mix of different things going up all the time. The theme for Tree of Opals is a rainbow that changes colour every week or so, and on Keepsaker Supplies I’m still working it out – please give us a follow on @KeepsakerSupplies

Instagram for Breastmilk Jewellery Makers

So make sure you’re genuine and persistant and your followers will come but not only that, the ones you do get will be more likely to buy. Try adding a multiple choice button on your checkout page asking where clients heard about you and you’ll soon notice a big increase in Instagram! It’s all well and good paying for thousands of followers but it’s not a populartity contest; if those people are never going to buy, you don’t need them following you. Focus your efforts on your ideal clients and do little and often. I do up to 20 an hour

This series on making breastmilk jewellery is not a how-to, it won’t give you all the answers and it won’t magically create a business for you. If you’re looking for step-by-step instructions and a course on making breastmilk jewellery, the Baby Bee Hummingbirds Breastmilk Jewelry E-Course (click here) is definitely what I’d recommend!

*It’s a little harder for me selling moulds internationally because in the UK we add the “U” after the “O” and in the USA they don’t. There are four variations of a simple phrase like “jewellery mould” and all of them get used. You can see why I need the spreadsheets!

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Making Cremation Ashes Jewellery: Part 2 of 2

Making Cremation Ashes Jewellery cremation ashes quantities for ashes jewellery. A quarter of a teaspoon is the perfect amount for jewellery from Tree of Opals how to make cremation ashes jewellery




Making Cremation Ashes Jewellery: Part 2 of 2. In part one of How to Make Cremation Ashes Jewellery here, we covered health and safety. There is a blog on making this beautiful cremation ashes heart necklace here and if you’d like to purchase cremation ashes jewellery then please see Nikki’s other business Tree of Opals here.

Please see our individual country-specific blogs for shopping supplies: United Kingdom, USA, Australia, Canada, other EU countries (coming soon) and non-EU countries (coming soon).

How To Practice Making Ashes Jewellery

If you would like some horse ashes sent with your order please order this dried leaf from us and put in the comments you’d like a sample of horse ashes to practice with. We’ll send you around a teaspoonful which is enough for dozens of pieces. The owner of the horse, kindly donated the ashes for practice and for me to make pieces for funeral homes, wanting her horse to be able to travel the world for years to come. 

cremation ashes quantities for ashes jewellery. A quarter of a teaspoon is the perfect amount for jewellery from Tree of Opals how to make cremation ashes jewellery
cremation ashes quantities for ashes jewellery. A quarter of a teaspoon is the perfect amount for jewellery from Tree of Opals

If you’d like to start straight away you can use ashes from the fire but you might find wood or charcoal ashes more lightweight than cremation ashes. They contain a lot of air and will float differently. Craft concrete like this works, but you will find spheres made from it very hard to drill, and it may set in epoxy resin too quickly! Ground black pepper can work too. People on social media are quick to offer ashes for practice but I find there are often caveats; they want to know exactly how you’ll use it and want every piece back, not ideal for practice and samples to show!

Preparing Ashes

There isn’t much you need to do to prepare cremation ashes but often I like to finely grind them if they have big lumps. Not to a fine powder, but small enough to be sieved. Crematoria grind the bones after cremation into ashes, and you can further this process yourself. You aren’t altering them from a natural state, because the natural state is large shards of bone, you are improving their texture. You might want to tell people in your terms and conditions or product descriptions that you are doing it but I don’t think any client would mind.

mini white pestle and mortar (click here)

Make sure that you are wearing a mask for dust particulates (see our UK Supplies List or the USA Supplies List, Australia Supplies List more coming soon). This pestle and mortar is perfect for ashes, umbilical cord and breastmilk and you don’t need an expensive brand, just a white one. I sterilise it in between use with a plastic-free antibacterial wipe and recommend buying a different pestle and mortar for each element (you could paint the outside with nail polish such as blue for breastmilk, green for cremation ashes and pink for umbilical cords). You can use a tiny measuring spoon to transfer some of the powder into your mould or directly into the resin.

Filling Bezel Cups and Glass Orbs


This video by Mona at CraftKlatch (oh my goodness, I love her videos – definitely worth subscribing!) she’s working with ashes from her fireplace, I believe, and two part resin. I’d recommend adding the ashes to the resin after putting it in the setting because adding the ashes to the pot of resin can be wasteful. If you pour only what you need, you can use the leftover resin for another client’s piece or another project. The best place to look for fillable settings is Caverswall Minerals on Etsy (click here)

    • The pros of this method are that it’s very easy, you don’t need a mould, instant results with UV resin, glossy finish, no need to set the finished piece. No worries the mould won’t fit the setting
  • The cons of this method are that if you make a mistake, your piece may be ruined. You may be able to salvage the setting with some work (a milling bit and a hairdryer, dangerous and bad for your health). If the doming layer or the top has a flaw, you will need to sand it back and redome the piece. If the client doesn’t like the colour, you will need to start from scratch. With any filled bezel, there is a chance that the resin can pop out whilst being worn; leading to heartbreak and possible anger from your client if they lose the ashes

Filling a Mould


This is my video for making a cremation ashes heart necklace by filling a mould and putting it in a setting. Here’s the link for the 18mm heart mould (click here) and the full blog with written instructions is here (click)

  • The pros of this method are that you can make several and choose the best to fit in the setting, or even better, let the client choose. You can make a little extra income by offering to set the extra pieces in metal for less than your usual retail price and many clients choose this option as a spare, or (especially for memorial jewellery) to gift to a family member. If you make a mistake, there’s no issue as you can just remake the pieces. If the client doesn’t like the colour, you can easily redo the piece without wasting an expensive setting. The finished pieces can be set professionally without worries they will pop out
  • The cons of this method are that you may worry the mould won’t fit the setting. Our settings and findings recommendations in the mould product descriptions are usually pretty accurate but we can’t guarantee a setting from a third party. We are hoping to sell our own settings soon as guaranteed-fit mould-setting pairs. Also, you need to use a good quality mould or you might not get a nice shiny finish, although some pieces can be domed afterwards with resin for a shiny finish


How Much Ash Should My Client Send?

Once you’ve practiced and put some photos on your personal page or business social media, you will be asked if clients can order. I’d urge you to offer pieces free for review in the beginning or at least only ask them to cover costs unless you make mistakes. I find it’s hard in the beginning to know how much to ask a client to send. If they don’t send enough, you might run out whilst you’re making jewellery and even though you can ask them to send you more, they might expect you to pay the shipping for that. So you need enough, but not too much. If they send too much, it can spill inside the packaging or be expensive or difficult to post back to them, especially if they send cups full. I like to request a quarter of a teaspoon, which is plenty for me for several pieces using my techniques. You can ask for a few teaspoonsful but ask them not to send more than that.

I use this photo on Tree of Opals to tell them how much to send and we post them one of these little 3ml pots. Again, you can go with bigger pots, allow them to fill the pots, or send a couple of little bags. We send a cellophane bag to put the pot in, by the way.

cremation ashes quantities for ashes jewellery. A large pinch = ok. 1/4tsp = perfect! Whole tsp = too much
cremation ashes quantities for ashes jewellery. A large pinch = ok. 1/4tsp = perfect! Whole tsp = too much

You should always add a disclaimer that their ashes might be lost in the post etc. I like to warn people that I am human and the client may need to send more. 

How To Start Selling Cremation Ashes Jewellery

This could again do with a whole blog by itself but I’m a full time working parent and there aren’t enough hours in the day to blog. I’ll get there eventually! My biggest tip for selling cremation ashes jewellery is be very careful with your terms and conditions, if you tell them in advance all the things that could go wrong, they will have realistic expectations. You can mention natural colour variations and resulting colours (ashes can be pure white, black, brown, grey or even have green, blue and pink flecks!). They vary in texture and size, although I recommend grinding them finely to avoid chunks.

Failure

Common problems with making cremation ashes jewellery are sinking ashes, yellowing resin and customer complaints about colour. Try to use UV resin and cure before the ashes sink, or if you’re using UV resin let it get to the consistency of honey or Marmite before stirring in resin so that the thickness suspends the particles. You can avoid yellowing resin by using a well known brand that’s recommended by others. We recommend Qian Qian UV Resin, which we now sell, or Axson D150 Rigid for epoxy resin.



Finishing and care

Make sure you wear PPE (personal protective equipment) when drilling resin or working with metal. Dust particles can be extremely harmful especially to your respiratory system. We have separate findings and finishings posts here, how to set a resin sphere, how to make a resin charm bead and more being added all the time.

Thank you for reading and please comment below if you have any questions.
Nikki

Continue reading Making Cremation Ashes Jewellery: Part 2 of 2

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Freelance Advice

Freelance advice from Keepsaker Supplies

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:

Freelance 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 info@treeofopals.com

Nikki x

*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!

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