Moving on with gratitude

Having just posted in every social media venue I can find, my Etsy shop online, and chatted with my Aunt Patty recently, the decision is final:  I am letting go of my hobby business, Trinity Jewelry by Design.

Sometimes when we are drawn forward to an exciting new opportunity, we simply cannot hold onto the things of the past.  I discovered this past week that the creative and entrepreneurial energy needed to make my new company, Two Step Solutions (TSS), a success will require my full attention.  Lord willing I will participate in one final public event (my fifth) this coming weekend:  a Fiber Arts Fest at a local farm and educational center.  How perfect.  Hemp, leather, and especially the friendship jewelry made from the Threads of Hope ministry will fit in nicely.  Perhaps I will find my niche at last?  So sweet.  Me and the farm animals, with Border Collies chasing the sheep around too.  Since it’s an outdoor venue, I should be fine with the adrenaline rush that usually comes with participating in an event.  I am looking forward to it actually!

fiber arts, fiber festival, Salomon Farm, Salomon Farm Park, Spring Craft Show, Farm Animals, Border Collies, sheep herding, sheep shearing, art in the barn

So humor me if you will with some pictures and a little reminiscing that captures the creative journey of these past 3 years.  I began making jewelry to have a low-cost, portable hobby I could pursue in our home office.  The first product was an adjustable 3-beaded macramé bracelet designed to represent the Holy Trinity.  These were born out of an activity I introduced to a missionary family who was visiting our home for dinner with their three daughters.  The bracelets were very basic yet also rekindled my experience with macramé over 30 years prior as a new graduate from occupational therapy school.  A macrame lamp shade and a couple of plant hangers were my own “occupational therapy” after moving away from home for my first job out of State.  Funny how things come back into vogue, eh?

macrame bracelets, adjustable bracelets, simple macrame, slider knot, 3-beaded bracelet, learn to macrame, Trinity Jewelry by Design
My first display in a professional office!

Eventually in my TJ by D journey, I discovered the world of YouTube videos.  Amazing!  You can learn just about everything including better knotting techniques, the value of better materials, how to take better pictures, branding, and so more right from your home computer.  Etsy furthered my training with it’s excellent resources, support teams, and a relatively user-friendly ecommerce site to get you online before the world.  But none of it would have ever happened if my Aunt Patty wasn’t already on Etsy with her own shop, Patches and Pockets.  Her initial instruction gave me the courage to start a steep learning curve that would de-mystify much of what I did not know about the internet.  I am so grateful for her willingness to show me the way!

double macrame, macrame bracelets, Trinity Jewelry by Design, toggle clasp, hemp, hemp bracelet, natural hemp, handmade jewelry
One of my first favorite designs as I transitioned to better materials.

And so there I was in the middle of the night when I felt the best and was most productive, making hemp jewelry.  I tried selling the precious stone jewelry of an acquaintance but it turned out that my shop wasn’t right venue for either of us.  My own skills got better; I learned to take better pictures which is critical to success online.  It would be two years before I started experimenting with leather lacing then leather wrist bands.  As time went on I sensed that I needed more of a niche product or at least one that would have more utility in daily life than jewelry.  I wondered if I might expand into leather tooling or perhaps making leather holsters for women?  Etsy had allowed commercial manufacturers into their marketplace and the competition from cheaper overseas companies diluted the quality of work in my media and vastly increased competition.  Handmade items made in America seemed to be valued less just as I was developing my own style, my own branding.  I joined “handmade” sales teams and implemented the strategies that they suggested but it didn’t seem to make much of an impact on my business.  Then my sleeping patterns changed and I lost my creative groove.  My personal health situation had become more complicated as well.

macrame bracelets, wrap bracelet, handmade bracelet, hemp, macrame, triple wrap bracelet, Trinity Jewelry by Design
Mixing all my favorite knotting techniques became my niche for a time.
chevron weave, macrame bracelet, charm bracelet, simple macrame, learning to simplify the design, Trinity Jewelry by Desing
Learning to simplify a design is harder than it looks!

I believe it was the Lord who inspired me to start Two Step Solutions.  I was praying for direction with my jewelry business, consulting close friends, and checked in with my Aunt Patty over those few months too.  My Aunt had already let her Etsy business expire as she pursued other volunteer opportunities with her local gardening group and hospital auxillary.  Hmmm.  Maybe it was time for me to pursue a venue that would look more like my former profession of occupational therapy yet incorporate all of the skills that I had learned over these past 3 years?  Indeed.  As it turns out, the vision that the Lord gave me for TSS will bank on most everything I have ever done including enduring a serious illness.  Wow Lord!

Threads of Hope, ministry jewelry, jewelry fundraiser, Trinity Jewelry by Design, Phillippines
Threads of Hope Friendship Bracelets get a T J by D touch.

A couple of weeks ago I had an unusual conversation with a jewelry customer who claimed that the bracelet that she had purchased from me had broken in two places.  By the time I received it in a plain business envelope in the mail, it was completely destroyed.  I was so hurt that I almost gave up TJ by D that week.  I had already launched the TSS website and begun working on my Business Plan, eBook, and Trademark.  I knew in my heart that I would be leaving the jewelry business yet I wasn’t sure how to go about it.  After several unusual “Conversations” as they call it on Etsy with my customer, I decided to act decisively and resolve the situation with confidence instead of acquiescence.  I refunded her money in full.  Then I saw a sign in front of a local venue called Salomon Farm Park for their Fiber Arts Fest.  Very quickly an “exit strategy” came into view.  I even had a few creative nights around this time simply enjoying my craft again.  I would participate in one final event, network the heck out of it, and letter go.  What a great way to wrap things up!

leather wrap bracelet, chevron amethyst, leather beading, leather lacing, purple leather lacing, purple leather bracelet, Trinity Jewelry by Design
My most popular bracelet on Etsy was sadly put to rest after it could not be repaired.

Some of the details of this transition are a bit vague yet so I’ll just put Trinity Jewelry by Design up for sale and see what happens.  Lord willing I am hoping that about $225 will come in this weekend to pay for my filing fee at the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office for TSS.  I found a Law School who is ready to file the application via their free clinic.  Alright.  I know what that means.  Better get hustling Just Julie!  It’s time to sell some jewelry and get my studio in order.  Sometime soon I may be moving on with gratitude and perhaps a few colorful sparklies will linger to adorn my own wrist, my own neckline too.

beachy necklace, beach necklace, summer necklace, handmade necklace, Threads of Hope, adjustable necklace, Trinity Jewelry by Design
Another fav purchased by a friend that combined a Threads of Hope Friendship Bracelet with pink hemp cord.

Of course I’ll be keeping a few of my favorite creations just for me you know.  I love this stuff!  JJ

How NOT to start an online business!

Click on image for details!
Click on image for details!

Trinity Jewelry by Design has become a labor of love for me but it was not always that way!  I started it six months after I was no longer able to work in my professional job due to illness.  While I did all the planning recommended in starting a traditional business including writing a Business Plan, there were a couple of key elements missing for my success.  I would not realize this until almost 2 years later!  My “home business” is actually a hobby that has provided “occupational therapy,” not profitable income per se.  This is still a good thing, good enough to continue for now.

Much of this blog will focus on Etsy since that is the venue with which I am most familiar.  Sellers on Etsy, the largest homemade and vintage goods website on the internet, have valuable online training available for free via newsletters, tutorials, and a deep how-to directory all in one place.  The cost is $.20 to list your first item and your sweat equity is free.  Anyone can learn how to take a product from your living room to the world even if he or she had very little computer training like I did two years ago.  Applying oneself to the process brings a better shop presentation, increased traffic, and sales.  Most small business bloggers will tell you the elements for success.  I’ll approach it a little differently here based upon my personal experience and observations:   success in an online business requires knowing what not to do as well!

Be clear what you are doing.  Is it a hobby or a business?  If it is a hobby, the details might not need to be as polished in the beginning as you learn.  If you want to pay your bills as you learn, get a professional business mindset, plan, and presentation together before you launch.  For example, in my business plan I calculated how many macramé bracelets I needed to sell per week to pay my medical bills and set this as my projected income goal.  Two problems stopped me right away:  1)  I only knew how to make the most basic jewelry from plain materials and 2) I didn’t know how to take great pictures to “sell” my jewelry in this extremely competitive market.  Sizzle and shine move the shopper to “add to (their) cart.”  Identify your purpose and plan accordingly.

Start when you are not distracted by personal and financial stress.  Rushing to get something going, skimping on materials (such as packaging to save money that really should go towards gas in your car), not taking the time to check the endless details (e.g. typos in item descriptions), and a tense mindset can kill the excitement of a new venture for you and your customers.  Also the creative process needed to make handmade items will be altered by a chaotic home office when burdened by illness of a family member or 24/7 caregiving responsibilities.  Going through a significant life change?  I offer that it might be a great time to brainstorm about the new venture but might not give you the grounding you need to present yourself to the world with confidence.

Starting when you have not done your homework will waste time and money.  Every business requires some level of market research.  This might include something as simple as systematically “Googling” your product or service on Etsy, Google and Bing, to see what else is available out there.  I was delighted to discover that the search process can lead to identifying trends in my business sector, spur new design ideas, and even help begin networking with other business owners.  I also realized that my simplistic designs in the beginning were priced way too high for the value presented.  The joy of discovery and creativity go nicely together in the beginning; they are needed periodically to keep things fresh and pertinent as the business goes forward.

Use a limit of funding as a challenge to identify new resources.  It can be fun to spend money on a new venture.  Whether we have secured a business loan, siphoned-off some income from our 9-to-5 job, or withdrawn money from our savings it just might be the limits of our funding that will help us to be the best stewards of our resources.  One area many home based business fail to budget for is marketing.  Yet with just a little reading on Etsy, LinkedIn, and various social media avenues, we can find lots of FREE advertising.  Hello Facebook and Twitter!  Search ads on Etsy are great for a launch of your business or a new product and worth a few bucks until traffic increases.  The same goes with supplies, print services, and so on.  On a smaller scale, I remember discovering lovely new color combinations when my variety of beads and income dwindled!

Dig into social media and link them together.  Those entrepreneurs who are already savvy with social media have a huge advantage over casual users.  Many of us who use social media to chat might not realize its potential to impact our businesses.  For example, I know an Etsy seller who never posts her products on Facebook despite her huge Friends List; she is content to have sporadic sales that barely cover the listing costs.  She owns a hobby business.  I know another wildly successful online fitness trainer who has paid for training to make daily, seamless pitches to her key customers at the right time with the right message.  Others simply hire a marketing company (aka SEO services).  You decide.

Forgetting your baby will make your baby go away.   Even a hobby business will eventually fade away if there are no new listings, website  updates, or other activity going on.  How fun is that?

Remember the power of the personal connection.  I’ll end with this:  when I wanted to explore an online business and couldn’t handle the hassle or expense of developing my own website, I called my Aunt Patty.  She sold patchwork purses and vintage fabrics on Etsy.  I had never heard of Etsy!  She taught me some basics and then I was off and running.  This personal connection that got me started continues with my customers, neighbors who “Like” my listings in our homeowner association Facebook page, international sellers in a jewelry forum on LinkedIn, and so on.  Networking with others who share our passions softens the 2-dimensional stiffness of the internet.   It’s good for business and good for our humanity too.

“How NOT to start an online business with Etsy” goes beyond checking your level of inspiration and available perspiration!  I offer that if you begin with where you are and what you have, clarifying where you would like to go, and developing a love for the learning process then lots of fun possibilities await including success.  I am grateful for this part of my journey while recovering from a serious illness.  The future is brighter now and I’m just getting started!  How about you?