Originally from California, Angie Boothroyd worked as a graphic designer when she moved to London in 1994. She then retrained in jewellery at London Guildhall University and then at the Royal College of Art where she completed her MA in 2001.
Angie set up a workshop at Cockpit Arts with the help of a Cockpit Arts Seedbed Award and a Setting Up Grant from the Crafts Council. Since then she has exhibited her work throughout the UK and abroad at many prestigious events. She has taught jewellery making at a variety of institutions.
In 2011 she published the popular book Setting Up a Successful Jewellery Business (Setting Up Guides) with A&C Black, which was The Design Trust’s Book of the Month in October 2012. You can read our extensive book review here.
We are really pleased that she wrote this guest blog post for us:
“Beginnings are always messy.” – John Galsworthy
‘As exciting as starting up a business is, the questions of where to start, and how, and ‘Am I doing it right?’ can feel overwhelming. Don’t worry. It’s supposed to feel that way.
That thought may not provide much comfort; however, having a few handy steps to guide you through the process may help.
I have presented these ten steps in roughly chronological order. However, one of the reasons setting up a business can feel so dizzying is that many pieces to the puzzle are interdependent, so in truth you will find yourself needing to juggle many of these at once. Think of it as a giant crossword. You may think you’ve got an answer all figured out, only to discover later you should have only penciled it in.
Let’s start at the beginning…
1. Write a mission statement.
This might sound like a waste of time. It’s not. It is a way of agreeing, with yourself, what the whole point of your business is. It defines what is important to you, what is essential, and what you are willing to compromise. What are your priorities? Design? Environmental sustainability? Using locally sourced materials? Profit?
Decide what is important to you and sum it up in one or two sentences.
Tiffany & Co.’s mission statement is: ‘Tiffany & Co. seeks to enrich the lives of its customers by creating enduring objects of extraordinary beauty that will be cherished for generations.’
2. Do a cash flow forecast.
A cash flow forecast is like a bank statement, but in reverse: it shows the future of your bank account instead of the past. It is the single most important thing you can do to ensure your business does not fail.
You may have heard that most small businesses close because they run out of cash. You may wonder how a business – which is successful in every other way – can run out of money.
It’s easy. Imagine you exhibit at a fair which is successful beyond your wildest dreams. You take several orders for gold and platinum jewellery. The only problem is, you haven’t got enough money to buy the materials. Where does that leave you? You know it will all pay off in the end, but what do you do in the meantime?
A cash flow forecast will highlight these danger areas, which will give you a chance to plan how to best deal with them. You must go through this exercise to prove that your business can work on paper. If it works on paper, it stands a good chance of working in real life.
There was a point in my business where the best way to expand seemed to be to take on more sale-or-return galleries. My cash flow forecast showed that it would pay off after a couple of years but that I would be in the red for some time before that. My solution was to take out a loan to cover this period. My turnover increased by 34% that year and the investment paid off in the end. Without doing a cash flow forecast, I couldn’t have possibly planned for this period of growth.
3. Take care of the legal stuff.
I’ve lumped several tasks into this section, but that doesn’t mean they don’t each deserve serious consideration. By ‘legal stuff’, for lack of a better phrase, I mean:
- Deciding on a legal structure (e.g. sole trader, limited company, etc.)
- Choosing a trading name (which may simply be your own name)
- Informing the government of your new business
- Finding out about your tax obligations and whether you need to register for VAT
- Opening a business bank account (or at least a separate personal current account)
Most of these conundrums can be solved by your accountant. (Perhaps I should have added ‘Finding an accountant’, although not everybody chooses to do so if trading as a sole trader. It is however highly recommended.) You may also be able to find help answering these questions on the BusinessLink website.
4. Set up a bookkeeping system.
At its most basic, a bookkeeping system simply needs to comprise a list of all your money coming in, and all your money going out. You should retain evidence of all these incomings and outgoings in the form of receipts or invoices. If your business is very small you may not need to divide your expenses into different categories but it is normal to do so.
If you are one of those people who simply can’t deal with this kind of admin, you are in good company. Many creative people find this type of work impossible and simply pay somebody else to do it. You can save a lot of money by doing it yourself.
5. Find a place to work.
It goes without saying that you need somewhere to work, but you might be surprised just how much space can quickly be taken up not only by your workbench and surrounding filth but with stacks of paperwork, supplier catalogues, random tools that you picked up from a car boot sale thinking they might come in handy someday, books, magazines, display cabinets, experiments, and of course stock.
Don’t limit your potential for growth by settling for a space in which you can barely swing a pendant drill. Create a space you actually want to spend time in.
6. Get a hallmark.
If you are working in precious metals, and you plan on selling your work in the UK, you will need to have your work hallmarked (unless it weighs less than the current threshold for each metal) at one of the UK’s four assay offices – London, Birmingham, Sheffield, or Birmingham.
To sell work without a hallmark is illegal, so don’t even consider it. Contact the assay office nearest you for details on how to register your own mark and how to go about having it applied to your work.
7. Design your first collection.
Note the word ‘collection’. Before you go out and start selling your jewellery, you need to have a cohesive body of work – and it may be as little as six or so designs – which form a collection.
Many people just starting out find this troubling. They think they stand a better chance if they offer more variety. However, look at successful jewellers whose work you admire. I’m not talking about global companies with century-old brands; they have the wherewithal to diversify, and the branding to back it up. I’m talking about designer/makers and young brands. They each have their own inimitable style. This is what gets them noticed.
8. Do your market research.
Some might do this before designing their first collection.
It depends whether your work is design-led or market-led. A design-led business will aim to create a new aesthetic, not follow an existing one, whereas a market-led venture may seek to emulate current design trends, or to fill a gap in the market. Either way, you need to know where your products sit in the grand scheme of things.
Go to as many jewellery shops and exhibitions as you can. Where do you envisage your work being sold? What sets you apart? How does the quality of design and craftsmanship compare with what you see on the market? How much are people willing to pay for work comparable to yours?
9. Price your work.
This is the bit that really gets people. Pricing your work is probably the most nerve-wracking part of being a jewellery designer. Some people first decide how much they want their work to cost, and then produce designs to suit. Most do it the other way around, designing as they please and then tackling pricing afterwards.
Pricing isn’t easy, and there are semi-scientific models you can follow, but you should also apply some common sense. Look at similar work and see how much it’s going for. How do you want to be perceived in relation to other makers or brands – reassuringly expensive or a downright bargain? Can you afford to knock down the price of that necklace to something a bit more affordable, or would that amount to giving it away?
Take utmost care with your pricing. Produce wholesale and retail price lists (unless you plan on only selling wholesale or only retail), complete with pictures.
Get your work photographed on a white background unless you have good reason not to. (I was once told by a fair organiser that the reason I didn’t get in was that my work wasn’t photographed on a white background!)
There are many ways to sell. Wholesale or retail. Multiples or one-offs. Cash or credit. Most designer/makers start by exhibiting at small exhibitions, fairs, or even street markets. Some are fortunate enough to have a circle of jewellery-buying friends and family, who then spread their name by word-of-mouth. Some operate solely online.
If a particular venue or shop doesn’t work for you, don’t despair – you probably just haven’t found your niche yet.
And don’t make the mistake I once made: Never splash out on an expensive stand at a show without first visiting the show yourself. I heard about a fair in a wealthy area and assumed the clientele would be the sort who would buy from me. I could not have been more wrong – my work was by far the most expensive thing there, and all I managed to sell was a tiny pair of silver studs – plus the customer tried to knock me down on price! Over time I found the right fairs for my work and eventually whittled my schedule down to just a few very good fairs per year.
Persist. Listen to feedback. Keep revisiting your designs, your mission statement, and your pricing. A bit of tweaking and you’ll be selling in no time. And a word of warning: It’s not just the beginning that’s messy. It’s messy pretty much all the time. But then, if you wanted clean fingernails, you probably wouldn’t be a jewellery designer.’
If you want more start up business advice by Angie then you can purchase her book Setting Up a Successful Jewellery Business (Setting Up Guides) from Amazon here. You can read our extensive book review here too.
You also might like to read a Design Trust book review of A Pocket Business Guide for Artists & Designers by The Design Trust partner Alison Branagan.
Or indeed check out The Design Trust Guide to Start & Run a Successful Craft Business – our 62 page e-book that is full of advice and tips on setting up and running a more successful craft business.
If you like this guest post by a successful maker then you also might like to read silversmith’s Sidsel Dorph – Jensen’s guest post with top tips on pricing your work.