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The Business of Beading: So you want to sell your jewelry!

Whether you plan to teach, publish, or sell your designs, the first task is to get your work up to snuff.
Selling your jewelry
We're so pleased to have Leslie Rogalski share her series, "The Business of Beading," with us on Facet. This series, which appeared in Bead&Button magazine in 2014, has been updated to reflect current trends in the jewelry marketplace! Leslie has her finger on the pulse of what is new and trendy, as she's the Creative Director of The BeadSmith! Learn more about Leslie's teaching schedule and jewelry designs at sleeplessbeader.com.   --kk


Have you ever wondered if you could make a living making beaded jewelry? Maybe you just want to supplement your income by selling at the occasional craft fair. Or perhaps you’ve had an Etsy shop for years but still haven’t been “discovered.” If any of this sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place!

Welcome to the first installment of “The Business of Beading” series. Together, we’ll explore topics aimed at helping you succeed creatively and financially as a jewelry artist. We’ll start with what you make and how you make it, and then move through the fundamentals of doing business — from branding and marketing to social media, from record keeping to pricing and inventory, plus cultivating vendor and customer relationships, booth display, and workshop structure. 

You may want to keep a journal to log insights about yourself as you read this series, starting…now! Because the first thing you have to ask yourself before entering the jewelry business is, “Am I ready?”
 
SAY IT AGAIN: “AM I READY?”

There are many ways to make money from your beading skills: teaching workshops, publishing projects, exhibiting at shows, and selling finished pieces. But how do you know if you’re ready for any of that? 

There are a number of questions you can ask yourself to try and tackle the readiness issue. For instance, is your work truly good enough to sell? Are you prepared to handle public opinion? Criticism, rejection, competition? How are you with deadlines? Are you organized? Disciplined? Savvy about modern technology and social media? 

All those questions are enough to make your head spin, so let’s focus in on the one that I think is most key at this stage: Is your work good enough to sell? If you’re determined to make money from beading, you have to be brutally honest with your answer.

THREE TESTS TO PASS

It sounds obvious, but a perfectly crafted piece is rule number one when evaluating your beadwork. We may wear our own flawed designs thinking no one will see the loose stitching near the clasp, hidden beneath our collar. But we can’t think like ourselves here; we have to think like a customer, an editor, or a potential student. Imagine that your work is being photographed close up by a stranger. 

Now see if your work passes these three test categories.
 
clasps and closures
DO make sure your clasp/closure reflects and even enhances the design of the piece. 
faded pink beads
DON'T use materials that won't stand up to normal wear and tear (like these faded pink beads). 
obvious pattern errors
DO check that there are no obvious errors in your pattern and that your tension and execution are spot-on. 

Test #1: Aesthetics

Aesthetics and style vary from person to person with a lot of wiggle room as to what is attractive. Even so, there are standards in visual appeal that apply to all beadwork, no matter your preferences. Check your work for:

  • Even thread tension with no gaps in the beadwork
  • All threads woven in and trimmed with no tails or fraying
  • Perfectly hidden knots
  • No evidence of glue, if you used it
  • Consistent, well-formed wire loops, if applicable 
  • Quality beads with pristine surfaces and regular shapes
  • Findings that are classy (not cheap) looking
  • Excellent design choices in scale, balance, movement, and color

To get at that last item (which may be a little harder to evaluate than, say, hidden knots), study master jewelry makers to understand what makes a piece aesthetically pleasing even if the style is not your taste. 


Test #2: Wearability

Jewelry is nothing less than wearable art — or it should be! So wear what you make to be sure your pieces pass this test. What works on a bead mat or velvet display may pose issues on a real wrist, neck, or earlobe. Look for:

  • Comfy materials that won’t poke skin or snag on clothing
  • Perfect drape (i.e., the piece will lie correctly without too much fiddling and stays in place when worn) 
  • Findings that are easy to use — especially clasps!


Test #3: Durability

We don’t expect an inexpensive piece of fashion jewelry to stand the test of time, but a handmade piece (with a handmade price) had better hold up. If you’re having trouble with this category, remember: You’re only as good as your tools. Skimping on anything you use in your beadwork will be reflected in your product — and your sales. Now is the time to have quality scissors, thread zappers, needles, threads, pliers, and especially beads. Invest in the best tools and materials you can afford, and that includes magnifier glasses and lighting. The better you can see your work, the easier it will be to examine it for:  

  • Strong thread paths that will not break or come undone over time, plus extra thread paths through beads that may have sharp edges, like crystals or metal beads
  • Flawless beads
  • Findings and wire gauges that can support the weight of the piece
  • Quality clasp/closure that keeps the piece from falling off
If you want to make money from beading in any capacity, your creations must pass these three tests with flying colors. Whether a piece is finished for sale, a sample sent to a magazine as a project submission, or an entry for a class or competition, you won’t make it out of the starting gate unless your work is visually appealing, wearable, and made to last. 

So take some time to give your jewelry a grade, and then get ready to tackle some of our next topics: putting yourself out there with great display spaces, and pricing your work fairly (and profitably!)

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