Ten years ago, I made the decision to leave my job in higher education to start a jewelry business full time. It was a huge life change; it was exciting, scary and full of unknowns. I was still building skills and trying to figure out my voice as an artist. At the time, I created mostly beaded designs and did lots of wire wrapping and a small amount of metalsmithing. I was, however, ready to leave my career and the place I worked. I wanted to do something that brought me joy, and I loved creating beauty in others’ lives, bringing smiles to faces and special memories to my clients and those they love.
Back then, I loved the freedom of working for myself, I loved going different places and seeing new parts of the country, and I felt confident that I could learn how to be successful and support myself through art festivals.
Below: Hot air balloon outside my window at a recent art festival in Crested Butte, Co. One of the many cool things that I have seen on the road.
Somewhere along the way, the business had to evolve. I participate in many juried art festivals, but my focus and that of my business has grown, and I have learned some very important lessons along the way:
1) Creating art is only 40-50% of running an art business. Creating is the fun and easy part. I am grateful to have that, but I have since realized that if I want a viable and successful business, I have to pay attention to so much more.
2) Marketing is critical to running a successful business of any kind (regular email newsletters, blog posts, social media posting and more). I am learning that communicating with my clients and sending regular emails is important to maintain a thriving business.
3) The mailing list and subscribers who are my peeps! You help spread the word about my work and you help the business grow. I am so thankful for you! (To celebrate that, I will be introducing a rewards program for my VIP LIST in the next couple months. You will be able to earn points towards gift cards). Watch for details on how to subscribe!
4) Social media is an absolute necessity these days, BUT relying on only social media to market and sell the work is difficult with the changing algorithms and reach to followers. I have heard horror stories of artists who had a massive social media following only to lose their business when the algorithm changed. (If you haven’t followed me on social media, join me on instagram @karlahackman to see new work, LIVE trunk shows, and more.)
5) I gotta know my numbers: Profit & Loss statements, website data (clicks, open rates, conversion rates and other website data). I learned the hard way that I needed a much deeper understanding about this. Business training helps enormously with all things financial and data oriented.
6) Value what I do and price the work accordingly. Life most artists starting out, I underpriced my work for years, often not paying attention to the full materials’ costs, equipment, and paying myself for my labor, or considering all the ancillary expenses like electricity, packaging, expendable materials, and taxes in other states that are part of finishing my pieces.
Below: Recent pendant in 14 & 18K gold, sterling silver, and gemstones.
7) Trusting the creative process is important. I no longer create the same type of work I did when I started out. I have grown and my work has changed dramatically. I want to keep building my skills and pushing myself to grow. Over the years, I have created some super fun work, but like clothing styles and home décor changes, so does jewelry.
8) This business is physically demanding. As a jewelry artist or any full-time artist will tell you, I have to keep my body strong and protect its limits. Overuse is a very real thing. I get regular acupuncture, chiropractic and occasional massage to undo the demands on my body. Yoga and weightlifting also help. I have a long, long career ahead of me, and I can’t burn out the unit.
Right: At the bench creating designs is great fun, but it puts a lot of demands on the body.
9) Balance is key! The last couple months I have been going like a rocket, so sitting back and taking a break is necessary and important. Time off from the studio, art shows and the website is vital, so I don’t burn myself out, and I find that I am often on the cusp of just that when I am going super hard during busy parts of the year. Finding time away from the studio, enjoying my partner and home, and taking time off are lessons I am trying to incorporate every single day.
Left: My partner, Russ, and me on a recent hike in the Galisteo Basin in Santa Fe.
10)I am not just a maker but the chief creative designer and CEO in my small jewelry business. I use some contract help for small tasks, but honestly it is mostly me. I have to work smarter, not harder and that is still a lesson I am learning and trying to integrate in my day-to-day business operations, too.
12) Growing the website is HUGE! The second half of 2023 I am reworking the website karlahackman.com and adding lots of perks and new additions. Being on the road is hard, and I need a robust website, so my business can continue to thrive in the face of family health issues, pandemics, and life changes (we have had all those in the last few years). Sometimes being away from home isn’t possible but the business still has to support me. I have been taking courses to improve my online presence, so I can build a thriving web business and stay current on all necessary changes.
13) Change is a big part of owning a small business! When I started, social media was in its infancy and e-commerce wasn’t much of a thing. NOW, there is no choice but to learn how to navigate and build a website, apps and more apps to run the website, photography of the jewelry, reels, stories, and ever-emerging platforms.
If you are still reading, THANK YOU for being one of my great supporters. As I celebrate the growth and evolution of my business, big changes are in store in the next couple months. In the meantime, shop the magic on the website and watch the evolution unfold!