Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Behind The Scenes.. Let's Talk Handmade, and Home-based!

Here is a peak behind the scenes at Melissa's Jewelry & Accessories! As you probably already know, Melissa's Jewelry & Accessories is a home based business, & a one-woman show!
Between being a mommy to a hyper 2 year old, and a Military wife to a wonderful man who isn't around much because of his work, I manage a business that consists of being a researcher, marketer, designer, shipper, & customer service rep. This business alone, believe it or not, is a full time job!

By taking the time to write this post, I'm hoping to fill you in on what I do!

So what exactly do I do? Well, I'd start from the beginning, but my job is a never ending circle, so I'll start with the jewelry making!

The Designing Process:

• Step 1: Research & Buy Stock/Components
The first thing I do when I have a jewelry piece in mind, is research, research, research!
I need to find out if the item I have in mind would be popular, & whether it would sell or not- This is usually very hit & miss! 
The next step is to see if I can find the materials I need. This requires a lot of online shopping, research, and lots of patience, as this usually comes with a lot of frustration.
As a jewelry designer, I have to find manufacturers, vendors & wholesalers to supply what I need - This is not easy information to find, and can sometimes take hours upon hours! (For instance - My new interlocking toggle clasps - I literally searched daily for over a week to find them; I even had my husband in on the hunt too!) 
If you've ventured into the jewelry making business, you'll know that most other designers do not share their information; no matter how nicely you ask! Finding the right vendors takes a lot of work, time & effort. It's like homework; would you let someone copy your homework and take the credit? 

Because I am in Canada, there aren't a lot of places to purchase jewelry components, so most of my items come have to be ordered from the States. For one piece of jewelry, I usually have to order from anywhere between 1 and 4 different manufacturers, depending on the item I want to make. I am responsible for paying for the components, and the shipping costs; which vary from $3.99 - $100 (Yes, $100 for shipping happens more than you'd think). If the shipping costs more than $15.00 at the checkout, I am also hit with duty fee's of anywhere from $25-$70+. Yikes! *Until recently, I had also never take shipping costs into account when pricing out my pieces, and took huge hits out of pocket.

There are also a lot of wholesale companies that I purchase from that require a minimum order of anywhere from $100-$300 (This is why it takes so long to accumulate enough sales to order special order items!) When a few people place orders for special order items, and I have a deadline to place the order so that they receive their orders on time. If I don't have enough sales, I sell items for ridiculously cheap in order to fill the gap. I usually tend to break even, but that is before shipping & duty fee's - So, I end up paying out of my own pocket, by supplying special order items. Luckily for me, one of my vendors has decided to drop my minimum order fee's, so I can place orders more often, however, I am still hit with the ridiculous shipping costs & duty fees.

• Step 2: Design & Create
Once I receive the jewelry components (2-3 weeks after I order), it's time to create the piece I had in mind. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes - 2 hours, depending on what I am creating. I've even had pieces take up to 4 hours, and require multiple sittings to create.
Because of my husbands career, and my daughters schedule, my spare time is quite limited. As of recently, my work time has been limited to only evenings, after 8:30pm, once the little one is in bed. Depending on the night, I can get anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours of work time in. This routine will last for the next 3 months or so. 

• Step 3: Photograph, Edit & Share
Once I have a piece  that I am happy with, it's time to take pictures of it. Depending on how cooperative my Canon T1I is being, this can be very easy, or very difficult. Hand stamped silver is very hard to capture nicely on camera - and despite what some people may think, I do not alter or edit my product photo's whatsoever, other then basic cropping.

*Yes, I've been verbally attacked on my page and accused of making my items "look better in photo's" by editing them - This was by someone who had never purchased items from me, of course..

Once I'm pleased with the photo's I've taken, it's time to upload, crop, share them on my Facebook fan page, and ready them for the website. I do admit, this doesn't ever take more than 30 minutes, but often I find myself yelling at the screen because Facebook isn't being cooperative (we've all be there..).

• Step 4: Listing at www.MelissaJewelryAcc.com
Before listing an item, I have to decide on a price. I usually do pricing research for similar items, and take into account what I've spent on the components to make the item, shipping, and how long it took me to make the item. I always go back and fourth at least a dozen times on this.

Listing items on my website is relatively easy, however can be very time consuming, especially if there are several options available. 

Once I list an item, I have to make sure that the shipping is correct, and inventory is up to date. 

Customer Service:

Custom orders are very time consuming, especially when it comes to the back & fourth via email. If you've ordered a custom piece from me, I am sure you can vouch for this statement! Bridal orders take days upon days of emails. Then there is the creating of mock-up pieces, ordering items, creating and/or ordering custom packaging supplies and so fourth. Needless to say, on a daily basis, I can spend anywhere from 2-6 hours answer emails alone. I answer emails 24/7 - literally! Even though I tell myself repeatedly that I need to limit my time to weekdays & work hours, that never happens. I actually responded to an email at 3am this morning from my iPod, and in the process of trying to put my daughter down for a nap this afternoon, I cuddled in next to her so I could comfortably respond to a few more!
I may not always answer some emails the fastest, but please take into consideration the amount of emails I get on a daily basis; I do my best to answer them in priority, and often times I will read one and tell myself to respond when I have a moment to sit down, but when that sit-down time doesn't come as planned, it can slip my mind. Hey, I never claimed to be perfect!

The Marketing/Advertising Process:

Just to name a few..

• The Website
I can certainly tell you from experience, that keeping a website up to date is not easy work! I currently have about 230 items listed on my website - Average out about 10 minutes per listing, you're looking at 38+ hours of listing products alone! That doesn't even count the background maintenance, graphic design (which is mostly done by me!), upkeep of all product categories, and pages (have you checked out all the pages lately?). Keeping the policies, orders, and other information is something I do on a weekly basis at the very least.
I also have to make sure that my shopping cart information is always up to date. This includes keeping on top of promotional codes, making sure that shipping costs, weights, etc. are all up to date regularly. I am also responsible for making sure anything you need to know is available at the click of a button, this means keeping the F.A.Q's up to date, and my Jewelry Care page up to standard. That's a lot of time, & work! Never under estimate the work that goes into website maintenance! 

• Facebook
Oh Facebook! Facebook is my number one source of advertisement. This is where I post daily sales, keep up with customer questions, and show off new items, as well as custom work. If you're already a fan of the Melissa's Jewelry & Accessories Facebook fan page, than I'm sure you know that is something that is constantly updated.
Now that the pages have been updated to the timeline version, Facebook time is now also used to answer private messages directly through the fan page.

• eNewsletter
If you are not already signed up for this, you can do so, here. If you have already signed up, then you've noticed that Newsletters are very few & far in between. These are extremely time consuming, and in all honesty, absolutely NO fun to create! Most of the newsletters I send out take at least 2 hours to put together, and come with quite the headache. I do suppose this is my own fault though..

• Blog
Don't even ask how long this post has already taken to create. I've already taken multiple bathroom breaks, and a snack break! I don't post often though, because my free time is usually better spent elsewhere (ie. working on orders, updating the website/facebook)

The "Shipping Department":

• Packaging
I can't lie - Packaging is SO much fun! But maybe that's just because I am absolutely in love with the new packaging..
Finding a great form of packing was not easy for me. I'm creative with jewelry; but that's where it ends! If you're a long time customer, I'm sure you've seen how my packaging has progressed over these past 2 years. My most recent design certainly beats my first efforts - Thank goodness there is no photo proof of this..
I always need to make sure that I have enough packaging supplies - running low is no joke! I have to make sure that I have enough stickers, labels, tissue paper, gift boxes, gift box inserts (which are hand cut by yours truly), jewelry pouches, thank-you notes, and business cards. Whew! Once they are beautifully packaged, then into a corrugated box, or bubble mailer they go - Just one more thing I need to keep on top of!

• Shipping
Once orders are complete, & packaged, it's off to the post office they go! This means a drive to the post office with, on average 10+ packages AND a toddler. I swear, the ladies at my local post office hate me. That's all I have to say about that!
Some days it's extremely difficult to get out to the post office - My schedule does revolve around a toddler! I try to make trips as often as I can, but sometimes it just isn't enough.

When shipping via CANPAR courier, the night before I have to make sure all of my labels & manifests are printed out & ready to go, as well as having the packages ready. This is time consuming, and really annoying if I get started & forget that I tried using Safari instead of Firefox (Their program hates me when I use Safari!)

Just Another Day at the Office..

Other things that I need to take care of on a daily basis are printing out customer order, whether from the website, or through PayPal.
On average I usually have about 20 pending orders, I keep these in organized folders titles: Current Orders, Ready To Ship, & Pending (Yup, just like on the order queue!) These need to be organized daily depending on the orders that come in, are completed, packaged or get shipped. Once orders are shipped they are filed into their appropriate category.
I also need to print out all invoices of items I've purchased that help run my business. Whether it's an online invoice from a website, or a store receipt for shipping, or other various supplies, it all needs to be organized properly.
I try to keep up with bookkeeping as much as possible; I do mine all by hand (I know some of you are shaking your heads right now); I just really like having a hard copy of everything on hand where I can see it.
Should I even talk about studio/office maintenance? Have you ever seen a child play with glitter, beads, paper, scissors and glue? You know that explosion you get after a few minutes, when everything they've touched is quite literally everywhere? Yeah.. That's a lot like making jewelry; especially when trying to complete 5+ orders that require completely different items, in a short amount of time. Who has the time to put things back where they go? I tip my hat to anyone that makes jewelry on demand, who can keep their workspace perfectly tidy all the time!


I've actually cut this post "short", I could go on and on about what I do, but let's face it, handmade cannot be compared to shopping retail. 
Next time you walk into your local Walmart, seriously think about the dedication & service your getting when you purchase something there, compared to when ordering a custom piece from a work at home mom, running a business in her less-than-spare time. Sure, you're not getting same-day service, but the dedication & hard work behind the piece you're getting exceeds all else - That's something I can guarantee!


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