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Let's Talk Business With Jeweller & Tutor, Karen Young

"I was looking for a new challenge and decided to start my own jewellery business that I could run around the children. That was over 5 years ago now and I haven’t looked back!"

Hi Karen, tell us a little bit about your jewellery background?

I first started making jewellery in my teens when I took fine art classes at Glasgow School of Art on Saturday mornings. I had just had my ears pierced and scoured the local bead shops after my classes for beads and findings to create my own earrings and loved coming up with new designs for me and my friends.

Jewellery making took a bit of a back seat whilst I was at university studying business and languages, and while I built my career in financial services. I rediscovered my love of jewellery making the day I found out I was pregnant with my eldest child - my husband had booked me a place on a handmade soldered ring class locally, and I just loved every minute of my class.

So once my son was born and old enough for me to leave him with my husband for a couple of hours, I took a couple of evening silver taster classes at the London Jewellery School. And I just kept going doing at least one day class a month to build my skills. It was something just for me and I just loved doing something creative again.

In between work and my family, I took classes whenever I could in all aspects of jewellery manufacturing. A second child followed, and when he was almost two, voluntary redundancy was being offered at work. With my eldest about to start school, it felt like the right time to take a career break. It was the best thing I ever did. I got to spend precious time with my boys and once my youngest started nursery I took the year-long Level 1 course in Jewellery Manufacture at Morley College which was 1 morning a week. 6 months after stopping work and having a good break I was looking for a new challenge and decided to start my own jewellery business that I could run around the children. That was over 5 years ago now and I haven’t looked back!

"I quickly learned that beautifully styled, sharp and well-lit photographs of my pieces could make or break a sale..."

Karen setting an aquamarine stone

What advice would you give someone wanting to start selling their handmade jewellery?

I have 3 pieces of advice!

1. Keep learning!

Learn as much as you can about the techniques and tools in your chosen form of jewellery making.

It not only gives you confidence when selling your work (we can be our own worst critics), but the fabulous thing about jewellery making is there is always something new to learn or a new way of doing things and this really pushes you to be the best you can be.

2. Spend time delving into who is going to buy your work and what makes them tick.

I found this so useful, as it helps you define everything from your jewellery designs and pricing, to your branding, website and marketing messaging.

I found that once I clearly articulated what I offered, to whom and what problem I solved for them, it made every aspect of running my business easier.

3. Get a good accountant and get your head around your numbers.

Pricing your jewellery so you are making a profit from the outset is crucial (wholesale and retail) so you can not only grow your business but you can making a living out of it.

Sterling silver twig ring with pink sapphire gemstone

How has social media impacted your business?

Building a following on social media (Facebook and Instagram) has been absolutely crucial to growing my business. It has allowed me to reach customers all over the world and engage and build relationships with my customers. It has also given me a fabulous community of other designers and makers which is so critical when you work on your own. I am active on Facebook and Instagram and love both platforms for very different reasons.

Algorithm changes on social media platforms have made reaching my ideal customers a bit more challenging, but this has made me get more creative in terms of what I post, and constantly encourages me to create more engaging content for my customers. If you are just starting out, start with one platform and go from there. Don’t try to be everywhere at once as that isn’t sustainable.

We love your photography! How important is photography when running a jewellery business?

Thank you - that’s very kind! It is one of my absolute favourite parts of the job! When I started my handmade jewellery business in 2014, I quickly learned that beautifully styled, sharp and well-lit photographs of my pieces could make or break a sale. As my photography improved (some of my early photographs of my jewellery were truly awful!), engagement on social media improved drastically and so did my sales. And it has been a crucial element of build my brand. I spent a lot of time improving my photography, investing in equipment and am always learning with every photograph I take. Thankfully it has never been easier with digital cameras, smartphones, low cost equipment and editing software to take beautiful photographs of your jewellery.

"If you are considering setting up a website I would recommend trialling a couple of platforms to make sure the platform you choose will work for you not only now, but in the future, as you develop and grow..."

karen young jewellery

Tell us about your role as a tutor at London Jewellery School & Jewellers Academy?

Over the years I have taught a variety of silver jewellery classes at the London Jewellery School such as beginners and intermediate silver, and some of the stone setting courses. However, I primarily teach the jewellery business courses such as the 1 day start your own jewellery business course, and jewellery photography. I love teaching at the London Jewellery School as my own career started there, and it is lovely to see budding jewellers start their own jewellery making journey and businesses.

I sadly don’t get to teach there as much as I would like anymore due to juggling childcare as my husband travels with work a lot, so I have been working most recently with the London Jewellery School’s sister company, Jewellers Academy which provides online jewellery making courses. I teach the online jewellery photography course which is really comprehensive and practical and teaches students how to use their DSLR camera manually to take sharp, well-lit photos of their beautiful jewellery.

I am also one of the mentors in their flagship Jewellery Business Bootcamp which runs in January each year. This year's Bootcamp starts on the 24th January 2020, and has been completely re-written and is better than ever! It covers all aspects of running a jewellery business and is suitable for everyone whether they are just starting their business, or they want to grow their business. I am teaching some of the website and marketing modules, and am so excited about them! 

How was your experience setting up a website for your jewellery and what advice would you give to others?

I have had good experiences of setting up and managing a website and more challenging experiences! My new website is built on Squarespace which is so easy to use. I designed and built the site from scratch myself. This was important to me as I had previously had a Wordpress website built for me, but whilst I could do the basic updates and add products, anything more material meant I needed to pay a developer to do this for me. 

Some major theme updates caused major problems, and so I sold on Etsy primarily for a long time because it was easier. Once I had made the decision to set up my own website again, I spent a lot of time researching options. In the end, it came down to two platforms - Squarespace or Shopify. I did trials of both to really understand what the platforms could do. In the end, I decided on Squarespace, as I have a small range of designs (for more than 200 products I would definitely look at Shopify over Squarespace), and the ease of use and beautiful templates made the decision easy for me.

If you are considering setting up a website I would recommend trialling a couple of platforms to make sure the platform you choose will work for you not only now, but in the future, as you develop and grow.

If you decide to get someone to build a site for you, make sure that some time is built into your package for the developer to formally hand the site over to you and teach you how to change and update it. This means that you will be able to add, move and amend content as needed. 

"It is so important to look after yourself when running your own business..."

Personalised handstamped pendant with freshwater pearls

How do you find the balance between running your handmade business and your personal life?

It’s a constant juggle! Some days I do better than others, without a doubt. I try very hard to time block so that I do the majority of my work when the kids are in school (or in the evenings when they are in bed), so that I am completely there for my kids when it is their time with me. And I try to be strict about this and have firm boundaries.

That being said, sometimes I have to multi-task particularly during school holidays, and I might have, on occasion, let the kids watch a bit more tv than usual… I also try and take at least a couple of hours for myself each week to take a pilates class, watch a film I have wanted to see or just read magazines in bed. It is so important to look after yourself when running your own business.

A sterling silver organic cluster pendant set with a tourmalinated quartz

When youre not making jewellery, where can we find you?

At the school gates or acting as chauffeur and ferrying the kids around as part of their thriving social lives! Or behind a camera taking photographs!

Whats one thing you wish you knew before starting a jewellery business?

That everything doesn’t need to be perfect to start selling. You can always learn more, build a better website, create better products, take better photographs or have more impactful branding. However, you won’t get to where you want to be if you don’t make a start. And everyone has to start somewhere. It’s so easy to compare your business with others, but try not to. Don’t compare yourself with someone who has been doing this for many years when you are just starting out. Just focus on you, your business and your customers. My mantra for running my business has always been progress, not perfection. So I might not have everything quite the way I want it yet. But I will get there - it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning (apart from the hungry children)!

"People have such different stories behind their special messages - it is always fun to see what they want me to stamp and why..."

karen young jewellery

Sapphire mix metal ring

What advice would you give to those struggling to find their brand identity?

Creating a brand identity that appeals to your ideal customer is so important but can take time to get it right, and of course, businesses grow and change. I created the new logo and branding for my business myself, including my logo, colour palette and font choices as I really enjoy that side of things and am a real typography geek.

A great resource that I found when I started to think about rebranding was the ‘How to Style your Brand’ book by Fiona Humberstone. It is an amazing book that teaches you about all the different elements of building a powerful brand identity and I would recommend it to everyone. Even if you decide to use a brand designer to create your brand identity, it is so helpful to really understand the different elements that create a brand identity and how they can be used. And if it is an area that you struggle with, I would definitely use a designer to help you as they can help you get under the skin of your brand and extract the core essence of your brand which can be hard sometimes to do yourself. 

"From a branding and growth perspective, having your own website is a powerful marketing tool and definitely something to build towards..."

Sapphire and diamond 3 stone ring

What do you think are the advantages of having a website over an Etsy shop?

I really love both. I sold on Etsy for a long time and it was a platform that really worked for me for many years. It has naturally high footfall, so if you can nail your SEO (keywords, titles and tags) and get a good number of listings going (at least 200), then it is a great platform when you are starting out and wanting to get exposure. That being said, there is something very powerful about having your own e-commerce website, particularly as you build your brand.

You are totally in control of the layout and content of your own website, and you can really articulate your brand message and what you offer in a way that is more difficult to do on Etsy where it is all about the products and not the brand. Your own website gives you a platform to blog and engage with your customers (if you want to). And it is far easier to build your email list from your own website, which is an important marketing tool as you expand and grow. Plus, you are driving traffic to your own site, products and content instead of somebody else’s. And customers always seemed to tell others that they got a beautiful necklace on Etsy, not by Karen Young Jewellery, so it diluted my brand somewhat.

So from a branding and growth perspective, having your own website is a powerful marketing tool and definitely something to build towards.

karen young jewellery

Personalised handstamped pendant with a raspberry, pink rhodolite garnet

"I probably spend about 30-35% of my time marketing my business depending on the time of year..."

Whats your favourite part of making personalised jewellery?

I love nothing more than making meaningful and personalised jewellery for customers, and hand stamping jewellery is my absolute favourite part. It is such an honour to be tasked with creating something so special and meaningful. And people have such different stories behind their special messages - it is always fun to see what they want me to stamp and why.

I have been asked to stamp children’s names, dates, coordinates, special phrases and times celebrating all their meaningful moments. I have even had a customer suffering from MND ask me to stamp medical instructions on a bracelet which is possibly one of the most humbling and important pieces of jewellery I have ever created. 

How much time do you spend on marketing your business?

It varies, but I probably spend about 30-35% of my time marketing my business (including social media content, photography, newsletters, website updates and blogging), depending on the time of year. This has come down from when I started as I have now built a solid following. I try to be strategic about my marketing and tend to do things in bulk so I am maximising my time. The one thing I learned from my marketing degree and my time as a marketing co-ordinator at the London Jewellery School is to have a solid marketing strategy and plan.

Mine includes daily business-as-usual marketing like social media, alongside more targeted campaigns like-new collection launches involving Facebook and Instagram ads. Knowing what I want to achieve through my marketing really helps me maximise what I am doing and to do the right marketing activities to meet those goals. I have just done my marketing strategy and plan for 2020 and I have the first quarter mapped out in detail plus an outline for the rest of the year. It is such a useful exercise and saves a lot of time in the long run!

karen young jewellery

Show us your packaging and tell us about the design process for this!

I am still waiting for my new packaging to arrive following my recent rebrand and I am so excited for everyone to see it all! I have beautiful white-hot foiled boxes and branded gift bags being made by Potters UK. I have designed some lovely jewellery cards to go in my boxes and keep my jewellery secure in transit.

In terms of business stationery I include some business cards, a handwritten thank you note, a jewellery care guide, a repeat custom discount and have recently added branded jewellery polishing cloths. I want opening my jewellery to be an experience and took a great deal of time planning all the details. In the meantime, I am using plain grey boxes and created cute little branded sleeves to go over them that I have been printing at home so it really is a handmade business in more ways than one! 

Whats your favourite design in your shop right now?

Oh this one is so hard as I love all my designs! Can I choose two? The design I wear the most is my hand pierced Gerbera pendant. It was one of my very first designs and I still love it over 6 years later - it looks great with every outfit. I am in the process of expanding this range to include a gemstone version which I am very excited about as so many of my customers have asked for this.

My second favourite is my silver and gold turquoise ring. I love the mix of metals and it is such an eye-catching piece of jewellery and a real talking point. Plus I get a kick out of knowing that the turquoise is completely natural and not treated, which is rare in this day and age for this particular gemstone!

Handmade jewellery is a saturated market, what top tips do you have to break through the crowd?

Get to know your ideal customer and offer outstanding customer service. And focus on really engaging with customers regularly, and putting them at the heart of what you do.

Without my lovely customers, I wouldn’t be in business. So I try to make the experience of buying from me special and bespoke whether they are buying a £25 pair of earrings or a diamond engagement ring.

"Each sale is important and special, and I am truly grateful for every single one."

Sterling silver and 9ct gold natural turquoise statement ring

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Why Karen Recommends Kernowcraft...

I have bought from Kernowcraft since my teens and they have always had the most fantastic range of stonestools and findings for jewellery making and still do. Their customer service is second to none and are always happy to search their stones if you are looking for matching stones for earrings so that you get the best match for your jewellery project.

My favourite Kernowcraft products are their gemstones. I particularly love their limited edition gemstones for when you want to create a distinctive and unique jewellery design. I also love their new titanium soldering strips from Knew Concepts - such a brilliant and useful tool and you can customise them for the soldering jobs you typically do.