By Lara Tan (22A01B)
This student started a handmade jewellery business over the holidays. Here’s what happened.
Yes, you read that right. While most people around me were getting part-time jobs or internships for work experience after Promos, I decided to get more serious about a long-time hobby of mine. A broken bank account, ungodly amounts of screen time and many agonising clean-ups later, I’m proud to say I opened a small business selling handmade jewellery.
But what on earth was I doing? Why was I wasting time on a “frivolous” hobby while people around me were working towards that perfect resume during this valuable pocket of time?
Well, to put it simply, I started a small business because I was feeling burnt out from school work and disengaged from hobbies and interests I used to enjoy. And what better way to earn a little pocket money on the side than using my own hands and creating wearable accessories for my friends and family?
Of course, every supervillain with plans of world domination needs an origin story. And in my case, I set up my account on 29th September 2021 with a placeholder name I’m now too embarrassed to share.
I clearly remember eagerly watching my notification page on Instagram, just waiting for another like, another follow, another positive comment on my work. Slowly but surely, through a combination of Instagram hashtags and building connections, my engagement steadily increased. The 10 or so likes on my first few posts all by my close friends started to climb to 20, 40, and more, with accounts I’d never seen before liking my posts.
As I expanded my “Following” list, I gradually gained more exposure to other creators in the jewellery small business community. Soon, I started making friends and understanding the tricks of the trade: how to price one’s products, where the best deals for materials were at, even how to mail completed products to customers… The list goes on and on. Through carefully observing how certain jewellery veterans ran their Instagram shops, I soon got into the swing of things.
Major Milestone: Going Boothing!
As soon as I felt I had gotten a foot in the door of the jewellery small business community, I decided I wanted to set up a booth over the holidays. Small businesses normally go boothing in order to increase their exposure not only to more customers but also to the whole small business ecosystem.
I personally felt it was a good time to take my business to the next level, especially since it was the holiday season and I wanted to capture the Christmas crowd. In order to ease my apprehensions about going boothing for the first time, I also decided to share my booth with a close friend and creator of mine (check her out at @kirahatchies).
After booking a December slot at Maker’s Market, I began production for this mammoth project. To cut a story 2 months in the making short, it was a lot of work. Making a couple pieces of jewellery every day, from small beaded rings to intricately designed necklaces, I made sure to keep my output consistent so I didn’t need to rush the process as the days of the booth drew near. Beyond that, I also had to strategise with my boothing accomplice on our setup, business strategies and whatnot.
Eventually, I produced close to 200 pieces of jewellery to be sold over 2 days. And I’m lucky to report that most of my items were sold out, thanks to the staggering support and generosity I received from my family, friends and fellow creators alike. One particular customer, who I shall never forget, even purchased close to $300 worth of both our products combined, as she was shopping for gifts for her daughters’ friends.
It was a tiring 2 days, but I left each day with my heart extremely full. I even got to have dinner afterwards with some of my friends who came down to support me (shoutout to Clarice, Yanxin, Sanjaay (22A01B), Faith (22A01A) and Xuechun (22S06K)!).
After this invigorating experience, I can safely say that I will definitely go boothing again, and keep my account up and running for as long as I can. It’s nothing short of gratifying to have your work be affirmed by those around you. Despite starting out as a way to allay my own itchy fingers and escape from the stresses of school, my small business has grown into so much more than that; a platform to express myself, a side hustle, a coping mechanism… You get the drift.
The truth about running a small business
Without a doubt, one of the best things about being a small business owner is that you get to be your own boss. Perhaps this is why so many people, especially full-time students, start their own small business in the first place. It’s liberating to be able to control your own output and find your own unique artistry.
Another thing I was genuinely surprised by was how supportive the small business community was. I’ve participated in countless giveaways and even a Christmas gift exchange hosted by a local small business owner, as well as made friends with creators from a plethora of backgrounds.
And while I will acknowledge that the jewellery market is extremely saturated, that hasn’t dampened my experience as a small business owner. Unhealthy competition between creators is rare; if anything, it’s more common for creators to support one another by hyping or even purchasing each other’s works. I’ve made my fair share of friends through simply supporting their work and engaging with the people behind these captivating businesses.
However, no social media platform is completely void of tea. And while drama between creators is rare, skirmishes and friction can arise from misunderstandings. Especially in a creative field, accusations of plagiarism are common. “Blacklisting” is also endemic, both by creators and customers; more serious cases involve doxxing and heaps of unwanted drama.
And as if dealing with external haters isn’t enough, sometimes you have to face the hater within. It’s easy to beat yourself up if your business is not performing, or if you feel your products aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. I’m lucky enough to be doing this as a side hustle rather than as a steady source of income, and so I find myself making things more for my own pleasure instead of with the aim of selling out. But seeing your stocks full after tireless pleas with your followers to buy your products can be demoralising.
For the enterprising small business owner:
Overall, it’s a daunting, and sometimes lonely venture to start your own small business, but it can be ever so rewarding if you put in the effort to make it happen. Here’s my two cents based on my own experiences for anyone who wants to give starting a small business a go:
Firstly, have a clear direction on what you want your business to look like. Be prepared to ask yourself: am I going to invest in this long term? What’s my plan to attract customers? Do I want to follow the trends, or come up with my own unique style? While almost anyone can start their own business, I would recommend you to start with a vision and a plan to avoid sunk costs or exiting the market prematurely.
Secondly, set boundaries for yourself. Have clear terms and conditions and always be firm with customers or creators who might have dubious motives. Taking ownership of your work and putting your foot down in the face of unreasonable people will save you a lot of brain cells, time and energy. Remember to take breaks and set realistic goals on what you want to achieve.
Thirdly, don’t be afraid to make friends and network! Establishing connections is generally easier online than offline (trust me, an introvert). Take advantage of that and follow other creators you admire and maybe, just maybe they’ll follow you back or even give you a shoutout. Join giveaways or exchanges to establish your presence in the community, and before you know it, you’ll have more friends and (hopefully) more sales!
Lastly, there’s no one right way to go about it. At the end of the day, it’s your business (literally). So go out there and carpe diem!