You asked. Maya Brenner answered.

Last week, jewelry designer Maya Brenner offered to answer readers’ questions about business, running a start-up, working in jewelry, or whatever else they needed to ask. Here are Maya’s answers!

instantphoebe asked:
As a hobbyist, how did you start finding sources for the materials in making your jewelry? I assume you didn’t just go to Hobby Lobby :o)  I think material sourcing, whether it’s findings or fabric or whatever, is one of the biggest mysteries to me! 
At what point did you know that you should quit your day job and take your hobby to a full-fledged small business?

Maya answered:
Dear instantphoebe-The internet is a great resource for materials.  You can apply for a resale license, which will allow you to buy wholesale.  But many places also have discounts for quantity purchases.  I found many sources from going to local bead shows.  The International Gem and Jewelry Show is my favorite.

Ksasek79 asked:
Yes I agree, Sources.

Maya answered:
Two of my favorite resources online are RIO GRANDE and FIRE MOUNTAIN GEMS.

Caitlin asked:
I also have trouble with sources. I use Etsy and Rio Grande, but the materials are so expensive, I don’t always make a profit.
 Also, before your business boomed, did you do any consignment sales with small boutiques? If so how did you keep track of your product? I usually don’t have problems but occasionally I lose money on lost product! I need a secure system that also allows me to be friendly and trusting. I do not like being the jewelry police!

Maya answered:
Dear Caitlin, Yes, of course I did consignment. It’s a great way to get your designs into stores and onto customers. I usually invoice the store for the consignment pieces just like I would if they were buying it. Then when an item sells, cross it off and ask them to pay at that time or you can also do it monthly. I do think they should be responsible for lost product and that can be agreed upon up front. Also, if certain items are not selling, it’s good to change them out every so often for newer pieces.

Cate asked:
Everyone talks a lot about networking, and in particular, taking mentors and people in your field out to lunch and talking to them in person. If it’s physically impossible to meet with your mentors, can this transfer take place virtually? What is the most successful way to do this? There are a lot of people I’d love to talk to, and hear about their experiences, but I’m not sure how to best go about it.
Also, how do grow your network sustainably? Is it best to just go steadily and organically, or should you be more aggressive in contacting as many people as you can, so long as they relate to you or your field?

Maya answered: 
Dear Cate-I think people in the field are much more open to answering an email than going out to lunch. At least I would be!! You can get most people’s email through their websites, showrooms or PR firm. Specific questions are always great, too! I had someone email me with questions and then ask to intern for me. I ended up hiring her and she worked for me for 5 years!! And yes, letting a business grow organically is great. But that’s doesn’t mean you can’t ask as many questions as possible!

Alyssa {Second Floor Living} 
What do you do to give yourself a burst of confidence when you’re having doubts about your business or where it is headed?

Maya answered: 
Alyssa-I try to do something related to the business that will make me excited again. That might mean designing a new necklace that I love or getting someone I admire to wear one of my pieces. Whatever it is that has made you feel confident and good in the past-revisit that!

I hope my question make sense because I am so stumped on where to start my little business. What to look for in manufacturers to start making your jewelry, where to look for the right one, trademarks, and any legal steps I should take? Just any steps or where to begin would be so helpful. I know what I want to do (and it’s not just jewelry it’s clothing, merchandise really) but I don’t know how or where to begin.

Maya answered: 
Iheartsundays-It sounds like you may be getting ahead of yourself a bit and worrying about things that I didn’t do until years after my business was formed. Start small-manufacturer as much as you can by yourself; get your designs on as many people as possible. Get the word out, blog about it. Once the customers and money start coming in then you can worry about trademarks and legalities. Sound good?

Sweet. Savory. Love. 
Hi Maya,
Thanks for offering your time. I’m curious if you ever had to take external funding to get your business going. Whether it was a bank of loans from family members I was wondering how that went. Did it add pressure to what you were trying to do or did the additional funds give you some breathing room.

Maya answered: 
Alison-I started my business really small in my living room and made everything myself in the beginning because that’s what I could afford to do. I also kept my part-time job and then borrowed $3,000 from my grandmother. Breathing room is great to have but some time not having that motivates you even more!!

Hi Maya
Thank you for taking the time to answer questions!
I’m developing a line of bags. You mentioned that you began working with stylists to get your jewelry to celebs, leading to magazine placements. How did you find the stylists? What technique did you use to engage them initially?

Maya answered: 
Antoniamp- Good question! I found the stylists mostly through word of mouth or friends of mine who also worked in that business. But I gave a lot of product away to motivate people to be willing to use my designs. I also did some Gifting Suites around the award shows in Los Angeles that got my product to PR girls, stylists and actresses.

Nicole asked:
Hi Maya!
If going into business with a partner, how do you split the profits, work, etc.? Do you sign a contract prior to starting? Thanks so much!

Maya answered: 
Nicole-I never had a partner in my business but I would assume that is the right way to go about it. Definitely decide specifically who is going to do what before starting the partnership and make sure to choose the person wisely!!

Lauren – Clean Up Nicely asked:
What advice would Maya give to others who are looking to take a financial risk and embark on a journey to follow their own passions? Any advice on how to “keep the faith” when the going gets tough?

Maya answered: 
You have to go on your own journey that is a balance between your passion and making smart decisions. If you are taking risks that keep you up nights or gives you a stomach ache then maybe that’s a sign to slow down the financial burden a bit.

ME asked:
I’d echo the financial risk part…any steps you took to mitigate that? Credit cards, living with family, etc? How does one know how much financial risk to take on?

Maya answered:
To ME- When I started my business, I kept my full-time job for about 6 months and then went part-time until I was sure I could make money with jewelry. I moved in with my boyfriend and borrowed some money from my grandmother. As you can tell, I wasn’t very risky.

Margaret asked:
Thanks for taking our questions Maya! My question is in regards to marketing your product and selling it as a small business owner. I know I am able to use sites like Etsy to sell second hand and custom home decor but how do I go about selling my products locally when I don’t have a storefront. Did you use word of mouth to get your product known locally or did you sell your pieces at local businesses?

Maya answered: 
Hi Margaret-I’ve never had a store front and still manage to sell my pieces. I sold everywhere I could. I sold at flea markets, craft shows, friend’s offices, school fairs, holiday bazaars, to friends, family and acquaintances. I also offered my pieces on consignment to stores that weren’t sure they were ready to buy it outright. It took some time but eventually I was able to use the experience and money I made from all those sales to grow my business even more. Good Luck!

Photo by Kimberly Genevieve Photography