(originally published in 2007 - much of the info is probably out of date or dead links but there is still some solid advice here!)
This is for all you budding designers out there... Here's the deal: I run a home-based business of creating jewelry, selling it online, selling it to stores and also at craft shows. I designed my own website and do all the photography. I order supplies, materials, and pay lots of bills. I travel across the country to craft shows. Business is good. Life is good....and very very VERY busy. I often get emails from people asking me for advice on how they should go about doing exactly what I have done. As much as I would love to have all the time in the world to answer these emails, it's just impossible for me to answer questions like these in a thorough, well thought out manner.
So, here is what started as an email I sent to one of my friends who is a local jewelry designer who asked me for such advice. It's mostly about doing craft shows, because that's what her question was, and that's a lot of what I do, so if you were looking for some free advice, this is what I got... I do update this from time to time, so check back if you want more tid bits. AND good luck and go on with your bad indie business self!
While you apply to shows, I would try to visit shows and look at how other people do their displays and how they weight their booths, etc. I haven't really been impressed with too many displays but it's nice to look, and after you have been surfing displays on the web, you'll recognize them at the show. TACA is weird, though b/c those are more high-end crafters and their displays are a little more intense (usually). The most important thing is that since you have jewelry, you want to raise your table height up to above people's waist b/c nobody wants to lean down to look at something, and you also want to keep it out of reach of small hands.
Another benefit to doing shows is that you interact directly with your customers. While many of them will probably try your patience (I've been asked if I take money orders.... huh?) but some of them will give you some great ideas on how to improve your line, and you'll see what sells out quickly and what you need to make more of for next time! And if you're like me, it's an exercise in patience, which isn't all bad.
Wow - too much information? My last piece of advice is to take your time! While you are applying to shows, get ready for them by finding what kinds of bags and boxes you need, packaging, etc. I like www.nashvillewraps.com for this kind of thing. By the time you're accepted and have one to go to - you'll be ready!
On a side note... if you want to sell things to a store, the best and most professional thing to do is: call and introduce yourself, ask if they sell local jewelry on consignment or wholesale and then ask if it would be alright if you mailed or emailed them images of your work. Follow up with a phone call or email to see if they had a chance to see them and to see if you could set up an appointment. Never ever ever walk into a store without an appointment! If you're shy, you could send an email (introduce yourself, who you are, what you do, and why you are emailing the store!!!) with jpegs or a link to your website or etsy page, and your prices. Again, follow up if you seriously want to be in the store with another email or phone call if you don't hear from them. Stores don't necessarily want to meet with you blindly without seeing a single image of your work. It's very hard for them to say no to you in person, so they will be reluctant to make an appointment with you if they have no idea what you're going to show them. If you show them images and they take an appointment, you're as good as gold.
You also need to build your image and "brand". Come up with a good name (NOT "Julie's designs" or "Unique Creations" - in fact, skip the words "unique" or "designs" altogether - they are really overused) it should be memorable like these brands: "Rifle Paper", "Verre New York", "Free People", or "Herbivore Botanicals". If you really want to use your name, use your full name and be done with it, like "Jeanine Payer". Simple, effective, classy. Tag all of your jewelry with your logo (it's important to create a "brand" that people recognize), and make sure the tags aren't too small or too big. I used to make all of my own tags, but now I have them manufactured for me. If you are at that level, you should be able to find a retail store packaging/gift wrap representative in your area (such as Nashville Wraps or Wholestyle Packaging) who will work with you to create a custom string tag.
I hope this information is useful, and I wish you well on your journey towards success!!! For more information on setting up a business, just search jewelry/indie message boards online with your key words like "photographing jewelry" or "selling wholesale". Also, Pamela Barsky has an ebook she sells on her website - I imagine she was inundated with these "free advice" emails waaaay more than I am, and she is smart to put her experiences into a sellable product. I may have to buy it one day soon to learn more for myself!
UPDATE 1/14/08 & 1/27/17
Etsy shop advice: You can learn SO MUCH about promoting your shop through the Merriweather Council. I highly recommend her Etsy courses! Learn more HERE. Also, give out a million business cards and have your etsy shop on every one of them. I would check out the forums on etsy for all kinds of newbie advice, too. Commenting on treasuries and posting forum comments also lets people here know you exist. Also, Instagram and Pinterest are your friends! You can earn a lot of followers (i.e. letting people know your shop exists) by sponsoring a post on accounts like Makers Village.
Also, try and find sellers who you think complement your work, and ask if they'll trade business cards with you so that they can include them with their orders and you can do the same. Say, if you sell burp cloths for babies, you might want to trade business cards with people who make diaper bags or baby clothes. If you make jewelry, trade cards with people who make jewelry travel rolls or earring holders or other girlie accessories.
I am not a big advocate of coupons. I think they are great from time to time, but if you offer them once a month or more, people will be less likely to buy your product at full price.