Insider Guide: Doing What you Love is Worth the Hard Work

 

Lisa Lehmann, owner and designer at 

As told to Jessica Rosenberg

 Photo Courtesy of Lisa Lehmann

Photo Courtesy of Lisa Lehmann

When Lisa Lehmann found herself unfulfilled in her Soloist career as a graphic designer, she knew she had to make a change. So in the midst of her fourth pregnancy and a family transition to homeschooling, she took the leap and started a jewelry design business. Fifteen successful years later, Lisa shares with the Soloist Collective how she did it and why it was worth all the hard work.

On getting started

I always knew I wanted to be an artist. Even as young as 5 years old, I wanted to create things. The first project I remember attempting was a soap sculpture for my mother. I’m sure she still has a little box filled with Ivory soap flakes stashed away somewhere.

I went to college to study fine arts, thinking I would be an art teacher. Sadly, my plans coincided with the big movement to pull art out of schools so, with some guidance from a teacher, I decided to study photography and illustration so that I could maybe teach at the college level.

That plan never materialized. Instead, I started my first solopreneur business, a graphic design company that I ran from home. Imagine endless days spent at a computer designing two dimensional logos, calendars, brochures and countless other things for print.

I hated it. Hated being behind the computer all the time. Hated how flat everything felt. I was home, raising my babies, so it worked, but I didn’t enjoy it at all. When I got pregnant with my fourth and last child, I decided I had had enough and started winding down my graphic design business.

Totally unrelated to that, around that time, my husband bought me a book on making beaded jewelry. After a quick trip to a local bead shop I made my first piece and started receiving compliments right away.

Because I’m an entrepreneur at heart, I immediately thought “Oh, this could be a business!” There was no looking back.

On launching and learning

So, there I was, three kids under five, pregnant with the fourth, finally getting to do something three dimensional and creative. And then the local school let us know that our first grader was too smart and that there was nothing they could do to challenge him and keep him engaged.

Everybody decides to homeschool their children at the same time as starting a brand new business, right?

I was undeterred. I had always been extremely active on Social Media and so I had heard about a new company that had just launched that allowed creative entrepreneurs to sell their goods online. It was 2005 and I was one of the first to join Etsy. I eventually opened my Etsy store. I didn’t actually sell anything in the store until 2006, not until I had tried to sell to friends, at trunk shows, and at craft shows.

It took me a while to realize that selling face to face wasn’t my thing. I connected better with people online and had a strong social following to show for it. So I refocused my energy. I pulled on my graphic design skills and created a logo and a look for my brand and found someone who could build me a website. I started selling on Etsy and I focused my energy on cultivating my online relationships and network.

I also took some time to take metalsmithing classes at the local art school so that I could explore new avenues for my jewelry making.

On support

Whether it came to running a new business, designing jewelry, homeschooling two kids, or taking care of two babies, I didn’t have a ton of local help. What I did have was incredible online support. Friends from my online communities encouraged me to keep going and gave me feedback on what I was creating.

Etsy also had “teams” that sellers could join for help and advice. I was part of the ‘Jet’ team, aka The Jewelry Etsy Team. It was just a basic forum where people could come ask questions about jewelry design, business, or anything else they might need. The team was very active and, to this day, two of those team members remain some of my closest friends.

The internet was my lifeline. Many days, it was the only way I could interact with adults.

Since then I’ve hired a lot of coaches to help me as my business grew. I’m currently wrapping up a one year Mastermind program that has been incredibly helpful. I’m in the process of completely rebranding my entire business, which is something I would never have attempted without the Mastermind’s support and guidance.

 Photo Courtesy of Lisa Lehmann

Photo Courtesy of Lisa Lehmann

On knowing this was ‘the’ thing

Shortly after we arrived in Michigan, the local newspaper ran a feature on the homepage of the entertainment section of the paper featuring me, my business, and my kids. Think “homeschool mom makes jewelry while raising kids” type of feature. There were picture of the jewelry and of the kids and I hard at work.

Seeing my business in print was the moment when I first realized that it felt real, like this was my thing. Designing jewelry is my zone. It’s very three dimensional. I get to swing a hammer and play with fire. It’s a very tactile experience, which really speaks to my artist’s soul. This is for sure where I’m supposed to be.

On getting customers

Most of my customers come from word of mouth or social media. I do get sales on Etsy from people who stumble across my store, but since my jewelry tends to be a bit more pricey than the average Etsy store, it helps when potential buyers know me personally.

I spend a lot of time cultivating my online relationships. I’m active on Facebook and sometimes Twitter. I share photos of my creations on Instagram and even share videos of myself creating pieces so that I can bring people directly into the studio with me. I send regular newsletters and I blog when I can.

I’ve never been afraid to be genuine with my community. The people I connect with online know the real me, which creates a tight bond and strong loyalty. My customers rave about my pieces to their friends who in turn become my friends and customers.

In the jewelry community, there is a group of people who are extremely well known and who more or less set the standard for what kind of jewelry is respected or looked down upon. For a while I was worried about what they thought of my work, and then I realized that they weren’t the people who mattered.

Now I design things that make me happy and that make my customers happy. I have a very specific style and people who shop from me are looking for just that.

On setting prices

I decided from day one, when I was designing a piece for a friend who had seen the first of my bead creations, that I wouldn’t undersell myself and I never have. I’ve never hesitated or backed down from that standpoint, not even when I found myself unable to sell at craft shows because my pieces cost more than the items sold by other sellers.

Which is not to say that I don’t hold sales! I do, often, usually based on special occasions or to celebrate big moments in my life.

On using her strengths to overcome challenges

I’m super organized, so the things you would think would be challenging, like homeschooling four children while running a full time business, aren’t. At least, not in the sense that most people imagine. When I was homeschooling, I ran our home like a very efficient business. There was a strict schedule, laid out in Excel, that sectioned out each day into very specific tasks. Morning was for school and then, the afternoon when the littles were napping and the big kids were out playing with friends, was studio time. I’m very type-A and this totally worked for us.

Where I struggled was in getting help. I knew for years that I needed additional help in the studio, but it’s really hard to find the right people and to entrust your baby to someone who is not you.

Two years after hiring a first apprentice, I finally have a process that seems to be working. It’s not perfect every day, but it’s much better than when I was doing everything myself. Having others take care of the jewelry production allows me to do more designing and business management. I have big plans for 2018, none of which would be attainable without help.

On what I would have liked to know

I wish I’d known to create a business plan for my jewelry business. Not only did I not know how, but I didn’t even know it was a thing. Strategically planning around specific goals would have saved me many years. Even if I’d just had a business accountability partner to run things by, I think I would have made very different choices along the way.

On advice for potential Soloists

You have to really, really want it. Running your own business is hard. It takes up all of your days and nights and the work is challenging. In order to do the things you love, you’re also going to have to do things you don’t enjoy. It takes a lot of chutzpah and backbone. You have to be willing to give 100 000% and maybe realize you won’t take a paycheck or see the results you’re hoping for right away.

But if you love what you’re doing, the hard work is completely worth it.

On recommended tools

My business is what it is thanks to social mediaTwitterFacebookInstagram.

I use Feedblitz to send out my newsletters and stay in touch with my customers via email.

I’m trying out Trello for managing projects and my team.

I use Slack to communicate with my apprentices, vendors, and everyone else I need to work with regularly.

I use Google Docs for all of my marketing docs and spreadsheets.

And last, but not least, I use a trusty pen and paper for everything else, especially designing my pieces!