Q: I'm 15, and I want to start selling my beaded jewelry and beaded flowers. How do I do this legally?
A: There's much more to think about than how to start legally; you want to start off on the right foot in all areas of your business. Since I don't know how far you've gotten as far as planning things out, I'll just run through the basics of starting a jewelry business.
As a jewelry designer, you can either make your pieces from scratch, if you've got the tools and the training to do things like lampwork and bead design, or you can buy your beads and other materials from a supplier. Any good jewelry design book will include lists of suppliers, many of which can also be found online. You can also choose the type of jewelry design you want to specialize in, such as earrings, rings, necklaces, handbags or a combination of specialties. In your case, I'll assume you're doing a combination of jewelry designs along with your beaded flowers.
It sounds like you've already got the talent and the tools to create these pieces since you're apparently ready to sell them. This brings me to my next point: You've got to be able to market and sell your creations. There are many ways to do this:
- Think of a creative name for your business. Take your time with this--it needs to effectively convey the message you want to convey about your business. You also need to make sure your desired name isn't already taken. Check with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; your state's office of the Secretary of State (most of them have Web sites); and even a lawyer, who can conduct a name search for you.
- Before you finalize your name, check and see if it's available as a domain name. This is important, because you want to be able to create a Web site, with or without e-commerce capabilities, to showcase your products. If you're not familiar with Web design and creation, you can either learn the skills yourself or enlist the help of someone who knows how to create Web sites. Web page creation is fairly simply if you have a decent software program like Microsoft FrontPage. You should also consider getting a digital camera so you can upload images to your Web site.
- Create marketing materials. Most important here are business cards, which you can hand out to your friends and family and local businesses as well as at trade shows and craft fairs. Make sure your Web site URL and e-mail address is included on your business card.
Those are some marketing basics to get you started. Now let's talk money. Start-up costs can be fairly low--probably $500 to $1,000, or even less if you already have everything you need to get started. You can expect to earn $10,000 to $250,000 per year, depending on the number of pieces you churn out, how desirable they are and how aggressively you market your wares.
When you're ready to start aggressively selling, you can do several things to kick-start your sales: home parties, selling at arts and crafts fairs, selling directly to merchants and through wholesalers and sales reps, and so on. You can find reps at gift shows--call your chamber of commerce, read industry publications and check with places like the National Craft Association to find these shows.
As for getting started legally, check with your city and county on any needed licenses and permits and to make sure you are zoned to operate a business from home. You will also need to register your business with your Secretary of State and prepare all the necessary tax forms. Generally cities have a lot of information about what you need to do to get started legally, and since regulations vary widely from location to location, it's best to start with your city. You can also check with your local chamber of commerce, Small Business Development Center and SBA office.
Finally, keep developing your skills. Take classes at craft stores and community centers, and, if you choose to go to college (which I strongly recommend), take classes there, too (both jewelry classes and business classes). Owning a business is a lifelong learning process--so take advantage of the resources that will help you grow your business, year in and year out.
I always think the true test for a product or service's potential success is whether you think you would use this product or service and why. Imagine you are selling your car, and think about how you would want someone to handle it if you were to pay them money to do so. Talk to friends and family, too, for their input. Good luck to you.
Karen E. Spaeder is editor of Entrepreneur.com and managing editor of Entrepreneur magazine.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.