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How One Woman Turned Her Family Jewelry Business Into An Internet Sensation Alexis Jae's family had been in the jewelry business for over 75 years. Noticing potential in ecommerce, Jae took it upon herself to build a brand that reached a wider audience and has thrived ever since.

By Entrepreneur Staff Edited by Jessica Thomas

Whether it's clothing, food or jewelry, being in a family business comes with its perks and challenges. Alexis Jae's family had been in the jewelry business for decades, and although the brand wasn't exactly struggling, Jae wanted to take the knowledge she'd been taught and apply it to the growing ecommerce space. Jae shares her experience in the new book The Ultimate Guide To Shopify by Jason R. Rich.

The Ultimate Guide To Shopify from Entrepreneur Press offers all the tools and guidance you need to start and run your own ecommerce business. With proven marketing strategies that will boost sales, tactics to differentiate your website and advice from industry experts, The Ultimate Guide To Shopify sets you up for success when starting an online business. Read on for an excerpted interview from the book with ecommerce veteran Jae, who took her family's jewelry business to the next level using Shopify. Jae discusses the decision to start an ecommerce brand, how she reached her target audience and the value of investing time and money into expanding your brand.

Related: A Beginner's Guide to Building a Profitable Ecommerce Business

Meet Alexis Jae, whose family has been in the jewelry business for more than 75 years. When she entered her family's occupation, she started her own business by establishing an ecommerce website via Shopify, allowing her company to reach a much larger audience with its jewelry staples such as gold hoop earrings and statement necklaces.

Knowing that differentiating her products and establishing a reputable brand was essential, Jae immediately adopted a variety of business practices and policies that set her jewelry apart. Her website allows customers to purchase high-quality, custom-designed gold jewelry (or jewelry that's part of her website's curated collection) for less than half of what they'd pay at a retail store. This includes items that Alexis Jae has chosen to showcase and sell from her online store. In addition, 25 percent of the company's profits from every sale are donated directly to A Cure in Our Lifetime, an organization raising funds for breast cancer education and research. Plus, all the 14K and 18K gold used to create the jewelry is 100 percent recycled, while all stones used are natural, untreated, and ethically sourced. Alexis Jae also sells unique pieces designed by its customers. When you visit Alexis Jae's website (which displays her logo at the top center of the browser window), you'll immediately notice its intentionally simple design and white background, which allows her to put more visual emphasis on the jewelry, as opposed to a site with an overabundance of graphics, animations, and complex menus.

Related: Want To Grow Your Ecommerce Brand? Take Advice From This Industry Expert.

Q: What made you want to start an ecommerce website?

My family's been manufacturing fine jewelry for retail stores for generations. After graduating from college, I worked in the finance industry for several years but quit my job to create a website that sells jewelry directly to consumers online. Originally, I selected Squarespace as our ecommerce platform because I liked the website design tools it offered, but after launching a website there, it got no traction. When I did more research, I learned about Shopify and discovered it offered much better SEO tools and the ability to link directly with Google. When I switched to Shopify, the migration process was easy. Within a month, I had the new website up and running.

Q: How did you decide on the appearance of your website?

I knew the look for the website that I was striving for. I had the whole thing planned out in my head and then on paper. It was then a matter of choosing the right Shopify theme and adapting it to encompass my vision for the site.

Q: What steps did you take to define your target audience when you first got started?

When the website was being hosted by Squarespace, we mainly focused on orders from friends and family, as well as their referrals, and whomever else discovered our site. Once we launched our website on Shopify and began using their analytics tools, we discovered that our jewelry not only resonates with urban women, but also with men from less densely populated areas who are shopping for gifts, and who want beautiful and high-quality jewelry, as opposed to name-brand jewelry. Early on, using the analytics tools provided by Shopify and Google, we learned a lot about who comprised our customer base and then began focusing on ways to market to this expanded group of people.

Q: When it came to designing an ecommerce website, what lessons did you learn?

Instead of adding a whole bunch of optional apps to expand website functionality, which slowed down the site, negatively impacted the user's experience, and had a negative impact on the site's SEO, I wound up hiring a website developer to fine-tune the Shopify theme they selected and add all the customizations and functionality I wanted. This was a more costly option, but I found it was a great investment.

Q: What are some of the other ways that the Shopify platform has helped your company grow?

When creating product listings, Shopify directs you to provide specific information in a specific way that benefits your site's SEO. I also took advantage of the integration the platform has for creating and managing blog posts. What I appreciated the most, however, is that without any prior knowledge of how to utilize Google, my site was able to utilize Google Smart campaigns to help promote my business and its products. All I had to do was click on a few buttons and determine how much money I wanted to spend each week on Google ads. The service did everything else and did it very well.

Q: Initially, what was the biggest misconception you had about selling online?

I had no idea how difficult it would be to build trust with customers who were shopping online. Our prices are so much lower than well-established jewelry retailers because we are cutting out all the middlemen, but customers don't initially realize how or why we're selling such high-quality jewelry at such low prices. We hired a copywriter to help us convey our story on our website, to clearly and concisely convey what we're trying to do. Between the design of the overall site and the story we tell through our text and photos, we're now able to tell a compelling story that our visitors relate to and understand. We also try to communicate directly with our customers as much as possible, so they see they're working with a person and not a huge corporation. The copywriter also helps us by writing our marketing emails.

Q: In addition to hiring a freelance website designer and copywriter, did you hire any additional experts to help you launch the online component of your business?

Yes. The first person we hired was an SEO specialist who helped us create blog posts. Instead of paying that person upfront, I developed a profit-sharing plan with him. This saved us a lot of money in startup costs and allowed us to benefit from the ability to drive extra traffic to the site. This SEO expert writes three blog posts per week and manages other aspects of the website that impact SEO. We pay him a 20 percent commission on all sales derived from organic searches. We've also hired a graphic designer, through a friend of a friend, to help us brand our business and fine-tune the appearance of the website. This person designed our logo and helped us choose the appropriate fonts and color scheme used throughout the website. We then hired a social media marketing specialist to help us build up and maintain our Instagram presence, with the goal of driving traffic to the website. Later, we hired an online marketing agency to utilize the information we acquired from Google to develop and implement our paid online advertising campaigns. The first firm we hired was very inexpensive, but that turned out to be a disaster, so we switched to another online marketing agency that truly understood our vision and goals for the business, as well as the audience we're trying to reach. While it cost a lot more money upfront, I outsourced everything that I didn't know how to do myself to ensure it would be done correctly. Since we've launched the business, I have invested time to learn a wide range of new skills. For example, I recently completed a class on Google advertising and SEO marketing. I have found that the website does better when I take on the role of project manager and then hire experts on a freelance basis who have the specialized skills and experience needed to accomplish each task that I am not currently able to do myself. People can be hired in a cost-effective way, and the time and money saved in the long run makes it well worth the expense. There are so many logistics involved with running a successful online business that without additional help, it's very difficult to handle everything and dedicate the time needed to do everything correctly.

Q: How important is product photography when creating an ecommerce website?

Having crystal-clear, professional-looking product photography is not just important, it's essential, and it's something we continue to work on, since we're selling high-end jewelry products and it's essential that our product photography nicely showcases each product in a classy way that conveys its beauty and value. We have a professional product photographer on call who photographs every new jewelry piece for the website, as well as a different photographer who creates the lifestyle images used throughout the website.

Q: Considering all the freelance help you used, how much money would you say you invested to initially get your website designed and published, and to launch the online aspect of your business?

Keeping in mind that we're selling high-priced jewelry and knew we'd be able to recuperate the investment quickly, I'd calculate that our initial financial investment was about $30,000. Initially, we spent about a month creating the website and developing the brand and then invested a lot more time to tweak it once it launched.

Q: What's the biggest piece of advice you can share with startup ecommerce business operators?

Invest the time and money you need upfront to make sure that every aspect of your website functions properly and looks extremely professional. This will help translate visitors to your site into paying customers, because the appearance of your site is your opportunity to make a positive first impression and build up a potential customer's confidence in your company and its products. Our goal, for example, was to create a website that showcased a high-end brand that was trustworthy. While a company's brand will evolve over time, it's important to use your brand identity right from the start to communicate your value proposition to your potential customers. It's all about building trust with your customers, particularly if you're hoping for repeat business from your customers.

The Ultimate Guide To Shopify offers dozens of resources and experts like Jae who have cracked the code to excel in the ecommerce world. The book teaches you how to get started, the different methods of selling, how to promote your brand and ultimately how to thrive and run your own ecommerce business. Read a free preview of the book here, and get your copy of The Ultimate Guide to Shopify from Entrepreneur Bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Bookshop — it's available now.

Entrepreneur Staff

Entrepreneur Staff


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