Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from Rachel Ball, blogger and owner of Mignon Kitchen Co. and Elephantine. Rachel’s business journey began in the design world, working as a graphic designer and practicing her passion for jewelry making on the side. Soon enough, her side project parlayed into her full-time gig as a jewelry designer. But as a creative, one project is typically never enough, and eventually Rachel began another side business with her curated kitchen supply shop, Mignon Kitchen Co. Today, she shares with us her creative journey from desk job to business owner, times two! Thank you, Rachel for giving us this glimpse into your business successes! —Stephanie
Read the full interview after the jump…
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I started off making jewelry as a hobby. At the time, I was a couple years out of college and working full-time as a graphic designer, not unhappy in my job, but not entirely creatively fulfilled, either. I’ve always loved making things; before jewelry, I’d spent several months making quirky little toys out of felt and illustrating greeting cards, and before that was an endless number of other creative projects. My jewelry was the first thing that started getting a significant response from other people, though, and that was tremendously encouraging, so I kept at it. As it gained more popularity, I became more serious about turning it into a real business. In 2010 I quit my day job and started running Elephantine full-time.
A few years after that, I got that inevitable creative itch to start a new project. I was particularly interested in food and kitchen goods, so I spent a few months obsessively searching for products I liked and learning a lot about buying wholesale (which, in turn, has helped me learn how to better sell my jewelry wholesale). After months of planning I opened an online shop called Mignon Kitchen Co. It would be really difficult for me to run both of my shops full-time, so Mignon is more of a side project and a way for me to have a bit of variety in my day.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
I’ve always described my jewelry as “simple, everyday jewelry” and I’ve stuck to that throughout the past four years. It’s the aesthetic I’m most drawn to, and it comes most naturally to me when I’m making things. But at the very beginning, that was basically all I knew. I didn’t have much else planned; everything I figured out about my business happened slowly over time.
The process for Mignon Kitchen Co. was much different. It wasn’t a hobby-turned-business; it was a business from the start. I did a lot of planning and number crunching. I tried to take what I’d learned from running my jewelry shop and apply it to this new undertaking, but it wasn’t always relevant, because one shop was all about making things, and the other shop was all about curating things.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Pricing, definitely. It can be difficult to find that sweet spot where it’s fair to both you and customers. If your prices are too low, people might think your product is cheap, and if your prices are too high, you might not meet a customer’s expectations. I’ve had plenty of people tell me that my jewelry is “super affordable”, yet I’ve also gotten emails requesting a discount for no apparent reason. So, you know, it’s impossible to please everyone. At the end of the day you have to do what feels right.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
I learned when to say no. As a small business owner, other people constantly ask you for things, and you have to learn how to weed out the good opportunities from the ones that aren’t so mutually beneficial. If it doesn’t feel right, just politely say no; you don’t need to make up an excuse. It’s easy as a new business owner to feel obligated to do everything possible to grow your business, whether it’s trading items with another Etsy shop or bending over backward to please a customer who makes unreasonable requests. Remember that you’re running a business. Treat it like one.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I didn’t really know what I was doing at the beginning. I think that’s better is some ways – yes, it’s nice to get advice and learn from others’ mistakes, but you really learn things when you have to figure them out on your own. I’ve had many moments of failure, and I think everyone has. It’s just the way you learn and grow. I’ve stressed myself out about small unimportant things, I haven’t always planned my workload well, I have some jewelry designs that have never sold. The best thing you can do with failure is to learn from it – and to turn it into a good story so you can laugh about it with your friends later on.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
Is it really cheesy to say that every time an order notification pops up in my inbox it feels like a huge success? Well, it does. Especially considering how many online shops are out there. I mean, even just on Etsy there are millions and millions of pieces of jewelry, so for someone to choose one from my shop – well, that’s enough to make me feel really great.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
The best resource I think anyone has is to see what other people in your industry are doing. Observe it, and then do your own thing. It’s also really great to have a friend who also has a small business; you can toss ideas back and forth, get feedback from each other about tricky situations, and collaborate on projects.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. How do you feel about the “boring” parts of running a business? You know: answering the same type of emails over and over, ordering and organizing supplies, updating spreadsheets, managing deadlines, so on and so forth. It’s a good sign if you’re okay with those types of tasks. (Of course, if you have the funds, you can always hire someone else to do them for you.)
2. Do the numbers make sense? Sit down and figure out what your business costs will be – don’t estimate, use real numbers, and don’t forget about small or occasional costs, like domain registration fees, business license renewals, pens, stamps, etc. Then, with those costs in mind, run through scenarios like, “If I sell 5 of these every day, what will my monthly profit be? What about 20 per day?” Don’t forget about taxes (plus self-employment tax). Will your monthly earnings be enough to make you feel good about the time you’ll be investing in your business? Will you be able to sell at a wholesale rate? Is there wiggle room for having sales once in a while?
3. Do you like what you’re doing? If you feel passionate about starting a business, do it. Even if you don’t end up making a living from your business, if it makes you happy, that’s a pretty awesome success in itself.