Media – Questions and Answers Articles
Here you can find a series of conversation articles available for publishing. When publishing please include the website address for Creatively Belle – www.CreativelyBelle.com.
These conversations are with Belinda Stinson of Creatively Belle.
A Conversation About Starting Out
Question: What got you into having a jewellery business?
Answer: It was all a bit by accident really. I discovered a bead shop when I was at uni and made and sold some earring designs to shops for some extra income when studying. I returned to it more than 10 years later when I was starting a new phase of life.
Question: What did you do in those years?
Answer: I’d been in the corporate world as a contract technical writer and then joined Macquarie Bank’s IT division as a permanent to try the other side of the fence.
I had picked the right firm, the work was interesting and the money was good but I would walk into the space and feel dissatisfied. My sister was going through breast cancer and I felt there had to be more in life. Going permanent was only an experiment anyway and I had the desire to have my own business.
So when the timing was right I left to go back to my own company but this time as a consultant to small and medium sized business for marketing and communications.
Question: How did this lead to jewellery?
Answer: I was building up a client base but wasn’t so happy with it all, I couldn’t see a vision for the future for the business. I saw some earrings in a shop window and thought “I could do that!”.
As I stash quilting fabric and know I like to collect things I decided that if I played with beads again I would have to sell the results, I couldn’t keep them. Then I thought selling the designs at market would give me a cashflow as the consulting was paying well but paying slowly.
So I made some earrings and went to market.
Question: So it was an instant success?
Answer: No. My first few markets barely paid for the cost of the site. But I was meeting very friendly people and was enjoying it all. I was realising pretty quickly that my designs need tweaking and I had to figure out the prices better.
Within a few markets I started having better sales and it just grew bit by bit from there. I remember phoning my mum from Kirribilli Markets one day all excited because I’d made $167! I thought that was wonderful and mum was all supportive and encouraging.
Question: So your family and friends were supportive and understanding?
Answer: My family was very supportive and encouraging but I don’t think many of my old work friends understood the markets. They understood the SME Consulting and supported that. Interestingly the people who were making changes for themselves were supportive and encouraging, they still are.
Some of my old work friends are still surprised that I make a living from this business and am still doing it. I find myself surprised they are still doing the same thing they are doing, so there you go, different personalities succeeding at different things.
Question: How long did it take to build up the business?
Answer: It took about 2 years of doing markets before I completely left the consulting income. It all happened bit by bit. I’ve learnt that most things happen progressively and it is the starting and doing that makes all the difference, that brings the success.
Question: Where do you earn your income?
Answer: When I was contracting projects could be shelved and all your income was gone and you had to go our and get another contract that took about 4 – 8 weeks to sort out. I never wanted that experience again.
So with Creatively Belle I’ve purposely created different sources of income with the markets, website, jewellery parties and wholesale customers.
Question: How are the jewellery parties going?
Answer: All really well. The parties are loads of fun. All of them have been really good gatherings. I didn’t expect them to go so well but I think it comes down to people having their friends over and everyone gets on beautifully.
I don’t do any of those daft party games and once people realise I’m not doing them, not into hard selling and they are welcome to play with the jewellery they relax and get into the fun of the gathering.
Question: You also sell into shops, is the wholesale side of the business successful?
Answer: Yes, it is. I sell into a range of shops from Queensland to Tasmania. My local shop customers I get to visit but the ones outside of Sydney I spend more time on the phone with them than visiting.
Most of the shops have found me which is good. On a trip to Tasmania in 2006 I sold into a range of shops and aim to visit them at least once a year.
I like all my shop customers, they are lovely ladies who are interesting and making things happen.
Conversation With a New Designer About Learning how to Sell Her Work
Question: For many designers the getting out there and selling their work can be the hardest thing. How have you gone with this?
Answer: Luckily for me I’m happy to get out there and talk to people. I’d done a range of public speaking and presentation for work and I figured talking to people at market was easier than running a review meeting with competing managers.
I think the main thing was I spoke to customers in a way I wanted to be spoken to.
If you don’t talk then you don’t sell, if you don’t sell you don’t make money, if you don’t make money you can’t pay the rent and you can’t make a go of it. The alternative is to go back to work in the city and I didn’t want to do that. I was enjoying my new lifestyle.
Question: When you talk to your customers they say you’re a good saleswoman and say it as a compliment. How did this happen?
Answer: I don’t like my selling skills being noticed. I think selling should be seamless. I think you’re having a conversation with your customer, you’re educating your customer in a kind and generous manner about your goods.
I want people I am talking with to know I see and respect them as a valuable customer who I want to come back and to bring their friends and family. And I say it “I want you to come back, I value you”. It is about respect for your customer and your business. Without that you don’t have a business.
I was learning at market to be a good saleswoman – not the pressure “close the sale” type (they don’t survive) but the listening and interested saleswoman. I want to build a successful and ethical business, I want to be proud of my business and professional name.
Question: Did you learn selling skills from books or seminars?
Answer: I read my first sales book after 5+ years of selling. I’m glad I hadn’t read any others before then because I’ve grown into a good saleswoman without any of the bad habits of traditional hard sell method.
I haven’t been to any sales seminars. Mainly because when I started selling I was pouring all my income straight back into the business with more stock so when weighing up the $300 – $1000 fee for seminars I would look at the cost opportunity. My dad is a natural salesman and I was seeing that I was doing well with it so I opted for the investment in stock.
Building a Successful Sea Change Business: Lessons Learnt
Question: What did you have to learn to make it financially successful?
Answer: How to listen to customers, let them know I’ve heard them and make the designs they want.
Question: What do you think is the key to success?
Answer: Starting. Most of the pack just talks about it. Just starting is the most important thing.
Question: What have you learnt about getting things done?
Answer: Just do one thing at a time. I know as a woman I can multi-task and yes, there are times when that is needed. But to get something done you need to start it and do it, finish it. Don’t let yourself be distracted by multi-tasking.
Question: Are there any books you’d recommend?
Answer: I’d say start with reading Michael Gerber’s “E-Myth”. It is a small and really useful book for any business.
Get a book about setting up a business in your country. I started with “How to Organise and Operate a Small Business in Australia” by John English but any like that would work.
For your website read “Designing Web Usability” by Jakob Nielsen because if your website isn’t easy to use your visitors will leave you in seconds and not shop with you.
I’m a reader so I have heaps of books and magazines but what matters is actually reading the books, not having them sitting on the bookcase.
Question: What have you learnt about yourself?
Answer: How humbling it is to have loyal and repeat customers who love your work and what you’re doing. This sounds corny I’m sure but people can be really generous with their favourite designers.
Without my customers I wouldn’t have this really enjoyable business.
Designing for Success
A Conversation with a Jewellery Maker
Question: What do you think makes a good design?
Answer: I’m actually quite opinionated about good design. I think balance is vital in design. How that balance is created varies greatly and it can be the most natural thing in the world to create balance somedays while other times it is the hardest thing to achieve. At those times you stop trying to design and do something else.
Question: What do you think is the enemy of creativity?
Answer: I find stress is poison for design and creativity. I find that if I’m stressed about money, work, family, whatever then my designs aren’t the best. I’ve learnt to do something else when I’m upset or off balance. When you have your own business there’s always heaps you can do that is productive and needs attention.
Question: So what do you do to be in the best place for designing.
Answer: I look after my money, I eat well, get sleep and when I’m in the right place I lots of designing. I”ll create 15 necklaces with matching earrings in one session. I might only have one session like this a month but I am good at focusing and being single minded for hours at a time.
I’ve also learnt what sort of designs to work on when. I have some really simple designs that are part of the regular range that are really satisfying to make but don’t require me to be at my best.
Question: What sort of personality do you think you are?
Answer: I’m quite a happy person. I give thanks, count blessings each day and know how to pull myself out of bad moods which can be as simple as letting them pass by.
I’m strong willed and independent. I have learnt a lot about myself in the last few years and laugh often, mainly at myself.
Question: What is one of the biggest things you’ve leant about yourself?
Answer: I make lots of mistakes. Seriously, I make mistakes every week. I’ve learnt mistakes are good because it means I’m giving things ago and I learn from them.
Mistakes are wasted when you don’t learn and get upset about them. We are all human. Mistakes are inherently human.
I’ve made mistakes in my designs and found that the results are better than the original design!
Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Answer: All sorts of places. Sometimes I dream designs and have to get them out before they drive me nuts. Sometimes I see designs in books or magazines and think “oh no, that’s all wrong, it should be…”.
But mostly it comes from having an idea from a previous design and changing colour and shape for a different effect and then when making that one I start thinking of a another design. That’s how I make a range at a time – they become related to each and you can see the progression of the story when you put them all together.
Question: Are you particular about the components?
Answer: Yes. I think quality is vital for successful designs. I love working in the Czech glass because of its clarity, quality, colour, texture, weight and vibrancy.
I love the stories behind the Czech glass and even prefer it to the Murano glass. The cheaper glass components made outside of Europe leave me cold. The pieces made by independent flame glass workers can be stunning and I collect them.
But my first love for designing is the Czech glass and crystal, especially the traditional lampwork glass.
A Conversation About the Birth and Growth of CreativelyBelle.com
Question: So you started at markets with your jewellery but you have a big website, how did that come about?
Answer: I had a website for my consulting business and created page that had my market dates and locations so people could find me again.
I wanted repeat customers so I realised that they would need to know where I was when and it would be best for them to have the website address.
So I created a Reward Card program using the sheets of business cards and Publisher to make them at home. So the front of the card offers customers discounts and the back of the card has my regular markets, website address, contact details and Jewellery party info.
When I had the money I started making my own website – CreativelyBelle.com for the jewellery.
Question: How did CreativelyBelle.com get to cover so much information?
Answer: It probably reflects my interests. I love the jewellery designing side and I love the business side. I love the life style I have now compared to when I was working long hours in the city and I want others to know it is possible.
I know how isolating it can feel sometimes when you’re making something different happen and how inspiring and encouraging it is to find someone else on the net making it happen.
I came from an industry that shares information and experience and is a big club (IT) so it is natural for me to replicate the culture.
Question: So you’ve been able to make your own website, where did you learn about it?
Answer: As a technical writer I had contracts where I had to developed online help for customer service workers so I learnt about how information is structured and used, how web pages connect to each other, the basics of HTML code and the crucial value of being able to use the the site (usability).
Years later I ended up creating intranets at the bank so I became a fan of Jakob Nielsen with his “Designing Web Usability” book (vital reading).
So when it came to making my own site I realised I needed help with the internet marketing side of it as I had the fundamental skills in building and usability but not the marketing. So I got the Internet marketing Centre’s “The Inside Secrets to Marketing Your Business On The Internet” .
I spent a bit of money on it and it had made my website successful and profitable and paid for itself with the first strategy I launched. I haven’t found one book that covers a quarter of the material in it and think I was lucky to get it when I did.
Question: What do you use for your website?
Answer: It is developed in Dreamweaver and graphics done in Fireworks.
Question: Is the website profitable for you?
Answer: Yes. I’ve built it in phases and have learnt as much as I can from where ever I can.
Phase one was about just getting the basic structure of the site and initial information about markets launched. The trick is to start with something manageable so you can learn step by step and be happy with it.
So by now we’re in about phase 6 and it just continues to flourish.
Question: What phase was it when you starting selling off the site?
Answer: It was phase 3 when I started having the facility but it was really focused on for phase 4 after I’d learnt a bit from the initial efforts and PayPal kicked in with launching AUD facilities.
Question: Why did you go with PayPal rather than with a merchant facility?
Answer:I was a credit card merchant already when I was developing the shopping cart but the bank wanted my to set up another merchant account with al the fees being duplicated, pay for gateways, pay for what seemed like too much.
I was already accepting PayPal payments because I was eBay and then they launched Australian dollar payments. They simply wanted a merchant charge (just as the bank did) and no other costs. So where it was going to cost me over $1000 with the bank with a doubling of monthly merchant fees I could use an alternative that wanted my business.
Question: Are you happy with the PayPal option?
Answer: Basically yes. I find communicating with them when there are problems really hard but they are improving and there are very few problems anyway.
I like being able to accept a variety of currencies as I have plans for earning USD and Sterling pounds income and it makes it easier for international customers as they feel safe using PayPal.
Question: What do you think is the main purpose of the website?
Answer: The aim of the website is two fold; to promote Creatively Belle and to generate an income.
There are other areas of the site like the Business Tips and the Pink Ribbon section and they are probably for more personal reasons.
Question: What do you have that supports the website?
Answer: I have a blog at www.CreativelyBelle.blog.com that was originally for a community area for my customers – they get on well together off-line so I thought an interactive areas online would be good but my customers email me rather than leave comments.
I tend to internet visitors who I haven’t met leave comments. So now the blog is much broader than I originally thought with it being more about announcing sales, design ideas, generating traffic and show casing designs.