Everybody loves the idea of sitting in their PJ’s and making money, running a business off your iPhone using PayPal, Square and swanky, fun business tools like that. But how many of us ever actually get to experience that? We dream of starting our own business but life often gets in the way. Well Nicole Smith-Hall has managed to beat the odds and start Charleigh Rocks – an online jewelry and handmade purses business. Today, the company is 2 years old and provides a nice flow of extra income every month for her household (it can cover a nice size car payment, sometimes a mortgage payment!). Now the question is: how can she take her business to the next level? Nicole shared her story with us, plus she also asked marketing and branding expert Andrea D. Smith of The ADS Agency (also her sister!) her own burning questions about how to grow Charleigh Rocks – which we hope inspires you with your own business.
VIEW THE ADS CHAT HERE, READ THE NOTES BELOW:
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN FROM THIS ENTREPRENEUR CHAT:
Nicole is a mother of 3, a wife, active in her church, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and a business owner. Like a lot of us, she wears a lot of hats! She’s tried 31 before and other business ventures just to make side money (who doesn’t want that?), but nothing really seemed to stick until she started Charleigh Rocks, which just turned 2 years old on May 2nd. What you’ll learn from this ADS Entrepreneur Chat is real and practical tips for small entrepreneurs like this who have full time jobs, who are parents, who may be married – you’ve got a whole life going on but you’re also trying to find the time to invest in this business. The best tip for Charleigh Rocks regarding her crucial next step is to really start working on building her e-mail list – something we often forget about as entrepreneurs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met entrepreneurs who are not communicating with their customers via e-mail! Later you’ll learn why that’s so important.
- The Charleigh Rocks Story
- Current Marketing Situation
- Growing Your Email List
- Demographics & Target Audience
- Scheduling Social Media Posts: the best apps and tools to help you.
- Planning Marketing Time for Your Business: tips on how to set aside enough time to plan for your own business.
- Price Points: “But I’m so cheap!!”
- Inspirational Stories for Charleigh Rocks: who do I pick as good examples to inspire the Charleigh Rocks business?
THE CHARLEIGH ROCKS STORY
The Let Go:
Nicole and her best friend (they’ve known each other since they were both in diapers) Maria Reid were sitting at our parents house in Alabama when Maria said to Nicole, “You know, we’ve just really let ourselves go!” Looking at their lackluster clothes, the bags under their eyes from sleepless nights with kids, full-time jobs, household responsibilities, hair unkempt….everything seemed to lack attention. “We’ve gotta do better than this.” At that very moment, Nicole picked up her phone and went surfing for one thing online: jewelry. She needed something to give her her sparkle back. What better way to make yourself feel better than a fun, sparkly piece of new jewelry? that’s when the idea for this business hit her. If I feel like this, surely other women do, too.
Prior experience helps tremendously:
When Nicole was in school at Auburn University at Montgomery, she worked for an outstanding lady named Jo Robertson who had a small Hallmark store called “Jo’s Hallmark.” Jo would teach Nicole how to buy inventory for her store – not just cards but all the fun tchotchke’s you also often find in a Hallmark: everything from baubles and earrings to Christmas ornaments and college football items. “Jo had a standard mark-up for everything and she taught me a lot,” Nicole said. “She was very community-minded, she treated her customers like people. She would come and go as she pleased, she had the ability to employ people and those people often stayed there a long time. She had an honest business!” Nicole remembers how she never looked at any customer sideways. How she treated everyone with respect. “I took those lessons with me and it gave me the dream for what I ultimately want Charleigh Rocks to be for other people – a blessing!”
Naming her business:
She was thinking of a lot of names for the business and wanted to incorporate her daughter’s name, “Charleigh,” (since she’s so big on family) but there was already a Charming Charlie brand of jewelry stores in existence and she didn’t want brand confusion. She and her kids had post-it-notes up in the bedroom where they would vision board ideas for names, etc. Then the name finally came to her after talking it over with me: “Charleigh Rocks!” Of course! “Rocks” alluding to jewelry, but also giving the #rockonmomma feel to the brand today, speaking to mothers, women, etc. Two years later, Charleigh Rocks is doing well providing steady income for her household and now not only sells jewelry but also handmade clutches!
Iron Sharpens Iron:
How does she stay on top of her business? Not having ever run a business before, Nicole is an avid reader and consumes a lot of articles and books on running a business. “I will literally read anything for dummies!” She listens to plenty of podcasts, reads lots of blogs pertinent to the jewelry business, connects with other business owners and other people who sew. One friend of hers is a fun accountability partner for her in the world of sewing. “She’ll call me up at midnight saying ‘Eew, oil your machine it sounds horrible!'” Nicole laughed.
CURRENT MARKETING SITUATION
Currently, Charleigh Rocks is doing nicely. Again, she brings in enough to make a nice size car payment every month. Other months she’s pulling in the size of a pretty sweet mortgage. Largely, her marketing efforts have been focused on social media to date (no social media advertising yet). They have over 800 followers on Facebook, over 3,000 on Instagram (with good engagement) and just recently joined Twitter last month – now with 200 followers and growing. She’s never really done emails to her audience before, so of course that was our number one recommendation. She also had questions about her demographics, scheduling social media posts and planning time for her business, price points, etc. You can read our tips for her below which correspond with Part II of The ADS Entrepreneur Chat with Charleigh Rocks:
GROWING YOUR EMAIL LIST
Your email list is perhaps one of the most important communication tools you have in your digital marketing toolbox. Why? Because everything else changes. Everything else is “rented land,” but your email list is the one thing you own that’s exclusively yours. Facebook changes its algorithms constantly. Long ago when Facebook Business Pages first came out, everybody saw your posts and it was the new hotness! Now you have to pay to incentivize certain audiences see your posts, ads, etc. Your regular posts hardly ever get seen by the vast majority of your followers without considerable effort on your part. Twitter has been questionable lately – it’s hot for certain reasons at the moment, but it could fall off tomorrow for all you know. Same thing with Instagram. Your website can crash and burn, but if you still have your email list (keeping in mind that emails have been around since the aol days), you can still communicate with your customers.
Despite these great reasons to have your own email list and communicate regularly, I am still constantly shocked and amazed by the number of businesses that don’t do this very basic thing. It’s often overlooked, but do not underestimate its power.
For a B2C (Business to Consumer) business like Charleigh Rocks, emails are even more important – those are real sales opportunities for her! According to Experian:
Transactional emails have eight (8) times more opens and clicks than any other type of email and can generate six (6) times more revenue!
You can also see conversion rates as high as 50%, according to eMarketer. This is where I see Nicole seeing the biggest growth at this stage in her business. A few tips:
- Regular Offers: Email your customers offers on a regular basis.
- Blog Posts & Videos: Announce these / include them in your regular communications to customers.
- Frequency: While you’re new at this, shoot for an email once a month to begin with. Then, carefully pay attention to your statistics – open rates, click-throughs, unsubscribes, etc. You’ll start noticing trends to help you figure out what’s right for your clientele in terms of frequency of emails, types of emails they like to receive and respond to, etc.
Email communications are also one of the best ways you have to cultivate your audience. Build deeper relationships, make sales, etc. Don’t miss out on this important opportunity!
DEMOGRAPHICS & TARGET AUDIENCE
Nicole was concerned that she was stuck with one particular demographic: 30-45 yr old African-American women, church-goers, teachers, etc. While she loves her customers, she says she never necessarily designed Charleigh Rocks for one particular demographic. One reason businesses like these often get “stuck” in one demographic is because of the imagery they share. If your imagery is largely of you, and you yourself reflect your customer base, you’ll likely keep attracting people who look like you, share the same values, etc. Additionally, as a new business owner, your audience typically does consist of (at least initially) family and friends. So it’s no surprise that your demographic often looks like you, because this is you!
Targeting, however, doesn’t mean you have to exclude people, but it does mean you can focus your marketing dollars to get a better return on what you do invest.
Focus on the people who can afford to buy from you and who are most likely to buy from you. A few tips:
- Facebook / Instagram Ads: I sincerely encourage Charleigh Rocks to begin using Facebook and Instagram ads. Use your email lists to create custom audiences of customers who’ve recently bought from you. From there, you can create what’s called “look-alike” audiences (potential new customers who “look” just like your current customers in terms of behavior, interests, etc.). The information you’ll find out about the lady who buys from you will be outstanding and quite helpful. Using ads on these platforms will also help you expand your reach – just be sure to start serving up new ads that your new target audience will respond to. How do you know that? See the next bullet:
- Customer / Desired-Customer Research: customer research doesn’t have to be expensive. Try out these ideas:
- Simple Email / In-Person Surveys: Create a simple Survey Monkey email to find out more info about your current customers. Host an event and poll your guests with a simple survey while they’re there. Do this to learn more about where your customer shops, what she likes to do with her free time, the things she likes to do, her biggest issues she’s facing, etc. All of those things will give you clues about how you can both reach and serve her better.
- Focus Groups: Companies can spend 10s to 100s of thousands of dollars on focus group research, but you don’t have to. As a small business owner, just get a group of ladies together that you’re interested in. Pick the ones whom you’d love to be your new buyer and invite a small group of them to coffee one Saturday morning (offer to buy their coffee, of course). Use that time to get to know them better. What are they interested in? What websites are they going to? What kinds of jobs do they have, are they married or single? How old are they? What do they like / not like about your current offerings? Allow them the freedom to be quite honest with you. All of these kinds of questions will also help you start targeting the buyers you really want to expand your customer circle.
- Social Media Demographics Info: take advantage of Facebook Audience Insights, Instagram’s Business Insights and Twitter Data to learn more about your audiences’ behaviors, basic demographic info, location, etc. Every little bit helps. The more you know about your customers, the better you’ll be at targeting them and creating marketing
SCHEDULING SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS
Choose a Saturday morning once a month, sit down at a quiet cafe (sans kids) and schedule out all your social media posts. You can schedule Facebook posts directly from your Facebook page (as I’m sure you know), also from your phone now. Use TweetDeck to help you schedule your Twitter posts (see description below). Still not any great free apps to help you schedule Instagram or LinkedIn, but I’ve included several apps that can help make your life easier here. Here are some of the most fun ones I use myself!
SnapSeed: A professional photographer in Greenville (a good one) recommended this app to me years ago. Do everything from light retouches, vignettes and blurring plus it has all your basic filters for creating several different types of black and white images, etc. Focus in on a subject – all of that. LOVE this one and use it all the time as needed.
Repost: For Instagram – anytime you see some content you’d like to reshare with your audience, use Repost! It gives credit back to your original source, but still allows you to share images and even video that your audience would love (just make sure it also fits with your brand).
Instagram Cleaner: get rid of your those who don’t follow you back! Plus, unfollow inactive accounts, etc. Block followers, whitelist followers, etc.
Giant Square App: I use this one for Instagram when I want to make a big deal out of something. Use it sparingly because too much of it can be annoying to your followers, but it definitely makes a GIANT impression.
Crowdfire: This one is constantly getting refined (often getting declined functionality from Instagram), but it can be great for new Twitter users like Charleigh Rocks. It helps you find relevant content to post, helps you identify your competitors, get good engagement, etc. It even gets you prescriptions for the day. Outstanding for beginners just getting used to Twitter.
Grids App: This is a new one I just discovered and I’m in LOVE with it already!! If you’ve ever tried to use Instagram on your laptop, you know how extremely difficult that is – very limited functionality, you can’t post from there, etc. This. App. Fixes. ALL. of that. Do it!!
PLANNING MARKETING TIME FOR YOUR BUSINESS: Promotions, Sales, etc.
Nicole has so much going on that she misses important marketing opportunities: summer sales, etc. The answer? PLANNING DAYS!!!! Do this right now:
- Write down your whole year on a sheet of paper – every month left in the year, June through December.
- Look up all the upcoming holidays:
- Memorial Day coming up at the end of this month
- Father’s Day next month
- 4th of July
- Labor Day in September (*NOTE: This is also a great month to start planning for the holidays!)
- Important stats: 40% of holiday shoppers begin their shopping before Halloween? Another 40% wait until November and 15% don’t start until the 1st 2 weeks of December. (We think the other 5% must be men…ha!).
- Jewelry buyers for costume jewelry and handmade purses like Charleigh Rocks sells can afford to buy these products without any research or planning. No heavy decision-making involved here. So Charleigh Rocks customers are likely to purchase in the November / December crowd. Start with your coupon codes for your more expensive items early on followed by free-shipping promotions and other offers around Black Friday.
- Veterans Day and Thanksgiving in November (not to mention Black Friday and Cyber Monday)
- Christmas in December (don’t forget your post holiday sales!)
Think about what months you want to offer special promotions or have new products to offer. Set aside one Saturday morning a month to plan. Get away from your kids, go to a cafe where no one will bother you and think through your month. (Don’t confuse this Saturday morning with your social media scheduling Saturday morning, this is separate business!).
Nicole often struggles with thinking of pricing more for her products. “I have a fear of making money because it makes you look greedy!” Nicole says.
“This is not a hobby, this is a business. Hobbies cost money, businesses make money. I know that. I have a responsibility to make money for my family and potentially employees, but I’m so cheap!”
We get it Nicole, we get it. But, like it or not, price is still a big indicator of quality for a lot of consumers. You also have to consider the time you take (along with the resources you invest) to create a product. If you spend 3 hours to create a purse (not to mention the time you take to shop for the fabric, zippers and other materials), and only charge $25 for it, you’re barely making minimum wage! Give yourself a little bit more credit I tell Charleigh Rocks. Handmade items can and do sell for much more.
Do competitive pricing: Do a little Etsy research just to get a feel for what others are charging for their handmade items, as well as other comparable items a consumer could purchase online. Poll your audience – what would they pay for this kind of purse, knowing that it was handmade, the kind of material it is, etc.? Your customers can really help you with this. Online research and customer research – do that and you’ll get a better feel for what the market can bear out there (even if you yourself are a cheapskate).
INSPIRATIONAL STORIES FOR CHARLEIGH ROCKS
We can always learn something from other businesses in our field who are already experiencing some great success. Here are some highly recommended businesses (along with corresponding Podcasts / videos sharing their story) that I think Charleigh Rocks and other jewelry / handmade businesses should listen to:
Kate Spade: Kate and Andy met young and were both in the fashion and creative industries, respectively. Kate was actually fairly conservative and didn’t want to go into any debt. Without Andy’s urging, Kate Spade as we know it might not exist!
Kendra Scott: beautiful jewelry line – a bit higher-end than Charleigh Rocks, but still a good story to listen to. Kendra dropped out of college to help take care of her step-father who had cancer. Her first business was a brick-and-mortar, retail “Hat Box” shop that completely flopped. She blew her entire $20K for college on this place and it failed. The story of how she taught herself how to make jewelry (her fashion and creative flair inspired by her aunt as a young child) is fascinating! With just $500 and a newborn on her hip, she got her first stores in Austin, TX to carry her jewelry. They kept asking for more and she ultimately ended up getting some big buyers like Neiman Marcus! Fascinating!
Sara Blakely: did you know that the Oprah-touched Spanx is Atlanta-based? Headquartered right here in the A, Sara originally was going to be a lawyer but couldn’t pass the bar. She ended up selling fax machines / printers, something like that, and then found herself having to wear hosiery everyday back in the 90s. The story of how she started convincing manufacturers to make hosiery-based shapers as undergarments for women is awesome and inspiring! Check it out, ladies.
Tree Change Dolls: Australian-based Tree Change Dolls got a lot of attention a few years back for converting Bratz dolls into more natural, realistic looking little girls – sending a loud and clear message to manufacturers of dolls and making a statement about our beauty standards and how we’re training our daughters and little girls to think of beauty. She handmakes these and her mother crochets the clothing the dolls wear. Because each doll is unique and not mass-produced (hint, hint Charleigh Rocks), every doll is auctioned off. Highest bidder wins! And her dolls pricing…..you won’t believe what they end up going for. Phenomenal!!
If you liked these tips, be sure to join us June 13th for our next Facebook LIVE Event: ADS Chat: How to do PR with Ernie Suggs, top Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter, who will be schooling us on the best tips for PR for your business. (If you’ve ever written a “press release” and tried to pitch it to every single publication and news outlet in the city, you need to hear this).
What tips do you have for Charleigh Rocks? Anything you love that’s worked for you? Thanks for checking this out and see you next time!