How I Started A $5K/Month Side Hustle Selling Custom Word Necklaces

Published: March 12th, 2020
Aziza Browne
Founder, Aziza Jewelry
Aziza Jewelry
from Asheville, North Carolina, USA
started December 2003
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi there! My name is Aziza and I am the founder of Aziza Jewelry. Some of my most well-known pieces include my colorful gemstone hoop earrings and Mother-Daughter Earring Sets. My Mother-Daughter Earring Sets have become quite popular lately as a gift that men have been purchasing for the women in their lives as “Push Presents” (gifts for a new mom just after giving birth).

Originally, I started making the mother-daughter earring sets after a customer requested a matching pair of heart earrings for herself and her mom to go along with their matching tattoos. I absolutely loved that concept and began making them available for sale because I thought the matching mother-daughter earrings were a great way to cement the already special bond between a mother and daughter.

Mother-Daughter Heart Earrings

My most popular sellers are definitely my custom name necklaces. Many of my customers are moms of kids with unique names who want their child to have a keepsake necklace. Other customers will request a word or name necklace that's of special importance to them or the name of a loved one or pet that they want to memorialize.

My classic custom gold name necklace

I have also received requests for names or words in a customer’s native language and in alphabets other than English, like this Thai name necklace below.

Thai name necklace

Currently, my jewelry business makes about $5000/mo in revenue.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I first started making jewelry as a hobby when I was a little girl. My very rudimentary jewelry somehow became popular with family and older friends of the family and they actually bought some of my early jewelry pieces believe it or not! From childhood, I was always very encouraged to continue with my art.

I attended art schools for most of my life and I intended to study jewelry design in college, however, once I started taking jewelry design classes, the program didn't appeal to me, so I chose to study ceramics instead. After college, though, I resumed my love of jewelry design by taking several types of different classes at various art studios in NYC. I studied all types of jewelry making techniques from glass bead-making to metalsmithing to working with PMC (precious metal clay). After graduating from college, I took about 10 different types of jewelry making classes over the years.

After making connections at a glass bead making studio, called Urban Glass, I gained enough confidence in my designs that I was able to start selling some of my early glass bead jewelry at the Shop at Urban Glass.

Once my pieces began selling regularly there, I reached out to more stores, and eventually, I began selling at various mom and pop shops throughout NYC and at craft shows and street fairs as well. At the time I also had a full-time job at MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art) in NYC, while I was developing and growing my business.

I did fairly well at the craft shows and street fairs and I often had repeat local customers purchase from me at multiple shows.

Eventually, I began selling my jewelry online and was interviewed on a local TV news station for a show called the Working Woman's Report and I began to receive other valuable press in magazines and online blog posts which helped me gain exposure and loyal customers that continue to purchase from me year after year.

Feature in the Santa Barbara News-Press

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

I design and make all of my jewelry myself in my home studio, hence the name “Aziza Jewelry.” Funny, quick side story: during the early days of selling my jewelry professionally when I was still working at MoMA, a co-worker/friend of mine is the one who came up with the name, Aziza Jewelry. She often purchased pieces from me and one day at work, she complimented some new earrings I was wearing and remarked: “I need to get some more Aziza Jewelry soon”. Hence the name “Aziza Jewelry” was born. Ha!

My brand has transitioned over the years from glass bead jewelry to inspirational word necklaces and bracelets and crystal jewelry. I love making inspirational jewelry to uplift and inspire others. I think jewelry should be pretty to look at and make you feel good, so I try to incorporate a little bit of both into my pieces.

In the early days of taking classes and designing my pieces, I had a very low income at my job at the MoMA so I wasn't able to save a lot of money to invest in my business, but when I began taking classes at Urban Glass, I found out about scholarship programs through connections I made there, as well as through NYFA (the New York Foundation for the Arts). Through these connections, I was able to take business development classes either for free or at a very low cost. I took classes on SEO, marketing, social media and I was also able to get free business counseling. I also learned about opportunities to do craft shows for low cost or for free that normally would cost several hundred dollars to participate in.

One particularly important lesson I’ve learned over the years is not to spend on advertising without first making sure the product is selling at a reasonably successful rate.

One amazing grant I received early on was through eBay which allowed me to purchase my very first laptop. That was a particularly invaluable resource because prior to that I did not have regular access to a computer. That laptop allowed me to begin the process of selling my jewelry online, developing an online presence and managing my online business. I also received other smaller grants through other organizations which allowed me to purchase some of the early materials and supplies for my business. This also helped me to purchase enough materials early on to expand to wholesaling.

One of my earliest craft shows

Describe the process of launching the business.

I didn't really have an initial “business launch”. After building the confidence in my skills, designs and having saved up enough funding, I began selling my jewelry at craft shows throughout NYC. I also began to slowly approach local mom and pop businesses in my neighborhood in Brooklyn Heights as well as a few stores in NYC.

After landing a few of these wholesale accounts, one day at a craft show, a customer approached my table and asked if I was Aziza. It turns out she had purchased some of my pieces at a local store that was carrying my jewelry. After this chance encounter, and wanting to offer loyal customers the opportunity to shop regularly with me, I launched my business online. I received some start-up funding through small business owners grant through eBay and another smaller business grant through a smaller private organization. I found out about these grants through some connections I had previously made in my industry. I also funded my business as I grew, purchasing inventory as needed through credit cards.

If there’s one thing I can recommend above all others, to anyone new in business, is to make connections in your industry. Whether it's attending events or even doing volunteer work in your industry or internships or apprenticeships, making these kinds of connections was very important for the establishment of my business early on.

As a solopreneur, I have found that being a part of an online community has really helped me. Being a part of mastermind groups and having other entrepreneurs to help hold me accountable has helped me over the years as well as creating a daily/weekly and monthly schedule.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

In order to attract and retain customers, I use Instagram and Facebook to market my jewelry brand. I also have an email newsletter that I send out and I have been able to get quite a few features in blog posts including the HuffPost, I was featured on local tv when I lived in NYC and I have been featured in a few smaller publications including magazines.

Believe it or not, one of the biggest brands to feature me was actually Netflix, who custom ordered a custom name necklace from me of the word Netflix. They even featured me on their Instagram page.

The Netflix name necklace

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

I currently sell my jewelry on Etsy and Amazon. A few brick and mortar stores and wineries also carry my jewelry. Now that I've been selling online for several years, I would say about 75% of my sales occur online and the other 25% of my orders come from wholesale accounts that carry my jewelry.

Since I am a one-woman operation, selling online works best for me and my personality at the moment. I do not have any plans to expand to a brick and mortar store. I’m currently working towards expanding to additional wholesale channels and expanding my wholesale market to get my jewelry into more stores.

In the past, I have found that spending on advertising in my business has not been profitable and has brought in very little traffic, and almost no sales, so I choose to continue to market my jewelry through SEO, email marketing, social media and word of mouth, which has worked very well for me. Maintaining relationships with repeat customers is very important to me, so I use social media very intentionally and I really enjoy connecting with loyal customers on one through various social media outlets and through email. I don't just post about my jewelry, that would get boring very quickly, so I also post a little about my personal life and allow my customers into behind the scenes and some of the jewelry making processes of some of my popular pieces.

The jewelry-making process

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Through the process of starting my business, I learned not to invest too much money developing multiples of the same products without trying them out in the marketplace first to see what will sell. In other words, purchase enough materials for samples first, then make a few, and see how they sell, then re-order more of the same materials if they do well. I’ve also learned not to spend on advertising without first making sure the product is selling at a reasonably successful rate.

Some huge mistakes I made early on, were when I initially maxed out credit cards by overspending on supplies for designs that would not sell, creating multiples of designs that did not sell well without first testing them, and when I first started out participating in larger craft shows and I overspent on credit card processing fees in order to accept credit card payments in-person.

On the flip side, some good decisions I made were to use social media for marketing including Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and a blog to host jewelry giveaways, give away jewelry care tips, styling tips, and share my jewelry expertise with potential customers. Using social media to market my brand has also helped me connect with other business owners and artists/makers. I've gained many loyal followers over the years through the use of social media.

Another good decision I made was to invest in myself fairly early on by spending money on courses to learn about SEO, marketing and developing a success mindset. Over the years I have also paid for one on one business coaching. I still pay for business coaching to this day and it's been a great investment that has repaid for itself many times over.

As a solopreneur, I am the only one working on my business and usually the only one motivating myself so I have found that being a part of an online community has really helped me. Being a part of mastermind groups and having other entrepreneurs to hold me accountable has helped me over the years as well as creating a daily/weekly and monthly schedule. Since my business fluctuates depending on how many regular orders I receive, sticking to a daily schedule is something I still struggle with today.

I have faced a lot of challenges within my business over the years. Working from home, it's important to have a stable home environment and unfortunately, my business has faced numerous challenges over the years like being blindsided by a hurricane, having to completely uproot myself and my business to another city, and then after moving to a brand new apartment, finding out that I was living in a mold-ridden apartment for several months in a new building due to poor construction. So having to move myself and my business unexpectedly many times over, have been some of the biggest challenges that I've been blindsided by.

The last time I had to move which was because of the mold-ridden apartment incident caused me to get very sick, and lose a lot of income and once again I had to up-root my business to a new location. During these times I have been grateful to have strong faith, as I have relied heavily on my faith to get me through both of these very difficult times which threatened not just the operation of my business, but also my personal safety and wellbeing. I’ve learned through all of this how-to budget differently and to plan as best as possible for emergency situations or things out of my control.

On the positive side, forces out of my control that helped my business were; getting featured on Netflix’s Instagram page, getting featured on tv, in various magazines, in the Santa Barbara News-Press, HuffPost and in countless other blogs that have brought a huge influx of traffic to my website.

Habits that have helped me over the years are keeping a positive mindset, maintaining an exercise routine and reading about and listening to other inspiring entrepreneurs' stories.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I use the google keywords tool to update my search engine optimization. I also use The Productivity Planner by Intelligent Change to help me plan out my tasks for the day.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Books, podcasts and Youtube channels that have inspired my business are Start With Why by Simon Sinek, as it really helped me to continually think about why I am in business, long term goals and how to use my business as a tool to accomplish my life goals and Build an Empire by Elena Cardone. I also enjoy listening to the Etsy Conversations podcast, which has interviewed many successful Etsy sellers, the London Real podcast, the Merriweather Council Podcast,...

Some Youtube channels I follow regularly are Marie TV, Alex Ikonn and Mimi Ikonn, Robin Sharma, and ET- the Hip Hop Preacher.

Other invaluable resources are the many Facebook groups that I participate in. Through these outlets, I have learned about business resources, wholesale opportunities, other selling platforms, social media tips, marketing tips and more. I have also found out about countless opportunities for growth and expansion from my Facebook groups alone.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

My biggest tip is to join a community of like-minded people for support, whether its an in-person group or online community. I have found out about countless opportunities for my business through the Facebook groups I am in and through in-person business conferences, meetups, classes and crafting circles, and mastermind groups I have attended.

Through these groups, I have also found out about opportunities to take free classes and receive scholarships and You can find out about opportunities that are not available to the general public by joining specialized groups in your field and through organization memberships in your field.

Over the years, I have surrounded myself with a tribe of like-minded folks who are also in business for themselves which has really helped to encourage me and keep me motivated when things get challenging.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!