Once upon a time, in a land far up north, 2 desperately cold Canadians boarded a plane and traded in the snow for 2 weeks at a resort in Freeport, Bahamas. Every morning they wandered across the road to the local marina for coffee. They looked at the boats bobbing in the blue water. They saw boats with flags from all over the world. A light bulb went off in his head.
“We should buy a boat and sail down here”, he said. “Yes dear” she replied, patting him on the head, thinking it would pass.
Back up north, while driving through the countryside he spied IT. He looked, and waited and then bought IT, the first boat, a rugged little dinghy that was a perfect learning boat. He knew something about sailing, she bought a book. Every weekend they trailered it to local lakes, rigged it up and floated around. It was nicknamed Nuka Hiva, after an island in the Marquesas.
“One day we’ll sail our boat there”, he said. “Yes dear”, she replied, patting him on the head, thinking it would pass.
The trouble with sailing in the frozen north is that it’s just that – frozen for most of the year.
“Let’s buy a bigger boat and sail in the warm blue water”, he said.
She looked outside at the greyness and thought of sunshine and bright colours. She remembered how much fun it is to float gently on the water.
Sailorgirl was born.
Sailorgirl now needed to find a way to make a cruising lifestyle possible before retirement.
We bought a small sailboat and we kept it in Florida. When we could escape to our boat we walked along many beaches picking up shells and beach treasures. Soon our little boat was full and it was requested that I not pick up any more.
“But I need them!”
“No. What are you going to do with all of these?”
“Um…. I’ll make jewelry out of them!”
So I went out and bought pliers and turned the shells into jewelry. Shells are beautiful but not very brightly coloured so I bought some glass beads. Soon my inner magpie took over and my obsession with glass beads had begun.
One day I walked into a bead store (Beadfx.com) and for the first time saw handmade glass beads being made. I immediately signed up for the class. When I sat down at the torch it wasn’t so much a light going off as a big stick hitting me in the head with a message, “this is what you’re meant to do, play with hot liquid glass”. I’ve found it’s wise to obey big sticks with messages.
Sailorgirl now had an idea of how to make a seasonal living, craft shows!
In 2004 I dragged my laundry table out of my basement, covered it with a bright blue tablecloth and carefully placed my first pieces of jewelry on display. It was a beautiful sunny day, people loved my jewelry and I loved them and the whole experience. This was the very humble beginning of Sailorgirl Jewelry, (shameless self-promotion here) my company where I make and sell handmade glass jewelry.
My company is a little different in that it is a “lifestyle business”. 8 months a year I make glass beads and jewelry and sell at craft shows and online. The other 4 months I live on my sailboat in Florida/Bahamas. My online business is open year round. I’m a huge believer in creating the life you want and defining your own success.
In a previous life I worked at a software development start up that began as me and my boss in his living room, when I left it was at 80 employees. It was really fun at the beginning, and then it was not. Life is too short to spend time doing things that aren’t fun so I quit that job in 2001 to forge my own path.
With my background in the start up I thought that starting a jewelry business would be easy, after all, I knew about business. I was wrong. What I discovered is that selling work that you have made is far different than selling a product like software. Selling a product is just that, it’s a product. Selling handmade is about selling me, the artist, the creator, I am as much a part of the product as my jewelry is. Selling handmade is about selling a story. Fortunately I have a story, now I just had to communicate it to my people. Communicating what you do is marketing The beginning of Sailorgirl Jewelry was not without challenges. I was learning flamework. I was learning how to design and make jewelry. I was learning how to sail. I was learning how to live on a sailboat. I was learning how to sell my own work. I was learning how to run a microbusiness. There were a lot of sleepless nights and bad words said.
From the beginning I have opted to sell only at shows and online. I briefly flirted with wholesale however I couldn’t reconcile how that would work with my lifestyle. I refuse to do consignment for many reasons. The craft show season dovetails perfectly with my lifestyle. In a typical year I sell at 11 – 15 shows. Most of these are summer shows, outdoors in a tent. I take a bit of a break in the fall and then do a couple of large holiday shows. Then I pack it all up and hit the road.
As I was starting up the world around me was a changing landscape. When I began neither Facebook nor Etsy existed. People were only just beginning to sell online and blogs were few and far between. I coded my first website by learning HTML and using a notepad. People were leery of shopping online. For the first 5 or 6 years I simply hung a “Gone Sailing” sign on my website during the winter.
I have had a website from the beginning, as I already had a website called Sailorgirl where I published my writing about cruising. For the jewelry I added a small section with my craft show list and a few photos. Over the last decade being online has become a necessity for any business to survive. Every single person or business absolutely must have a website, even if it’s only a portfolio and contact information. I tried Etsy, it didn’t work for me, instead I have my own site on Shopify along with a WordPress blog and social media. I admit, I’m not the best at maintaining all of this but at least it’s there.
Technology has made my lifestyle a possibility in ways that I never could have predicted. I have an assistant in Canada who ships my work. I’m able to sit on my boat down south, read my email and forward orders to her. She ships them out, and the money is in my bank account! How awesome is that? I send a monthly newsletter to my list subscribers and do the social media from where ever I am.
While this sounds simple it is anything but. A business like mine requires a LOT of organization. I live by my planner and to do lists. When I finish my last huge craft show on December 1 (11 days, 12 hours a day) all my fellow exhibitors will be heading for their couch for a well deserved rest. I will be heading to the studio the next day to make enough inventory to cover 5 months of online sales. All of this has to be made, tagged and inventoried. There must be new items made and photo’d for next season so that the site remains fresh. Show applications for next season have to be sent in. My shipping process has to be documented so that I can hand it off to my assistant. She has to have enough shipping supplies for the winter, which must be bought. The list can sometimes seem endless.
Many of my non-crafty friends bemoan my lack of free time in the summer here in Canada. I can’t go to their cottage on the weekend because I’m at a show. I can’t go out for dinner during the week because I’m torching as I have a show coming up. I miss a lot of events due to my schedule (as does everyone on the show circuit). However I will be snorkeling for the entire month of March and during the summer I get to spend my days melting glass and making wearable art. How awesome is that?