Ready to take your maker business to the next level?

Learn a few lessons from Ashley Schenkein. She runs the highly successful Ashley Schenkein Jewelry Design. This maker sells her work at her studio in Denver, in shops across Colorado and California, and on her online store at Schenkein amasses thousands of likes on her beautiful and simple jewelry, which sells at competitive price points.

I sat down with Ashley for an interview, and gleaned five tips from her rise from conventional day job to designer extraordinaire.

1. Trust yourself.

From Ashley Schenkein Jewelry Design’s Kyoto Collection

Nobody is going to show up and say “You are now a real artist!”

You become an artist (or maker, or anything else) by deciding you want to be and committing to the work it takes to make your vision a reality.

Schenkein states, “I started making jewelry on a whim. I was always fascinated with jewelry and stones, but I didn’t think I had a creative bone in my body. I was a Spanish medical interpreter at the time.”

“I made my first sale by chatting with a jewelry buyer trying to sell her on my jewelry designs before I had actually made a single piece of jewelry. This was pretty uncharacteristic of me, but I figured I didn’t have anything to lose.”

“The jewelry buyer was interested in seeing my work, so I went home to make my very first pieces, a few beading and wire wrapping designs. After returning with my debut ‘collection’, that buyer proved to be my first customer. This experience gave me the confidence to tap into my creativity and see what I might design giving myself total creative freedom, and that passion I developed for designing jewelry is what led me to start a business.”

Schenkein deeply trusted in her vision, and still does. That’s part of why she’s successful.

2. Invest in yourself.

Schenkein took the time to develop her craft, and invest in her business. From her Havana Collection.

Whether it’s by improving your craft by taking classes or laying the foundation for growth with some well-planned short term debt, those investments in your skills and your business will help you achieve your goals more quickly.

Schenkein notes:

“ I realized that my ideas were well beyond my skill set, so I began taking metal smithing, stone setting and lost wax casting classes. This took me to San Francisco and then to Ecuador where I did an apprenticeship and later to Buenos Aires where I attended a jewelry school, which also allowed me to utilize my degree (or one of them), which was Spanish.”

In addition to expanding her creative skillset, Schenkein invested in her business by hiring people to help her scale.

“I hired my first employee while I was still working from home because I realized I could’t scale without the additional production help.”

Moreover, this investment may be a loan backed by a business plan. Not applying for a loan was one of Ashley’s biggest regrets.

Looking back I wish I had taken on more risk (financially or otherwise) sooner, with a plan in place of course. I think I could have gotten out of some of the beginning stages sooner than later had I done this.

3. Learn from those who have gone before.

Photo from Schenkein’s Bridal Party Lookbook.

There’s no better place to look for inspiration and help than from other people who have started businesses, in your field or out of it. Most are happy to help, so just ask!

“I always recommend that people wanting to start a business reach out and talk to entrepreneurs, people in your field, etc. to ask A LOT of questions. People are amazingly willing to share a lot of information and can be very helpful especially in the early years. My dad, who was also an entrepreneur, gave me a reality check on how long it takes to be come successful, which was very enlightening and humbling.”

4. Know the difference between working on your art and working on your business.

Pieces from Ashley’s Melrose and Telluride Collections.

Both of them require dedication and creativity, but not everybody wants to do both.

Schenkein observes:

“As an artist, I think it is always important to ask yourself if you want to run a business and have your art as the vehicle or if you truly want to just create your art. The truth is that a lot of what you will be doing is running a business and your art becomes less of what you do in which case it is important to think long and hard about what you enjoy and what your goals are so you don’t end up with a very expensive hobby. I look at running a business as a creative endeavor in a lot of aspects as well. If you don’t want to be running a business, then I would either keep it as a hobby or find a good business partner who balances you out. I feel lucky in that I truly love both the design and running a business.”

A partner, mastermind group, or mentor can help you out of the business side isn’t where your natural skills or passion are.

For Schenkein, this partner was her father who was a successful entrepreneur.

“My dad, who was also an entrepreneur, gave me a reality check on how long it takes to be come successful, which was very enlightening and humbling.”

From there the designer started focusing on the long-term growth of her business, as well as its creative elements, allowing her to scale and become successful.

5. Save time for yourself.

From Ashley’s Salvador Collection.

Starting a business and keeping it alive is a marathon, not a sprint.

Make sure you have a way of relieving your stress and renewing your energy, and set clear boundaries to keep your work from taking over your whole life.

Schenkein notes:

Having work/life separation is very important and something I still have to work on as an entrepreneur.

For her, this meant separating her home from her office.

I knew it was time to lease an office space when I realized my home was no longer my home.

Ashley and I hope this article hopes take your creative business to new heights.

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