Beth Lawrence is the jewelry designer and maker behind Freshie & Zero, a handmade jewelry company that sells online retail and wholesale. In this interview, she discusses how she grew from a one-woman artist at craft shows to scaling to wholesale, while keeping her brand personal and filled with personality.
Beth Lawrence has been making jewelry for a long time. While other children had lemonade stands, Beth walked up and down her neighborhood streets selling homemade jewelry at the age of ten.
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur.”
She graduated college with an art degree and says she didn’t make jewelry for years. But just after September 11th, 2001, she was laid off.
“But I knew how to make jewelry, so I did that on the side - because I was broke. I did a lot of upcycling of old jewelry, like unpaired earrings that I’d turn into pendants. Big, colorful, not at all what I’m making now.”
Each piece was one-of-a-kind, and she found herself spending a lot of time sourcing vintage components. It was a business model that wasn’t paying off.
“I knew I wanted to take jewelry in a direction where I could resell it and not make a brand new piece every time. I was spending so much time in antique stores and on ebay. It wasn’t sustainable!
"I started hammering wire. And I loved it. And it was something I could reuse.”
She began setting up booths at craft shows.
“I can’t believe people bought what I made, because it was so bad. Hammered to death. Bad wire wrapping. But we all start somewhere.”
Beth says it was the best way to learn what people wanted, what they were drawn to, what styles resonated and who her target clients really were.
“Over time I got better and listened to what people liked and built my line on what people wanted to buy. Then I started doing wholesale, which is where I wanted to be.”
Her style changed. Her business model changed. And in 2006, she felt that it was time to change her brand to reflect her business’s evolution. Freshie had always been her nickname, so she says she went from “Freshie designs (everybody starts out as ‘something designs’!)” to Freshie & Zero, after her dog. It was “way more original,” she says, and also marked her departure from the beaded vintage styles she had been making.
Finding inspiration in the cracks
“Since I’m always running around, when I do shows, that’s when I have time to sketch out ideas. Because I’m standing in a tent, without my computer, with nothing else to do! And it’s nice because I can see everything out all at once. In the shop, it’s all in packages getting ready to ship out.”
Of course, in any business, things don’t always go according to plan. But for Beth, those are opportunities to find creative solutions.
“The other half of my inspiration - oh, look at this piece I broke! Let’s see what we can do with that. A lot of my favorite pieces come out of something that broke and putting two pieces together. As my skills have gotten better, it’s gotten more angular and more refined, but I still sell a lot of circles and things I think that are more edgy.”
Going pro while staying personal
Another challenge that came with growing Beth’s one-woman business was figuring out how to do marketing that still felt like her.
“Before I had children, I used to blog a ton, so it’s always been my voice. Sassy, blunt. Yes I’m a business, but I’m still a person and a crafter, and a crafter with a professional business. I don’t call myself an artist or a jeweller. I don’t know what I am. But I take my voice and put it into the posts."
It’s one job she hasn’t had much luck outsourcing.
“I had a marketing girl for a while and she’d write content for me, but it sounded like glamour magazine, not like a person wrote it. I always try to keep it personal and personable, which isn’t always easy.”
When it comes to social media posts, the creative well can run dry. But instead of pounding out uninspired, uninteresting social blasts to stay ‘on schedule,’ Beth waits. If she can’t say anything more compelling than “Hey, we have a new necklace!” she doesn’t post, sometimes for several days. It keeps the quality of her posts, and her engagement with her loyal customers, high.
“I don’t want to post just for the sake of posting. I’d rather have someone not hear from me for a week than see three blog posts they don’t care about. At the end of the day, I am selling jewelry, so there is a balance of ‘here’s my product’ and ‘here’s what we did today that was kind of funny,’ or posting hammering videos. People love those.”
Blogging and keeping up with social media not only makes sense for differentiating her business for her wholesale clients, but she meets most of those in person at trade shows. But keeping her website content fresh also serves to attract retail customers - something Beth is looking to do more of.
“Now we’re writing blog posts on what to wear, how to accessorize for going back to school or a festival, so it’s focused on handmade. I feature other small businesses sometimes too.”
Visually speaking, branding on her website and social media is feminine, floral and girly—which creates a nice juxtaposition next to her minimalist geometric designs.
“Every third photo is a jewelry photo. I look at what people like, they like pictures of jewelry more than pictures of models, but I like to use those too. I get to work with people who are very talented at taking pictures of models and jewelry, so I’ve got a good crew of people I’ve found that I stick with.”
The decision to have her jewelry professionally photographed has had some interesting unforeseen consequences.
“When it used to look more DIY, I used to get strangers who would email me and say ‘I love your business, could you give me some advice? Please help me with my small business!’ Now that my look is so much more professional, I never get that anymore. I used to get those almost daily, and you want to answer all of them, but I just didn’t have enough time.”
Beth says she tried to do her own photography in the beginning, “and the pictures were fine, but it was obvious that I did it myself and I took pictures of my friends.” Investing in a professional made a big difference.
“When I hired a photographer, a model and hair and makeup person, it was clear - this is so much more professional and so worth it.”
For attracting wholesale clients at trade shows, taking that extra step to look polished pays off. Beth uses her professional product photography and models in printed catalogues to hand out.
Taking the leap: hiring for a creative business
Beth flew solo in her business for a long time, but as demand grew and wholesale connections were made, she needed help. She says the biggest hurdle for her was getting over her own fear.
“I was exhausted, I knew I needed help, but my fear was that I’d hire someone and they’d take my designs and my ideas and open their own business.”
That hasn’t happened.
“I think after working for me, nobody wants to start their own business! It’s a lot of work!”
What did happen was this:
“When I finally hired someone, the heavens parted and my stress level got better and I was like ‘why haven’t i done this before?!’ She worked with me for four years, and then I hired another person, and slowly as production has gotten busier, I’ve hired more people.
It’s not easy to manage people and manage everything else. But you get used to turnover, and it’s hard, and interviewing and hiring is maybe the hardest part.”
With new hires came new responsibilities. Beth says “maintaining people and making it a place people don’t want to leave” is part of her job description now.
“I’ve been lucky. I’m still friends with everyone who’s worked here. But it’s a part time creative job and people are creative and they have their side stuff. Which is cool. I want people to come here and get inspired and learn. One just opened her own store. It’s like a tiny incubator for people if that’s their goal. I try to keep an encouraging environment.”
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Beth’s best advice for creative business owners looking to grow
When asked what advice Beth would give crafters just beginning to build their businesses, she had three tips to offer.
The first: Get help.
“Whenever I talk to people who’ve started and are overwhelmed, my advice is to get help. Get help writing your Etsy listings, or proofreading them even. It’s such a stress relief. When you start a business from scratch, you do it all.”
Second: Do all the shows.
“Do any and all shows and you’ll get feedback. If you’re not making what people are interested in buying, you’re not going to sell anything. If you’re starting a craft career, face to face customer contact is crucial. Do the bad shows, the small shows, the big shows. You’ll learn so much about what works and what doesn’t, and what people love. And it can be a bummer, because you do get attached to things sometimes. But you have to separate from taking it personally.”
Third: Get a ‘nice’ filter.
“If you’re answering your own emails and get a nasty one, have a friend read it for you and help you write a nice response that doesn’t sound offended and angry! It’s good to have a nice filter.”