by Demetria Irwin
Making a living from selling handmade items crafted at home conjures up images of early 20th century women sewing dresses, slacks, aprons and other goods for their fellow working class neighbors. In today’s world of dollar stores and outsourced labor that allows for rock bottom prices at nationwide retailers, there doesn’t seem to be a space for those who seek to earn a living making items that can be found anywhere and at lower prices.
However, the women behind these four handmade jewelry businesses show how to make a home-based business model work. They have a couple things in common. They all rely on the internet for free marketing and they all have three digit numbers for the amount of items sold per month. Beyond that, they each offer something unique and that is the key to having a successful home-based business. Sure, you can get earrings from anywhere, but do they look like this?
Business Name: Sarenzo Beads
Founder: Sarah Elliot
Day Job: Cosmetology Student
Wares: Earrings, Bracelets, Hair Accessories
Price Range: $10-$30
Business Fact: Sarenzo Beads sold 500 items at an arts and crafts show in Baltimore.
Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs:
“Start small. Have a $5 or $10 per paycheck habit. Put that money towards buying supplies every week and stick to your budget. You’ll start to build your business on those $10 trips. You’re not breaking the bank and it gives you the opportunity to see if it’s for you.”
The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes, boredom can be that motherly figure too. While living in a semi-rural Virginia community nine years ago, Elliot and her husband would make frequent trips to the area’s only sign of life, a Walmart, to buy boredom busting products like puzzles and games. One day she picked up a beading kit and, not too long after that, Sarenzo Beads was born.
It started out small and simple. Elliot and her husband (the name Sarenzo is a mash-up of Sarah and Lorenzo) would make beaded earrings and their friends and co-workers would buy them. As demand grew and they started getting orders from people they didn’t know personally, they expanded the line, which now includes bracelets and most recently hair accessories. “Wood is my signature. I sell a lot of wood pieces. My hair ties are probably my most popular item. They are small, durable and easy to use,” said Elliot.
In 2009, Elliot was able to get a website designed for her in exchange for a few custom pieces. Since then, her website, along with her Twitter account and arts & crafts shows are her main channels for marketing and selling. “Shows have been great for us, but they do take a lot of preparation,” she said. “If I sell five of something online, I might sell a couple hundred of that same thing at a show. I have to do my research, know what kind of buyers will likely be there and make things they’ll like,” Elliot said of her recent decision to begin selling her work at special fairs and events.
Though Elliot is a cosmetology student and her husband is in culinary school and their son and daughter ages seven and six are both high-functioning autistic children, Sarenzo Beads still manages to produce between 150 to 200 pieces per month on average. Everything is done by hand out of the Elliots’ home in Virginia. Already a third Elliot is helping out. Their daughter designed the autism earrings on the site, which are silver circles with a puzzle piece in the middle. A portion of the proceeds from those sales as well as the sales from an upcoming line from her “Baby Girl” (as her mother affectionately calls her) are donated to the classroom that handles autistic children in her area to help them with supplies.
Elliot says she is able to offer her handmade work for such low prices because she buys in bulk whenever possible and she recycles. If an item doesn’t sell after a couple months, she takes it apart and uses the parts to make a new piece.
Jewelry is not the final stop for the now 31-year-old. Elliot–who was accepted to the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York years ago, but didn’t go because her parents forbade it—has been working on a line of pocketbooks and she just bought a sewing machine.