Jewelry Maker Cherie Somerville Makes Her Living While Living Off the Grid
on July 20, 201708:38 AM Updated July 20, 201708:38 AM - last edited March 18, 202012:54 PMMarch 18, 202012:54 PM by jyothikm
Cherie has been making jewelry for as long as she can remember, but it wasn't until both she and her husband were laid off from their full-time jobs that they decided to take the plunge and turn her life-long hobby into a business.
Now they're living the dream in a remote home they built themselves – completely off the grid and supported 100% by their small business.
We asked Cherie to share more with us about the road to building their business and what she's hoping to learn next!
I've been making jewelry my entire life. When I was 10, my mother started buying me beads and supplies – to stop me from stealing jewelry from the rest of the family! I started selling my creations soon after and can barely remember a time that I wasn’t making some money from my creations.
I run my jewelry business now with my husband, from a home that we built on the border of Arizona and Mexico. We’ve been living off the grid for over 15 years now, gradually making everything ourselves from the ground up.
We like to think of ourselves as homesteaders, in a modern way. It’s very empowering, but it’s also a lot of work. Adjusting to life without modern conveniences or an excess of possessions can take awhile. However, not needing these things means you can rely on earning money in your own way. That’s how we make Elksong Jewelry work for us.
Who was your very first customer? How did you find them?
I learned to do woven bead work when I was 13 or 14 and was connected with the Native American community back in Detroit. So technically, my first customer was someone who bought some of my (seriously underpriced!) work at a Native American festival when I was much younger.
When I started selling my jewelry online, my first customer was the wife of someone I gave one of my new business cards to. She bought several pairs of earrings from my fledgling Etsy shop, which I launched in 2007.
When did you know your business was going to work? What was the exact moment?
About four years ago, both my husband and I got laid off from our full-time jobs. I was making jewelry as a hobby on the side, and we'd been talking about turning it into a viable business for ages, so we just decided to go for it then and there. It felt like fate was pushing us off a cliff.
Now, running this business is all we do. I encourage anyone to pursue making a living from their art, but we've learned that you have to be willing to adjust your lifestyle to get yourself into a lower spending bracket. We’ve been living off the grid for a little over 15 years now and our outgoings are minimal.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after launching Elksong Jewelry?
The biggest surprise and struggle has been the reality of needing to sell online.
I’ve been doing this my whole life, so I’m good at selling face-to-face and out in the real world, but the first few years of selling online were a serious struggle.
There are still a lot of things about marketing, SEO tactics and social media that I still feel frustrated by. I’m a pretty private person, so going online and talking about myself to build a story around my business was, and still is, a huge challenge for me.
How do you price your products?
I price at what I think is fair based on how much I value something. I used an initial pricing structure to come up with a wholesale and retail price. Now that I've used that formula for so long, I have a feel for the materials I use and the time I spend on each piece so that I don’t have to do the math for everything.
There’s an element of pricing that often escapes people for a long time when starting a business – it's what your products are worth. People tend to devalue their products, which often makes potential customers wonder what’s wrong with them.
In my experience, sellers often think that if they don’t undercut all of the competition, they’ll never sell. That’s not necessarily the best tactic. As small business owners, we need more self-confidence!
What does a typical day look like for you?
In the morning. I check on all the different social media channels that I updated the day before and answer emails if people made enquiries about custom work or wholesale.
Then, I tackle the chores. If you live off the land, there’s plenty of them!
After that, I get into the studio at about midday and spend roughly five hours working on pieces and packaging up orders.
In the evenings, I photograph new pieces and put up listings for new items. I also post promotional materials on our social media pages and on our website.
If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you’d do differently when you were starting your business?
I don’t know if I would change anything in terms of making the jewelry itself. It’s always been an intuitive, organic sort of flow. I like to be aware of what’s happening and what’s popular, but I don’t let trends control my designs.
If there’s anything I would have done differently, it would be creating more structure around my business. I’d make sure I was comfortable with online selling practices much sooner, too.
What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I’d love to know how to find my customers. I have a good idea about the type of person that will buy my products, but would like to know more about how to target them. There's a lot of advice online that says you need to find your target customer, but no one never explains how to do that.
I’d also like to get a better understanding of how to advertise online. I boost my posts on Facebook and am experimenting with promoted listings on Etsy, but apart from that I’m a bit lost!
Can you help Cherie with her questions around getting new customers and advertising online?
If you're like Cherie and trying to crack the code on how to find your target customer online, you're not alone.
Share with us your story right here, and let us know if you've learned something new along the way that might help her out.