Interview with Maria
Interview with Maria, owner of Aleli Jewels. Jewellery that makes you feel good.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Maria, I am originally from Argentina and I’ve been living in Asia for the past 12 years. After a few years in Japan and Singapore, I am now based in Hong Kong, where I work for start up in the market research industry.
So tell us about your business
My business is called Aleli Jewels, it is an online jewellery store. I sell through Etsy, which is a platform that allows small business owners and crafters to sell their products to customers all over the world. The brand is all about minimalist and delicate designs that look good, without breaking the bank. All the products are under 30 USD, making it affordable for young women and fashion jewellery lovers.
How was the idea born and and what were your first steps?
I was on a career break when the idea was born. I was always fascinated by e – commerce and how it allows anyone to sell anything, anywhere in the world. When I was a student at university, I thought of setting up my own online shop but I didn’t know where to start - logistics, website design, software, finance, product sourcing…. so many things I had no clue about. I ended up giving up before even trying – something I regret to this day! Few years went by, and shortly after moving to Hong Kong I got inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of this city and examples of talented women who run successful businesses here. It was time to revisit that old dream of mine. I spent some time reading business blogs (Shopify runs an amazing blog for e-commerce enthusiasts), studying some successful jewellery online stores and watching videos (I highly recommend Marie Forleo – she has tons of advice for women who want to start their own business).
One thing that really resonated with me then was the concept of “start before you’re ready”. If you let perfectionism or the feeling of “not being ready” take over, you will never get started! I told myself I will somehow figure things out, I just needed to take the first step.
So I went on and put up a few jewellery items on Etsy to see if anyone would buy. Within few weeks I was able to sell most of it so I realized that this idea could work.
What was your biggest motivation and inspiration when you decided to start your business?
I wanted to curate a collection that reflects my taste and personality and make my shop a go-to destination for women that love dainty and delicate designs like I do. Nowadays there’s so many options out there that people appreciate shops that focus on one particular style, a place where they can go back again and again and always find pieces they like.
What was the most challenging part of starting your business?
Finding good business partners that can produce high-quality items and who I can trust. It took hours and hours of research and footwork until I found a manufacturer that was a perfect match for what I wanted to bring into my brand. The same goes for packaging and printing suppliers, it was a trial and error process. Suppliers are often considered trade secrets, so you need to find them yourself.
Interesting, tell us about your first clients, who were they?
First clients were people I knew, friends. I told them I was very excited about it and they were kind enough to support me by buying the first items! (laughs)
Which marketing tools did you find to be the most successful? Which methods worked the best for you to acquire new clients?
If you want to sell a physical product, Etsy is a great way to get started. It is very easy to set it up, affordable, and it drives traffic to your shop. You need to get familiar with their SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and put effort in product photography for better results though.
As for marketing tools, I use social media, Instagram in particular. People often say, “you should be doing Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube, Snapchat” but my advice is pick one that you really enjoy using and stick with it. It is a lot of work to update visual content, so you have to like it if you want to stay consistent. I find Instagram is a great tool to create a mood board for your brand and interact with your customers so I plan to solely focus on it for now.
Are there any tricks you could share with us about using Instagram to promote your business?
I would say doing collaborations with fashion bloggers and Instagram influencers is the way to go if you want to spread the word about your products. They can create beautiful images featuring your brand and if you choose a blogger that matches your style, their followers will feel attracted to your products too. Since my customers are mainly based in the USA, I try to reach out to fashion bloggers based there.
What did you find to be the most difficult part of running your own business?
The most challenging part was having to teach myself the ins and outs of bookkeeping, stock management, marketing, photography....
I remember at the beginning I was very bad at forecasting. I underestimated Christmas season and was ill-prepared for it: one of our most popular rings sold out at the beginning of December and completely missed THE best selling opportunity of the year!
Who knew, selling too much, can actually be a challenge? Any other challenges you came across?
It is very rare, but sometimes there’s issues with shipping that are outside my control and I receive unhappy messages from my customers. To this day, when I receive those messages I take it personally and feel frustrated myself. But the reality is that whatever business you do, there will always be issues and you’ll sometimes receive negative feedback (even if it is not your fault). That’s why it is very important to create a customer service philosophy that serves as a guidance on how to address those issues. By doing so, you are able to keep your customers (and yourself) happy.
So do you manage all your clients and shipping on your own?
So that leads to the next question, how do you manage to find time to have your own business, along with your main job?
“If you wanna make it happen, schedule it” – that’s my motto. I think of it as a job, not a hobby. Because the moment you think, “it’s just a hobby”, other things will take over your life. The hardest and the most important thing when you have your own business is to keep consistent, it is something I’m still learning to do.
That is something to take a note of! Anything you could recommend about time management?
Plan on a monthly basis: set objectives on a monthly basis and break it down to weekly action items. Also, it helps to give yourself (realistic) deadlines and hold yourself accountable. One trick I learned is to share goals with your family or friends, so you will feel the pressure to actually accomplish them!
Right, so what is the biggest lesson you learn running your own business?
I learned that you don’t need to know everything to get started. With all the information available online, you just have to trust that you will figure it out. And there are always people who can help you along the way
What would you recommend someone who is debating whether to start their own business tomorrow?
Start small and don’t try to be perfect. You will never feel ready or prepared, so why not start now!
I love this advice, Just Get Started.
Thank you for your interview and I am sure your story has inspired many aspiring female entrepreneurs out there!