When launching her handmade Jewellery business in March 2014, Melbourne designer Erin Browne resolved to take a gradual approach. The decision was fuelled by her desire to self-fund the brand, which meant part-time work, and form a deep understanding of the market she was entering.
Wanting a hands-on education in ecommerce, she opened an online shop through Etsy. Later, when she launched her own website, she decided against closing her Etsy store because she had developed a strong rapport with customers in the US and saw the platform as a gateway through which new and existing customers could find her site.
Browne also ‘entered the fray’ by signing up for various markets across Melbourne. Today, her hobby-cum-business – Tinka the Label – participates in six to seven markets each week, including SO:ME SPACE in South Melbourne. In addition, her range of handmade, including up-cycled, Jewellery is stocked by retailers in Melbourne CBD and has featured in the magazines Fashion Journal (AUS), British Glamour (UK) and House & Garden (UK).
“You are your business’s best salesperson”
Despite attracting industry attention, Tinka the Label remains, by design, a ‘one woman show’ with Browne doing everything from admin and Jewellery design through to marketing and stall set-up.
“Right now I am working with what I’ve got and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she told Dynamic Business. “I make every piece of Tinka jewellery, whereas many business have their products mass-produced overseas. I think customers have a newfound appreciation for one-of-a-kind pieces that are handmade locally and are choosing to invest their money in quality rather than quantity.”
“In addition to making everything, I sell everything apart from what’s on consignment. It’s my firm belief that no one else can sell your product like you can. Sure, a salesperson could do your job, but your product is like your baby and your passion is what drives sales. When a person talks directly to a customer about their business, the headaches, heartache, blood, sweat and tears that went into creating it are evident. This makes for a more personal, and thus more memorable, shopping experience. Plus, people appreciate the story behind a business.
Despite the convenience and ease afforded by ecommerce, Browne revealed that online sales make up only a fraction of her total revenue due to the fact that Jewellery is ‘very personal’.
“It’s not necessarily something you would choose to buy online without having first seen it in person or purchased from previously,” she explained. “Consequently, I focus on my physical presence at markets where people can touch, try and see the piece on before they commit to the purchase. This often leads to future online purchases for those customers who may have been visiting from interstate or overseas.”
“I employ tools that give me time to grow the business”
Due to the fact that a majority of Browne’s sales are achieved at marketplaces, she is constantly on the go and – with the weight of the business on her shoulders – can’t afford to waste time. To manage the load and achieve maximum efficiency, she’s had to transform Tinka the Label into a business she can run on her mobile.
“With QuickBooks Self-Employed if I want to send an invoice to somebody, or review transactions past or present, I can do it by swiping left and right – it’s like the Tinder for accounting,” she said with a laugh. “Equally, with the mileage tracking feature, everything that I need for a tax return is right there on the app. Before I used QuickBooks Self-Employed, I used to use a basic Excel spreadsheet to do all my invoicing and bookkeeping and data entered everything.
‘Meanwhile, with the contactless Square Reader and mobile app, I am able to take card and cashless payments easily. Prior to signing up with Square, I was often having to carry large amounts of cash and make frequent trips to the bank, which is both unsafe and time-consuming. Plus people just don’t want to pay in cash anymore – having to go to the ATM, or being sent an invoice, is an inconvenience. Near enough all of my business is now card-based. In fact, if I couldn’t facilitate cashless payments, I would lose approximately 80% of my sales. Through Square, I’m also able to see which item sold the most and which hours of the day are my busiest periods, which allows me to understand what it is my customers are responding well to, and when. Being self-employed, having these sorts of tools frees me up to build my business and gives me back hours of time a week.”
Outside of her participation at markets, Erin has retailed solely through consignment-based stockists. That’s all set to change this year, she explained: “I have since restructured my business, and in the coming months will be wholesaling exclusively to select boutiques across Australia’s hot shopping destinations. I’m currently working on way to expand my business globally while keeping production in Australia. 2016 opened many doors for me, providing me with further confidence in my business and clarity around the path I wish to take it.