8 minute read

Quit Your Day Job: RiverValleyJewelry

"I believed I could mold my life into what I wanted it to be, so I did." — Danielle Kritz

Avatar image for Danielle Watt by Danielle Watt
Title image for the article

Tell us about your shop and the idea behind it.

I started beading as a creative outlet a few years back. I loved it, but knew I needed to add something to the mix that allowed me to better express myself. I'm a huge fan of great quotes, especially motivational ones. I started getting into some metalwork and decided to try hand stamping. From the first time I tried it, I was hooked. I still have the first disc I ever stamped. The letters and spacing are so crooked and the impressions are lacking, but I'm so proud of that disc! It's neat to have a tangible item to go with my "Oh — this is what I'm meant to be!" moment.

Having always admired the Etsy community and the handmade movement, I wrote myself a business plan and set up shop, listing my first item in mid June of 2011.

Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.

I am a registered veterinary technician by trade and had worked for 12 years in private practice. In the spring of 2011, I volunteered my skills to a group that spent ten days on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic, where the stray dog population is completely overwhelming. Poison was being fed to the stray dogs, and they were dying really painful deaths. We went in for 10 days with the goal to spay and neuter as many stray cats and dogs as we could while still providing good medicine. It's hard for me to think about the whole experience without getting weepy, but I am so thankful. I was meant to be on that trip — it completely changed me.

Before I even left, I knew I had to change my life's plan. So I started my Etsy shop based on my business plan, with the goal to be able to quit working in private practice, work my own financially and artistically fulfilling business full time, and be able to donate my tech skills. I wanted to volunteer as much as I could. Being able to just give the help to those who truly have nothing literally changes the shape of your heart.

What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full-time Etsy selling?

I wrote a pretty strict business plan and stuck to it. I had a time-frame in which I wanted to be able to accomplish my goals. I budgeted the little profit that I had in the beginning as wisely as I knew how. I worked hard on finding the best, most cost-efficient suppliers that I could. I had a small amount in my budget for things like branding, packaging, and advertising and promotion. I learned so much in those first few months. I feel like all I did was read.

What is your favorite part in the process of designing jewelry?

I've always been a huge fan of fashion and design in general, and when I get a nice chunk of time to just design — that is my heaven! I pick my focal pieces very carefully. I'm very picky about them. Sometimes I'll decide to invest in a focal component and it will just sit there for weeks until I have time to design with it. It's torture, but the reward is that precious moment where I can sit in my studio, turn on some good music and just start putting things together.

What's been your most popular item or line to date? Simple initial necklaces have done well. My long quote cuffs have also been a big hit — people love words, don't they? And of course, after a couple of big features in February, my guitar picks became the star of the show, which is great because I love making them.

What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?

I guess knowing that all this heart, time, effort and soul that I pour into my small business is for me and those I love, and that it allows me to keep volunteering. When you work for someone else, you can still be enthusiastic and love it. But the buck starts and stops with me, as CEO of River Valley Designs. That's scary in some regards, it's also very rewarding and exciting!

What are your best marketing tips?

  • A great opportunity to market your brand is just in the way you interact with clients. I have a habit of saying what I'm typing out loud when I'm responding to a client's email or convo — I want to make sure it will read as friendly as it sounds coming out of my mouth. We all know tone is hard to read in words. So I try really hard to be professional, but friendly and fun as well.
  • Interacting with blogs through features or reviews has been helpful to me.
  • Good pictures are an absolute must. The bracelet you made last week could be stunning in person, but if the picture doesn't convey its beauty, it's going to be hard to sell it from that picture, right?

What tool or technique has been the most effective in getting buyers to your shop?

The most effective technique in getting buyers to my shop was reading and learning all I possibly could about search engine optimization, and then learning Etsy-specific search rules (relevancy vs. recency, importance of tags and titles, shop announcement, shop title). There are not one or two things to ensure you are bringing in your own traffic, it's a bevy of strategies, ideas and skills. It takes lots of time and effort to make them all work together for good. And then just when you think you've got it, things change! But that's SEO across the board. It's ever-changing, that's for certain.

It would be great if we could all just put pictures of our art into our Etsy shops then sit back and watch them sell. But that's just not the way it works for most sellers. The reality is that making your items, taking the pictures and setting up shop is the easy part. The hard work comes in learning to get folks to your shop. It's all trial and error, and that's okay! One day, it'll just click.

What’s the hardest part about running your own business?

Knowing when to stop work and enjoy life with your loved ones. It's so easy for artists to want to work, work, work. But we all need that time to touch base with our friends and family. So yes, knowing when to stop and smell the roses — that's a tough one for me for sure!

What's the most exciting thing that's come of selling your designs on Etsy?

From my Etsy shop was born my association with The Artisan Group, which, unofficially, is just a fantastic bunch of super creative, kindhearted, amazingly talented artisans. Officially, The Artisan Group is an elite art promotions group representing talented small-business artisans at the best celebrity gift lounges. I'll have a piece displayed at the official celebrity gift lounge in honor of The 46th Annual CMA Awards in November.

What advice would you give to someone considering a similar path? Start studying whatever you can get your hands on concerning SEO and selling online in general. If you have that knowledge before you open up shop, you will have a much more enjoyable first couple of months here. And don’t give up! Frequent the forums, learn from experienced sellers, and hang in there! If you don’t believe in your business plan 100%, you may fail. You’ve got to believe and you’ve got to be prepared to work probably harder than you ever have in your life. But you can do it. One of my favorite quotes is, “She believed she could, so she did.” And it really is that simple. I believed I could mold my life into what I wanted it to be, so I did.

Anything else you would like to share?

It’s never a bad idea to find a mentor for when you are first starting. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And my experience on Etsy this past year has been almost surreal. I’m so proud to be a part of such talented artisans and I love seeing my Etsy friends continue to succeed. It’s just been such an amazing, positive environment for me and where I want my life to be.

Avatar image for Danielle Watt Words by Danielle Watt

Danielle Watt is a resident of Shadyside, Ohio and has been creating jewelry since 2009. When not busy at the jeweler’s bench, Danielle enjoys spending time with her son.

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