Let’s face it: College is pricey. While the experience is totally worthwhile, eating ramen (despite how awesome you make it) and decorating your dorm room on the cheap isn’t enough to foot the bill for tuition. You’ve read everything you can about how to land the best gig after graduation, but you’d love to know how to pay for your classes right now. Well, one plucky University of Virginia student is paying some of her college tuition with the money she makes from running her own jewelry business, Designed by Lei. Now LeiLei Secor is sharing tips behind her success and how she’s managed to sell 10,000 pieces of jewelry to customers in more than 30 countries.
1. Time management is a work in progress. Balancing jewelry making and a full college courseload isn’t easy, but Secor has the right frame of mind when approaching the divide. “It’s a continual work in progress to keep up with orders throughout the school year,” says Secor. On average, she spends about three to five hours a week handcrafting jewelry. The holidays are her busiest time, between studying for finals and gift orders, but she takes it all in stride. “I truly enjoy making jewelry, so even when I’m buried in school work, I’m taking an hour or two to make jewelry throughout the week not only to fulfill orders, but also give myself a break from the stresses of academics and schoolwork.”
2. Create your own job. During the summer of her sophomore year of high school, Secor couldn’t find her ideal summer job, so she decided to sell her jewelry. Later that summer, she opened her Etsy shop with macrame beaded bracelets. When the bracelets weren’t selling well, Secor didn’t abandon ship. She simply taught herself how to make wire-wrap jewelry with the help of online tutorials and YouTube videos. She sold her first item a week later, and since then sells pieces daily.
3. Down time is extra work time. During summer and spring/winter breaks, Secor can be found diving into the more time-consuming aspects of her biz that she simply can’t handle during the school year. She updates her website, designs new promo materials and photographs new pieces. She works hard for the money, and it shows.
4. Be a social media pro. To garner a global audience, Secor connected with her potential audience via Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram. She swears by the site Wanelo. “Some of my products have been saved on there more than 40,000 times,” says Secor. In addition, Secor searches for sites and mobile apps that she thinks her target market would use and connects with those brands. “Scroll through the top apps in the app store” to figure out who to reach out to, suggests Secor.
5. Fantastic photos are key. In a jewelry-based business, Secor knows that the key to selling and promoting her work is stunning, high-quality imagery. “If the pictures are great, then customers post them and it’s like free advertising,” says Secor. For example, her “love” ring has been reblogged on Tumblr more than 50,000 times.
6. Research your way to success. It might surprise you that despite her thriving jewelry business, Secor doesn’t have a business background. She spent hours “reading countless articles and forums about how to sell on online and on Etsy.” Looking at successful shops gave her ideas about how to run hers. She took the time to learn about SEO, photography and marketing so her business would be something she could be proud of and run smoothly.
7. Stand out from the crowd. Jewelry is “one of the most competitive categories on Etsy,” so the competition is fierce. Secor says she has to stay on top of trends to make sure she “stands out in a sea of similarity.” Her suggestions for rising to the top: Use SEO-friendly titles and tags for your items, and snap sellable shots.
8. Go for it. “Be persistent,” says Secor, who encourages anyone who wants to pay for college with their side gig. She landed her first sale after heavily promoting herself on Instagram. “If you really want to achieve something, and you have the drive and determination, you’ll find a way to make it work,” says Secor.
Would you start a business to pay for college? If so, tell us in the comments what business you’d like to create .