8 Tips on Launching Your Passion Project (and Making Money!)
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 .
It can be intimidating to step out on your own and build a business from the ground up. As part of our collaboration with Office Depot, we're talking with Selfmade alum and solopreneur Colette Lawrence, the faith-based motivator and relationship builder behind The M.E.E. Movement, about ways in which women in business can find success.
B + C: How did you know M.E.E. Movement was your business to start?
The M.E.E Movement represents motivation, empowerment, and encouragement for women. It is what represents me. I did not know at first that it was my business to start, but then the thought of monetizing what I loved came to me. It scared me, however. I registered the business in July 2020 and have been slowly building my wings since.
B + C: What's one strategy that's helped you start your business?
Thinking through and researching what the requirements are to start my business, and then asking questions of people who are in the business. Not all advice worked; however, it helped me to figure out what I needed to do and not to do.
B + C: Did you always know life coaching would be your entrepreneurial path?
(Smiles) No, I did not. I 'stumbled" on it. I knew that people were always coming to me for advice and I found that I loved having conversations with them, especially with women, young and old.
B + C: What was your most valuable takeaway from Selfmade?
My most valuable takeaway was the first day of training: Get out of your own way. There were a lot of great moments and important takeaways from every presenter. However, getting out of my own way, pushing past doubts, was for me my most valuable takeaway. Doing something that I had never done before took courage. If I do not focus on what is happening with me mentally then I cannot deliver to my clients successfully.
B + C: What's one piece of advice you would give to female entrepreneurs on the brink of starting?
Get out of your head. You have something to offer. You have what you need to succeed so go ahead and do it.
B + C: How do you stay motivated?
I stay motivated by listening to music and listening to motivational speakers, and sometimes someone will just reach out and talk about the impact that I made in their life. That adds the extra juice or sauce I need to pummel through the day.
B + C: What's your best organizational tip?
Keep a diary and journal. It's the best way for me to keep organized and it also provides a source motivation as I record not only my "losses" but my wins as well.
B + C: Who inspires you in the entrepreneurial space?
Shirley Toliver – She motivates and empowers and makes me always want to show up.
B + C: What has receiving the Office Depot scholarship to Selfmade done to help you start or grow your business?
The scholarship was a blessing in that all the areas that were covered offered valuable information that I needed, from social media to HR. As a new business owner, I needed to know this to increase my own personal awareness in what it takes to run a successful business. The candidness of the presenters made it easy to see myself in their shoes and helped me to realize that I can also get there.
Want to feel motivated to take the next step for your business? Let Office Depot OfficeMax give you the confidence you need with a suite of business services & solutions to help you put your best foot forward. Make a good first impression with business cards & build the business pitch of your dreams with custom presentations. With Office Depot OfficeMax you'll find the tools to reach new customers with confidence.
Head to Office Depot's Selfmade page to check out even more amazing business resources (and discounts!) to help you accomplish more on your entrepreneurial journey. These offers are available for a limited time only, so be sure to take advantage of all this goodness while supplies last. Want to join the next Selfmade cohort this summer? Check out all of the scholarship details right here.