Christine Turns Hobby Into Profitable Online Business

8 September
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Christine-Gierer

Jewelry maker and mother of two Christine Gierer sees herself as a “very lazy marketer” who finds most promotional activities tedious and says she is “pretty bad” at creating revenue.

However, by turning her jewelry making hobby into an online business, she now earns more than twice what she used to earn at her full-time job.

Other big advantages are that she works from home, works fewer hours, and has more time and energy for her children and husband.

Not bad for someone who happily describes herself as a “genuine flake.”

One thing Christime IS good at doing is getting traffic to her website. After a fairly slow start, her How To Make Jewelry website now averages more than 7,000 unique visitors and 30,000 page views a DAY.

Christine-Gierer.jpgChristine (RIGHT – blonde this week) loves experimenting and making things. She went to art school in the early ’90s, and worked as an artist for the rest of that decade.

“As an artist, I did shows and wholesaled, and worked the buyer end of the corporate world too. Then I got bored with it and went back to school … and became a mental health counsellor.”

A few years later, now with two young children and wanting to avoid putting them into daycare, she decided she need to start building a business she could do part-time from home.

In 2006 she dabbled with posting a few of her jewelry pieces for sale on Etsy and experimented with blogging.

“I realized that I wasn’t getting any traffic, so that’s when (in 2007) I started trying to educate myself and came across SBI. My SBI site – How to Make Jewelry – is where the business actually started working.”

As a busy mother of two young children, she didn’t have much time for creating a website.

“I worked on my SBI site in between making snacks, hosting play dates, taking my kids to play centres, doing duty days at my daughter’s three morning a week nursery school, and wiping baby bums and runny noses. I don’t imagine I was spending more than an hour or two a day on the computer.”

She says she got only five visitors the first month and 19 page views. The next month she got 264 visitors.

But look at her results now…

htmj-stats-07-12.jpg
Christine’s website gets more than 7,000 unique visitors and 30,000 page views a day.

The site publishes jewelry making tutorials, videos, resources, tips and articles. It invites visitors to share photos of their handmade jewelry and also invites them to ask and answer questions.

Her visitors obviously love her friendly, helpful site and newsletter. They post comments like these…

   “Thank you so much for a clear,
   step-by-step tutorial. This
   helped me learn how to make
   my first necklace!”

   
   
   “You sent me the sweetest email
   today. You have me hooked with
   that one! I will back and back
   again!”

I interviewed Christine in two sessions – interrupted by a week she spent camping in the woods with her family – about her success with How To Make Jewelry.

christine.GIFI love the red-headed caricature of you on your site. Who created it?

Isn’t it great? It was created by Cynthia (really fun and easy to work with) at Green Couch Designs.

As well as the 30,000 page views a day you’re getting, I see Aweber says you have 11,090 email subscribers and Feedburner shows 11,889 RSS subscribers. That’s really impressive. How well does that traffic translate into revenue for you?

To be honest, I’m pretty bad at creating revenue. I should be/could be making a lot more money. I’m much better at traffic.

I do well enough to make more than I did at my old day job as a mental health counsellor, but if I was more disciplined I’m sure I could generate a lot more revenue.

Note to self: set goals and work to reach them without getting distracted by new ideas all the time.

I tend to love “chasing the rabbit” – getting excited by new ideas before finishing what I was working on previously. Currently I’m working on updating my current products, then finishing projects I started and never finished to the point of launching. If I could follow through on projects in a linear way, I’m sure I would be a millionaire.

I was thinking of creating a jewelry line called “chasing rabbits” but I found there’s already a jewelry company in Australia called “Chase Rabbit”. Oh well.

Can you give us a breakdown of your revenue in percentages?

blueberry earrings.jpgGoogle AdSense 28%
Affiliate Commissions 6%
My Own Products 65%
Other Advertising Revenue 1%

I’ve found it’s easier to generate sales via my newsletter than my website. Do you find the same thing?

I do, although I find it tricky to promote products without being “salesy”. I know I “leave a lot of money on the table” by not promoting as much or as often as I could. (Internet marketers love using that phrase don’t they?)  Even with my poor mailing list habits, though, I do better than I would without one, most definitely. Without a mailing list, I would probably only make 5% of the revenue I do.

Even the AdSense income is driven by newletter mailings – I can see my AdSense earnings go up by 30% to 60% on the days (and the day or two or three after) I mail out.

How often do you publish a newsletter?

I am very sporadic. I always envy those who seem to be able to run a clockwork type business. I try to send out something every couple weeks at least, but I confess that there have been periods where I’ve gone several months between mailouts.

I’ve been very good lately because one of my affiliate programs has given me a “video of the week” that I post on my own site. It changes automatically. I love practically “done-for-you” affiliate programs. I now mail about the new video of the week once a week, and I remember to do it because I see their mailings once a week reminding me. Once readers are on my site, they often linger too, because I’ve since seen my AdSense earnings and Amazon affiliate earnings go up a bit too.

Interestingly, people seem to open those mailings and click on the link more than when they get a detailed newsletter with lots of links. I guess everybody else is short on time too, and it’s not just me 🙂

Where is most of your traffic coming from? Search engines? Other sites?

I get at least 40% from search engines, and about 10% from other sites. Google Analytics tells me that about 50% is from direct traffic which seems high to me. But I guess that could be people bookmarking pages they like to come back to often plus the direct links from my newsletters. Or maybe that’s people sending each other links?

How much work do you do to actively attract visitors? What sorts of things have you done to attract visitors and how has that worked?

I am a very lazy marketer. I don’t enjoy promoting through social sites and I generally find most promotion activities tedious. The most effective strategy I used at first was to target high search, low competition keywords and start building traffic that way.

Other than that, In the past I have done a bit of article marketing, and created some Squidoo lenses, and done a bit of link building through various activities. I tried social site submissions and so on, but I think Stumbleupon and Yahoo! Answers are the only ones that generated traffic back in those days. I still get traffic from Stumbleupon and Yahoo! Answers, but I believe that is not from my own doing.

Other people are stumbling (do people still do that? I guess they must be since I get traffic) and lots of people link to my site when answering jewelry making related questions on Yahoo! Answers.

charm-bracelet.jpgBack to the article marketing and directory submissions, other linkbuilding – I am somewhat relieved that Google is updating its algorithms to make most of these activities a waste of time.

I have a lot of link-building related tasks on my to-do list I can now cheerfully cross off. (Sometimes procrastination works. Wait long enough and a lot of your to-do tasks become irrelevant.)

Nowadays I’m focusing on attracting visitors by updating my website navigation to make it easier for people to find what they are looking for, and upgrading and updating my content to make it better than anyone else’s.

The most lasting traffic generation for me seems to come from other people finding my content on their own, and blogging about it or linking to it with no action on my part. I have a lot of inbound links I never searched out myself from other sites, and I’m sure that’s why my search engine rankings are so good as well. Luckily, I enjoy creating content. I would much rather spend my time creating content than on promotion so it seems to be working out.

I used to try to outsource my website updating and having helpers format the new content for me, but it ends up being more trouble than its worth, at least for me. I have tons of pages I need to go back to and improve because I didn’t do it myself (or didn’t check up on it properly) the first time.

Other things – I try to email my newsletter subscribers regularly to remind them I exist, and I also encourage people to follow me on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. When I update a webpage Twitter automatically tweets, and I’ll sometimes post on my Facebook page when I think of it.

Do you know how many pages you have? I did a site search…

    site:how-to-make-jewelry.com
    
…in Google and came up with 4,300 pages. Could that be right?

I think that could be right if all the C2 pages are included. Every time someone asks a question or answers someone else’s question on one of the ask-and-answer pages, or posts a piece on a gallery page, a new page is created. If you only count the pages I created myself as content, the count is between 350 and 400.

[C2, or Content 2.0, pages are visitor-generated pages. Content 2.0 is integrated into SBI, making it easy to invite your visitors to tell stories and share their exerience and photos. Some SBI users, like Christine, have thousands of C2 pages, each automatically containing AdSense ads. That’s a lot of fodder for search engines and opportunities to earn revenue from AdSense.]

What was it like in the early years? How long did it take before you were earning enough to live on?

I was initially home with my babies as a stay at home mom, so I sort of had a long-term plan to earn enough to not have to go back to work by the time my second was in kindergarten in 2009. I worked pretty part-time, although sometimes I worked a lot of hours.

It took me a long time to come to a point where I found balance between work and home so who knows what crazy hours I was working late into the night when everyone else was sleeping. My husband said I was cheating on him with the computer.

I know it took five months into building my SBI site before I got my first $100 check from Google AdSense.

I think it took about three years of part-time effort to make a full-time income. By 2009 I was making a pretty decent part-time income, and by 2010 I was making a full-time income. By 2011 I was surpassing my previous full-time income while working part-time hours, and this year I will have easily doubled what I was earning full-time as a mental health counsellor. At least in revenue anyway. (I’ve been investing in a lot of tools this year to create a kick-ass jewelry studio.)

Tip for newbies: Search engine marketing works best if you have a long-term plan and understand that nothing really happens for a long time.  Perseverance and patience pay off though, because once you get to a certain point, you couldn’t turn off the traffic if you wanted to. I love how I can do practically nothing for a few months (like I’ve been doing this summer) and still be pulling in a decent income.

Where does most of your time go these days?

Most of my time this summer has been spent doing home repairs, hobbies, daydreaming, vacation, and household/kid related projects.  I’ve been putting about 2 or 3 hours a day (on a good day) into internet related things like email, newsletter writing, webpage updating, checking in with my assistant, and business planning. I thought for awhile that I would try doing live online workshops but I found my limited schedule didn’t jive with potential students. I don’t want to work evenings and weekends so I nixed that.

pendant.GIFI’ve had contractors finishing my basement over the summer and it’s hard for me to concentrate in my office since I’ve moved my jewelry studio from the basement temporarily into my office. All the supplies and tools distract me and make me want to play. I’ve been doing a lot of sketching and experimenting with materials because I’ve been playing with the idea of creating a proper jewelry collection (or 2 or 3 – I have a LOT of ideas) and rejoining the ranks as an independent jeweller again. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll do that, since I have so much on the go already and so little time. When the kids are in school again, I’ll think further on that.

My plan when the kids are back in school is to head to the library after dropping them off and spending about 2 hours a day on product related projects like updating currently selling ebooks and courses, and creating new online courses, 1 hour on taking care of email communications and miscellaneous tasks, and 2 hours on website content creation and updates. That looks like it will be my day – I have from 9:30 until 3pm every day during the week.

How do you regard How to Make Jewelry now? Strictly business? A hobby that happens to make money? Or what? Do you love it or is it a chore now?

Good question.

It’s all that – a business, a chore, and sometimes it feels fun, like a hobby. It’s a business because it makes me enough money to justify not getting a “real” job, it’s a chore because there are a lot of tasks that are no fun (and really, I’m all about the fun. I procrastinate chores.

I love it because it gives me freedom to not get a real job, and not have to work with other people every day. I can’t think of a strong enough word for how much I dislike people drama and office politics. I admit I am not a good team player. I have no drive when working for a boss, and I don’t like group projects. I like people… I just don’t like them in a working-with-me setting.

Fun for me is creating new things and experimenting, and a lot of time, the actual idea is the fun part, while the actual “doing” of the thing and making it a reality outside of my mind becomes the chore.

ring.GIFI expect that a lot of Internet marketers have that same personality – getting excited about ideas and possibilities, and rarely having the discipline to make their dreams a reality.

I am perpetually behind on the things that make me money. That part is the not-fun part.

I’m glad I focused early on passive income though, because having that passive income allows me the freedom to do things I love – like experimenting with materials and tools, and the website gives me an actual rationale for experimenting. (At least I can rationalize that I’m being productive rather than goofing off:)

I love experimenting with metals and enamel and chemicals, and I love trying out new techniques. I’m less interested in making things for resale so HTMJ is really the best of both worlds. It allows me to make one-offs because I can translate some of those into content articles. And I don’t have to manufacture the same items over and over again as I would if I only had a physical product business.  For those reasons I love it.

Hmm… Maybe creating a jewelry product line would be not so fun once I have to actually manufacture pieces for people to buy.

Every once in awhile someone offers to buy to my website from me but I always turn them down. What excuse would I have to buy more tools? Now that I really think about it, it’s really all about being able to buy more tools and supplies. How does one justify buying sterling silver without a business that justifies it? You almost HAVE to run a business if you like making jewelry. Especially if you have a spouse.

Contributing to the household income is a nice bonus (and keeps my husband happy).

How many hours a week do you usually work on your Internet business?

When the kids are in school, probably about 25 hours a week, more or less. During this past summer, probably about 15 hours a week maximum. I’ve had a lot of weeks where it’s been 5 hours a week or less.

What tasks do you outsource?

I have dabbled in a lot of outsourcing, and realized that I hate being a manager. I am not a good one for checking people’s work … bad team player – more lone wolf when it comes to work.

I do have an assistant who is also a jewelry designer with her own business, and she manages my customer service and some of my website maintenance.

It took a lot of outsourcing experimentation to find out what I needed in an assistant, given my poor personality for having assistants. I am not good at training people (i.e. I hate training people because I go into so much detail I exhaust myself) so I needed someone very smart, and with a lot of tolerance for a largely absentee boss. Beth is awesome. I live in fear of her ever leaving me.

Where did you find Beth?

I found Beth by putting out a request for applications to my customer list – the ones who have jewelry businesses themselves. I was fed up with overseas outsourcing, and I knew I wanted someone who knew jewelry making and wrote and spoke English really well so they could help with my helpdesk and with writing. Luckily I found a perfect assistant with lots of great insight and knowledge.

Having someone to do customer service is a godsend. The best part? I no longer see those emails that might hurt my feelings, and always see the ones that sing my praises.

I also have a regular bookkeeper and accountant. I love having a bookkeeper. I really despised doing my own books. Everyone always says outsource your bookkeeping first. That is excellent advice.

I know you’re using SBI your site. Are you strictly following SBI’s advice on site-building and attracting visitors, or have you learned other methods you can share with us?

The SBI advice is very good and when I followed it to the letter I found my traffic reliably increased at a pretty good clip. I often get attracted by shiny objects and I can’t tell you how many rabbits I’ve chased distractedly here, there, and everywhere in search of the holy grail of the Internet – you know, that promise for free money, no work? As I’m sure you know, and I found out over and over again the hard way, there is no shortcut.

WordPress is no shortcut to sitebuilding if you like to tinker, because that platform just begs you to tinker and play with plugins and make big messes. A  very very bad temptation for rabbit chasers who are technically inquisitive.

HandmadeResults.com is a WordPress site and I’ve broken it a number of times.

I’ve never been able to build a very good following on any WordPress site (I’ve created and abandoned a few) no matter how “SEO friendly” everyone says the WordPress sites are. I use my SBI site to funnel traffic to HandmadeResults, so it does OK as a product selling site, but it would draw abysmal traffic if it sat there by itself.

What has been your experience with SBI?

SBI has been a godsend to me, mostly because they really dumb things down during the pre-building and building stages of starting a website. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that SBI advice tends to be right, and I lose focus when I chase any other rabbit.

The only bad thing I find about SBI advice is that there is just so darn much of it. The sheer amount of strategy articles is overwhelming and turns me off. My head gets overloaded really easily. I like things dumbed down to three steps because I’ll over-complicate things on each and every step there is.

In terms of technical ease, I find SBI a little clunky because you can’t update a page quickly. Then again, it’s the only platform that I’ve been able to build search engine traffic on, so I’ll put up with the clunkiness. At least until I can directly think a webpage into being with the power of my mind.

I see you have your own products and your own affiliate program. How’s that working for you? Has it been worth the time and effort?

wire-work.jpgDefinitely worth the effort to create your own products. I make much more from my own products than from affiliate products, and even though I am a poor affiliate program manager, it sure beats selling everything yourself.

As you can see from my revenue breakdown, I make the lion’s share of my revenue from product sales. I like having my own products because it gives me a lot more credibility to promote other people’s products. At least it seems that way to me.

If any of your readers is thinking about info product creation, my advice is definitely to stick to evergreen topics. Updating products to stay current is a constant headache for me.

(Of course, if you have no conscience, I guess that would be less of a problem. If on the other hand, you like to provide top-notch products, you’ll constantly live in upgrade hell like I do.)

The next big update for my products is going to note areas of rapid change without going into detail. Maybe with links to resources.  Although I’ll need to keep up with those links too. And never make videos where the information will change. I have so many videos that need updating! Of course, if you like managing other people, all that becomes less of a problem because a lot of product creation can be outsourced.

I wish I could outsource my outsourcing to the point of it taking no time and never having to check up on anything.

My dream is to imagine things into being instantly without having to do it myself or manage people while they do it. If anyone creates that machine, I’ll buy it.

Have you made an effort to promote your affiliate program, or is it just on ClickBank?

I use ClickBank for Wire Work Secrets, and I have my own affiliate program for the jewelry business products on HandmadeResults.com.  I like ClickBank because they manage and promote, but I don’t like the cut they take. Selling low cost items through ClickBank makes no sense since they grab about $2.50 a product off the top, and the only reason I use them is to attract affiliates. Affiliates don’t want to do work for 50% of a $17 product (after CB takes their cut that’s only about $7) especially since I wouldn’t have a high priced upsell for them. I don’t blame them either. Selling a $30+ item works though. Especially if you have a bunch of them.

My 52 week Handmade Results Weekly Jewelry Business course ($39/month for 12 months) did really well with just a couple of key affiliates I found myself. I run that affiliate program myself as it’s pretty specialized. I don’t think a lot of people in my market are very Internet marketing savvy so the bloggers that would be good promoters aren’t roving around on CB anyway. That course is closed to new students right now as I update it (darned Internet keeps changing the rules on me, and that is a lot of what I’m teaching these jewelry business owners to navigate) and when I relaunch I plan to keep on managing that affiliate program myself rather than run it through ClickBank.

Another thing I don’t like about CB is that you can’t screen your affiliates. A lot of shady dealings – I don’t want shady to be associated with my business, especially since the jewelry business course might be promoted by internet marketers. So many shady ones.  They give us good ones a bad name.

I see you’re also offering online jewelry classes and asking people to provide their email addresses. How are you organizing that? A one-off sale, or a monthly membership fee?

I’m planning on doing one-off sales until I get enough classes created, and then I may look at rolling them into a monthly membership.  I’ve been taking a few online classes here and there to find out how others are doing it, and what I like and dislike about other people’s classes.

I’m thinking of running classes that are 3 to 6 weeks long that slowly build skills over the time period. Going too long seems bad because people lose focus, while going too fast seems to overwhelm people. I really want to offer quality classes that people will rave about.

My plan is to experiment with fixed term classes where people will pay a lump sump versus a weekly payment, and see which works out better in terms of conversion and in overall sales numbers. Price points are always tricky, and my market often likes “free”. (A lot of my “followers” keep asking for $5 to $25 price points, but those just may be the people who have no intention of spending any money at all. We’ll see how it goes.

Congrats on your success. If you were starting over, knowing what you know now, what would do differently?

I would definitely have outsourced my bookkeeping a lot earlier, and focused more on listbuilding early on. I also wish I had stayed more focused on my goals and chased less rabbits. I’ve wasted a lot of money on “Internet marketing” products that proved to be distractions. Sometimes you have to learn these things firsthand so I won’t say I would have done it differently per se, but I sure would like to have that time and money back 🙂

To keep from the silliness, I now try to focus on my goals and my life criteria, and use that to filter my choices.

For example, I know I want to make a certain amount of money for X hours of work, and that I want to enjoy the time I spend working.  Given that there’s never a free ride (no matter what that enticing Internet marketing salesletter says!), how can I do that while enjoying the time I spend to do it?

That’s how I filter my time so that I can make better choices.

(I also try to remember to ask myself – is this furthering my goals? Do I need to be doing this NOW?)


Any special tips for affiliate marketing newcomers?

Hmm… Good question. There is a LOT of affiliate marketing garbage information out there. Newcomers should be aware that there’s no free lunch, and be wary of any affiliate marketing information products, especially the ones that promise automated cash for no work.  Making money on the Internet, like anything else in life, takes work. Build your credibility and authority, always be honest even if (or especially if) it seems like it will make you lose the sale. People respect honesty and integrity and will remember those that are honest in the sea of shady affiliate marketers.

bracelet.GIFStay away from anything that promises to do all the work for you, and only promote products you believe in and would use yourself.  It’s always good practice to test the sales process of the company you’re promoting yourself before you put your business on the line.  Remember that everything you promote reflects on you.

I remember being a big fan of a very well known internet marketer – I’m still a big fan in terms of this person’s products but no longer trust anything he promotes. Once he sent a mailout promoting this other person’s product and went on about how great it was and how he rarely promotes other people’s products because he only promotes quality. Long story short, I bought it, it was garbage, and the customer service for this product was abysmal. My respect for the well known marketer went way down. It’s a shame really, because I do love the person’s products, but I lost a lot of trust. You have to be aware of how easy it is to turn people off you. It takes a lot of work to build up a good reputation, and it can be crushed in a single action.

Another piece of advice is to always have a really good About Me page. You’d think it wouldn’t be that important, but before buying anything, people will almost always look for your about me page to see whether they should trust you enough to buy something from you.  The more you look like a real human being the better. Always have a first and last name, and never be a nameless entity with no address. Be real, and be someone that your target market can relate to.

[Some of the following comments were intended just for me, but I persuaded Christine to let me keep them in the interview.]

Also don’t use a photo where you look like an idiot (an exception is if you can pull it off as part of your persona and have really good knowledge to back it up. I’m thinking of maybe Frank Kern or Andy Jenkins, they can pull it off. If you aren’t them, I suggest not trying to be.) It’s really hard to be a credible goof without some hardcore innate charisma and be a natural goof. (I can pull off flaky because I am a genuine flake and my target market is artsy-fartsy. Many of them appreciate a good flake. This also frightens off anyone who can’t take flaky. I can’t fake competent ALL the time. I need customers that cut me a little slack.)

Anyone who subscribes to my newsletter and reads my welcome email pretty much gets a similar spiel so it’s already out there on thousands of computers anyway… I let people know right off the bat that I am sporadic and flaky so they don’t send me angry emails when I do or say something odd or unprofessional, or when they don’t get a newsletter for awhile. It really works. I get a lot less of those emails than I used to.

Thanks again for agreeing to do the interview.

You’re very welcome! It never hurts to make friends with an Internet superstar. Thanks very much for contacting me 🙂  Now I am exhausted. Time to gather my camping gear for a week in the woods with the family. Lovely way to end the summer for the kids if the rain ever stops… Good luck sifting through my answers!

QUICK SUMMARY

Here are some of the key points Christine makes:

  • If results are slow at first, persevere.
  • Build an email list – early.
  • Outsource your bookkeeping and other tasks.
  • Create content so useful that people talk about it and link to it.
  • Encourage your visitors to create content for you.
  • Create your own products, preferably in evergreen topics.
  • Keep asking yourself, “Is this furthering my goals?”
  • Build your credibility and authority.
  • At the start, Christine’s most effect traffic strategy was targeting high search, low competition keywords. [You can do this keyword research within SBI.]
  • SBI advice works.
  • Don’t be afraid to reveal a bit of your personality. It’s good for sales.

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