creative biz success: interview with Jess Constable

Jess - click image for more

Today we meet Jessica Constable, the jewelry designer behind the JessLC brand, and blogger at Makeunder My Life.  Jess hails from Chicago, and started jewelry designing as a hobby as a teenager. That hobby has evolved into a thriving business…

Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far? Were you always planning on working for yourself?

Sure! I started in 1999 as a 15-year-old girl with a $5 bag of beads. I unexpectedly sold 6 (ugly) ankle bracelets at a local pool. I then taught myself new jewelry making techniques and sold my products to twelve stores while in high school. I later graduated from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and promptly moved to Chicago in 2007 to start Jess LC full-time.

I first focused on selling wholesale with a team of sales reps to 100+ stores nationwide. I later took on interns and part-time help to grow even further. In 2009, I changed my business direction and dove into the world of blogging, social media, and online selling. Then in 2010, I completely re-branded my company and re-launched my e-commerce site, logo, product selection, and took my business to the next level. It wasn’t easy. But it was worth it.

Now I am immersed in the online community and work hand-in-hand with bloggers to create unique partnerships. I’ve also delved into the world of PR and launched a very successful ambassador program.

How do you balance the different aspects of your business to ensure they both stay fresh and moving forward – your jewellery design and your blog, for example?

This is definitely a tricky balance, juggling both the blog and jewelry company requires a lot of different tasks that are often unrelated. But overall they both reflect who I am as a person, so the content and products reflect where I am in my own life. The blog inspiration often comes from the life lessons that I’m learning each day. Often what I’m working on personally is relatable for many readers.

As for jewelry design, I am always reading shelter blogs and the room inspiration keeps my design eye on the ball. I love taking a trend that I’m obsessed with for my home and translate that to jewelry. In fact, I actually pay very little attention to what is going on in the jewelry industry and mostly focus on interior designers instead.

I stay inspired with both the jewelry and blogging by not over doing my time on either project. I don’t usually work on weekends or evenings.

After 12 years of business I’ve realized this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Pacing myself to avoid burnout is essential.

Now, if I don’t respect my work rhythms my body practically rejects the idea of working – I get a pit in my stomach that I can’t shake until I rest. But that’s not to say that sometimes I don’t feel guilty when I think about how many more hours so many designers work than I do. It’s all about sticking to my intentions for my life and business and letting that be enough.

Division Dotted Necklace - click image for more

Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?

I don’t have many doubts now, I have a great faith in what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. But that wasn’t always the case.

Right now I’m in the process of trying to get a brand new (non-jewelry) collection designed. I have absolutely how to get it done. I know I need help, so right now I’m just trusting that I will find the right person to help make my vision a reality. And a lot of the time I do feel like I don’t have the time to accomplish all I want with this new product market, and run the business as usual, but I just keep trying to do the best I can each day.

I know you have staff who help you run your business – how did you make the decision to take that next step, and how do you manage their involvement in the business?

The size of the company has varied over the years, but right now we have two amazing interns, Kat and Melissa. As well as the incomparable Susie, who is our resident jewelry maker. Susie and I have been working together for years and Kat and Melissa have been an awesome addition to our group. It was fairly simple to decide to grow the team, I simply cannot get anything done for the company any other way!

As far as involvement, I’ve learned that I like the intern responsibilities to center around order processing and customer service. I’m essentially teaching them the ropes of owning a small business and how to deal with a steady stream of customers, orders, and requests.

They have proven themselves to be incredibly smart and also great at making business decisions as well. For example, this week I put Kat in charge of researching and choosing a new shipping method for our orders. She looked into our options, decided what was best given our level of business, and signed our company up for the service. She’s now learning how to operate the system and will later teach me. Then, once I know the process, I will teach Melissa as well.

This was a project I’ve been putting off for years myself – I never thought I had enough time to tackle it. But she was able to complete in just a few hours. Though I knew what was going on throughout her research, I allowed her to make the decisions and double checked once she did the leg work. It worked out perfectly and was way more efficient than me continuing to procrastinate and do it all on my own.

Diversey Staggered Dotted Paisley Necklace - click for more

What key personality traits and life circumstances coalesced to lead to your success, in your opinion?

I think the fact that I started my business so young allowed me to not fear the learning process that goes along with a small business. People in their 20’s and 30’s just starting out make things more complicated than they are, over-think their worries, and fear more than I did at 15. I also had very little to lose starting that young as well.

Now, I would say that my business understanding from my college degree has given me the confidence paired with the experience to try new things like PR and launching a new product line. I’m comfortable looking at the financials and the design aspects to create a winning strategy for my company.

I’m also a pretty grounded person, I think this leads me to not leap too far, but also not worry too much about failure. I know that the only way I can fail is to stop trying. Any other blunders along the way are just lessons and mistakes, nothing more.

I most often get asked what I think people need to understand to have a successful business and my answer is always – just keep going! As I mentioned earlier, business is a lot like running. You train, improve your pace, and just keep going. That is how marathons are completed. If we give up too soon it’s not that it wasn’t possible, it’s just that we didn’t try long enough.

Also, make sure to realize you will constantly be improve from wherever you are now. But if you never start, you can never get any better than you are at this very moment.

11 thoughts on “creative biz success: interview with Jess Constable

  1. Great interview to read! I totally agree with the fact that running a business is a marathon and not a sprint. Taking time off is so important to keep things going smoothly in the long run and keeping your sanity.

  2. Jess’s “Just keep going” is my EXACT response when people ask me that! So funny, but it’s true! There is no other way.

    Also, I love the story about letting her interns make decisions – I don’t have employees yet, but even having been an employee of other people, I think giving employees and interns ownership over their work is really important. It keeps people invested and interested in what they’re doing, and if you have to micromanage everything, you might as well not have employees anyway. Anytime I’ve been unhappy in a previous job, a lot of it has stemmed from me not feeling like I could make a real impact, or that my ideas or suggestions wouldn’t be listened to or followed through on.

  3. Great interview – very insightful. I also pace myself to avoid burnout and try not to work on weekends and at night. Free time is so important to work/ life balance and in my case I work better after I’ve rested or switched off properly. Thank you for sharing – so many great tips in there!

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