Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Stacey, and I grew my handmade jewelry hobby into a business. Bang-Up Betty is subversive and sweet hand-stamped jewelry and funny, feminist gift items and apparel.
My work has been featured numerous times by sites like Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Bustle and more, and several celebrities have been seen out and about in my designs. Bang-Up Betty is known for its quirky sense of humor, feminist and progressive tendencies, and donating to nonprofits and great causes.
Bang-Up Betty started as a coffee table hobby and has grown into a business that can support me. Its average revenue is about $6,000 per month. Oh, and its named after my cat. His name is Betty and he has his own Instagram account (@bettyisaboy).
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When I began making jewelry, I had no intention of starting a business.
I bought some steel stamps, took an old paint-splattered hammer my dad had given me, and watched a lot of videos on YouTube about how to stamp metal.
I just wanted to make some funny holiday gifts for my friends with silly phrases and curse words on them.
You don’t have to please everyone, and that staying true to yourself and your designs can be way more important than trying to make everyone happy.
At the time I was working as a writer and editor for a local magazine. Writing and language have always given me life, so I think gravitating towards jewelry with words and phrases came naturally to me. I actually didn’t really wear a lot of jewelry until I started making it. I just wasn’t really drawn to pretty baubles. I prefered funny, bold and meaningful.
The first things I ever stamped were copper bracelets that I called “Four Letter Word Bracelets.” They said things like “STFU,” “OMFG,” and “MILF.” (That last one seemed to be particularly upsetting to some people who I quickly learned were probably not my target audience.)
I may have offended some people right off the bat, but so many other people wanted the bracelets. It taught me that you don’t have to please everyone, and that staying true to yourself and your designs can be way more important than trying to make everyone happy.
Whatever your product is, it’s just not going to be for everyone. So I really lean into the people that it IS for. It’s a lot easier when you sell something you just love and love to make.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Every piece of Bang-Up Betty jewelry is stamped, drilled, polished, assembled and packed by me. It is really rewarding to know that I held every piece before sending it out into the world. I put lots of love into all of it.
I really have two design processes. I either start with a blank slate idea—something I dreamed up from scratch—or I see a charm or a gemstone that I have to buy and it inspires the rest of the design. In the case of gifts and apparel, like pins and t-shirts, they begin as drawings.
When I was making my first bracelets, the ones I mentioned before, it was a lot of trial and error. That’s really what stamping and learning to make jewelry is all about. Ruining batches of copper isn’t cheap. At first everything looked smashed and warped, sometimes with double letters where the stamps jumped. I by no means have a science background, but I took a physics class in college and I saw a lot of that manifesting when I stamped jewelry. And of course metals have their own science. And gemstones…. Ok maybe making jewelry has actually really gotten me into science.
One of my original Four Letter Word Bracelets. Photo by Arshia Khan.
I have a graphic design and art background from high school and college, and my first job was at my local bead shop, so I had a pretty good foundation for the creative aspects of this business. I try to source locally when I can: when I need graphic design help, I hire my friend Ashlee at Lee Lee Arts and Design; my shirts and totes I have printed locally at Electric Ghost Screen Printing; I’m always at Argenta Bead Company picking up bead and metal to work on custom orders.
For anything I can’t get locally, I try to build strong relationships with small businesses in the United States to get what I need.
Photo by Katie Childs
Describe the process of launching the business.
When I first realized I had a good thing going, I needed a name. This business felt like my baby, so it happened naturally that I named it after my real-life fur baby. Betty is my cat, and of course I drew “bang-up” from the imagery of a hammer hitting metal.
I designed my first logo, which I’ve since changed to evolve with my brand. I built my first website using Squarespace, which made things easier because I didn’t have to start from scratch and their customer service was great.
I was just really excited to get my designs out there and get feedback, and people responded well. I think I put the website out on my personal Facebook first and asked my friends to read it and give me feedback on that, too, for broken links, misspellings, blurry photos, stuff like that…. Everyone needs an editor. Everyone. Even editors.
This business has taught me a lot about myself. I’ve had to have a lot of conversations with myself about what I really want, now and in the future. And I’ve had to remind myself often that this has to be what I love.
Sales came slowly at first, but I remember my first holiday season things really picked up. I was up all night almost every night making and packing orders, and I stacked them all up on a table in a big pile and was just in awe.
I studied communications and marketing in college, and my career after college was in publishing, public relations and marketing. This, aside from having fun, lovable products that people can connect to emotionally, is what helped me propel my art from hobby to business. It also saved me a ton of money in the big picture.
I built and maintain my website, run all my social media accounts, take a lot of my own photos, conceptualized my packaging, seek and maintain partnerships with clients and nonprofits, and serve as my own sales rep. If you’re reading this right now and you have a communications or marketing person on your team, make sure you’re not undervaluing them. Heck, you should give them a raise. They are magical. I can’t stress enough the importance of great communications.
As far as financing my business went, I used my own savings to purchase the tools, metal and other materials I needed to get started as well as the website, business licenses, and other business aspects. Once it was running, I used the profits from sales to grow the business, creating new products and taking what were then big leaps for me (producing enamel pins, shirts, totes and other products that required cash upfront).
I’ve never done crowdfunding for Bang-Up Betty. I have never taken out a loan for this business. I’m not averse to it, and maybe someday I will, I have just wanted to build this business slowly and on my terms, being careful to consider my own financial peace of mind. I’ve always told myself that if I ever don’t love doing what I’m doing, I need to stop. And I think feeling the pressure of debt would make me love the work less.
I grew my business slowly, keeping my day job and supplementing my income with the earnings from Bang-Up Betty. It allowed me to learn so much over a long span of time instead of jumping all in right at once and having to sink or swim. I know a lot of people would disagree with my slow-moving method, but in the end it’s really all about what works for you and what makes you comfortable.
I wanted to be really sure that I really loved making jewelry before I made the leap. I’m also just naturally a very hard-working, organized, frugal person, which really helps when you’re working two jobs and 60+ hours per week. My astrology-savvy friends tell me I’m quite the Virgo.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Social media is where I get probably half of my traffic. About 40% comes from SEO. I actually don’t’ spend very much on advertising. Most of my marketing is organic. The other probably 10% is from referrals—blogs that feature my work, local news articles, client websites.
SEO I didn’t really get right off the bat. I did a TON of research on it and after I really started to understand how key words and phrases work, captions under photos, blogging, things like that, I went back through my website and recoiled in horror.
I remember seeing listings for products that I hadn’t even bothered to add tags to. How on earth were people going to ever find these things?! I started blogging way more on my website. I really cleaned everything up and optimized it and started to see results.
I try to stay on top of social media trends, which is admittedly really hard to do (whatever your algorithm is doing right now, Instagram, I really hate you). Everything is always changing. And I will probably never understand or want to understand SnapChat.
I think I’m just too old for it at this point. I went to a ComNet conference last year and I remember a presenter (sorry, I can’t recall who it was) saying not to try to do ALL of the social media. Maybe pick the two or three you’re really doing good work in and just excel in those. It felt like such a relief to hear that.
I’m really doing my best work in Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. And I feel like, while I’m doing EVERYTHING all by myself, if I try to also excel at YouTube, LinkedIn, SnapChat, and every other thing I’m going to spread myself thin and my content and posts are going to go downhill.
Maybe one day I can hire someone to do some of that work for me. I hear my nephew really wants to be a YouTuber, so I’ll keep him in mind.
Brand and PR
I’m from Arkansas, and it’s where I live now. I’ve found that people in my home state take pride and comfort in that. They love to buy local and share local artists. If you’re not pitching your story to local news sites, bloggers, etc., I suggest you start.
I think people across the world love a starter story close to them, whether they’re big businesses or small. And be sure to take care of your locals. I have close personal relationships with my local customers and retailers. Every now and then, do something nice for your clients just because.
I think the biggest thing that gets people back to my designs after they’ve purchased something is the story they get and the feeling they get when they get a new piece.
I infused a lot of my personality into the website, from the product descriptions to the social media posts. There is humor in the packaging.
There is a handwritten “thank you” on each bright pink mailer. I want you to do a happy dance at your mailbox.
As far as Amazon goes, I have dabbled in the “Handmade” part of the site, but I have only posted a few products and am hesitant to go all in.
As you’ve probably gleaned from this already, I have a very “shop local” attitude. I’m afraid that Amazon will erase every ounce of personality from a buyer’s first look at and first contact with my jewelry.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today I’m doing great. I’m planning on continuing the steady, gradual upward momentum and have lots of new things planned for 2019, starting with my first wholesale trade show in February (come see Bang-Up Betty at Pool Trade Show Feb. 5-7 in Las Vegas!).
I’m planning on expanding my product line in new fun ways that I can’t reveal yet. I’m also planning on doing a lot more traveling to make connections for this business, which is something I’ve never done.
Right now almost all of my sales are online, but I’m planning on doing a lot more in-person events to really meet and spend time with my clients on a local and national level.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I know I’ve talked a lot about how slow, gradual growth has worked for me, but there is still a little Devil on my shoulder that is like, “Stacey, get the hell out there and push this all the way. Hurry up!” This business has taught me a lot about myself. I’ve had to have a lot of conversations with myself about what I really want, now and in the future.
Don’t read into social media numbers too much. By that I mean followers. What matters most is not having 150,000 followers, but having REAL, interactive, interested followers who actually buy and share your work.
And I’ve had to remind myself often that this has to be what I love. That is the main goal. I’ve had to remind myself not to get blindsided and run myself ragged trying to grow as big as I can as quickly as I can and end up hating what I do because of it. I think most people would agree that they’d love to wake up in the morning and be excited about work. Well, that’s where I’m at right now, and it’s a great feeling. I’d like to keep that feeling alive.
Another little Devil I argue with is the “You’ll never have another good idea” Devil. I think a lot of creatives know this Devil well. This Devil keeps me awake at night, and I have to rationalize that I’ve been doing this for almost six years and have never run out of ideas. I do think that when a trend is trending down, you need to take note.
In a creative business, you have to adapt and evolve and keep up with the trends, and sometimes that requires a lot of bravery if it’s outside of your comfort zone. I’m working on that with myself right now and it will be reflected in future designs.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
As far as tools that I’ve found helpful with my online business, I can’t believe I spent SO MANY YEARS writing out addresses on mailers and taking them to the post office.
I love the reports I get from the Square app and it makes selling in person so easy. I tend to struggle with technology at first, so I hesitate to recommend or not recommend other apps and programs.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
As far as people, podcasts and entities I look to for inspiration, by biggest inspiration is probably Jen Dziura. If you haven’t heard of her, I’d call her a headstrong, feminist business guru and mentor to women running their own businesses, freelancing, working in a professional field or just existing.
She’s started multiple businesses and runs an annual convention for “bullish” women. I’m lucky to have met her and I get to email with her regularly (Hi, Jen!).
I’ve also really enjoyed Side Hustle School and am so grateful to have been featured on it. Side Hustle School is great for people like me who have an idea but are nervous to quit their day job. You can learn about other people’s side hustles, or how they get creative to earn a second income.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My top tip for entrepreneurs is to do what you love, not what someone else loves. Be sure that what you’re doing is original, and you’re not just reapplying someone else’s business model or product. If you’ve been inspired by someone or something and you incorporate that inspiration into your work, do it differently. If you’re just copying what someone else is doing, you’re just diluting that market and you probably don’t truly love what you do.
I would also advise to go at your own pace. I think part of the reason I’ve moved cautiously with my venture is all of the horror stories I heard of businesses blowing up overnight beyond their capacity, not being able to fulfill their promise and satisfy their customers, having to make rash decisions, and ultimately not putting out a great product and damaging their reputation.
Also, don’t read into social media numbers too much. By that I mean followers. What matters most is not having 150,000 followers, but having REAL, interactive, interested followers who actually buy and share your work.
I see a lot of brands out there with thousands and thousands of followers and I think, “Wow! How did they do that?” Then I surf their posts and see that people aren’t really liking or commenting on the posts. Real relationships are what matters, and engaging and interacting with your following.
Just because you can’t compete with the Kardashians with your Instagram numbers doesn’t mean you’re failing.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can also follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Ello at @bangupbetty and on Facebook at @bangupbettyjewelry.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
- Stacey Bowers, Founder of Bang-Up Betty
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
Interested in sharing your own story? Shoot me an email!
- Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story