A Masterclass in Business for Smart Entrepreneurs
Gemstones by Magpie GemstonesSzarka Carter is the creative and business talent behind the colourful and captivating Magpie Gemstones. This talented lady is growing her business in some of the toughest economic times American small business has faced and it comes down to being generous with sharing information and ethical selling.

Magpie Gemstones was born out of a passion for authentic gemstones, the stories behind the stones and for creating an ethical business and is now a thriving online and offline gemstone supplier based in Texas, USA.

We caught up with Szarka to find out what makes this beautiful lady do what she does so well and found ourselves having a master class in business.

Tell us a little about yourself, what’s the day to day life like for a small business owner of Magpie Gemstones and who makes up the team?

I am the sole owner and crazed bead slinger at Magpie Gemstones. In a nutshell, the business started when I was making and selling handcrafted jewellery decades ago in Canada.

Gradually, I began selling beads at shows in the US and then eventually led to the online store.

Magpie Gemstones is a small company. I built the website, take care of social networking and hand select the beads we purchase for the store. Kyote takes pictures of the beauties, Kateri Stichart pulls the orders and runs the mail as well as doing gem shows in the area. I have a book keeper, Pari Saunders, who helps keep the numbers in check once a month and supports small business in all the paper work requirements. I have a writer, Dr. Karen Meador, a jewellery designer who writes well researched and informative articles for the site relevant to the trade.

Our days look rather mundane on the surface. We pull orders, get new bead listings in the store, run the beads to the mail, take pictures of more beads, answer the phone and help clients select their beads, answer emails, throw the ball for the dog, weed the garden, make dinner, make some jewellery, put together a newsletter, do some social networking, go to sleep and start all over again. When I am really on top of my game, Quick-books and I have time together.

This routine is sometimes thrown out the window. When I head out to do a buy, when we have 1100 pounds of gemstones show up in a big truck at the front door, and when Kateri packs up the show beads in a van and drives 11 hours to a gem show, everything changes for a few days.

What do you think sets Magpie Gemstones apart that's enabled it to be a success?

I believe Magpie Gemstones is successful because of my unique perspective derived from my history in the trade. The success is also based on the fact that the company meets a need that wasn’t being filled in this industry.

When I was selling jewellery for a living I became aware of how difficult it was for the small scale jewellery designer to find beads at prices that allowed them to succeed. I had to buy in large quantities and jump through all kinds of hoops in an attempt to get what I needed. Often, I wouldn’t get the quality I wanted for the price I was paying. I vowed to help designers find great beads at great prices.

I also found it frustrating to see how many vendors misrepresented their stones. The resulted in my present business model emphasising honesty and full disclosure.

This model is enhanced as I constantly educate myself about the trade. In addition my experience selling jewellery gave me the ability to choose pieces that I knew would sell when made into product. I was fortunate to create a niche that was very well received.

What (or who) inspires you, that encourages you to reach out and make things happen?

My clients inspire me to do what I do. When I set out to do this and supply them with quality beads at an acceptable price I made a commitment to them to be there for the long haul. I also made a commitment to be reputable and supportive.

Every day I think about that promise and make all of my decisions based on that. When I send out a newsletter I consider whether it is full of useful information worth their time in opening. I buy beads with my clients in mind and consider their likes, dislikes, their price range and what they have been working on.

I follow trends in style and colour. My decisions are based on meeting my commitments to my clients rather than how to sell beads. Don’t get me wrong. I am sure happy when they sell but the only reason they do is if I meet my client’s needs.

Have you always had a love for jewellery and gemstones or was it one of life’s discoveries?

As a child I spent months in the Rocky Mountains of Canada with my parents fishing or camping. The geology of the Rocky Mountains is intense and the stones you can find are awesome. As a child I would sit on my gravel road with a bucket of water and wash stones one by one to see what treasures I could uncover.

I started out in geology in college but soon moved over to group and family counseling when I believed a degree in geology would just land me in the oil industry. Four degrees later and a career as a therapist, I started to make jewellery after I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. My type A personality wouldn’t allow me to just be idle so I worked at making jewellery for 12 to 16 hours a day while I healed my body from the damage I had done in a high stress field.

I tried going back to work but didn’t have the same stamina for stress I had previously had and soon realised I had to follow my passion. Many things stepped in my path that guided me. A Mayan gentleman who wrapped necklaces showed me a few things and befriended me. An elderly woman who was a rock hound and sold at the market down the road would show off specimens and we would talk for hours about Tucson, Quartzsite, rock hounding and more. There was no turning back then and many other people and experiences landed in my path that solidified my decision to make a life out of rocks and jewellery. I was a gem junky and I had found my passion. 

Do you have favourite gemstones or types of jewellery?

I love jewellery that is collectable. I want jewellery that increases in value and is made of gems that are select or hard to get. I’m after big, chunky, valuable and rustic. I like replicas of old trade necklaces but with the twist of modern. I don’t mind using lesser materials like plated, etc. but prefer my jewellery pieces to have value and quality that will stand the test of time. Large department store jewellery does nothing for me.

What do you enjoy most about the business?

I enjoy the people and the relationships I have formed through Magpie Gemstones.

I like to see people discover their passion and express themselves to the world. It goes beyond that since once we open ourselves up to what we love it ripples through our lives and has an effect in every area. It is trans-formative and empowering. There can never be too much of that!

What’s been the hardest part or experience you’ve had since starting the business?

Click to enter the free online competitions with She InspiresRoutine is not my forte. I loved traveling and being a free spirit. Selling on the internet is like tending a garden. There are chores one must do every day. It was much easier once I found a routine but it was tough to get one that worked and didn’t feel “forced”.

Spending a day a week fixing broken links because my website host program decided another upgrade was necessary is just not my idea of a good time.

What’s been the best thing for the business that you just stumbled upon?

Back when I was getting the website up I already had four blogs and sister sites all over the web related to the website. At that time, most people thought that it was necessary to move everything onto your website so the links, keywords, visitor numbers would reflect on the website.

I just couldn’t make myself do it. Then Google changed how they did business and suddenly all of these places became interconnected in the eyes of Google and my SEO went through the roof. I am so glad now I listened to my heart and didn’t move them.

What do you think has been the most successful promotional activities you’ve explored to getting the word out about Magpie Gemstones?

I think the most effective promotional activities I have engaged in are the conversations in forums, groups, Facebook etc, letting people know me, I also enjoy getting to know them. Social networking is key. I don’t believe you should do social networking simply to get sales. I do social networking because I want to be an active, interesting, and resourceful part of the community I am in. This is something I must do myself as it would not be effective to hire someone to do it for me.

Things have changed in the business world. I look forward to my social networking time on the computer. It is how I reward myself after I have fixed links, built listings and organised the beads. I can then go “play” with my peers. My clients are not customers, they are peers.

You have a flourishing number of followers on Facebook – what do you think has been the best way of getting your name out there on Facebook?

Facebook success, I think, is about being real and offering myself in all my “glory”, flaws and all. It’s important to show up regularly so people can count on me and know I am there for them. I am sure everything I post is something they want to see or hear not something I think I “should” post from a business model view of the world.

I look at every interaction as a way to support artists in getting out there. “Like” my client’s jewellery when they post it on Facebook so it gets more exposure. I also help someone with a problem if I think I have a solution and listen to them when they have had a rough day.

I think people really get a sense online that I am grounded, I am authentic, and that I care. I don’t know about you but if I was buying gemstones from someone those are the qualities I would want my supplier to have. Buying gemstones on the internet is a gamble. There is so much misrepresentation out there. You really need to trust your supplier.

What do you think has been a really important regular activity with your social media that’s helped you grow?

I think it has been three fold: social networking, newsletters, and informational articles. People want to connect and stay informed.

Growing the newsletter list is vital. I want to be sure people can sign up easily and I try to give them a really good reason to sign up. I do that by offering unique and valuable articles and information they need based on real life experience and excellent research.

In my situation Magpie Gemstones offers articles such as free tutorials, how to sell jewellery, how to make jewellery, all about gemstones and the list goes on. People want to learn about their passion and they want information that is solid. We also encourage people to sign up by having promotions. Lastly, our clients want to know what new products we have and what is on sale.

I do everything I can to support my client's success as well. We have a Client's Art Blog where I show off their creations using Magpie beads. It increases their SEO and I advertise their work whenever I can. I have heard back that many client's have experienced sales through that exposure. In my book if my clients succeed then so will I.

Through social networking via jewellery making groups, Facebook, Twitter, Etsy Forums, Jewellery Lessons etc., I offer support and information people are looking for. I let them get to know me and then, eventually, they check out my site and, hopefully, become a client. 

What are the hopes and plans for Magpie Gemstones this year?

I am hoping to build a new website with better search function and a wish list.

I have built this company slowly and conservatively. I am grateful for that since when the recession hit Magpie Gemstones just continued to grow. I think that because this company discloses all treatments and has been understanding with foreign clients ensuring they had inexpensive shipping options and are treated with respect there has been an increase in the number of clients as opposed to a drop off.

As people became more selective about what they bought they either came back to this company or came over to it because they knew they were getting quality and they knew what they were getting.

Also many European countries, Canada, Australia etc did not experience as deep of a recession as the US did and Magpie Gemstone’s out-of-country clientele continues to grow for the reasons previously stated. I believe that will continue for the next year.

I still struggle with how to attract new clients and really try to stay away from paid advertising. Instead the company does it through elbow grease. Tutorials, well written articles, and shopping sprees are a few of the ways used. I would much prefer the clients get my advertising dollar than to have it go to Google adwords. So I expect even more promotions will be set in place in the future.

What would be your top 5 tips you’d give to someone starting out?

Business Tip 1: Know what you are selling.

I am selling my eyes, my connections, and my knowledge. I know I should say I am selling beads but that is not what I really sell. So define yourself, know what you are and stay consistent with that. Be sure it resonates with you and fills a need for a group of people.

Business Tip 2: Be consistent.

Show up regularly. It is hard to have trust in a business if it disappears for days on end. Show up in your networking, respond to emails promptly. Be available. People want people to connect with you and are tired of faceless businesses.

Business Tip 3: Be reputable.

Do not manipulate or misrepresent. Ethics and integrity are gifts that keep on giving. At the end of the day it is all we really have. Admit your mistakes readily. People are immensely grace filled and forgiving if you give them the chance to be.

Business Tip 4: Don’t over diversify or stretch yourself too thin.

Be willing to say no. Stay in a niche and fully explore it before moving on. It is better to tell someone you can’t do something than not follow through and have your clients lose confidence in you. I was tempted for awhile to sell metal beads and get into chain, but when it came right down to it I want to be the best gemstone dealer on the internet and I couldn’t do that if I over diversified and spread myself too thin.

Business Tip 5: Believe in people, give them the benefit of the doubt.

People will rise up to what you expect of them. Go the extra mile. Be generous. Be kind. People really need and like that. Human interactions and a love of the trade is why I do this. If it was just about money I would be doing something else.

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Meet Szarka Carter of Magpie Gemstones

Meet Szarka Carter of Magpie Gemstones

Szarka Carter of Magpie Gemstones making her jewelry
Szarka Carter is the creative and business force behind Magpie Gemstones and has an abiding love for gemstones that comes shining through.

Check out Magpie Gemstones on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news and updates.

Visit the Client's Art Blog to see designs made by Szarka's customers - a wonderful dose of inspiration is to be found here!

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