Jewelry Designer Weaves Together Passion and Purpose

Sharla Miller runs a North Carolina-based jewelry company called Sharla M. Designs. She uses the proceeds to fund her yearly trips to Swaziland, where she volunteers at a rural church through the nonprofit organization Heart for Africa. (She’s written about the trips on her blog.) 

The GoPayment Blog recently chatted with Miller about how important passion is in running a business, how she balances work and family life, and why she loves GoPayment.

GoPayment: How did you get into making jewelry?

Miller: Years ago, I was out shopping and found some things I loved that were a bit overpriced. I thought, “That’s really simple. I could make that.” I went and found someone to teach me the basics. My children were really small, so I stopped for a number of years.

After my fourth trip to Africa, I knew I needed to find a way to earn money so I could keep going back. I decided to reopen my jewelry business in October 2010. Basically, I use the profits from my business to help fund my trips to go back to Africa, and then occasionally I’ll do a show and 10 percent of my proceeds will go to a specific charity. It’s my way of raising money to keep going back.

Where is your jewelry available?

It’s available in a boutique (Ruby’s Gift in North Davidson, N.C.) and a salon (Sweetwater Salon in Hunterville, N.C.). I’m getting ready to open an Etsy shop and tie it all together. I also sell at art festivals.

What materials do you use?

I use semiprecious stones and glass beads. There’s a company in Swaziland that I buy beads from. I like to [use] beads from Africa whenever possible. I use primarily base metal because sterling silver and gold have gotten so expensive. I’ll use stainless steel chains, or antique brass and copper. Right now I’m doing a lot with pearls and leather cord.

Who are your target customers, and how do you reach them?

Definitely women. I would say their age range is anywhere from 18 to my mom and her friends, so 70s and 80s. The largest part of my market is probably somewhere in the 35 to 60 age range. I’ve been working through my Facebook friends and looking at ways to grow my online business.

What are your biggest business challenges, and how have you overcome them?

I would definitely say getting to my target market and building my name. The way that I’ve overcome that is taking pretty much any opportunity that I have, whether it’s networking events or small local art markets, [to get] my name out there. The little shop where I sell does events. I’ve sat in the window and made jewelry to catch the attention of people who walk by.

How do you juggle raising kids and running a business?

I have four kids, so that is definitely a challenge. But in the evenings, when we’re all hanging out, I’ll sit and make jewelry. And then during the day all my kids are in school, so I make use of that time. My older children go to the art shows with me and help me. I have a freshman in college who’s 19, a 17-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 10-year-old.

What advice would you offer to other small-business owners?

Just to really have a vision and a passion for what you’re doing. Whatever it is that you choose to do, make sure you’re passionate about it. One of the themes I use a lot is “where passion and creativity meet purpose.” To have something bigger than making a profit for your own personal gain is so important. Whether you choose to use a lot of your profits for a cause or even if it’s 10 percent, always have a bigger picture that you’re working toward.

Tell us more about your trips to Africa.

I go every summer to Swaziland. I just came back from my sixth trip. For the past three years, I’ve gone to the same church in a very rural community. We built a cook shelter with them so they didn’t have to cook out in the rain. This year, we distributed TOMS shoes. Part of it is being there and playing with the children and laughing with them. Their life is very difficult.

How has using GoPayment affected your business?

It was probably October of last year when I started using GoPayment. I was at an outdoor art festival, and it rained all weekend. I was using the old-fashioned slide machine, and everything was so damp from all the rain and the credit card wasn’t taking the impressions, so we had to hand-write everything. A lady came up to me at the festival and told me about GoPayment.

It was actually less expensive for me to get a phone that I could take GoPayment on and pay the data charges than for me to have a merchant account through a credit card company. It’s made things so much easier, never having to worry about the impression not taking. Plus, it saves me money.

These days, so few people carry cash with them. I think my business would be a lot smaller if I wasn’t able to take credit cards. I would bet at least 60 percent of my transactions are credit cards. Intuit makes it possible for me to do that in an affordable way.

About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a freelance writer and blogger who specializes in writing about business and personal finance. Her articles have appeared in or on The Boston Globe, Dance Retailer News, GetCurrency.com, Mint.com, PARADE Magazine, WomenEntrepreneur.com, and other places.
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