When to go ‘All In’ on Your Dream Business
By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Risk is assumed when someone starts a business, but oftentimes, entrepreneurs aim for a soft landing. At some point, founders must take a leap of faith.
Marla Aaron left advertising agency McCann Worldgroup in 2012 where she was vice president of communications for its division MRM. Her aha moment came during a business trip in France. Away from her kids, a coffee pot exploded leaving her with burns and she decided to return home. She presented her husband with an ambitious business plan on PowerPoint and left her job a week later to follow her passion designing jewelry.
Aaron told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, that she wishes she started her jewelry business earlier. Even after she did, she felt rejected when she was initially turned down by major retailers and picked up freelance jobs in advertising as a safety net.
“That was probably a mistake and that was a waste of time because I wasn’t doing anything that well,” she said. “I was probably a mediocre consultant and I was doing a mediocre job starting my business. I had to fully pull the rug out and focus 100 percent.”
Her advice for anyone looking to leave their job to start a business or take their side hustle full-time: “You have to do it. You have to go all in in every respect.”
Aaron went door-to-door in New York’s Diamond District selling her first pieces of fine jewelry made from industrial climbing carabiners. When one retailer took an interest, she knew she had a viable business and began designing, selling, and eventually, building the Marla Aaron Jewelry brand.
She had just signed a lease for her showroom on 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in Midtown Manhattan at the start of the pandemic lockdown. Her new space remained empty.
Instagram helped her showcase her products and communicate her story, but she missed the personal touch with clients. Aaron and her employees had been meeting over Zoom at the beginning and end of each work day to keep everyone engaged. That gave her an idea.
“We’re like Zoom is working for us; let’s do Zoom appointments. So, we started doing Zoom appointments, but it wasn’t just like, ‘Hey Zoom with a customer.’ We understood that it required orchestration, rehearsal, dominating the archive of photos that we had so it would be seamless,” Aaron said.
She discovered that the Zoom appointments were most effective when two sales representatives were on each call. One person operates the technical side, showing their catalogue of product photos, while the other representative describes each piece and asks questions to determine the customers’ tastes.
“We just figured it out,” said Aaron.
Figuring it out was not easy, especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when jewelry was far from prospective customers’ minds.
Before COVID, Aaron vowed to donate silver heart lockets to single mothers every year, which was derived out of her own experience. She remembers feeling down on Mother’s Day as a single mom before her second marriage. Her son was too young at the time to understand the holiday and she sat at brunch empty handed while she watched families exchange flowers. So when her business suffered at the outset of the pandemic, Aaron tried to make the most out of a bad situation and lift the spirits of others.
“We call it the ‘Lock Your Mom Project’ and we give them away to single moms. The first year I gave 50 and every year I had doubled it subsequently. And, the first year of the pandemic, we had planned to give out 800. I was thinking, we can do this. We can figure out a way to get this done,” Aaron said.
While the showroom remained shuttered, they found single mothers online and began shipping lockets from Marla’s house for Mother’s Day 2020. Aaron told Connolly and Carousso that’s when they realized they could sell a lot of jewelry virtually.
Marla Aaron Jewelry has more than 112,000 followers on Instagram. But, what those followers don’t realize is that the woman behind the brand is also the one operating the account.
Aaron calls her business “rebellious” in how they’ve bucked traditional jewelry marketing.
“We speak to people in plain language. It’s not covered in fairies and frost and Photoshop,” she explained. “It’s just really honest and authentic and real.”
Aaron sees her jewelry designs as an extension of herself and believes her story resonates with customers.
Today, she employs 18 people who help manage production, marketing, customer service and her wholesale accounts. Aaron continues to design all the jewelry she sells out of her office in the Diamond District.
See Marla Aaron’s creative process, her advice for taking the leap into entrepreneurship, and the new ways of selling jewelry that has helped her expand her reach on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.