I’ve been a maker and entrepreneur my entire life. From that time I sold painted rocks around my neighborhood, I’ve been destined to make money being my own boss in some creative field.

Before I was a podcaster and a web designer, I spent about 2.5 years making jewelry and selling it online and in my local community. Jewelry-making is one of my favorite things, and that accidental business taught me a lot.

Back then I was wrapping up college and needed a creative outlet, and in true Emily-fashion, I monetized it. It all began when I discovered Etsy and I knew I had to be on this. So, I set up my first shop and started figuring out the nuts and bolts of running an online-based business.

What began as a let’s-see-what-happens experiment quickly turned into a full-time job, resulting in over a thousand online orders and a flourishing local business as well. I learned a lot by being thrown into that business, and here are some of the lessons that I’ve taken with me all the way:

1 – Consistency breeds legitimacy.

It was in those days that I discovered the biggest online not-so-secret of all: consistency breeds legitimacy.

In a realm where customers can’t touch your products or chat with you face-to-face, you have to use your brand’s look and feel and your words to communicate everything about your product. And if you’re not consistent with your messaging and look, then your customer recognizes a disconnect.

In online business, a consistent brand look consists of logo, type faces, and a color scheme that is used on everything your brand produces. The feel is translated to your brand’s imagery and is reflected in the words you use.

Also, your brand’s experience on the front-end (what your website or shop looks like) has to carry over into the one-on-one interactions of customer and client support as well. If you’re all sweet and witty in your outward-facing content, but your customer service emails are short and cold, then your customer will see that disconnect, and you’ll lose credibility.

If all the things are in place—if you’re brand is consistent—then your customer will see you as a legitimate business person worthy of their money.

Consistency breeds legitimacy. And legitimacy makes you money.

2 – You have to stand apart.

If Etsy taught me anything, it’s that people will steal your shit. And it’s really easy to let inspiration turn into copying in a place like that, too. As a creative business owner, it’s important to always rely on your own creativity, not someone else’s. Sell your creativity, or go get a job.

Another side of this coin is to consistently be innovating and setting yourself apart from the crowd. Always go the extra mile. When you lean back in comfort, the crowd will catch up.

3 – Badass photos are your golden egg.

I don’t care if you’re doing line sheets for wholesalers, putting your headshot on a guest post, or selling products online, you have to have really badass photos. Online or off, unless your products are in a customer’s hand, your photos are what is telling the story of your brand, the quality of your product, and the care with which you run your business.

Usually, around Being Boss we talk about investing in branding first. But I believe that product businesses, in particular, should invest in product photography first. Throw some simple Helvetica text on top of a legit photo of your product and you have a brand. The photo speaks for itself.

And now that services are my bread and butter, I see the importance that badass photos for your brand still holds. It’s the same. Your imagery can make or break your brand.

4 – Community = success.

My jewelry business is where I first learned the importance of community for my business, online and off. I found success because I got to know people, and those people supported me.

It began with the Etsy chat rooms, talking about how to resize photos and discussing how to name products. It turned into collaborations and supporting each other for family birthday gifts. Online went offline when friends encouraged me to do arts and craft fairs, which turned into getting invited to shows, to throw jewelry parties (OMG, those were always the best), and picking up local wholesale accounts.

Even now community is a large part of what we encourage here at Being Boss. Community = success for any business.

5 – Systems are the difference between smooth sailing and lots of bad ratings.

My first holiday season as a maker put me through my paces, and I quickly learned the importance of putting systems in place so that you’re working smarter, not harder. I developed a system that got orders from Etsy into my studio, products made, and shipping out quickly and efficiently.

I then took that understanding to systemize my web design business to grow and scale. Then I employed them to systemize Being Boss to create and launch lots of valuable content. I grew a team. And all of this was done because jewelry-making taught me to hustle smart.

The skills to systemize make you a good entrepreneur.

6 – Marketplaces are there to serve themselves. (Read: You need your own website.)

I ultimately learned a big lesson from selling jewelry on Etsy that led me to my next career of being a web designer. Marketplaces like Etsy are a great place for you to find your footing, test your product and your market, and learn the ropes. But marketplaces are there to serve themselves, and a good entrepreneur knows when to move along and stand on their own two feet.

When doing business online, standing on your own two feet means owning and running your own website—a place where you’re not sharing brand space with anyone else. It’s a place where you can make and sell on your own terms. It’s a place where you’re the boss, but you’re also the professional who’s investing time and energy into your own business.

If you want to run a legit online business where you’re the expert, you need your own website.

7 – You’re not locked in.

It was moving from Etsy to my own website when I found that websites were just as fun to make as earrings, but with a much larger profit margin. It was then where I found a place where I could use my web skills to help other creatives also get off of Etsy and into their own brand home (aka website).

And it was at the end of my career selling jewelry on Etsy that I found that as a creative, I get to make money doing what I love. And sometimes that means going in a new direction.

– – – –

My years selling jewelry on Etsy were formative for understanding how business works online. I learned a ton about myself, and about how I could help others build online businesses, too.

Every step you make on your creative path is important. Even if it feels it doesn’t make sense now, learn the lessons and continue to move forward. Be consistent, stand apart, lean on your community. And move forward.

Emily is the co-host of Being Boss Podcast, helping creative entrepreneurs learn how to run their own creative business with the tough love they need to hear to do the work. She also owns Almanac Supply Co., a maker and retail business focused on creating and curating items to help you live closely with nature, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.