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Metalsmith Megan Auman Welds Together Her Own Brand of Entrepreneurship

Metalsmith Megan Auman - Photo by Arianne Teeple
Metalsmith Megan Auman - Photo by Arianne Teeple
In late 2009, when her  business was in somewhat of a slump, Megan Auman thought that perhaps it would be prudent to go back to school for an MBA. She mentioned the idea to a friend, who responded, "That's ridiculous. You could teach that stuff."

Auman, a metalsmith, teacher, and entrepreneur, began selling her jewelry collections a decade ago while completing her MFA at Kent State. After a year-long teaching sabbatical at Towson University, she decided to spend less time in the classroom and more time working on her business. It was in her blood -- Auman's father bought and operated the machine shop her grandfather originally opened in Jonestown, PA, where she still resides.

So she switched to part time teaching and began attending craft shows with her work. Around 2007, she opened a store on Etsy, a worldwide virtual marketplace for handmade goods, and in March of 2009 she became a featured seller (her interview is here).

Yet by the end of that year, Auman felt lost. She had product lines she wasn't sure about and trade shows were getting slow. That's when she began to contemplate returning to school.

Instead she chose autodidactism, and started a blog with a mind to chronicle the process, which she named Crafting an MBA.

"My motto has always been: just figure it out," Auman says. "If you need to learn something, just go and learn it."

Auman didn't expect much out of the new website to begin with -- she supposed she might get a few consulting or speaking invitations. "But I've always been the kind of person who, as soon as I learn something, I want to turn around and teach it," she says, "So I thought, how can I take what I'm learning and create something of value for other people?"

A somewhat contentious post she wrote within the blog's first months suddenly brought Crafting an MBA a surge of traffic. Titled "Etsy and the culture of cheap," it critiqued the general lowering of prices on marketplaces such as Etsy as artificial and not reflective of the actual costs associated with producing handmade goods for profit.

With her new popularity as a business blogger, Auman decided to expand into selling digital as well as physical products. She started with an e-book, The Crafting an MBA Guide to Wholesale and Trade Shows, followed by a quick financial workbook called The Crafting an MBA Business Growth Planner. Her big project though, is currently an e-course called Marketing for Makers. The curriculum includes twelve weeks of lessons, online forums, and conference calls. Enrolling costs about $500, but this summer Auman will be launching a cheaper home study course with all the content sans the online community aspects.

"I try to look at the bigger picture of running a business," says Auman, "There's this myth that you can just throw up some pieces on Etsy and all of a sudden you're going to become famous and have a functioning business, and it doesn't work like that."

But for many crafters who start out as hobbyists rather than professionals supporting themselves through sales, changing their approach is often the biggest leap to make. "I feel like I spend a lot of time addressing mindset issues," Auman says,  "like helping people think about actually pricing products in a way that's making them a profit."

Meanwhile, the self-learner-cum-teacher also saw large improvements in her jewelry business, no doubt a side effect of working on Crafting an MBA. For the first time, in January, Auman was able to hire an employee to help with production. A former student of hers now spends thirty hours a week at her own studio in Towson making the staple necklaces, earrings, and other pieces that Auman sells to retailers in 40-50 stores across North America.

"That's something I'm really proud of, that I've built this business enough that I can employ someone else now," Auman says, "To me that was always a big goal."

This past year has also marked the rise of a brand new venture, another website -- but this time one Auman runs with a fellow entrepreneur and her best friend, Tara Gentile. The Creative Empire is an online members community for creative professionals, and not just crafters. People working in PR, marketing, web businesses, and even a coffee shop owner pay monthly fees to access online forums and seminars, and to participate in bi-monthly conference calls with Auman and Gentile, who answer specific questions and post the recordings to the site afterward.

"We were always really lucky to have each other to bounce ideas off of," Auman says, "but not everyone who's running a business has that." She and Gentile, who Auman met through business websites online and who coincidentally also lives in Pennsylvania, had both independently thought about starting membership communities to discuss business. Doing it together made sense. Now Gentile's personal assistant monitors the forums and day-to-day running of The Creative Empire, leaving the two entrepreneurs with more free time to keep up their individual work.

Auman loves what she does and considers herself lucky to be doing it for a living. "The whole time I was in college," she says,  "I basically knew that I was either going to teach or run my own business.

"Now I do both."

Amy Dusto is a freelance writer in Baltimore, writing for Bmore Media since November.

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Photos by Arianne Teeple:

- Metalsmith Megan Auman
- A necklace by Megan Auman
- Megan Auman solders a necklace
- Megan Auman
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