Michelle Marcella-Morales is a passionate earth lover, raw stone jewelry maker, small business-obsessed mom of two, and a familiar face to our Babes In Business community. Michelle founded her Raw Opal Etsy shop in 2018 and since then it’s grown to nearly 1800 sales, garnered many “Top Seller Badges” and has amassed over 500 five-star reviews!
Today we’re sharing our interview with Michelle. Inside, she shares about how she started and grew Raw Opal as a business and gives us her 5 key tips for growing your Etsy shop too!
How did you get started with Raw Opal on Etsy? Did you sell Raw Opal jewelry somewhere before joining Etsy?
I had attempted opening Etsy shops three times previously in 2007, 2009, and again in 2011 when they were a young budding platform looking to expand maker awareness and artisan talent. I had made jewelry for myself and wanted really to put my craft and designs to task for others but was very discouraged by the other “big girl companies” who critiqued my shops harshly. I quickly realized with each failed attempt that my product wasn’t right and my ability to give the time needed to run and keep a business wasn’t enough.
Years later, during a heartbreaking divorce that left me with little time to be with my son, I was toggling commission painting, a seasonal bartending job, running a board game business, a kayaking outfitter and a florist apprenticeship and it was all too much. For what? I was bringing success to others and their small businesses and losing sight of my life and losing even more time with my son.
Etsy was the unobvious means for me to slowly start my own business while I was still working may many other positions. It was a low-risk, low-cost means to get eyes on an idea that I had been percolating over for months. After really a very embarrassingly obsessive amount of Etsy strategy research on YouTube, Etsy itself and various other forums, I decided THIS time would be THE time for me. Etsy had changed drastically over the decade I’d been away from it, and I knew more about social media, marketing, and promotional outreach as well as customer service over my many niched positions with the other companies I had run. I knew my idea was specific, high quality, not overpopulated, and special. I pulled ideas for my launch from only “Top Etsy Sellers” and not just in the jewelry sect, but all top sellers in any market.
After months of research, sourcing, development, prototyping, and photographing, I launched Raw Opal exclusively on Etsy in August 2018 and have yet to look back. To this day it is the backbone of R|O and pumps our heart with the revenue needed to cover our regulatory operating costs.
What’s your favorite thing(s) about the work that you do and the products you create?
I have been able to grow my company substantially over the past few years, and
Etsy is a foundational reason for this. The visibility alone that it afforded, and still affords us, has greatly impacted our reach and has in and of itself landed us quite a few prestigious partnerships. The first being the Philadelphia Art Museum which carries now quite a few designs of ours, our raw birthstone stud earrings line, and even a line of custom moonstone in moon earrings that they asked us to design specifically for them.
Working with other businesses and getting our pieces into other spaces is my favorite part right now. It has opened us up to curating exclusive raw gemstone palettes for specific retailers which have proven to be quite the draw for our alike clients. It has also been an immensely gratifying and unexpectedly creative process. Vetting and then massaging relationships with our stockist partners is a fun and exciting acquisition.
Having been a lone wolf operation until late 2020, my small team and I have our preferences for who makes what and who cuts which type of stone. It’s funny how everyone has their preference based on personal technique and bias. I personally love working with opal. It’s obvious given it’s our namesake, but working with welos, fire opals, and black-bodied specimens are really fun. We ethically vet our stone sources.
We only buy our parent rocks direct from the mine site or from fair trade prospecting groups whom I have a personal relationship with and trust. This makes taking in new stones for custom work a bit challenging, but always another fun part of the job. We recently sourced sunstone and rhodochrosite, both stones I had never worked with prior. Cutting into them atop our in-studio anvil for the first time was a very exciting moment for our team.
What are the 5 tips/pieces of advice you’d give someone who’s starting out? Or someone who’s been at it for a bit but is trying to boost sales?
First gem of advice I’d suggest for someone just getting going is to truly be objective when deciding what it is you will be making or providing. I knew I had a very specific but simple idea. I needed to ensure it was high quality, palatable and profitable. If you cannot be realistic with your product, and production for said product, you won’t be able to realistically sell your product. The same could easily be said for service based businesses or digital product based businesses. I would more specifically suggest to jewelers in particular to find one or two specific design aesthetics to really capture, and know exactly who it is you are appealing to with your pieces. If you, yourself don’t wear and love or use and appreciate your products, others won’t either. Authenticity is truly the heart of any business.
The second piece of advice I might give to someone starting out would be, should you be embracing the Etsy platform, really do your market research ON ETSY. Etsy is ever-evolving and so is their algorithm, but many assume it’s out of nowhere or changes on a dime. Etsy wants you to succeed so they succeed. They are constantly coming out with resources for makers and sellers alike to utilize so as to be found in-search. Find your relevant hashtags and use purposeful key terms for INDIVIDUAL products and specific to your listings. Using long-tail keywords is really key also. You don’t want your listings to be a drop in a bucket, you want them to be the handle, the standout. Be unafraid also to reach out to other sellers who are killing it and ask them for advice. You’d be pleasantly surprised as to the feedback you might get.
Thirdly I would add having a consistent strategy for your social platforms as w
ell as focusing your time and attention on growing and tending to one channel first. Be present on all or many channels, but really place all of your time, research, and analytical prowess behind the one social media platform that you ENJOY using. If you are truly engaged yourself, you will in turn be engaging and thus more likely to attract your ideal community of followers. These followers will become as loyal to you as you will allow. I personally started from day one, actually before day one, on Instagram. I started posting on Raw Opal the week before even opening my Etsy shop and started hyping my 200 followers after converting my personal profile to a business profile. I likewise promoted my Instagram page in my Etsy’s “Shop Announcements” section. I have been using Instagram every single day since then and have grown an organic audience of fiercely loyal clients to just over 3k. We are not a huge account, but of those 3k followers, I have a 22% average visibility in my stories. This means nearly a quarter of our followers show up every single day, multiple times per day to watch our stories. Our following is organic, and true. They in turn have followed me around the internet to all of my other channels and my analytics show a healthy 9% of my Etsy sales come right from Instagram. A well-worth-it endeavor. (Moving that audience to my website has been a fun little challenge.)
Fourthly connecting to your clients in person is incredibly healthy for your business, and can also be an unexpected boost to your Etsy following should you play your cards and connections smartly. Not just selling face to face but connecting genuinely face to face. You do not have to be selling 100% of the tim
e. Your business is a brand. It’s an idea, and a lifestyle. You need to promote your mission, vision, and values every bit in person as you would online. Babes In Business has been a great local source of networking for me and for my company. Since having met Jen at a local event in 2019 and witnessing her dedication to connecting, inspiring, and informing entrepreneurs, I knew I was at least interested in vending her events. After just the first one and witnessing the panel of successful NJ-based business owners, I knew it was a network I wanted to be a part of or at least have access to. Finding a tribe is key and being with them face to face is important.
Covid not just threw a wrench into things, but put a pause on things. Since that pause has ended, the relevance of in-person connection has never been more important. I personally connect with my clients. I remember them, their names, their stories, their needs, and their preferences. I remember every conversation I have had with them, which pieces they inquired about or purchased from us. I really take great care to make sure my clients, friends, followers know that the next time we see each other we will connect again with that same previous conversation. I am now a part of Babes In Business, attending events and not just vending them. There is never any cheesy, forced obligation to network through Babes, just fun events to attend, shop and gather relevant business information from. The connections have been organic and true, and I chose in turn to expand my small business with some of the other entrepreneurs I met there. It’s been quite valuable for my local growth, brand recognition, and reputation as a whole.
Finally, I would say please be positive, genuine, and honest. I am a business owner. I am also obsessive-compulsive. I am an employer. I am also anxiety-ridden. I am a mom. I am also guilt-stricken. I am a lover. I am also without time. I am a gooood friend. I am also forgetful. I am indeed a flawed human who has difficulty with work/life balance but I am always
positive about my misgivings, genuine with my intentions, and honest to a fault. A classically trained long-winded over-sharer. I do believe the fact that I am positive, genuine, and honest is comforting to those who trust my company and our pieces, thus my loyal returning community of “friendos.”
What is a star seller?
Etsy’s “Star Seller” status is a badge earned and awarded to businesses that maintain a 95%+ rating in three key categories. Being a “Star Seller” affords you the recognition you’ve earned through providing an outstanding and proven customer experience which in turn incentivizes shops to stay on top of their customer service. The three focused categories are “message replies,” “5-star ratings,” and “on-time shipping & tracking.”
I always keep on top of my Etsy orders from the moment I know I have sold a listing to the moment I see their rating and read their comments. I view a “you’ve just made a sale” or that “cha-ching” as a conversation. The beginning of said conversation is of course my thank you to the buyer or “guest” for their order in the first place. I handwrite a personal thank you note to go along with every order. Now that I have a team, the individual who made that piece will handwrite the thank you sentiment. Our conversation is not over after the packaged order leaves our studio in pursuit of its destination.
We follow the tracking until delivery is confirmed, where we wait 3-4 more days and then reach out to each and every client to see how they love their piece, or if their intended recipient loved the gift they had gotten from us. We gingerly ask for them to give us some constructive feedback on their experience and once they do in fact, we will then send them a thank you “Etsy Snippet” back with a coupon code for their next visit with us. The conversation then continues with their inevitable next order. This customer service approach is not just second nature but has been proven to win us repeat and loyal clients as well as the “Star Seller Badge,” which gives us not just notoriety but more visibility on search pages for our top-selling and most commonly favorited and viewed listings.
How can babes reach out to you? Where can we find you online?
We have a beautiful online retail experience at RAWOPAL.COM for your raw stone wardrobe.
Our ever-strong Etsy Shop is easily found @ RAWOPAL.ETSY.COM where you can shop all of our pieces from organized isles or “sections.” You can also meet our staff in our “shop members” section and read our amassed client reviews page while keeping informed on all the things new with R|O in our Etsy “Shop Announcements.”
Our social channels are | IG & FB @rawopaljewelry + TIKTOK & PIN @rawopal