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Conversations with Marilyn Slinkman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marilyn Slinkman.

Hi Marilyn, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Around 2002, while working in a high-stress position, I needed a creative outlet to help with some of the stress. An introductory jewelry-making course was offered by my then employer and I signed up. That rekindled my old beading passion as a teen and helped unleash my creative side. After that first class, it started as a hobby. Then I wore something [I had made] to a personal appointment and several compliments were given about my design. Comments like “Where did you get that? Will you make me one?” I thought maybe I should take this to the next level. Soon, it went from hobby to very small business, making necklaces on a TV tray while watching a show to now having a dedicated studio. Most of these years, I continued to work full time. Spent many days doing public events like Cary’s Spring Days, private shows and was always growing my customer base.

For roughly 15 years, Carolina Pearl LLC was a micro-business, but not at an elevated level that it has been in the past few years. The tipping point was when my husband suddenly became critically ill in 2015. He required a heart transplant and that really changed my perspective on living life to the fullest and following your passion. So, we decided to retool and propel the business into a full-time adventure.

It was in 2017 that the decision to stop working in corporate America happened. It was prime time to take years of sales experience, building relationships, doing what I love – and put it all together by working for myself. Being an entrepreneur is a journey. Scary is an understatement. I’ve been very fortunate. The fear factor was very strong; I needed to be confident and know that this is what I love, being good at it and not doing it for the money. Because the designs are one of a kind, it helps a lady feel adorned, special and unique.

I work primarily with freshwater pearls, Swarovski crystals, stones, beads, silver, and gold. My customer base is as diverse as you could imagine. One customer in Texas has 20+ pairs of Carolina Pearl LLC earrings and another who sends pictures of her newest wardrobe addition and requests a specially designed product just for her.

One high point moment was in 2004 when [TV commentator] Nancy Grace invited me to New York City so she could look at the “rookie” jewelry I was making. I knew if she would wear my designs on TV, it would be wildly advantageous for me. She was very gracious and became a great, long lasting customer. She encouraged me to stay focused and do what I love.

Here is the why of my small business – First of all, I get to use my hands. I love the design element of it; you can tap into your creativity. Pearls are my thing, and every woman can wear pearls. Also, as more and more of my workshops and classes were booked, I found myself totally enjoying this side of the business. Especially when a student turns it into a little business of their own or a beloved hobby. That’s very fulfilling for me, even though I may be teaching my competition.

There are huge challenges common in starting any business. Early on, financing, resources, knowledge and skill level. I found it very hard to stay organized. My days are filled with a lot of time on the computer, camera and work table. Whether it’s searching for and procuring the right materials, sorting inventory, designing, advertising, making the product, marketing, ordering, photographing or shipping. It’s as complex as if I had a brick-and-mortar location. It’s just as difficult working from your home, especially during covid. Getting the right licenses and permits, having a website built, maintaining my Facebook group or applying for a trademark. Time for running a one-woman business is always in short supply.

People often ask me why I do this and how. While stepping away from a 6 figure a year income was a huge decision, and I have no regrets. This is one of the best decisions ever made. I want to do this until I no longer can. There are trade-offs in everything you do in life. Yes, I miss that steady income, but this gives me fulfillment. (You may never meet a rich crafter) I don’t do it to be rich; I do it to be happy.

When I look back on my career, I look back fondly. I was a young, uneducated Army veteran, and I had to get an education and raise a son by myself. Fortunately, after many years, success in my I.T. career happened. I’m thankful. That actually made it easier for me to do what I want to do at my age. Moving from a structured, steady income life to what is now Carolina Pearl LLC was a huge transition. I don’t have to get up in the morning if I don’t want to. People have asked me, “What are you doing now?” And I say, “Nothing before 10am” I’m a night creature. Almost every design and product is made after midnight. I tend to my household things and appointments during the day, then around 3pm Carolina Pearl life begins until two or three in the morning. The ideas just come to me late at night. Hard work, dedication and a vision – that is what it takes. I often hear ‘you are so lucky’. Yes, I am. “Luck is when preparation and opportunity meet’.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
While my specialty is pearls and Swarovski crystals, I am also a motivational speaker. Often I have been asked to speak to professional Women’s groups. Additionally, women who are just coming up in their careers or trying to get out of bad situations like I did as a young single mother. Focus is often given on a presentation around a real-life experience I had at around age 10. This has sustained me and gives me motivation to improve myself, my skills and as a person. Teaching my craft also gives me huge fulfillment and brings smiles all around. In 2020 I took difficult training to become a certified pearl specialist. This has helped my credibility and greatly increased my knowledge and appreciation for these living gems.

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
Get a mentor, then be one. I wish I had one as many mistakes were made that should have and could have been avoided under the guidance of a mentor or trusted advisor. For this reason, time-saving tips and tricks are part of my workshops to budding jewelry design students. Talk to an accountant, a lawyer, banker and trusted advisors about your plans. Write a business plan, not a novel, just a short, focused and well laid out plan. Have a plan B and C.

Have a person or two who will listen when you need to vent or share successes. Return the favor.

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