2 Years and 130K Followers Later: The Story of Metalsmith Society
Corkie Bolton still feels funny calling herself an Instagram influencer, even though that’s become an accurate term for what she does. She’s a full-time mom and wife with a life-long passion for jewelry making and helping others.
In early 2018, Corkie started Metalsmith Society, an Instagram community where jewelers can share information, ask questions, learn, and support one another. Today, there are more than 130,000 members in the community who, among other great things, have inspired—and literally asked Corkie—to create official Metalsmith Society merch.
Recently I got to chat with Corkie who generously shared her insights on running a business, elevating user-generated content, staying focused during times of uncertainty, and tips for time management.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get started with jewelry making?
I’ve been making jewelry since I was 14. My high school art teacher introduced jewelry making as part of the curriculum, and I fell in love with how challenging the process was. I’m a perfectionist and I found jewelry-making to be very satisfying. I graduated from Pratt Institute with a degree in jewelry making in 2007.
My story isn’t linear though. When the economic crisis hit in 2008, I was struggling with alcoholism and needed to pay my bills, so I stepped away from my dream of becoming a jeweler and even sold the equipment I had accumulated over the years.
I got sober in 2010, and this amazing thing happened—I met a woman whose grandmother had been a professional silversmith. The grandmother had passed away, so this woman generously gave me her grandmother’s beloved tools so they could be put to good use. To this day, this story touches my heart—the exact tools I had sold came back to me.
From there, I started teaching jewelry again and launched my jewelry line in 2016.
What was your motivation for starting Metalsmith Society?
I was seeing these jewelers on Instagram who were releasing collections that sold out in 4 minutes. And I wanted that too! So Instagram became the tool for me to sell my own jewelry. I started building my brand, and what got me fans and loyal customers was that I was willing to share my story and creative process.
However, no one else was really sharing information about jewelry making on Instagram. So I’d often find myself in this void—if I had a problem in my studio that I was trying to troubleshoot, I had no one to turn to. (I work in a shared studio space; my studio mates are very talented, but they work in different mediums.)
A year before I started Metalsmith Society, I was working on a very challenging project with an opal setting that accidentally snapped off, and I was just beside myself. So I reached out to an old co-worker for advice, and what she suggested was, Put the oval in a potato, and the potato will heat-protect the opal while you do the repair. And it worked!
When I was thinking about the concept for Metalsmith Society, I thought about this potato story. I thought how amazing it would be if we could just share tips like this and be helping each other. There’s room for everyone, and no one’s taking any money out of anyone’s pocket by doing their work better.
I think I was in the right place at the right time of the self-taught jewelers’ revolution. I quickly noticed that many jewelers were very willing to share their information, and I knew I wanted to connect these people! The fact that the account now has more than 130,000 followers is proof of how many people are out there that are interested in jewelry making.
So, who are the members of Metalsmith Society?
Metalsmith Society is a very diverse community. There’s a nice portion of professional jewelers that follow my page. I’m often starstruck because I’ve admired their work my whole career! And then there’s a massive community of self-taught jewelers, as well as students, hobbyists, and even some younger kids.
People have asked me some cute questions, like I’m not a jeweler, is it OK if I buy a t-shirt? or How can I become a member of this society? And I always say—everybody’s welcome!
While I do create content for the page myself, most of the time it’s other people sharing. And that’s beneficial for them too because they’re getting seen by thousands of people, and I love that.
I’m the personality behind the page, but the page would be nothing if it wasn’t for others showing up, sharing tips, asking interesting questions, and engaging.
How did you decide which social media platform to use?
As soon as I started Metalsmith Society, I almost immediately hired a graphic designer to come up with a brand logo fit for Instagram, because I was sure that this was going to be an Instagram thing. I had to create a Facebook page too, but I wrote in the Facebook bio that people should reach out via email to get in touch with me.
To this day, I use an app that posts to Facebook so that people who don’t use Instagram still can get value from the Facebook page. With doing nothing but that, I still have more than a thousand people following Metalsmith Society on Facebook.
What was important to me, was to keep three pillars utmost: kindness, community, and education. And I felt that if I had to manage between different platforms, I’d make myself crazy. So I thought, I’ll do one, and I’ll do it really well. Instagram was perfect because it’s visual.
One of my future goals is to have more video content, but I’m not sure yet if I want to do YouTube. YouTube’s vicious (laughs) and it’s difficult to deal with the trolls.
I want people to be able to feel safe and that beginners are safe to ask questions. And it would be hard to police that amongst many groups, so I’m focusing on Instagram.
What’s the secret to keeping people engaged with your content and keen to show support?
Consistency is key. Trust me, there have been times I felt that I’ve spread myself too thin and I thought, What if I didn’t post on the weekends? But I realized that if I’m not in the habit of daily posts, people will get out of the habit of checking in.
Metalsmith Society is a free educational platform and people will engage with the content because they’re getting a lot out of it. What I’ve learned is how generous people are when you’re serving them without asking for anything in return. And when you do say, By the way, I have a t-shirt if you want to support the page, they’re very happy to do that because most of the time I’m not trying to sell them anything.
And the same goes for my jewelry line, I make sure that not every post is about selling. I think it’s boring just to say, here are the earrings, here’s what’s for sale, etc. but I don’t want to share my family life. So what I do is share what I love, what it’s like to live in Rhode Island, and what it’s like to be a member of this community.
When did you decide to create Metalsmith Society merch?
So the designer behind my first logo is @beardedcreative_studio from the UK. I admired his work and I was willing to take money out of my jewelry business at the time and create an official logo for Metalsmith Society. Since my mind was already set on Instagram, my thinking was, If I don’t have an official logo, what am I going to use for my Instagram icon?
And what led me to first producing merch was literally 15 or 20 people telling me, I love your logo, you gotta do a shirt!
One idea that’s been game changing came from my husband—to do a different logo every year. This allows me to work with different designers and keep people excited about continuing to support the page. In late 2018, I reached out to the same designer and asked if he could create another design for Metalsmith Society. He did, and it turned out very on-brand—with a torch and “In Solder We Trust.”
For 2020, I had a panther design created by an Australian artist. I love artwork and I love supporting small businesses, so having that freelance project every year is exciting to me. I’m slowly starting to think about 2021, even though it’s still a ways away. I like to have the design done, samples ready, and merch photos taken before the annual launch in January.
Was there a defining moment when you realized that things are really taking off with Metalsmith Society?
I think it was a month in. I had 1,000 followers and I was already amazed. And to this day, the Metalsmith Society page grows about 1,000 followers a week.
Another vivid memory is the first merch sale: it was a mug and a raglan shirt. My store is on Shopify, and the dashboard has a live view where you can see that a product is in someone’s cart, their cart’s active, and then the purchase.
What led you to choosing Printful as your print-on-demand provider?
I did some research and comparisons, and I found that Printful had the most professional website with the most impressive product catalog. I loved how easy it was to hook it up with Shopify, and that I could just create a product and automatically push it to my store—it’s amazing!
I also sell some non-Printful products, like patches and custom sharpies, and I really love how easy it is to integrate them with Printful products.
Working with a drop shipper means you don’t always get to lay eyes on the products that are sent out to your customers. No system is ever perfect, but whenever there’s been an issue with an order, Printful has always sent a reshipment.
Over the past 2 years, I think Printful has done an increasingly better job with the product mockups. I’m a perfectionist and I wish all my product photos were consistent, but sometimes I just want to push the product to the store as quickly as possible, and product mockups are great for that.
What are your top tips for great product photos?
Get samples of everything. You want to see the reality and decide if it’s right for you. Once you have the samples, it allows you to do photoshoots.
Since I don’t have a huge marketing budget, I’ve had to get creative. When I can, I work with photographers who are affordable or are willing to do trades when it’s mutually beneficial. I’ve traded my jewelry, and private jewelry lessons for photography.
Working with a photographer is so valuable because your product pics and the way you style them is everything. My product photos are just me in my studio space, but it creates an authentic vibe that other jewelers can relate to!
What’s the response to Metalsmith Society merch?
The response has been incredible, and it still makes my day. When things started taking off, people realized that even though I was becoming this big page, I was happy to re-share their photos with Metalsmith Society merch.
I think that’s the thing about some brands—they get to be too big for themselves. If a fan shares a photo with their product, they don’t always bother to re-share that. But I think that’s been such a great way for building a community. People buy the merch, share the story, I re-share it, it makes everyone’s day, and on top of that, it promotes the products. Most of my product promotion has been people promoting them—because they’re so proud to be a part of Metalsmith Society.
There have been things I’ve done to incentivize people to share posts and tag me—which is something they were doing anyways. For example, when they share a post and tag me, they automatically enter a contest to win store credit, and I pick a winner every month. It’s a small thing, but it’s a way to thank people for spreading the word.
People have also said that they love it when they’re wearing a Metalsmith Society shirt, it allows for the conversation to begin about their expertise, what they do, and their interest in jewelry making.
My favorite customer story is about this woman who won the store credit. She emailed me and told me that she had met her fiancé because she was wearing a Metalsmith Society shirt. He’s a welder and asked her about the shirt she was wearing when they met. This woman wrote, So you’ve brought some love together! I was crying, I couldn’t believe that happened!
Where do you find inspiration for your own jewelry designs? Do you follow trends?
I love trends, but try to shy away from them when I design jewelry, unless I can really think outside the box. I wouldn’t want to create something that’s similar to someone else’s work. And because of Metalsmith Society I see a lot of other work.
I’ve committed myself to designing a brand new shop release every month of the year, and each has a different inspiration.
Another way for me to get inspired is to work on improving more advanced skills, like engraving. I love to challenge myself with techniques that are harder and push me out of my comfort zone, so I create little collections around that. Also, I just love plants and I get a lot of inspiration from my garden.
A piece of advice I give to other jewelers, especially right now during this Covid-19 pandemic, is: instead of creating a new collection of 20 items, do a pre-sale with your bestsellers! This way I only need to make the pieces that have been ordered. This approach saves me from producing work which, although might be interesting to do, might end up sitting in the inventory. In these uncertain economic times, it’s too much of a risk.
What’s been your biggest business success and biggest regret?
I’ll start with a business regret—I wish I had started my email list two years ago! I could have been regularly communicating with my jewelry customers from the beginning. If Instagram was gone tomorrow, what does it matter that I had 130,000 followers? So, my goal is to connect via email with as many people as I can and make sure I regularly stay in touch!
As for success, there’s been so many! One of my biggest advertisers is Rio Grande, one of the biggest suppliers of jewelry-making equipment out there. I remember first reaching out to them, and now that’s turned into this wonderful collaboration.
Hitting a 100,000 followers was really surreal and meant a lot to me. Nothing changed, so it wasn’t like all of a sudden I had this magic switch. But it was a really cool feeling to have accomplished that, and I’m very grateful for what possibilities have opened up for me because of Metalsmith Society.
You’re a wife and a mom as well. Can you share your tips for balancing family life and running a business?
- What’s served me really well is prioritizing what needs to be done immediately. Every day, I have just a few hours to work on Instagram, email, and manage orders. To get this type of work done, I’ll have my kids engaged in an activity like coloring with crayons. When I go to my jewelry studio, I have a list with priorities and I try to work as efficiently as possible so that I can optimize that time.
- A big part of my success is my commitment to the page—I have never not posted, I never miss a day. This way the first thing people see when they open their Instagram, especially if they’ve been engaging a lot, is a post from Metalsmith Society. I post on Metalsmith Society between 6:00 AM and 8:00 AM to make sure that’s done for the day.
To make this possible, I pre-plan my content the same way people pre-plan their meals for the week. I have 40 tips saved on my phone, so if there’s ever a day I need to step away, I have the posts ready.
- At one point, I realized I was spending hours every week scrolling through my own Instagram posts to find an answer to questions received in DMs. So a couple of months ago, a developer created a custom search engine for the Metalsmith Society Instagram page, and it’s been a game changer for community members. All they have to do is enter a keyword, and all the relevant posts will pop up. This was made possible with merch sales and my Patreon page.
- Another thing that’s served me really well is getting up at 6:30 every morning—even if I don’t want to. This allows me to get my workout in before my kids get up. Exercise has been huge for me my whole life to de-stress. I go to CrossFit 4-5 days a week, or do a home workout. Even if it’s Sunday, instead of sleeping in, I’m getting up and doing yoga.
Something I’ve started doing recently—if someone sends me a particularly kind email or a DM, I’ll take a photo and save it to a folder called Love. If I’m having a hard day and need a boost, I can always revisit their kindness. The thing is, you can have hundreds of people tell you how much your page means to them and helps them grow and it really is impactful, but then you get that one person that’s mean or cruel. I try not to dwell on it, but I’m such an emotional person and it can really drag me down. So, to reset, I step into that positivity and remember why I started this.