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Were you able to pre-pay for your college education at age 17? This young entrepreneur just might.

In 2011 after working 12 years as a litigator I decided to launch my own business and become an entrepreneur. It is fun, all-consuming, and challenging. Many days you second guess your decisions and worry about failure. It would never occur to me as a teenager to attempt this path. But that is just what Emma Johnson, founder of Em John jewelry did. In this interview, we learn the key to her positivity and success on the heels of her upcoming presentation at the October 16th Pennsylvania Conference for Women. She is one impressive young woman.

How did you come up with the concept for Em John Jewelry?

My mom is on Good Morning America every week for a segment where she promotes five different products for sale. I love shopping and I follow trends in magazines and social media, so I often recommend brands and product ideas to her. Of course once she puts them on TV, I always ask how they did. Jewelry seemed to be very, very popular. So I’d say, “Boy, I wish I had a jewelry line.” And she said, “You absolutely can. Just start one today.” And I did. That was back in June 2013!

Was your purpose in starting the business to pay for college or did you decide that after you had already started the business? Tell me more about the Em John College Challenge!

There’s a heated debate today about the value of higher education: Is College really worth it? Assuming an average cost of $200,000 to earn a degree, I wondered how else that money could be spent.
Would I be successful if I used it to start a business out of high school? If I incurred student loan debt, would my chosen profession enable me to pay it off in a reasonable amount of time? Or what if I could earn enough money through Em John Jewelry to pre-pay for college before even applying?
It’d make an amazing application essay if it clicked, and would save my family a ton of money if I worked before college instead of during and after to cover the mounting costs of tuition, room and board.
Every Em John purchase not only brings a burst of sunshine to your day, but it also supports the Em John College Challenge.

How do you balance school and running your business?

Before school, during school and after school! I respond to emails during science (ha) and free periods. After homework, it’s all Em John — responding to more emails and packaging daily orders. Saturdays are spent at a college course in the morning and then running trunks shows at local stores in Manhattan in the afternoon. Sundays are for homework and planning the week ahead!

I’ve attended a few of your mother’s “Spark & Hustle” conferences and have so much respect for her. What is the best advice she has given you since you started the business?

She tells me all the time that it’s up to me. Yes, I can ask for help, and I often do. She’s been the best resource for help and she’s introduced me to so many brilliant business people. But she always comes back to saying the same thing — that is it up to me. Nobody is going to make my business a success. Nobody is going to do the work for me. If I want this to work, it’s up to me.

I help people with networking for a living. How has networking helped to grow your business? This includes online networking. I see you encourage people to post Instagram photos with your jewelry for example. And all social media is not equal. What specific social media outlets have been best for your business?

Social media is hugely powerful. Anyone can promote a product through the right sites. For me it’s definitely Twitter and Instagram–mainly Instagram. I only have 2,500 followers — we aren’t talking Kardashian numbers here! — yet through my posts I’ve gotten dozens of stores to place wholesale orders and tons of daily orders on my site. Instagram is an awesome way to reach my audience. The response has been a very pleasant surprise.

You first pitched “dot” to propel your jewelry into retail. What is the best advice you can give someone about pitching their brand? How did you make the initial connection with dot to get the opportunity to pitch them in the first place?

Do your research and then just ask. It’s that simple. You can’t tell a store owner that her shop is perfect for your products if you’ve never been there and you don’t know the merchandise, the customers and the vibe. I shopped in the store. I had a good feeling for the customers. So when I emailed the owner to introduce myself and to ask for an appointment, it was very genuine. She had only recently opened the store. I had just started my line. We were taking a plunge together. Nothing beats authenticity. Project confidence, but don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

You will be speaking at the PA Conference for Women on October 16, 2014 in Philadelphia. What is one takeaway you want the women to gain from your presentation?

Don’t overthink it because that can lead to fear. You’re so worried about dotting every I and crossing every T that you never take the plunge. That’s not good. And, most of all, make sure you can make money. You will never know if something works till you try it so that means “less thinking, more doing.” Get it out there for people to see and try. Know what everything costs so you can price for profit while knowing what your value is to your market. I realized I’d get wholesale and retail orders so each bracelet is $14, which allows me to profit at both while delivering good value to my customers.

How would you describe your brand in 3 words?

Fun. Happy. Fresh.

Tell me about “Every wrist carries a wish.” Is that your tagline? How did you come up with it?

When I look at my wrist and I think of the charms, I wind up dreaming about all sorts of things. Jewelry — and charms, especially — have a way of doing that to us. We touch them and we dream. We look at them and we dream. It may not be intentional, but it happens. That’s a great thing!

In the Huffington Post article from September 9, 2014 about your business you mentioned the importance of soliciting customer feedback. Can you give an example of how some feedback has helped you grow your brand?

I started with fabric bracelets and then moved to rubber beads. That’s because my customers had trouble tying the bracelets themselves. They also had to remove it for the shower, gym or pool. Jewelry shouldn’t be that difficult. So even though I loved the fabric ties, I listened to that feedback and I quickly shifted to beads. Sticking with what you love, even when customers are saying they want something else, can kill your business. It doesn’t mean you have to change every single time someone makes a suggestion, but you want to be open to hearing feedback and evaluating it honestly. Our sales have soared since making that change and the manufacturing is so much more efficient too.

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