Emma Johnson is the bubbly girl boss behind the successful jewelry and accessories line, Em John — a “one-woman show”, as she calls it. From her dorm room, Emma designs her signature colorful charm bracelets and keychains, which, year after year, have landed on the coveted Oprah’s Favorite Things list.
Her social media savviness and eye for style led her to multiple internships in fashion, including at O, The Oprah Magazine, Who What Wear, BaubleBar, and Converse. We asked Emma what her thoughts are about the future of e-commerce, the value in influencer marketing, and her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Can you tell us about your journey as a small business owner? What should people know about Em John?
I started Em John by posting photos on Instagram and having friends and family ask where they could buy the products I was making in my bedroom. I knew if people were willing to pay I was onto something! When I started getting serious about turning Em John into a small business versus a hobby, I set the goal for myself called the Em John College Challenge to pay for my college education through entrepreneurial success.
Em John’s big break came when my initial keychains made it onto Oprah’s Favorite Things 2015 – when I was just a first semester freshman at BU! I was the youngest business owner to be featured on the list that year. The success of those initial keychains led to a chance to intern for the O team the summer after my freshman year. During that time, I developed another keychain that made it onto Oprah’s Favorite Things 2016.
I want people to know that to this day Em John is a one-woman show! I get emails all the time asking to be connected to several people on my team and my response is always, “Sure, her name is Emma!” It takes a lot of handwork, determination and drive to be a full-time college student while maintaining a successful small business, but if you love something so much, putting in the work isn’t a chore: it’s a reward. It’s the same mindset that applies to athletes.
In your opinion, what does the future of e-commerce look like?
It’s all about free shipping, faster delivery, greater product selection and a superb customer experience. If I buy something online, I want to know it will arrive ASAP and be the best of its kind. If I end up not liking it for any reason, I expect a return process that’s smooth and simple. Everything is going digital, so consumers want that same feel-good experience online that they’d receive in-store.
What’s the value in influencer marketing, and why would you recommend this strategy to brands?
Influencers are the future of brand marketing. Yet the definition of influencer is changing. While it used to focus on the number of followers a person had, it’s now more about engagement and connectivity to the audience. Authenticity trumps numbers. Putting your products into the hands of individuals who have the right audience and platform to spread the word about your brand is crucial. It allows brands to advertise directly to their target audience. Advertising through social media influencers allows brands to promote through someone who already has a niche community that watches, engages with and trusts them on a daily basis.
What advice would you share with aspiring entrepreneurs?
Don’t over-think it. Just dive in. You won’t know what works and what doesn’t until you just start doing it. You can spend weeks and months plotting and planning, but there’s nothing like reality. A business only works if you can generate sales, otherwise it’s a hobby. So learn early on to have confidence in your pricing and to ask for the sale. Make sure your pricing allows you to generate a profit. Where you start isn’t where you have to stay. You’ll evolve as you go. Don’t worry about having all the answers because you won’t even know the questions to ask—and that’s ok!