Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Entrepreneurship in Crafts...........some pointers.........

Point 1: Find Your Strength

Let us assume, that at this stage, you've decided to a reasonable degree that you are either tired of your current job (or lack of it) or you are feeling adventurous enough to seek new horizons.
The first stage of "deciding" is most likely to be: What do I start up in?
It's a reasonable (and the toughest) question. This reminds me of this quote by Jack Ma: The ultimate course of your life won't be decided by what you do at your job. It'll be decided by what you do outside of it (or something to that effect, I don't recall exactly)......
A question to ask yourself (and seek the answer to before you plunge head-first into any venture) is: What am I good at? Or What can I become good at? OR, What do I feel so motivated about that I want to be good at it?
I'll cite my example. I practiced various forms of Art almost all my life, alongside my 'mainstream' work at any time (School, College, Masters, PhD, Post-Doc times). Sketching, Rangoli, Painting, Quilling, Embroidery, Cooking, Baking, to name a few. And I felt an equal lack of confidence in all of them.......just knowing something isn't enough to get "good" at it. One must feel the confidence (to a reasonable degree) to convert it convincingly into a profession.
And at this stage, a very important question to ask yourself is: Will "I" buy the thing/service I've made/offered, if someone else was selling it to me (we will deal with the pricing issue later)?
And no, DO NOT think about whether you'd buy it for charity, or out of sympathy, or support. Will you REALLY REALLY buy it for its artistic value? If your answer is no, you need to get better at it, before you can convince someone else to buy it.
Please know that the world out there is a reservoir of talent. People do incredible things! With incredible consistency. If you wish to stand a chance at carving out a niche for yourself, the first step is to find out what you niche IS (or is going to be). Frankly, I still don't know mine. I'm just going with the flow......but I did know one thing. I was going to EVOLVE, always, forever........the day you stop evolving, you become dead and soon, a fossil! A relic from the bygone era.......
So, for deciding, do turn to your strongest sounding boards. People who will give you brutally honest feedback. I happened to be lucky to get one camouflaged as my husband.......but not everyone is likely to be.
So, seek out that friend/relative/confidante you trust with pointing you in the right direction, whether you like it or not. THOSE are the people who will help you figure out where your passion AND strengths are likely to be. The people who aren't mere bystanders when you grow, but the ones who will hold the ropes when you're clinging to them for life. The ACTIVE participants in your personal and professional growth. Not the who "don't mimd" that you succeed, but the ones who motivate you to do so......and celebrate it like their own.
And I'll finish it with an anecdote from my life....
This once, I made a Rangoli, which I deemed the best I ever made. It had intricate motifs, applied 'thought process' and so on. It even stood first in a competition. I showed it to my (then not) husband and he casually remarked: There is nothing great about it. It has no "feel" to it. It's just a beautiful execution of a lifeless idea.
I was affronted. I even went to the extent of thinking he was unappreciative of my efforts and thought I was seeing the wrong guy. I didn't speak with him for days! But he stood his ground. And after days of thinking, I realized that he probably was right. And THAT led to this, the best Rangoli I've made till date (it is my personal favourite)! When he handed me the image, he narrated a story. I FELT the story and I worked on this Rangoli for FIVE days straight.
Because, for the first time, I FELT my Art.......and it invoked feelings in others :)
So, is your Art invoking feelings? In you? In others?
Maybe, it's time to start groping for that one thing that moves you.......and moves others when they see it :)
Next instalment: Skill Development

Point 2: Skill Development

So!!! To continue the discussion on entrepreneurship.......
At this stage, I'm assuming you've figured out or decided what your calling/passion is and you're ready for taking the plunge.. ....
Here comes the stage where you need to decide how you're going to acquire the skill(s) you need or hone them, if you already have the basics. A good place to start is our dear old Google. Start with the very basic search on what the skill means, its History, development, the stalwarts of that profession, your idol and then, teachers (if you want to learn it from someone else).
There are two ways to go about skill development: Teaching yourself or Learning from a teacher. Both of them have their pros and cons. I'll take the teacher bit first because self-learning is a far more elaborate topic.
Once you decide upon the skill you need to develop, do a search on the people (nearby first) who teach it. For example, quilling. Find out who teaches quilling and till what skill level around you. One pointer to note here is motivation and inspiration. Does your prospective teacher's work motivate you to learn quilling? Does the teacher's inspire you to gain expertise in the field? If not, search till you find the one you're willing to invest time and money in. Research about the teacher, their method of teaching, what they believe in etc. Being in sync with your first teacher can be a make-or-break thing for your aspirations. Keep your questions ready and be thorough. Make full use of the opportunity and learn sincerely.
The advantage here is: Structured learning, systematic approach through levels of difficulty, ready - made answers to most of the questions.
Disadvantage: It can narrow your point of view if you go for project-wise classes (as opposed to technique-wise) and lack of access to good teachers (specially in more remote areas) can limit the level of skill you can acquire.
The second method (and my preference, because I am terrible at learning in a class type of setup) is self-help. This type is for those who are pig-headed when it comes to their dreams. And I definitely am!
This will involve a LOT more hard-work because there are no "one person/video/tutorial who know it all" out there. You're on your own to seek answers and mostly, learn things the hard way. I had an upper hand here, because I had a firm grasp of chemistry knowledge and decades of experience with a multitude of art media. But if you're new, this is an uphill task. Experenting with various media to know what works for you and how well is both time-consuming and expensive.
There are so many ways to teach Yourself and saying "I don't know" is criminal in this day and age. Thousands of helpful crafters have FILLED the Internet with tutorials. Don't underestimate the power of your fingertips combined with the power of Google/YouTube/Pinterest!!!!!
If you're not the self-driven kind, I'd recommend, go for the relatively easier option - learn from someone who is. Who has done the research, the one who's an expert, the one who has most of the answers.....
Once again, an anecdote to wrap it all up.....
I once had a prospective student who studied in the US, did her Masters and was haggling with me for "discount" on a workshop, saying my workshop was too expensive. I explained to her in many ways that it's a workshop meant to empower you with knowledge enough to become a professional jewellery maker, just like her Masters degree was, for which she never uttered the word 'discount'. If you're looking for something less intensive, I can recommend someone else whose workshop is more your budget. Her reply : I don't want to become a professional, I just want to learn it enough to pursue as a hobby and I want to learn from the best teacher (humble bow for praising me, Lady). So, reduce the cost to half (another humble bow for belittling my hard work and dedication right in the next sentence).
I humbly replied: Okay, I will reduce it to half. But I'll speak only alternate words of every sentence. That'll be enough to make you a hobby jewellery maker.
She hung up, and I got labelled as snobbish, unhelpful, too full of myself.....and a lot of other colourful names ;)
Hope the post helped you all....
Next topic: Finances

Point 3: Money

Aha! So, you've decided what you want to do, you've found your niche...........now, come the thorny issue of money. Unpleasant though it is, money is an important thing to think about before you start-up. The difference between a "hobby" craft and "professional craft" is that in hobby, you do not have to worry too much about 'return of investment'. In profession, you have to. Because at least one out of the three are at stake: Your livelihood, Your Independence, Your relationships (of any kind!).
Yes! Relations break over money!
So, there are various sources of money one can think of while starting up. The most popular I've seen so far is self-funding or funding by husband/wife. For pride reasons, I opted for first. I kept investing a small part of my income (from my research jobs in India, Belgium and Sweden) into crafts, and built a tool collection over a course of almost 10 years.
You may need to make a big investment in the beginning to just get off the ground. You can try using up your savings, or to borrow (on a strictly returnable basis) from your spouse or some relative you trust. BEFORE you borrow, set the terms and conditions for both investment and return straight. Specially, return.
I can't emphasise on this point enough because if there is no set deadline, we tend to lull ourselves into a sense of false security. We forget about the "returns" we need to or ought to get from our hard-work. And when the money isn't returned in time (even to your own account), the range of emotions can vary from feeling like a pile of dung to guilt because of sitting on someone else's money.
NEVER ever work for free, not even for relatives and if there are people expecting you to work for free, they can't be your well-wishers. Your TIME is the most important investment, always charge at least for that (I'll come to the pricing issue later)......and if there is someone exploiting you or disrespecting your effort, they need to leave your life........pronto. SIMPLE!
The trouble with "free work" is "setting a precedent". Once you set the precedent, one freeloader will invite another and so on. It'll get THAT much harder to say no later. Set your boundaries clearly and never budge. Principles are going to be an important factor in Future.
The best way to work on return of investment is to dedicate yourself a "salary", irrespective of the investment (how much and wherever it is from). Once that rule is formulated, seriousness about the work creeps in automatically (unless you're cryogenically frozen!).......respect that. Wake up with goals, set goals, modify them if need be and STICK to them!
And yet again, an anecdote to end (there will be a second part of this post, after I've dealt with quality control issue)....
When I was in Pune, I never assigned myself a "salary".........things were just moving. But when I moved to Bangalore, the responsibility to "run the house" was assigned to me. My husband was very clear: No equal contribution, no equal rights! And that's the BEST thing to have happened to me. I started planning my finances, investments, I became disciplined and I became feverishly dedicated to my work. And well, Art'zire is here for all to see :) So, let someone kick your butt and set you to work! It's a GOOD thing! ;)
Next few topics (I may vary the order a bit):
Quality Control
Time management (specially for women with children)

Ah that thorny issue of pricing!!!!!
There are many ways to go about pricing simply because "hand-made" comes with this side effect that it's inherently hard to quantify "effort". A lot of people will think you're over-pricing. Many others will think you're under-pricing. The factor that is going to be most important here is: SELF-ASSESSMENT.
There are two semi-quantitative ways of calculating 'effort' input. One is "Top down" approach and the other, "Bottom up" (I have Ananthakrishnan to thank, for that piece of Mathematics) :)
Coming to top down first, let us say you want to make X amount of money per month and you will be working n hours per day and y days per month. Your rough daily expected income then becomes X divided by y. Let's say that comes to N. N = X/y. Per hour income (expected) then is H = N/n. Let's say H = Rs. 100. So, now, you expect to earn Rs. 100 per hour. For you to earn Rs. 100 per hour, do you have the requisite skill? Material? Focus? Time? Factor in all these things before you arrive at a number.
The other approach is: Bottom up. Decide upon how much you want to price your effort at and arrive at a rough monthly salary of yours. Does that meet your target/requirement? If not, see where you can tweak. Should you work longer? Or do higher skill work? That's a call you need to take.
To give an estimate, I work (or target to) around 6 hours (of actual hand-work) every day. But there is a LOT of extra work that I need to do, like packing parcels, writing invoices, talking to people, designing, doing routine things like pouring resin, stringing necklaces, attaching hooks, replying to Whatsapp messages etc.
Now, ALL these don't require the same amount of effort/skill/concentration. Keep that in mind, and don't use the same yardstick for all these. Make rough brackets for how much time you spend on these activities per day and how much you price these activities at (because here, LITERALLY, time is money). All these activities add up to your eventual goal of running your own business.
Material cost, of course is a tricky issue again. Locally available material is likely to be priced higher, because of all the extra costs involved (middlemen making money, travel times to get those, courier costs etc). Larger quantities come at cheaper prices per unit but entail big investments. My suggestion would be start small and scale according to qualities. There are multiple jewellery supplies groups all over the place, use them well. Make it a habit to look for bargains, clearances, sales etc. But please, don't ASK for reduction on prices from sellers as that is a) impolite b) bad for their business. If you can't afford it, move on, find an alternative sources. Just like you, they are out to earn their living too.
Always try to also create a slight surplus, for random and sudden expenses. Like, investing in new (and upgraded) raw material, experimenting with things you haven't tried, travel, Internet, Printing, corpus etc...
So, all in all, pricing is never straight-forward. You need to develop an estimate of your hard-work, based on how good you are. Finesse is a VERY important factor, even higher than the quality of findings you use. Two people making literally making a near-same piece can fetch two completely different prices because of the over-all finishing of the piece. Leaving loose ends in your work can be lethal to your work. Odd mistakes are all right, but a shabby finish will garner you negative reputation and word travels fast. I'd rather be expensive and unaffordable than be cheap and shabby.
And the last (but, of course, never the least) is the market you're catering to. My experience has been very varied in dealing with different demographics. You need to find the audience who would be willing to pay for the effort you put. And this TAKES TIME. Don't expect overnight miracles. You need to reach out to people, to make yourself visible and to create a niche where you're pretty much the only one who can do that particular thing in that particular with that type of finesse. That's the fast lane to both recognition and to earning your due.
I'll conclude this with an example where SKILL ruled the roost. One of my all time favourite pieces: Konark. This one was my crowning glory when I made it (I felt like rubbish after I made it, because all I could see was mistakes but that is beside the point).

The total input in this piece: ~ 75 g of polymer clay
Stringing: Swarovski pearls
Dangler: Highly polished carnelian (which was a prized find at Rs. 625 per stone, I could only afford 4 of them)
And then, the killer: TIME.
I spent nearly 16 hours making it, and then, around 1 hour shading it (with an extremely expensive Pearl-Ex mica pigment and charcoals in 4 different shades). It was baked for almost 40 minutes, glazed using (another very expensive) varnish (took almost 25 minutes to glaze it) and then, strung for about 45 minutes. The piece has Swarovski pearls and crystals liberally added in it. The hook was gold plated silver as well. The chaand baalis were another 1.5 hours EACH and have Swarovski pearls on the outline. The studs are one of the most expensive you can find too :)
The other inputs: Makin's Clay Extruder, Shaping tools, Needle Tool, Ball tools, X-Axto knife, Pasta Machine (all of them cost an Earth and do need replacements after varying lengths of time)
In the end, someone actually messaged me to ask if I could make something "similar" in a budget of Rs. 800-1000 :) I smiled and never replied :)
The next time you decide to "nudge" someone out of competition by giving "best prices", just realize that you didn't hurt them, you just reduced your own value (or the value of your effort) in your own eyes (and your client's) 

Happy Working


PS: If my posts inspire you to create something on similar lines, I feel highly flattered. But please, do respect the effort I take in conceptualizing and executing, please give a direct link to my work when you are inspired by mine. Thanks for understanding........:-)