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)

Point 4: Pricing

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) 

Point 5: Social Media

To take the thread forward (after a pretty long break), today I tackle the issue of making yourself visible. When you start out, pretty much no one knows you. Convincing someone to trust you (with their money and support, and in the best case, encouragement) is, by no means, trivial.
Social media is a powerful way to make your presence felt, but the media has a short memory. The "timelines" move and extinguish the bottom layers faster than you can bat your eyelids. So, one needs to "stay" visible, and that is both a taxing and time consuming exercise.
Let me start one by one........
Facebook! The ONE medium that can connect you to people you've never even heard of (six degrees of separation yaha!), or who've never heard of you! One of the first steps would be to create a "Page". Pages are different from "Profiles" you create. A profile is for and by a person, and it maintained by one individual.
Pages, on the other hand, can be managed by multiple people, all of whom can have different or same roles. With the advancement of Pages category on FB, it's almost criminal to not own one, if you intend to build a business. This is specially valid for businesses where "images" play a crucial part (e.g. jewellery, fashion, event management etc.).
So, my first recommendation would be to open a page for your business. There are various categories in Pages, like Photos, About, Contact etc. Figure out who is going to manage the page and how. Upload photos of your products, preferably category wise (if you're a reseller specially, so that navigation is easy).
Similar image-base platforms are provided by Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and a host of others. Create profile(s) in these pages, wherever you wish to be visible.
Now comes the part where you've to figure out HOW to use social media to your advantage............or rather, how not to be on Social Media.
*** It may be a good idea to send out messages or invitations to people in your friends list to take a look at and like your page. But I'd strongly recommend it: DO IT ONLY ONCE. It's rude to badger people with requests to come to your page and like it and you'd come across as a pesky character. It will most likely work the other way round for you!
*** Once people like your page, they will automatically receive updates on their timelines (unless they choose to "unfollow" your page, an effort most people don't make unless they're put off by your repeated efforts to entice them).
*** Tell your story! This is a very important factor, particularly in "hand-made" business! Most people have no idea what goes into a particular piece. E.g. if I write "Wuilling jhumka, hand-painted, costs Rs. 500", a standard response I'm likely to get is, It's just paper so why is it so expensive?
Now, let me give an alternative description: A quilling jhumka that took us 7 steps, 3 days and almost 2 hours of painting with thinnest brushes and best of the best paints! Not to mention, with a Swarovski pearl on top and completely water-proof. Let us tell you that we've been asked on more than one occasion if they're made of clay! May we interest you in one?
And let me tell you, we sell quilling jhumkas for Rs. 500 (and more also) routinely! Because if you don't tell people what goes into it, they will never know! People may forget the product, but they will never forget the story!
*** Join relevant "Groups", where your work is likely to be understood, appreciated, critiqued or bought (or some/all of them!). Joining Groups can open you up to like-minded individuals with more expertise in the said fields. Please make sure you ALSO help newbies like you, once you're reasonably experienced yourself.
*** Now, a BIG one: Asking questions. This is one topic I will be extensively talking about because it is such an important one. Whether you're asking a person or general members of a Group, make sure your question isn't a "demanding" one. People post a LOT of information out of goodwill. It's a privilege and NOT your right to get that information from them. Use these Fora well and please, the bottom line (of asking AND replying to questions) should be: RESPECT.
*** It's a good idea to go slow on image posting online. Too much can be too much, literally. Space out your posts. People are more likely to sppreciate your work when it's one image at a time. No one has the time or inclination (or both) to browse through 197 photos. Facebook pages gives you this useful option of "scheduling" your posts. I use it all the time to schedule posts for days in advance, sometimes. So, every time you see a post on Art'zire, it's not necessary that I'm posting it live ;)
*** Seller etiquette is an important thing! Be polite and understand that a lot of people have very little idea about what they want. Often, specially in customization, they may have a vague idea of what their jewellery would look like. Be there to guide them, help them visualize and if necessary, draw it for them to be able to see. It helps to be patient and empathetic. Not everyone is an expert and being guided gently will make them feel confident. It works 100% of the time :)
*** Talking to and shutting out rude people. The point I make above may sound like I'm advocating trivializing yourself. No, I'm not! What I mean is, give people benefit of the doubt. BUT, if someone is being rude, condescending etc, be firm. You are ALSO a human being with values, feelings and skills. There will always be mistakes and misunderstandings, but that gives no one the right to walk all over you!
*** Detaching yourselves: This is a very important factor of being on Social media. I'd always advise that stay away from spats, judgments and conflict on the media. It is very tempting to join the bandwagon but seriously, unless dragged into it, you're probably viewing only one side of the story. That's unfair, to say the least. If you have issues, sort them out with the person you have issues with. Making a media drama will only ostracize you in the short-memory community on Social Media. Keep your "opinions" to your profile and "information" on your Page.
In short, Social media is the best thing to have happened to you, if you know how to use it well. Just remember, most people are good people. Be good to everyone :)
I hope I've covered most of the Social Media aspects. If there's anything I've left out.......let me know :)

Point 6: Time Management

This will, hopefully, be my last (and most important) instalment of entrepreneurship gyaan , which I've gained over past 5.5 years of being an entrepreneur.
At the outset, let me clarify one thing (stop here if you don't identify with this statement, otherwise you'll waste your time reading the rest of it). Managing time will be the best (and most stringent) litmus test of the 4 Ps of your life: Patience, persistence, passion and priorities. If you lack the first three, the fourth one will be skewed and will lead to frustration and dissatisfaction.
The most important thing you'll need to find out is what's most important for you. Those go on top of your time division list (yes, I did make a time division list) and then, allocate time accordingly. This is a step where you'll need to either reinforce or let go of your OCDs.
For example, I love cooking and can't stand bad cooking at all. It is sort of an OCD with me. But I had to lax out there a bit and hire a cook. My first one didn't quite make the cut but the second one is pretty good. He is learning to meet my requirements and I'm learning to be lenient too.
You'll need to figure out what is important, what's not. Because you have Only 24 hours to do all you want to do.
One thing that will make a world of a difference to your time division (specially for women) is children. If they are small (aka, pre-school age), there is an additional layer of difficulty. At this stage, I had to toughen up and choose a Day Care facility. It felt cruel, heartless, selfish even to do so. But it turned out to be the best decision I ever made for my child and me. In this department, choose well. And brace up! Because you'll hear from more than one quarters how you're a bad Mom (in extremely rare cases, bad Dad).
Schedule some sacrosanct family/kids time. You'll be amazed at how kids love it! 5 hours of half-attention is equivalent to 30 minutes of full undivided attention, as far as kids are concerned (tried and tested)....make time tables, take children into confidence, their concerns abd suggestions and the kids part will literally take care of itself then on. Maintain clarity with them and be consistent.
Another big time taker is communication. With the advent of a multitude of communication means, it's distracting to keep track of things. Schedule communication timings, for emails, messages, uploads, downloads, invoicing etc.
Schedule household work so that it doesn't intersect with your work time. Take help and most importantly, involve family. You'll be surprised at how much time tasks like: Picking clothes for washing (which my son does), serving food (we self serve), picking plates and rinsing (everyone does this on their own), giving children baths, dressing them, etc take. Make your children and spouse independent. Delegate (age and skill appropriate) tasks to everyone and watch your day expand miraculously. A lot of us end up making the entire family dependent on us, by simply being too available (YES, there is such a thing as being too available). The entire family then just chooses the simpler path out - dependence on you.
An oft disregarded aspect of time management is understanding your personality type. It includes your general disposition (are you the lazy laid back kind, the indifferent kind, the go getter kind?) and your high efficiency timings. I'll give an example:
I can pretty much never do 'nothing'. I've to be doing something, learning something new, refining something old.......the just sitting blankly isn't my cup of tea. And I'm a morning person (though I've done more than my fair share of late and overnights). This helps me compartmentalise my distraction free hours (my phone auto-mutes between 9:30 pm and 7 am). Those are the hours I prefer for "designing", because that's the highest (mental) intensity task I need to do. The silent morning hours are my favourites.
So, you need to do a thorough self-introspection before you manage your time well. This is not to say that I manage my time well all the time. I struggle, specially to maintain my social life. Because between Art'zire, baking, Anvesh and exercise, I barely get time to meet up with people. So, I make time to send emails, I've Whatsapp Web installed to make sending messages easier, Skype calls, Whatsapp video chats etc. In short, I use technology to my advantage, to stay connected....
Time managing always comes at a cost. You'll need discipline, planning, family support, lots of self-motivation and plenty of "letting go". You can't win all battles, choose wisely, the ones that are really important to you. Be ready to deal with the negativity which will come your way, as you make these changes. And give any schedule 3 weeks. Of course, you'll fumble, stumble and fall. The key is to fall 7 times and get up 8 times.
For the rest, the shining beacon is the life which will be more fulfilling.......and more productive!

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........:-)