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Article: Time for a change

Time for a change

By Simone WalshBusiness

I'm trying so hard - artwork by Danah Kim It's a shiny new year and this one in particular I hope to be a very important one for me and my handmade jewellery business.

(This is an old blog post from 2014, but it gives a good insight into what challenges an independent jewellery designer in a micro business can face. My business has changed a lot since I wrote this - for the better! Learn more about Simone Walsh Jewellery.)

I'm very fortunate in what I do for a living: I get to create beautiful objects with my hands that people like enough that they are happy to buy them from me. And enough people are happy to do so that I'm able to do this work as my full time job. It's a very great privilege and I'd rather be doing this type of work than anything else.

But my handmade jewellery business has to change. I'd like to share with you in some detail why that's the case, even if the 'how' isn't quite resolved at this point.

Artwork: Trying by Danah Kim, as seen on my office wall.

The busy season

Let me describe what Christmas - by far the busiest time of year for my business - looks like for me.

I usually start planning and working towards it in around June or July. By early September I'm working so hard on making jewellery and putting plans into action that I can say goodbye to having almost any days off, including weekends.

From the start of September 2013 I had just one and a half days off up until just before Christmas Day. And all of those non-days off entailed very long hours of work. Most weeks I was working around 100-120 hours. My days involved eating, sleeping, working and pretty much nothing else (and there wasn't really enough sleeping going on or time to prepare decent meals).

In October I got sick. I had two colds in a row and the second one especially was a bad one. Yet I didn't have a single day off - not even a single hour off. I needed to keep working as hard as I possibly could.

By early November my hands had started going to pieces. I regularly had splits in my skin which were the result of working my hands too hard rather than specific injuries. I'd have to tape them together and keep working. My nails were worn right down and my skin was dry and flaking, no matter how well I tried to look after it. And then there was the RSI - a pain deep in my wrist which I generally had to try to work around or ignore.

By the time the busy season stopped a few days before Christmas I felt completely wrecked, both physically and mentally. And then I had to race around madly in a short space of time to get my own Christmas sorted!

As for the rest of the year, the hours may not be so long and I can be more flexible with my time, but more often than not I work 7 days a week. Plus I often have to drop personal plans in order to work and often it seems easier to just not make personal plans in the first place.

Again, I love my work and I want to be doing it, but …

It's not sustainable

My life is almost all business, all year, every year, only more so for part of it. I'm sure you can see that this simply isn't a sustainable way to live and work, no matter how much I love what I do.

Working so much harms my health, my relationships and my ability to enjoy the world around me. As I get older this will only get harder.

And in spite of working so hard, like many self-employed designers I'm often barely scraping by financially. I'm luckier than many in that my business is successful enough that I'm able to get by without any other income coming into my household. But my profit is small and things can get very tight and quite scary. If there was even a moderate hiccup in my life, I'm not sure I'd be able to get through it.

The problem is that because I'm already working much harder than is sustainable, I have no way to continue to grow the business. It's grown as much as it possibly can within its current structure. And that really isn't enough.

Where to next?

For a few years I've known that all of this has been building up into a major problem and that sooner or later I would hit the limit of the amount of work I could physically do myself. I've now reached that limit. The business wants to keep growing and needs to do so, but I can't manage it as it currently stands.

Something has to change, both for the wellbeing of me personally and my business. And the continued wellbeing of my business will hopefully benefit my customers as well as myself.

As for what the change looks like, well after years of considering various possibilities I think I have finally nailed down a first do-able step which I believe also maintains the core integrity of my business. And I have an idea of how that might lead to other steps.

I have more research and thinking to do before I start telling people about it, but there are changes afoot and I wanted my customers to better understand why that is the case.

In the next little while I'll start talking about what my plans are and how things are likely to change. And I will be asking for your always valued input. So, stay tuned.

PS. Happy new year!