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Monday, January 10, 2011

Holiday Bootcamp Aftermath

After a long break for the holidays (I'm so sorry about that!  No, really I am.) I am back.  I sort of got caught up in the whole Christmas spirit and the delight that I was actually able to BUY gifts for everyone this year, rather than making them all like I've done in years passed.  Holiday bootcamp made the difference. 

Now before you protest and say something silly like 'but Agent Ren, your creations are fabulous!  Why would you have reservations about giving them as gifts?'.  The reason is simple.  Making things is what I do all the time.  That kind of takes away from the wow factor when you present someone with a piece of handmade jewelry and they already know that handmade is your thing.  The gift becomes something akin to 'the dreaded knitted sweater from grandma'. 
It's not valuable anymore.  Even if you put hours and hours into making it, it's just another lump of beads that you're forcing them to take.  Why hurt your fingers, spend scarce cash and time to just get one of those tight, uncomfortable 'I don't really want this' smiles?  I didn't break my fingers or my bank account trying to make something special this year.  I didn't agonize about not having time to make things or scraping together enough cash to get nice precious metal findings to make each item extra cool.  I hunted bargains like my life depended on it, squirreled away coupons like I was hiding seeds for winter, tracked every dollar spent with a methodical accuracy that a serial killer would envy, and had everything assembled and half-wrapped in my closet a month before Christmas. 
What's this got to do with Holiday Bootcamp?  Plenty.  I'll tell you the truth.  For all the Holiday bootcamp prep I did for a big holiday sale, I didn't sell that much, barely two c-notes worth.  I spent carefully and some would say abundantly to feed my high rate of production.  I was like a machine, grinding through eyepins, beads and time like a wood chipper and wearing out the blades on my tools twice as fast. 

I was hoping for a big breakthrough as far as sales and ended up only barely covering costs of materials.  What I did sell was stuff that people custom ordered, brooches mostly and other things that I never make en masse.  Despite this, I learned a great deal.  Here are the things that Bootcamp taught me.

1.  Run, Rest, Run:
Run, Rest, Run is the philosophy that when you do something, you go at it full tilt.  You don't burn yourself out, though, because then it'd be Run, Die and end there.  The idea is that you work like a Juggernaut until you get tired, and when you rest, you meditate ways to make your next full-tilt stint go better.  This way, when you start up, you're never starting from zero.  You're starting up from 5 because you're rested AND focused.

2.  There is always a better bargain
The problem with people is that they have a tendency to go with what they know and take the best of they see right in front of them.  You have to teach yourself not to be like any animal and make the logical choice in front of you.  You have to teach yourself to go onward.  I ran into this time and again with tried and true connectors that I have scores of.  After a while seeing the same exact elements in piece after piece makes those elements rather 'meh'.  So, I'd half-finish a set and move on to the next while I waited to find something better to finish the first.  It turned out to be a good plan.

3.  Substitutions shouldn't diminish quality
To go with the previous comment, when you're selecting new options, don't just grab any old cheapo substitute that kinda fits the description!  Go on and pay some money for the good stuff.  It's often worth it.  Otherwise, you'll be stuck with a bunch of brass fan charms thinner than tissue paper and twice as pliable... Like me. 

I don't know what I'm going to do with these things, but I haven't the heart to throw them away.

4.  Buy in bulk
If you can, buy in bulk.  Always.  I guarantee you that there will come a time when you're making something and you'll wish for some beads or findings that you've already used up.  Maybe they'll be for another necklace.  Maybe they'll be for decorating a trinket box.

5.  Keep your tools in good shape
After a lot of heavy use, it becomes obvious when your nipping pliers get dull. Things just don't cut.  They just bend and you end up with a nasty looking chewed up piece of wire, bit of a finding or something equally horrible and bad for design.

6.  If you're tired, stop working
You can't 'keep working through the pain'.  You'll end up messing up and leaving your genetic material on the thing you're working on in a way you didn't want to.

7.  No one has any originality any more.
You won't find any clients in this unstable economy that possess a lot of originality.  There is no one who will come to you with a commission knowing exactly what they want.  It's frustrating, but it's up to you to guess what they want and what they need.  You have to be ready to address the want FIRST and then, when it leads them to disaster, address the need.  Hundreds of people may look at your displays and decide that your stuff's 'not for them'.  BUT, the moment they see an item they snubbed looking great on someone else, they will want that exact item, believing that it will look the same on them.  I've no idea what dictates that logic, actually. 
However, I did have a young woman with a very short, thick neck who wanted a 3-inch wide choker made 'just like the one you wore to the Emily Autumn concert, the one posted on your deviantart', despite my attempts to lead her to a thinner 1 and a half inch wide choker band.  This same young woman was distraught when the choker folded in and got lost under her chin.  I was unsurprised, and therefore had a solution on hand.

8.  Don't waste time
This ties in to #2.  In waiting for proper items to pop up to finish a piece you've already started, don't just sit on your hands waiting for magic.  Get inspired and keep working.

9.  Double Check your work
With a a magnifying glass and tweezers.  Maybe an physicist too.

10.  Everything is Material
I used a quarter to balance out a brooch this passed weekend.  It was cheaper than buying a cabochon frame, just as effective, and twice as eye popping.  What'd you do with your quarters?  Huh?  You put them in the soda machine didn't you?

The result of applying these learnings to Christmas shopping were readily noticeable.  I didn't go into debt trying to get something I felt was 'worthy of giving'.  I also was able to get a better quality of whatever it was I gave by clipping coupons and working hard.  I played the 'How long can you keep 20 dollars' game like a pro.  Instead of squeezing those 20 dollars till they screamed, died and came back as moaning zombies, I put them to work and made them grow with careful and wise spending.  What's more, I got more laughs, screams and wails at the gifts I gave.  I even gave small gifts to clients.  Squeals of "OMFG!  THIS IS AWESOME!" rang from as far as California.  I made girls feel pretty, made moms jealous of their daughters, made muscle guys break their diets, and got to laugh at my dad because he mistakenly ate soaps that looked and smelled like oreos.  Apparently, they tasted like oreos until they started to foam up in his mouth.  Love you Dad