Rebecca Skeels is an established artisan jeweller of some 20 years as well as fulfilling various other roles as a Senior Tutor & Cluster Leader at UCA Farnham, a board member at ACJ and a member of the Board of Trustees at the New Ashgate Gallery.
Rebecca has developed a wealth of experience in the artisan business world, both in her role as an independent jeweller and as a mentor to the thousands of students that she has nurtured over past years.
The following article is based on a lecture that Rebecca delivered at the ‘Rising Stars Symposium’ earlier this year where she offered guidance for jewellers starting or changing their careers, or simply reviewing their business. Rebecca’s main aim is to have fun with what she is doing and encourage others to do the same.


There are three vital elements to be considered when making career and business plans: Planning, Networking and Costing.

Planning

Time should always be set aside for planning; this can include business plans, opening bank accounts and understanding when you can develop ideas and work etc. Allowing time for all of the different aspects of running a small business is essential and long term plans as well as a view of schedules week by week over a year will help you to keep control of your ideas.
You should know what your personal goal is, as there are too many options for your business to slide off into a different direction if you have not actually decided and thought about what it is you like doing and want to do. Make sure you allow time for:

•    market research   
•    publicity
•    networking
•    talking to clients
•    producing work
•    buying in supplies
•    applying for grants
•    development and learning
•    research
•    holidays and sick days

All of these aspects need to be realistic and achievable. You need to manage yourself, your health and your time to keep yourself and your business in good shape. In the same breath, try to see further than your next job or commission – remember that you will need another venture lined up for after your current project.
 Write a list of everything that needs to be done and put it onto a day to day planner. Keep it up to date, the more you do this, the easier it will be to plan and understand how you use your time.

Networking

Networking has become increasingly popular over the last twenty years, with very good reason. Good partnerships with galleries, agents and your customers are valuable. You need to select and join organizations such as the Worshipful Companies, New Ashgate, Benchpeg, Association for Contemporary Jewellery and The Guild of Jewellery Designers. This will help you keep up to date with the current climate, what is going on in your industry and select the right galleries and exhibitions for your work and market. Embrace the subject of enterprise, enjoy it and have fun.
In the jewellery industry, studying at a Jewellery School, College or University can be of great advantage, but to sustain this you need to keep developing and learning. Whilst in education you begin to understand how to learn and this works well with networking, discussing, debating and talking to others in your industry, which in turn will keep you fresh and informed. There is no one to tell you what to do, so it is up to you to find information and use your initiative. Do not just rely on the internet to discuss and network; go to events, go to meetings, go to lectures. It is amazing to discover the tips, details and understanding that you can obtain from chatting face to face.

Help each other out, keep each other up to date, build up relationships with the galleries and people you supply to in order to help them too. If they sell more, you sell more. Currently the country is in recession and working together will help the industry to survive and build a good future.
 
Networking will help you to build your business in the direction you wish, know what opportunities are out there and develop your industry contacts. It also provides an opportunity to meet your contemporaries and allows you to reflect on what you are doing, what others are doing and get involved in a variety of events and activities.

Costing

Money is an area that cannot be ignored but it seems the most taboo. You need to make your career sustainable, the current economic climate is tough and you need to make enough to survive, grow and develop. All of this means that you need to charge enough for your work. You need to work out your costs to give yourself confidence in what you are charging and to be able to recognize why, to understand your own profit margins and to know it is worth doing.
 
You need to understand how much you can survive on. What are your day to day outgoings, even if you did nothing else but eat and sleep, what would that cost? How much does it cost to keep your business open even if you did nothing else? Do you have workshop rent and bills, marketing to pay for and equipment and loans to pay? List everything you will need to pay for over the year, include everything, then divide this with the hours you will work over the year, remembering to take holidays, sick days and weekends into account. This will help you understand the minimum you need to charge per hour.
 
When you work out your costs for commissions do not just work out the materials and time it will take to make it; include design time, sketchbooks, pens, packaging, ordering materials, travel, tests, experiments and so on. Then include profit, do your market research and make sure you are pricing yourself for your customers. You will find it hard to sell if you price yourself too cheaply for your market; it is as hard to sell something too cheap as it is an overpriced item. It is easier to lower your prices, than it is to put them up. Do not forget that when you sell at wholesale to your retailers and outlets, the retail price will increase thirty five to five hundred percent. Subsequent adjustments in your wholesale pricing (whether increases or decreases) will have a more significant impact on the retail price e.g. a £5 difference in the wholesale price could result in a £7 - £25 difference in the retail price.
You may need more than one way to make money and many art and craft entrepreneurs supplement their incomes when they are starting out. If you need to do this, think about how it could enhance the business and keep you on the right track to achieving your goals. Would working in a gallery, arts centre or related industry help you to network and develop your understanding of the industry? It may be as simple as having a different range of work, but do be aware this may also mean a different marketing campaign and other time consuming activities.
 
There are many competitions, sponsorships, grants and funding opportunities. You need to ensure you apply for the ones that you are interested in and that relate to your work. This process is time consuming and a job in itself, which doesn’t always make money, but has great advantages when you consider the prospects for new work, publicity, international opportunities and trying something new. Do not get put off if an application is rejected: develop it, update it and apply for another opportunity. Be focused and clear and make sure it relates to what you want to do.
 
Do not always dismiss things if a big fat cheque is not the reward at the end! Sometimes learning, education, development, experience, networking and publicity can be the reward and can save you money in other areas. Consider courses, volunteering, internships, teaching, presenting yourself and your work and so on.
 
To conclude, starting your career requires hard work, energy, time and perseverance. Keep reflecting to keep focused. Aim for what you enjoy and not what people say is a good idea.

If you want to make affordable pieces that many can enjoy, then aim for this.
If you would prefer to design for a company, then make this your priority.
If you would rather make high end one offs and sell to collectors, then make that your goal.
Work hard, manage your money and your time, be realistic and keep it achievable.


Rebecca Skeels

 

 

44 Hockley Street

Hockley

Birmingham

B18 6BH

Tel: +44 (0)121 507 0994

Company number 07258309

ICO Registration No: ZA460029