Walking Away from Unprofitable Projects

Running a business means you are a frequently making tough calls. We are constantly trying to balance what we love with making money, improving skills and doing it all in a way that doesn't make us want to tear our hair out! Recently, metalsmith and #ahasmember Rebecca Holt came to the conclusion that what seemed like a fun project was actually a time-consuming money loss when she did the numbers. Read on for her lightbulb moments!

Q: Please introduce yourself.
A: My name is Rebecca Holt and I’m a metalsmith artist living in Atlanta, GA originally from Richmond, VA. I love creating jewelry with fossils and natural stone using brass or sterling silver.  My style is minimalist timeless mixed with Art Deco/edge.

Q: This year you decided to experiment and take on some projects outside of your usual work, can you tell us more about these projects?  
A: I took on projects this year that were huge! I wanted to stretch my skills by taking on remake projects where the client mailed an old 10k or 14k gold ring to me that they didn’t like/didn’t fit and I would make it into something wearable for them. Little did I know, these projects would involve partnering with a local jewelers shop down the street because the casting/stone removal was more then I could handle (I didn’t have the casting equipment necessary).  

It became a month/1.5 month project each time I took something like this. There was initial sketches after seeing a photo of the ring/idea, payment after getting quotes for all materials necessary and creating and invoice predetermining hourly labor cost, emailing to set up the project with the local jeweler to get started, waiting two weeks for them to do the first initial melt down/removal process and then finally starting to make the actual piece and deal with any problems that happen. Last was packaging and insuring the item for shipping and delivery. 

Q: What made you decide to take these projects on and what effect did they have on other aspects of your business? 
A: I consider myself part of the fashion world and I hate how fast fashion has changed the whole business! They mistreat garment workers and make it so American teenage girls think buying up and throwing away tons of clothing every week is acceptable. This was my attempt at doing something different to show that recycling is an option with jewelry and fashion, not just cardboard and paper/plastic. It also stretched my skills so that I could work with gold/diamonds without having to pay for it out of pocket.  

However, taking on these projects made it so I had less time to focus on reaching out to stockists and take on wholesale orders that were lower priced but higher profit for me.  Initially my brand and business was about more affordable handmade pieces using brass and silver and natural stone…the idea was to tailor my designs to people’s budgets.  These huge projects definitely took a toll on that idea and on my brand.

Q: What made you realize these projects weren't right for you and what did you do at that point?
A: My realization actually came up when discussing branding on a group chat and listening to the summit talks about branding/trade shows with Academy of Handmade. I’ve just started loving and participating in more craft shows and wholesale orders for stockists and want to do more of what I love. The other problem I had with these projects is that I avoided going to the studio because I hated all the problems and hardships I ran into making these pieces.  

I forgot that if I don’t like something, I don’t have to do it! Ah, the pleasure of owning a small business.  I have one more project that is very overwhelming right now and after I finish this one I’ve decided I won’t take on any projects over $300 unless they're wholesale or multiple pieces. After I finish this last one, I can go full steam ahead on wholesale orders and putting my money into craft shows and brass/affordable materials to work with.  Making this decision felt like a huge load was taken off of me.

Q: What did you learn from this experience and how are you applying it to your business today? 
A: The gold projects definitely made my stone setting abilities better but it also taught me how to price for potential problems. My old professor used to say “it’s not what you can make, it’s what you can save”.  

Problem solving is a huge part of metalsmithing and I’ve learned it just comes with the territory. It’s made me reevaluate my labor prices and really try to think realistically about hourly pricing. It’s also made me think harder about branding and sticking to a style without feeling like that limits me.  I want people to recognize my pieces without knowing I made them initially…which can be difficult if you don’t want to feel limited.

Q: When being offered a new project, how do you decide what to accept and what to refuse? What is the process like for you now?
A: Now, I would say building an invoice to make sure the project is in my price range after talking about materials and size with the customer will be my first step.  If it’s something that is a remake project or completely not my style and something I would never touch (even to stretch my skills) then…I will recommend someone else to them.  

Q: What advice do you have for a maker who finds themselves in a similar situation?
A: I would say really take the time to think through what you’re saying yes to before jumping at the money.  Plan out steps after they describe what they’re looking for and look at how cost effective a project is before completely jumping in.

Q: Where can we find you online? 
A: My website is rebeccaholt.co , my Instagram is @rebeccaholt02 and my Facebook page is Rebecca Holt Jewelry.  My social media gets updated most often (everyday twice a day usually) but my website has my shop and portfolio/past custom photos.