Saturday, December 4, 2010

Armouring AS a business

The South Tower Armoury is more than a business, more than a hobby. In many ways it is a lifestyle choice. I mean, in what other business can you run where you can travel to Europe every winter just to visit museums!

Watching the "Dragons Den", a reality show dealing with inventors coming into meet the "money lending Dragons", I was struck by the reality that my business, the South Tower Armouring Guild had been sort of spinning its wheels. Not growing, really, and certainly not collapsing backwards! What it HAS been doing is getting better and better at quality and beauty. I am certainly not getting ready to retire, in fact the opposite, I am getting ready to really get some great things going!
The fact that my bread and butter, the basic "beginner's" helms and such can no longer be made economically has caused me to re-evaluate the direction I am going in. There is still tremendous future in custom work...both medieval and in the Anime and fantasy worlds. And there is still a future in running all this AS a business.

A business is not a difficult thing to create. I ran mine for 18 years without so much as a business plan. A fellow who was in here t'other day (a banker) wants me to create a business plan, and a set of goals. He didn't really contribute much, but then he was not being paid to contribute much. My business is my life, and I won't take life coaching from anyone!!! (That's the problem I guess...grin!)

Normally a business has human resources which come together to create something. I watched a movie one time that had these immortal lines it. The girl was flirting with the guy, and said to him....
"So you are a business man. What does a business man do?"
"Fills orders"
"Well I have an order for you to fill..." she said as she twirled a lock of hair around her finger.

Cute. And what a concise statement THAT is! A business exists to fill orders. Not to play back biting politics, not to hang with cool people, not to drink coffee in the break room all day, not even to build or do great things. A business needs to have a buyer, a salesman to find the buyer, a producer or creator of the goods, a facilitator (the businessman) to bring them together!

I like running a business because all successful business persons have to be goal oriented. A successful employee's goals pretty much extend to "treat me like a human being and pay me a living wage". A successful boss's goals are "we have a product which needs to be sold/made/moved, and will motivate the workers to do that. A successful business man has to bring the goods to the customer, he or she needs not be a good employee OR a good boss to be a good businessman. Three different goals, three different philosophies.

As a businessman myself, I find that the greatest difficulty is the lack of sure knowledge of exactly what I am doing, with what and to whom! Even after 18 years, I feel like the Newfie going into the ditch, you know, the one who says "Here, hold my beer boy, and watch dis then!" I may not know what I am doing, but by George, it'll get done somehow!

I hate the term "Just Do It". It sounds so trite and mundane. But the fact is, if you don't Just Do It, you will always fail. It is shorthand way to overcome the natural timidity. I know you don't normally think of Bill as timid kind of guy, but there are times. I need to "Just Do It" every day! Most people are timid. They play a game called the "Yes But" game. I find myself doing it from time to time. (Oh you know that game..."Why don't you get a good job", "Well YES I suppose I could, BUT I need the education", "Can't you get the education at the High School? "YES BUT I need money to pay the tuition". Well, you have a job right now don't you? "YES BUT its not enough to pay tuition".) (All this is a distillation of "Transactional Analysis", a much overlooked field IMHO.) Justification for timidity is not appropriate for a businessman. But it is a natural thing, not to be ashamed of. It is our natural timidity which keeps us from driving into ditches "just to see what will happen".

So, if your goal is to become a businessperson, you MUST not be timid. On the face of it, this seems to fly in the face of common sense and advise. The usual naysayers all say the same thing..."if there was a market for that product, there would a hundred people selling it, and of course, there is the corrollary....a hundred people are selling that product, what makes you think you can sell it as well?" Well, I notice that cell phones are still selling like hot cakes even though most people now have them.

All business people are flying by seat of their pants with insufficient information and no resources. You HAVE all the knowledge and resources to run a successful business just like this one now! So, for the coming year, let me just say this...

Hang onto my beer, and watch this!!!


ip-location map zoom


Ars.Gladius said...

Remember that you are in the artisan trades, while a business needs goals and revenue, if you focus to much on the monetary part you may loose the magic that allows the creativity and drive to create.

While a certain amount of base goods need to be done to cover costs, you have to make sure that you still have time to do the projects that allow you to push your skills and creativity, even if they may not be 100% cost effective (something that I'm sure will drive an accountant mad).

I guess what I am trying to say is don't focus on growth on revenue to the determent of your enjoyment and drive for the exceptional work that you do.

You can't do pure art as there is no profit. You can't do pure profit as there is no art. Find the balance and thrive. (Unless of course you have a patron that is willing to dump money on you for pure art.)

STAG said...

Are you volunteering?

hidden_sparrow said...

Lol! It almost sounds like he is! >;D

STAG said...

And don't worry Ars.Gladius...I always estimate how long it takes to do it, and then proceed to work four times as long as my estimate. Seems endemic with craftspeople...

No accountant in the world would touch a business like this! But I kind of like it. Some items, like the three piece suit I just made for Quinn, is straightforward enough that I can estimate exactly how long it will take. (22 hours exactly) The only reason I know this is because I make two of them a month, every month! Those lend themselves to a business decision.
But what do you do with the fantasy pieces? The ones where I only have a vague idea of how long it will take! I can only hope my educated guess really IS close to being right on. Then it helps to have a pension to fall back on. I have occassionally found myself in the middle of a waking nightmare! The "tin man" armour, for instance a few years ago. (A wizard of oz tin man) The job never seemed to end. I knew it was a dog within a month of making the first "draft", and knew that the customer would never fit into it, would never like it. And sure enough, he thought it sucked big time. Didn't blame himself for the bad measurements. I wasted the shipping to him and about 60 hours of shop time. Irrecoverable. I am better now at being able to say "you know, this will not work!" and the magic words..."find somebody else to do it, I cannot". I had a guy the other day who had some ivory he wanted me to turn into a knife handle. I passed on the job because if I messed up (failed to read his blessed mind!) then how would I ever replace it?

Ah well. Not such a bad job even so!