Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ask Auntie EM - How the heck do I say NO!

Well, it's Tuesday and we are back again answering your questions in EtsyMetal's weekly blog post called "Ask Auntie EM". If you're new here, this is a weekly blog post written by Sue and Ann where we tackle your metalsmithing and non metalsmithing questions. Having trouble with your solder? Need some help with stone setting? Have a problem 2 year old? We and EtsyMetal's 100+ members probably have the answer. If you'd like YOUR question answered in the future, please email your questions to askauntie@etsymetal.com and we will get to it as soon as we can. If you'd like to read past posts, they can be found here.

This week's question comes from Francine:

I get a lot of "can you make this for me "type questions from friends and customers.

Usually i can make them but it's not what I am typically the best at or even like to do.

How often is it ok to say "no" and refer them to an artist who can create what they are asking about and who likes to do it?

To begin with, here are a few pieces that I have made that have come directly from customer and friend requests:

This is an excellent question and one we all get, all the time. Honestly, I used to be terrible at this, saying yes to every ridiculous and soul sucking request that came my way. And, in a way, I'm glad I did. The thing is, sometimes honoring a request can be really liberating and very educational.
Usually, a request from a customer (and a relative or friend IS a customer too) produces a negative knee jerk response with me. I tend to say "no" in my head first and then reconsider later when I've had a chance to think about it. Here's a list of my most used excuses:

I don't have time
I don't have the skills
It's not my style
It's copying someone else's work
I don't have the right tools
I am getting an uncomfortable feeling from the requester
I just, simply, don't want to do it

So, let's go through this list one at a time and see if they hold water.

#1. I don't have time. That's really legitimate. There are many times when another EtsyMetal member will get a request and will post it on our private forum simply because he or she doesn't have time to complete it themselves. In this way, a great opportunity is passed on to another skillful metalsmith and the customer stays happy. There are many times that I just simply don't have time to create a new piece with a customer from scratch. The learning curve is steep, new work takes a long time and the communication between artist and customer takes time as well. In this instance it's perfectly ok to just say "no, thanks".

#2. I don't have the skills. This is another one that I have used frequently and it frustrates me. There have been many times that I turned down a request because I thought I didn't have the skill set to make a piece well. Most of the time, it's my own insecurity and not my skill set. When you start thinking this way, really examine why you are using this excuse. If you're chickening out because you're feeling insecure, this is your big chance!! Make a model out of non precious metals and see how it works. In taking on a request like this you will further your confidence and skills, which is a real winner for you. Let the customer know that you will need extra time and be honest that you will be learning a new skill. Can you ask another metalsmith for help? Are there videos on YouTube? Can you look in a book? Visit a local goldsmith? Give it a try, if it doesn't work out help the customer find someone else. If it's a skill that's really outside your skill set, like hand engraving or elaborate stone setting, or if you will be taking on extreme financial liability then be honest with the customer and pass, explaining that some skills take years to master. You have to be honest with yourself first and really examine why you're using this excuse.

#3. It's not my style. I think this one, personally, is a bunch of baloney. If what the customer wants isn't "your" style, either make it your style or lighten up and have fun stepping outside your comfort zone. Obviously, the customer came to you because they see something in you and your work they like. Most of the time when they say "can you make me this?" they mean, "can you make me something like this that looks like you made it." I have found that, even when they show up with a picture of something they want, it's just an idea, not a finished product. Ask them what they like about the piece they are thinking about and you might find that it's as simple as "I want 5 stones in a row" or "I want it to be round". In this case you can run with it and have a great time. Now, if they are insistent that what they want look a particular way and they aren't up for any input, you will need to examine your own reluctance and see why you are hesitating. Is it excuse #2? Then tackle that problem. If it's just that it's "not your style" then forge ahead and have a great time. I have made several pieces like this and they usually expand the scope of my work and I'm really glad I did something new. Stepping outside our comfort zone is good, give it a try.

#4 It's copying someone else's work. This is a VERY legitimate excuse to decline. Don't copy other artist's work. Ever. It cheapens you and your work and never makes you look good. Try to find the original artist with a google image search and send the customer there. Perhaps they don't know the original maker (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt). Perhaps they are fishing for a cheaper price or want to give you, their friend, the business instead. In either case, turn this kind of work down, no matter what.

5. I don't have the right tools. This is, hands down, my favorite excuse. Barring a laser welder...there isn't a tool that I can think of that I don't want or wouldn't buy for a project. If the tool is small, I roll that into the fee I charge the customer. If the tool is bigger, I charge for a small portion of the tool. I figure, if I needed it once, I'll need it again.

6. I am getting an uncomfortable feeling from the requester or I just, simply, don't want to do it. After many years in retail working with all different kinds of customers, I can tell you that this is a VERY valid reason to decline a job. If you have gone through excuses #1-5 and it's really none of them and you still don't want to take on a custom project, then don't. Sometimes you get the feeling that you and this particular customer won't work well together. It's ok, it happens. You don't want to marry every person you date, why would you want to work on a possibly complicated and potentially expensive project with every Tom, Dick or Jane. Maybe the customer is too controling and you like to work loose? Maybe the customer is too loosey goosey and you're having a hard time getting them to firm up their idea. Maybe they are just a jerk. In any case, a polite "No thank you" is adequate. You don't need to make excuses, you don't need to lie, just say no and be done with it.

So, I hope this helps. It's never easy saying no to anyone and, most of the time, these crazy requests come from family and friends. Remember they are usually asking because they love you and want to support your business and they don't know about excuses 1-6. Next time you want to reject a request, examine your own motives and maybe you will end up making something really great and you'll be glad you did!

Thanks for the question! See you next Tuesday! Until then, happy metalsmithing!


Renee said...

Thank you SO much for this post. I struggle with this. Your answer to "not my skill-set" is very timely, I have a friend wanting me to set an elk ivory - scared to death, but he's willing to let me take a shot at it. I've been looking at it on my bench for a month now - time to jump in.

Ann Hartley said...

Yeah!!! Do it! Glad I could help, we have all been there for sure. :)

Barking Dog Gallery said...

Great response. I have had similar requests, including one woman who brought me old jewelry pieces and asked if she could "trade them" for a custom piece. I politely told her that she was probably better taking them to a gold and silver buyer, and using the proceeds to buy something artisan made. I also find that if someone wants something made that just isn't in my comfort zone, for whatever reason, telling them I don't have the appropriate tools is usually good enough -- then they choose something from my available pieces!

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