• Damian J. Miles

The Road is Long

It’s 31st of May, 8.30 am in Amsterdam and I’m stood in the street like a lemon, an hour early for an interview. As I’m waiting there I have time to think. After the usual thoughts of, cycling is a big thing here. How many overweight people have I seen? Not many to be fair, maybe we could learn something in the UK? Should we leave the EU or stay? My thoughts turn to the more personal aspects of why I’m here. A job interview.

What am I doing here? Is my business a failure? I hate flying, why did I get on a plane for a part time job? I was there for a job interview for a part time job, for a company that I found interesting. Is my business a failure? Certainly not, but it is very patchy. This would provide a steady contribution to the household finances and that is very important.

It was time to go in. The first interview felt like a chat as we both sat there with cucumber flavoured water (don’t knock it, it’s quite refreshing). Before I knew it, the interview was over and I was waiting for the next.

The second interview, with 2 people now, should have been much more nerve wracking. I was very calm. When I was asked if I was nervous, the answer was no. I was more worried about travelling home. They were a little surprised by this. The reason was simply that this was different to any interview I had attended before. The people before me had done the job before and were so keen to see me that they had flown me over and put me in a hotel the night before. Having been for jobs in the UK, this was pretty alien to me.

As I was sat in the office they noticed that I had been self-employed for almost 2 years and asked why I left my last job. “I was made redundant as the business closed” I answered “Thinking about it, I was made redundant exactly 2 years ago to the day” I added. This is where something dawned on me. How far I had come. I’m not meaning to The Netherlands, but in terms of my business.

When I started out as self-employed, people always told me how hard it would be. I knew it would be very hard, but nothing prepares you for how hard. There were, and are, several benefits to working from home, the main one being that I know my children much better than I did before. I used to see them for 30 minutes a day on average as I left for work at 7.15am and generally got home around 7pm. This wasn’t good enough. Yes, I still do a normal working day, but at different times of day. I’m often designing, re-stringing pearls, preparing tweets or maintaining my website late at night or early in the morning when most sensible people are asleep.

I was intending to do repairs and re-stringing for jewellery shops and that was about it. As time went on I had trouble growing my clients beyond a few shops as businesses were closing and many shops used large central workshops. Something had to change. I started to make and sell a few pieces (Etsy shop plug) and did a few repairs and valuations for members of the public local to me. This became a little more interesting. I had the people contact that I have had for over 20 years and a creative outlet making things rather than just putting things back together.

The decision was made to not take on any more trade work and to continue to support the shops that have supported me. Eventually we will part company for one of many possible reasons, but I intend to do my best for them as long as I can. Not dealing with repairs in this way does considerably reduce my stress levels.

I’m enjoying making and designing pieces and it seems other people like what I do as well, they are buying a few things after all. Relying on an income from selling luxury goods alone is pretty terrifying. You can imagine the peaks and troughs you get. Some months it looks like nothing will sell at all others can be much better. This is why I was looking for a little part time work, just to try and smooth out the rough patches, so to speak.

If you are looking to become self-employed, I will tell you that it is hard, very hard, but you won’t fully believe me until you are doing it. Make the most of any free resources you can, from free workshops and courses to business directories. I wish you good luck.

If you are already self-employed, well done. Enjoy the benefits and prepare for the pitfalls. Keep a few grounded people around you. Positive people too. When you’ve had a bad day it’s easy to fall into the pit of despair, I’ve been there many times. This is your “support network”, people you can count on, from giving you a boost to stuffing envelopes, from teaching you to say yes and no at the right times to looking after your kids for an hour. These people are important, very important and don’t forget to tell them so. Remember that there is nobody out there just like you, doing things the way you do. That’s what makes your business different. Persevere, but don’t be too stubborn (I hope my wife isn’t reading that bit).

Back to me. My support network is great. They include members of my trade who are constantly looking for business for me (a couple of which I owe a meal). The kind of bubbly people I would usually like to slap (of course not, they’re lovely), but they are a blessing when you need it. The complete strangers that boost your Twitter and Facebook reach just because. Parents that look after the kids on occasion. Customers that like and buy what I do and of course, the ones that take the time in their busy day to write a review.

The most important of all are my wife and children. My wife has been incredibly supportive and I quite simply wouldn’t be here today without her. She keeps me grounded, pushes me when I need it, holds me when it’s been a bad day, knows instinctively when I need a break and everything else I could need. Our two children are a constant source of inspiration, from what to make to get myself in gear. They have also inherited the “someone needs a hug” gene from my wife.

If you do take a part-time job when you’re self-employed, it’s not a sign of failure, it’s a sign of your commitment to what you do. Otherwise you would be quitting and getting a “proper” job, wouldn’t you? It would be irresponsible not to, if your business wasn’t the multi-million-pound enterprise you had hoped (not my goal by the way). Everything needs time to build.

As I flew back from Amsterdam, I was thinking again. I’m doing the right thing. I’ve been offered, and accepted, a job that allows me to work from home for 16 hours a week using my specialist skill set. I am still, wholeheartedly, a jeweller and in every sense of the word. It is the right thing. I am not admitting defeat. I am a success, and with the additional income, I will go from strength to strength with the continued support of my friends, customers and of course family.

Keep an eye out for the next email where I’ll tell you a little more about what I’m doing.

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