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How to quit undercharging for your work, with Rauni Higson

with your host Jessica Abel

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What has been a game changer for me is flexibility because I love flexibility. But if you are responding to things that you don’t feel like you can actually say no to, then there isn’t flexibility. And what I’ve done now is design sort of big projects and it can all be turned off. So, I can take a break from it and do something else wholeheartedly, rather than always feeling like there’s not enough time.

rauni higson

Do you struggle to figure out how to price your work so that it’s actually profitable for you…and then to actually say that price out loud, without mumbling or undercutting yourself?

Do you find yourself rushing to offer a discount BEFORE anyone even asks?

On this episode, I’m joined by Rauni Higson, one of Britain’s leading silversmiths. When I first met Rauni, she was chronically undercharging for her work, experiencing major feast or famine cycles, and generally running herself ragged teaching and taking on low-end work.

Discover how Rauni learned to price her work for a profit, and effectively communicate the value of her work to clients without feeling like she had to put on airs. And how that higher pricing helped her break the cycle of needing to fill her income gap by taking on tons of other low-margin work.

More from the episode

  • How pricing your work goes beyond numbers, and plays a crucial role in helping people truly appreciate your work
  • How having the words to talk about your work unlocks your ability to have fun connecting with clients
  • The key differences between selling a product-based offer vs. a service offer
  • Why we should “stay out of other people’s wallets,” and what ethical practice and consent during the sales process looks like
  • The power of networking with fellow creatives and nurturing relationships with past clients
  • How to say “no” to commissions…for any reason

About Guest

Rauni Higson is one of Britain’s leading silversmiths. Originally trained in Finland, her studio is located in the dramatic landscape of Snowdonia, a rich backdrop of mountainous crags and rugged coastline that inform her work. All her pieces are made by hand and by hammer, using her contemporary interpretation of traditional skills.

Connect with Guest

Home – Rauni Higson

Additional Links

Jessica Abel on Creative Mornings

How to find (and actually talk to) your ideal clients, with Sarah Marie Lacy

Transcript

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Rauni: what has been a game changer for me is uh, flexibility because I love flexibility.

Rauni: But if you are responding to things that you don’t feel like you can actually say no to, then there isn’t flexibility. And what I’ve done now is design sort of big projects and it can all be turned off.

Rauni: So I can take a break for it and do something else wholeheartedly, rather than always feeling like there’s not enough time and time scarcity, money, scarcity. It’s the same stuff.

Jessica Abel: What does it really take to become successful as a writer or artist?

Jessica Abel: There are a lot of destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like. We’re told we shouldn’t care about worldly success or money. We’re told that if we’re good enough, everything would magically fall into place. That’s a lie and it keeps us struggling, baffled, and hungry for any shred of information that might shed light on how to keep making the work we love. That’s why I get any two artists or writers or any creatives really together in a room. And it’s a foregone conclusion that the conversation will turn to money and the nitty gritty reality of being a professional, creative.

Jessica Abel: I’m cartoonist and creative business. Coach Jessica Abel.

Jessica Abel: In my own life. The studio visit back channel conversations with other artists where we share our insights and hacks anxieties and red flags have been critical to any success I’ve achieved.

Jessica Abel: And now. I’m bringing that conversation to you. This is the autonomous creative.

Jessica Abel: Today, we’re going to be talking about building a business that is worthy of your amazing work. And what I mean by that is that so many listeners to this podcast are experts in their fields, truly stand out go-to people. And yet they struggle with working non-stop and being underpaid. Which causes them to get caught in a scarcity cycle that can lead to burnout.

Jessica Abel: That’s because they’ve put all their energy into mastering their work and very little into building the fundamentals of a business that can get them paid well enough and easily enough that they retain the energy and time they need to do the work they love most.

Jessica Abel: We’re going to look at how my guest has started to turn that situation around, and how the work itself can benefit from having those business fundamentals in place.

Jessica Abel: My guest today is Rauni Higson. Rauni is one of Britain’s leading silversmiths. She’s originally trained in Finland and her studio is located in the dramatic landscape of Snowdonia Wales, which provides a rich backdrop of mountainous crags and rugged coastline. And you can really see the imprint of that landscape on her work.

Jessica Abel: One important framing fact understand for our conversation today is that although Rauni does make beautiful jewelry, her focus is on sculptural, silver and tableware: serving pieces and even larger ceremonial pieces. That will inform our conversation here because the kind of work she does is big and complicated and takes a lot of time.

Jessica Abel: For all of us who are subject experts, when we’re doing it right, our work takes a ton out of us. That’s why it requires very thoughtful business design to support that work properly. This goes as much for writers of books as it does for silversmiths.

Jessica Abel: And with all of that in mind, let’s hear how Rauni Higson is making it work… right after this.

Jessica Abel: Do you find it hard to talk about your work or make it clear to potential clients how incredibly valuable it is? Have you wanted to find higher paying clients, but have no idea how? Does it feel scary to set your prices at a level that you know you need to hit to make your work sustainable?

Jessica Abel: If it does, that puts you in very good company, most of my clients. And in fact, most of the creative professionals I meet struggle with these same issues.

Jessica Abel: You, like them, probably have a creative career that’s based on your passion for your work. Your vision for how meaningful it can be for others and your commitment to a creative life.

Jessica Abel: You’ve probably managed to score some nice gigs along the way, via referrals, word of mouth, and pure determination.

Jessica Abel: You’re justifiably proud of your work and what you’ve achieved.

Jessica Abel: But you face a gap. Maybe a chasm.

Jessica Abel: You’re stuck on an income plateau and are so busy, keeping the treadmill rolling, you don’t have time to figure out how to grow.

Jessica Abel: You know you’ve got it in you to hit the next level and the one after that. But you see your career stalling because you’re not launching the ambitious work you envision.

Jessica Abel: And you want to do it all while taking care of yourself mentally and physically.

Jessica Abel: First of all. Let me just say that you’re a, bad-ass it is no joke to get as far as you have. But you know what got you here. I won’t get you where you need to go.

Jessica Abel: That’s why I’m excited to invite you to the simplify to amplify round table, a free live monthly conversation, where we get together to tackle the big questions, celebrate our successes and plot out what to do next.

Jessica Abel: Running a creative business is no joke. It’s complex. Issues crop up out of nowhere. And more often than not, we have no one to turn to, to ask for help. If you have a creative business at any stage of development from nascent to veteran, you’ll get a ton out of these sessions.

Jessica Abel: Bring your questions and join me and an amazing group of creative peers who take their business as seriously as you do at the free simplify to amplify round table.

Jessica Abel: Check out Jessica abel.com/star that’s J E S S I C a B E l.com/star to register for the next session of the simplify to amplify Roundtable. I’ll see you there. Okay, now let’s start the show.

Jessica: so Rauni, why don’t you walk us through a little bit– like we met, I wanna say three years ago at this point, something like that.

Rauni: It was June 2020, in your free Facebook group for Growing Gills.

Jessica: Oh, okay. Yeah. Yeah. I thought you found me through the flow video that I did for…

Rauni: Oh, I did. I did. But that was when I was first in something where you were also.

Jessica: Oh, okay. Yeah, so I did a talk for Creative Mornings that you can find on YouTube about the topic of flow. That’s how Rauni found me.

Jessica: And this is one of these things that’s like, as a business owner, it’s really great to know how, what were people looking for that they then found me and like it was the right match. So you’re one of the few people, Ronnie, who can actually tell me how you found me. Most people can’t. They’re like, I don’t know. Things happened.

Rauni: I was Googling flow. That’s how it happened.

Jessica: Yeah. And you were googling flow because?

Rauni: Well, I was googling flow because I’m also a climber, a rock climber. And I had done a kind of weekend, coaching weekend, with a friend of mine who’s a, clinical psychologist and she coaches climbers and one of the things is about finding flow and having flow experiences.

Rauni: And I kind of realized that I was really keen on having more flow experiences in all aspects of my life and that it is something that I get from my creativity, like I’m sure lots of us do.

Rauni: But it was climbing that sort of crystallized it as a specific skill to practice. That’s how that happened.

Jessica: Yeah. And I think that the thing that you were struggling with when you came to me was that you were doing some really incredible work, but so many, like you juggling so many different things to try to make ends meet and not knowing where the next big commission was gonna come from and all these other things, flow was a little hard to come by.

Rauni: Yeah. And also spectacularly underestimating consistently for a good couple of decades how long things actually take.

Rauni: So, well, a, a massive reality check, which was actually brought on by Covid when time stopped.

Rauni: And I just went, I wonder what happens when, cuz everyone else has stopped, I carried on working because I was in the middle of something.

Rauni: It was great, obviously aside from all the horrendous things that were happening, but everything, all the chatter stopped, all the meetings stopped, all of the background noise completely stopped. And I thought, I wonder what happens when I just prioritize making the work as good as it can be.

Rauni: And yeah, guess what? It takes ages. I mean, I knew that already, but when nothing else was happening, it was just so clear.

Jessica: Yeah, exactly. So tell us a little bit about where you were at in your career a few years ago. What was happening? What were you working on and like, what were the big blocks that you had?

Rauni: Okay, so, juggling too many things would be that I was, my sort of main, what I would consider my kind of most important work is, doing commissions. So a lot of them are quite large scale. A lot of them are for institutions or ,companies or some of them are for private individuals as well.

Rauni: But because they’re kind of generally big things, a lot of it is things to do with celebration and commemoration. And some of these jobs would take me months and months, even years. And cash flow was a, I’m gonna say it was a challenge, but something that I found it very difficult to pay attention to and still keep on doing what I needed to do.

Rauni: So there’s commissions, there’s also making speculative art pieces, which is, you know, something that’s also really important to me. I like to make interesting work, I’m sure we all do. Also making jewelry with help. So sort of like small scale kind of accessible things that people could buy online or in galleries and shops. Mostly sort of independent shops and galleries.

Rauni: And also working on a skills training program. So there was lots of meetings, there was lots of thinking and strategizing and delivering training. I mean, that’s too many things.

Jessica: Yeah.

Rauni: Which I knew and I was trying to simplify things, but I was failing to simplify.

Jessica: Right. And our first step working together was you joined Authentic Visibility, which is my course about marketing and you worked on how to talk about your work. Just how to express what’s awesome about it. Yeah. What was that like for you?

Rauni: Therapy. Is the honest answer. Painful. Helpful.

Rauni: I don’t wanna like be such a cliche, but I don’t really like standing up and talking about my work. I put my work out there and go, there you go. I’ve said it all. You don’t need to talk to me about it, but that’s not the way it works.

Rauni: And even just figuring out how to talk about the work, actually, I found it also makes the work better just because of the clarity about what I actually think and feel about my work.

Rauni: So yeah, it was a kind of deep dive and it was understanding my values and what’s important to me and maybe some of the reasons why I don’t like standing up and going, Hey, everybody look at me, and all of that.

Rauni: But gaining the language and the kind of, well, figuring out the language I suppose. And also understanding the importance of being able to make connection with people.

Rauni: And the biggest thing was understanding it’s not about me, it’s about the person who I am trying to communicate with. And that was just like, Oh, right. Okay. Liberating.

Jessica: Right. And in, in recent times, you’ve talked about these opportunities you’ve had to speak to people.

Jessica: Now that you understand how much your work is about celebration of important events, especially commemorating important events in people’s lives, in the world, whatever.

Jessica: Like one of your biggest commissions is the processional cross at the Liverpool Cathedral, I believe.

Rauni: Yeah. Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Jessica: Which is like, what, nine feet tall or something? Like… it’s

Rauni: Slightly inflated. It’s, uh, seven and a half feet tall.

Jessica: Very, very tall. Very tall.

Rauni: It’s up here on me. 2.3 meters. It’s quite a thing.

Jessica: Yeah. And something like that– and as you’ve said, they use it every week in their services.

Jessica: And it’s really important to you that they’re using it. There’s this relationship. And to be able to talk about that and express what that feels like to you, to the celebrants, to all these other people who are involved with this.

Jessica: The trophy that you made for the regatta, for example. What did it mean to you to create the trophy for this new race for young women?

Jessica: What did it mean to them to have this thing? And you’ve talked about opportunities you’ve had to talk to people, like new people you meet about what you do.

Jessica: So you say, yeah, I’m silversmith. And they’re like, Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve never met a silversmith before. You have plenty to talk about.

Jessica: Well, what is that? What do you do that? And then you can go into this way of talking that isn’t really about you. It’s about what happens with the work. And you’ve observed people then picking that up and going like, oh, I have something to celebrate too. Hmm. Right?

Rauni: Yeah, exactly.

Jessica: They make that connection.

Rauni: Yeah. And I think previous to that, I would always default to the technical cuz that’s what interests me, right?

Jessica: So typical. Yes.

Jessica: Yeah. Get a bunch of silversmiths together and they’re just like, everyone else disappears and they’re talking about tools and I mean, it’s nerding out.

Jessica: I love the nerding out, but of course that’s not what is interesting to the people who might be my clients or might not even be my clients just might be interested.

Jessica: So it’s trying to, well just finding ways to talk to people about what’s interesting to them rather than what’s interesting to me.

Jessica: And I do remember early on I literally didn’t know what you did. You would try to tell me what you were doing. And I was like, silverware? Forks? Like, what are we talking about here? I just couldn’t picture it at all.

Rauni: Yeah. And the danger of that is that someone asks a question, like for example, forks? And I go, well actually I did make some cutlery once.

Jessica: Right, exactly. You go down a rabbit hole so fast.

Rauni: Yeah. Or people say, Oh, like, have you ever made a crown? And I’m like, well actually I did some design, blah, blah, blah. That’s not the point. So finding a way to be able to speak about it in a way that is even vaguely relatable that was key.

Jessica: Yes. Yeah, exactly. But so then we had other problems to solve. You joined the Incubator and the thing that we were really looking at there initially was, and you’d expressed this for a long time, that you had been chronically undercharging for your work, which is related to being able to talk about it.

Jessica: When you’re not able to express what you do in a way that’s like other people’s eyes light up, they get it. It’s really hard for you to feel like you can charge what it is worth.

Jessica: And, I mean, worth not in the charge what you’re worth way of like aspirationally pricing, but like literally where this object can fit in sort of the pantheon of silver, where it can be in the person’s life and the value it will have to them.

Jessica: And not to mention the endless hours you spend on it, your 25 years of experience, all of the things that go into it. Right.

Rauni: Not to mention. Yeah.

Jessica: All of those things are things that fit into the pricing of your work. But you were just saying like, well, this is the costume of materials essentially, and this is what I think I can get. That’s pretty much where you were at. I think.

Rauni: Yeah. I’ve done an awful lot of plucking a number out of the air because I didn’t think that if I actually, or if I ever really properly worked it out, I was sort of a bit freaked out by that. And part of that, to be honest, was to be thinking about my world instead of the world of my clients.

Rauni: But another part of it was, I’m hopeless at actually figuring out what’s gone into something and doing the spreadsheets and measuring my time because… I’m seeking flow state, right? It doesn’t really work if you start watching the clock. Whole point is you forget about the clock.

Rauni: So there was lots and lots of reasons why I was massively avoidant of crunching the actual numbers and coming up with actual prices that were related to reality.

Rauni: But a lot of them were to do with emotional responses rather than looking at the facts.

Jessica: Yeah. I mean, I think this is super common among all creative people. Like our work has been undervalued by other people. Were told that we should do it for the love of it. There are all kinds of toxic myths that, that feed into our inability to price appropriately.

Rauni: I’m still training, all of that.

Jessica: Right.

Jessica: I know how good I need to be, to be good enough for me, and I’m not there yet, and therefore I’m gonna give you a discount because of, you know, training wheels or something, which, I mean, come on.

Jessica: But it’s, but totally understandable. Right? It’s totally understandable. Cause that’s part of the conversation we’re having with ourselves, with our peers. And again, doesn’t have to do with what’s going on. And the value that you bring to somebody else’s life.

Jessica: And I think this other thing you just mentioned, which I had forgotten about, but it was very much a vivid conversation earlier on, which is you were thinking about pricing for your peers, your friends, not for your clients.

Jessica: The people who actually commission large pieces of silver, those are not the people you have at dinner parties, generally speaking, those are not the people you go camping with.

Jessica: They’re nice people. They have their own issues and problems and your pieces solve specific problems for them.

Jessica: And we’ve talked about this idea that, like, for example commissioning a commemorative piece in silver for, I think one person you were talking to, I don’t know if this ever actually happened, but you were talking to somebody who had like a hundred year family tradition of…

Rauni: The sports event.

Jessica: Sports event or like a, something, but it was like the hundredth year and you met this person by chance and they’re like, oh, I should do, you know.

Jessica: It’s like, how do you do something that’s worthy of a hundred years of your family tradition? Like that’s a real problem to solve and to be able to solve that is a very high level skill.

Rauni: Yeah. I remember the advice that you gave me about staying out of people’s wallets, which I remind myself of often.

Jessica: Yeah. Very important advice. Stay out of people’s wallets. Don’t assume what they can afford and can’t afford. Let them make decisions for themselves.

Jessica: I think in the sales process, leaning on consent is really important so that you’re not trying to like be pushy or tell people they can afford things they can’t afford or any of those kinds of things that feels really awful and are really awful.

Jessica: But being ultra clear about the value that you can bring and how you see this solving their problems and saying like, okay, so do we have a deal? Is this gonna work?

Jessica: And not backtracking or apologizing or– how many people in this group, I just wanna quick, like flash poll, have had a price for something in their head and then before they even say it out loud, they are discounting it for the person they’re talking to?

Jessica: I’m seeing some hands up. I have done that too, by the way. It is not, you know, like absolutely that has happened before.

Jessica: It’s a moment that takes bravery. Like, it’s not easy, but just saying it. You just say the thing. You just have to say it and let it land.

Jessica: One of the things we talked about a lot, which I think is really relevant here, is that pricing is communication, that when you say like, I make this object and it’s 5,000 pounds, people put it in a pantheon of other things that are like 5,000 pounds. And they’re like, oh, that’s so special.

Jessica: It is special by the way. Like, that’s real. But if you say this is 250 pounds, they’re like, well, that’s really nice. That’s very pretty. It’s a craft object. There’s a, a very different like understanding and appreciation of what it is that you’re creating. Spending more

Rauni: Yeah. Absolutely.

Jessica: Will make it feel more special to them.

Rauni: Yeah. And the, the key to not, well, I mean, not saying I don’t still have a spasm when I say the price, cuz that probably is true. But the key to not feeling uncomfortable about it for me has been to get rid of the kind of real crunchy gear change.

Rauni: So, a good example you just said about the guy who had this celebration about his family centenary thing. I was just chatting to him and he kind of came out with, it was almost like he sort of presented me with this opportunity to have a chat about what I do by just asking him questions because I was really interested in this bizarre family tradition that they had that was really lovely.

Rauni: And very unusual for it to be an unbroken family tradition as well, you know, for that long. And he was there feeling in the weight of responsibility of this thing and kind of feeling like I’ve got a problem. And I would never have understood that before if we hadn’t talked so much about what people’s actual problems are.

Rauni: They’re not the same as my problems for starters. But also the conversation was flowing because I had the language to talk about it.

Rauni: And then it’s not like, I mean, I’m not saying I gave him a price, I didn’t, but it, we were talking about potentially him potentially commissioning something. And it was just part of the flow of the conversation because we were having an interesting chat because I had language ready to talk about what I do, which was at the time a bit of a revelation.

Jessica: Yeah. And I think that thing of like understanding you can just say, oh, well, you know, I actually can help with that.

Rauni: Exactly.

Jessica: That is a painful problem. You know what? I actually have a solution. I mean, you wanna hear about it, I’d be happy to share. Like, that is a moment of getting permission from somebody to talk about your offer.

Jessica: And it’s really powerful and it feels like helping, which it is, you know? So even if they don’t actually take you up on it in the end you can feel great about that moment of sharing a potential root for solving this problem.

Rauni: Yeah, exactly. In that case, it didn’t end up coming to something, which is fine, but it was still an energizing kind of exchange, which was really good practice for the next time, or any other conversation really about talking to a client without feeling like I’m sort of hijacking a social situation and turning it into a business situation. It was just all very natural and that was a kind of, a relief, I suppose.

Jessica: Yeah, yeah, exactly. But it doesn’t, like, I don’t think you ended up doing this project, right?

Rauni: No, not that one. No.

Jessica: But the whole point is that like you saw, oh, I, I can do this. That was the big, the big aha in that moment was like, this feels natural for me.

Jessica: I don’t feel like I’m being a tall poppy and standing up and going, I’m too special.

Jessica: And like you’re in a very British situation of like a fancy party and you would know if you were showing off. People would tell you that you were showing off in some unspoken way and you weren’t. You were actually being really helpful.

Rauni: And also not pretending to be someone else. That’s another good one. I think I used to feel in those situations where, where I didn’t, where I felt like I didn’t fit in. I would more likely think I’m like putting on being someone else. Whereas now I think I’m unashamedly myself. And that’s a lot, that’s a lot nicer.

Jessica: Huge. That’s amazing.

Jessica: So what we ended up talking about and starting to develop at the time when you joined the Incubator was essentially a product line that productized service. Where, commissions– just for everybody to get context –means: somebody says, I have this very specific thing, like for example, this regatta, you developed a trophy for the regatta. So they’re like, we’re going to create a new race at our regatta for young women, I believe, right?

Rauni: Yep.

Jessica: And we don’t have a trophy for it because it’s new. And so we’re gonna find somebody awesome who can do that. Okay. Rauni sounds great. And you create drawings for it and sketches and you design and you probably go back and forth with clients.

Jessica: A very custom piece. You make one, that’s it, right? And then you probably don’t get another commission from the regatta soon. Maybe someday they’ll have another race and they’ll hire you again, but it’s not like you’re gonna have this necessarily repeat business from like the cathedral in Liverpool.

Jessica: Although, yeah, they do need candelabra, I’m sure.

Jessica: Anyway, the point is that to do something that, like when you’re doing something that’s gonna take you six months or a year to finish, have something smaller that you can create and it’s already designed. You don’t need to go through the design process.

Jessica: Somebody’s buying an existing design, very handmade and bespoke, but still like a model, that they can buy, not literally off the shelf, but like it’s a set process and you know how long it’s gonna take you and all those other kinds of things.

Jessica: And so you developed a goblet called the Rivulet Goblet. That is something that you can create many of, and each one is individual, but they look similar. You can make sets, et cetera. Tell me about that, like you’re thinking around that.

Rauni: Yeah. Well, I actually designed that. It’s like a little drinking beaker basically.

Rauni: I actually designed it quite a few years ago and it’s the closest thing I’ve ever come to and silversmith in terms to a bestseller.

Rauni: I’ve actually made loads of them, which is highly unusual because although obviously if I design and make something, I could make it again. So often with the kind of clients that are interested in silversmithing, they go, oh, that’s lovely. Would you make me one like this? Or, that’s lovely, or I’ve got an idea about something to add to it. Or, that’s lovely. Would you make me something unique? It’s a tricky thing.

Rauni: I mean, I think in that case I kind of hit on something which is repeatable, even though it’s, they’re all unique because they’re hammered out by hand, but at the same time there’s a pattern. So I… I did a sort of, a scientific experiment.

Rauni: I thought, what happens if I make eight all at the same time and track my time, like really properly for once and try and utilize some kind of economies of scale. And it’s like a small scale batch, I suppose. And then tried to market them and that’s the bit that I always fall down on, to be honest.

Rauni: But yeah, it sort of worked to some degree and then I realized that there was a bit more work to, to be done with basically developing relationships with clients. That’s been my biggest kind of challenge, I guess.

Jessica: Right. And you needed to go back and collect whatever information you could find historically about clients who’d bought work from you before so that you could go to them again and that’s an ongoing process.

Jessica: Like it’s taken a long time to kind of excavate all this stuff and pull it together. But I think that like getting in touch with these clients again, has been fairly productive for you, right? Like you’ve

Rauni: Absolutely, yeah. So in classic style, in the act of getting in touch with people,

Rauni: I had previously had some kind of narrative in my head that they don’t wanna be bothered by me. When I did get in touch with them, they were… delightful and some of them bought the beakers and some of them commissioned something else. And so all this other kind of stuff flowed forth from having relationships with people and talking to people. Shock, horror.

Jessica: Yep. Yeah, and I think that’s the, like identifying, and over time you’ll know that there’s like large chunks of your, the people who’ve been in your life in the past who are not gonna come back in and buy new things, and that’s fine.

Jessica: But everybody’s excited to hear from you again. Like, here you are, this really awesome artist and artisan who’s like interested in you. And interested in the fact that you have something of theirs. That’s like a very… it’s kind of a great moment. I could imagine getting a card or a letter from something from an artist that I bought from ages ago and being like, oh wow, cool.

Rauni: Yeah. I mean, it’s stupid cuz I love that. Of course. If it happens to me. I remember Sarah Marie Lacy talking about this, like, she discovered that she was automatically the most interesting person in the room and surrounded by no offense, but a lot of people who were working in fairly boring jobs.

Rauni: When they meet a top level portrait painter, they go, oh my God, that’s interesting. And of course they do. I would too. And we all do, don’t we? So it’s, it’s been a real eye-opener to realize that those quirks are strengths and those kind of curiosities are fascinating. And being able to talk about it is, well, it’s been a game changer.

Jessica: So I feel like what’s happened with the beakers and then with the boxes– you’ve started this series of 25 semi customized– and it’s on a pattern, but little boxes, really beautiful little objects on a slate plate, very awesome design object.

Jessica: And that’s to commemorate your 25th year in business as a silversmith. And so these are both things that are sort of product lines in a sense where you’re creating something and then trying to sell it. And you’ve found that quite difficult.

Jessica: And I think that that is not surprising to me because for anybody who’s a fine artist here or you know anybody else who creates stuff and then tries to sell it you’ve experienced this thing of like, people liking it, but they weren’t already thinking, I need a silver box in my life.

Jessica: Trying to find the people for whom this fulfills a, a mission for them is challenging and it will, it’ll happen, but it happens on a much slower scale without having that machine built up where it’s sort of like, yes, I’m constantly putting this in front of these same people and they’re collectors and they buy more stuff.

Jessica: It’s difficult to do. And I think what this has done is it’s brought you back full circle to commissions, but instead of waiting for giant commissions to kind of land on you, it’s opened the doors to developing commissions, finding opportunities for commissions.

Rauni: Yes. Yeah. And that’s been interesting. One of the reasons why it took me to kind of come back around was because up until I finished the Henley Trophy, Henley Royal Regatta trophy, which was, that was a massive piece. It overlapped with the previous piece, which overlapped with the previous. And it for quite a few years I had sort of two on the go at any one time.

Rauni: And, and it would, I was juggling, juggling whilst also juggling other things as well, which was obviously quite stressful. And I didn’t have time at the time to look up and even think about strategy. It just didn’t even occur to me cuz I was just going, “Eh, shit!” all the time, basically. That was my life.

Rauni: So, the fact that it stopped for a moment and I went, oh great, I really needed a break. I’m gonna try this and try that. It was great to do and I learnt a lot by doing it, but one of the things I really understood was that I actually love when somebody comes to me and says, I need this thing.

Rauni: And, uh, I can then make them something that is hopefully, when it works, it’s more amazing than they could have conceived or they didn’t know what they wanted until I was able to make it happen.

Rauni: That’s the exciting thing and it gives me a chance to do always interesting work cuz I get bored. So I love doing one-offs, but obviously if they are one-offs, they have to be well paid because otherwise… well, otherwise.

Jessica: Yeah, otherwise

Rauni: It’s not a joke.

Jessica: You’re gonna end up back in where you were before with lots of too many things going on. No, I think that’s right.

Jessica: And this is what I wanna highlight for everybody, is the difference between creating an object, any kind of product, like even an incredibly awesome high end silver piece.

Jessica: But it exists and you’re trying to find a buyer for it that is a product-based business in some sense. And then on the other hand, you have a service-based business, which is commissions. And so you know, when you have a product, you’re out there looking for the people who have that problem. And that can take a lot of doing, right?

Jessica: When you are offering a service of some kind, you are solving problems that exist. You find the problem and then create the solution instead of the other way around. And that feeling like, oh, I can solve people’s problems. It’s very enlivening. Like, I can help people with this. I can impress people with what I’m doing and they can feel awesome about it and I feel awesome about it. That’s a really powerful thing.

Rauni: Yeah. It’s energizing. And the other thing I would say while we’re talking about the kind of… that relationship with sort of products as it were, was that one of the things I thought was that people wanna buy these beakers. I haven’t got enough time to make them all and do all this other stuff.

Rauni: So if I can just get some help with some parts of it, then that will be fine. And that was somewhat true, but it didn’t solve the problem then of marketing.

Rauni: So unless you’re responding to an actual waiting list, which is a different, you’ve got a load of people already want something and you haven’t made it yet, then the time to make it is the issue or help to make it.

Rauni: But having help to make it and then trying to do the marketing, that’s a different issue.

Rauni: So trying to find people who want what you’ve made is always a different thing than responding to somebody who needs what you are able to produce, or

Jessica: And you still have to find those people. Right. You still have to be in front of the people who do have a problem that you can solve.

Rauni: Yeah.

Jessica: And that is a marketing activity. But the sales part of it becomes much easier.

Jessica: So, you know, you still have to be out there. And I see Jean saying, did you find you had to go out to more events than you were used to in order to meet people? Or what situations do you put yourself in to meet your people?

Rauni: Well, the irony is that I used to go to a lot more events and now I do less, but I talk to fewer people at a higher quality level of communication now, is the answer, short answer to that, probably. Don’t actually do events anymore. I used to. So I kind of

Jessica: When you say events you’re talking about like craft fairs, that kind of thing, right? Because we could also be talking about the kind of thing that Sarah was talking, Sarah Lacy, was talking about in our other session where they’re fancy parties or whatever. You’re certainly doing those kinds of things at times.

Rauni: I am, yeah. But I was doing even more of them because I was sort of coming from a place of… I was accepting every possible invitation before, whereas now I kind of consider whether it is… oh, this sounds so up myself. A classic tall, poppy moment there. But you know, is it, am I going out of obligation? Am I going out of fear of missing out? You know, all of those kind of questions. Or

Jessica: Is this likely to lead to future business?

Rauni: Is it a quality connection that I want to maintain in my life? Or am I just doing this because I think that’s what a silversmith should do?

Rauni: So again, it’s just comes down to creating a business that you design around who you are and what you’re like.

Rauni: I’m not like, it’s not my happy place going to network amongst potential clients. But sometimes it’s fun if you are doing it right. You know what I mean? It’s like you’ve gotta think about why you’re doing it and how you’re doing.

Jessica: Yeah. Having the words makes it so much more fun.

Rauni: Absolutely.

Jessica Abel: At the top of the show, I invited you to the free simplify to amplify Roundtable, where I meet monthly with a group of awesome creative professionals just like you to dig into the challenging questions that come up all the time when you’re out there on your own, trying to run a small business and make it work.

Jessica Abel: This is just a quick nudge.

Jessica Abel: If you’re listening to this episode and questions are popping up for you. If you’re thinking about how what we’re talking about would apply in your case, or maybe new ideas are bubbling up.

Jessica Abel: I got to say the simplify to amplify Roundtable– Star for short. — is the perfect place to get more clarity.

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Jessica Abel: Alright, back to the show.

Jessica: So last thing I wanna get into with you here is that now you’re preparing for a giant retrospective show, which sounds incredible when we last talked about it.

Jessica: I don’t know where you’re at with it now. But it’s, it’s a high pressure situation obviously.

Jessica: But it offered so many opportunities to reconnect with all these different constituencies to borrow pieces back.

Rauni: Yep.

Jessica: From your history cuz this is a, it’s a retrospective, so it’s showing your whole history. You’re also able to have a kind of pedagogical educational element to it.

Jessica: And one of the things we didn’t talk about, and I don’t think we have time to get into too deeply, is that you now have this new, instead of kind of teaching workshops at a low level, you actually are taking individual clients for troubleshooting education.

Jessica: Like higher level silversmiths coming in to study with you mostly online, possibly also in person, for a, like a brief period to like solve something.

Jessica: So instead of this kind of like, I’m adjuncting, I’m all over the place, it’s like, I’m gonna do this. This is how much it costs, here’s much how much time you get, you know, much more bounded. But so hopefully this educational end of things will help that effort as well.

Jessica: Can you talk about what you’re doing with the show and tell, just tell us about it a little bit?

Rauni: Yeah. Well, it’s, I’ve been a member of, uh, the Makers Guild in Wales for sort of many, many years. The gallery is Makers Guild Gallery. But yeah, it’s a solo show by– it ended up as a bit of a coincidence. But anyway, there we are.

Rauni: It’s a great opportunity and I’ve actually just yesterday got news that I’ve got funding from the Arts Council of Wales. Bless the Arts Council of Wales because they have an amazing, if anyone’s interested in arts funding, they have a terrific policy and model of funding, which is about really investing in the arts.

Rauni: So one of the things is, it’s gotta be interesting to a lot of different people, but I am obviously now really clear that what I want to do is major on commissioning.

Rauni: And one of the reasons I want to do that is for everyone to understand that it’s a really great way of supporting artists. Not just, Hey, commission me, but this is a process where anybody within reason can be part of supporting artists to have a sustainable career.

Rauni: And they also get something totally amazing, hopefully. And there’s a kind of process that is very often very secretive so I want to actually kind of shine a light on that really, and talk about it for the sake of obviously myself, but also other artists.

Rauni: And also for the sake of just spreading the love and having more art being commissioned in the world.

Rauni: So that’s one of the things I’m focusing on, but also shining the light on all the kind of hidden aspects. It’s called Illuminating Silver. So I just wanna shine a light on all the hidden aspects of what goes to make a sort of sustainable career for, as a metalsmith in the 21st century. Because it’s just, it’s a bit of a weird thing.

Rauni: I mean, nobody needs what I do, but it, as far as I’m concerned, it’s part of the cultural landscape and the skills and the passing on of skills is really super important to me.

Rauni: And there has to be a, a point to that. And part of the point is that I think we will be letting down the unbroken chain of incredible intuitive metalsmiths from the Bronze Age to now.

Rauni: And that’s something I’m always banging on about. But the other point is that it’s actually a valuable thing for all kinds of people in this world now. It’s just that people might not be aware of it. And as, as I have got such a lot to say about it, it gives me a way to talk to my previous clients and all the people I’ve ever known who have been part of my career really.

Rauni: I’m going for a massive crowd at the private view because it’s just, it’s fun and interesting as it turns out, also totally terrifying, but, you know.

Jessica: Yes, but good terrifying.

Rauni: Yeah.

Jessica: Yeah. And I mean, just so many opportunities to talk to people about what it is that you do, the value that you bring to the field, to the people’s lives in a way that’s very natural, not braggy, here’s what it really is.

Jessica: And reactivating relationships with all kinds of people throughout your career, which is just brilliant. I love that. So, yeah, congratulations.

Jessica: Congratulations on coming up with a title, which is awesome. I know we were struggling about that. Sounds great.

Rauni: Oh, it was a, it was a painful burden.

Jessica: And, uh, the grant, which I know was necessary in order to really have this, be able to reach its potential. And so that’s, that’s really great.

Jessica: All right, so we don’t have a ton of questions in here. I know there’s some questions that popped up in the chat. If anybody wants to highlight their questions, just copy, paste it again into the chat, use a queue so I can identify it.

Jessica: But so I do have a question from Elizabeth who says what tips do you have on sustaining a solid network or several with other creatives?

Jessica: So that’s different from what we’ve been talking about in terms of networking with potential clients and connectors to clients.

Jessica: I mean, that’s one thing with networking with other creatives frequently those people are not your clients, but they know your clients and so they may be able to connect you to potential opportunities. What do you, what’s your thought about that Rauni?

Rauni: Well, that’s a good one. I think… my, my thing is being really straight with people. I think it attracts other people who are gonna be straight with you.

Rauni: And those are, in my case, those are people I wanna connect with. So they’re– other, other creatives, I mean.

Rauni: So I mean, first of all, I would say be part of the Autonomous Creative Collective because there’s a whole load of creatives there who are very… these are enriching relationships.

Rauni: But for me, if the connection’s gonna be enriching, it’s gonna be based on being real.

Rauni: And I think there’s an awful lot of kind of bravado and sort of fear-based communication between creatives who don’t wanna be seen to be not getting it right or something. And my, my tip would be talk to the other people who, who seem to be coming from a place of what makes sense to you.

Rauni: And then just talk to them, connect with them. Maybe find a safe space to do it, because the whole thing about being real can be a bit tricky doing that and feeling like you’re exposing your, overexposing, your vulnerability maybe.

Rauni: But my biggest thing was during, again, it was covid, but actually no, going back a long way because I’ve always in the, been in the middle of nowhere, I’m in rural North Wales, like this is not the hub of anything.

Rauni: People thought that I was completely off my head starting a, the kind of business I’ve got here, because it’s never gonna work unless you’re in London or whatever.

Rauni: And the tip for me, the thing that was really crucial for me was to be part of a community of other silversmiths. And have friends who are creatives and just be, be very, um, you know, share, just share, troubles and, and also wins.

Rauni: Like, don’t just share the troubles. Celebrate the wins. And that just changed everything for me really. I ended up getting heavily sucked into an association called Contemporary British Silversmiths.

Rauni: And the more I got into it, the more I realized that the talking to people, to other people, was so crucial that I ended up being chair of it. But anyway, that was another thing I was doing that I didn’t have time for. But not doing that anymore. But the community’s crucial. And that’s gonna be one of the things I’ll talk about in the exhibition.

Rauni: But I would totally start with the ACC because it’s, It’s behind a, behind a screen so you can be a bit more vulnerable there without it being, without it feeling dangerous, I would say.

Jessica: Meaning you join. So the Autonomous Creative Collective is our, for those of you who are not aware, is our community of current students and alumni of our programs.

Jessica: So the Creative Focus Workshop, Authentic Visibility, and the Incubator as well as coaching clients all gather in the ACC.

Jessica: So it’s kind of a vetted community, people who all have skin in the game and they’re all interested. And I love what you said about finding people in your field. So, so important.

Jessica: And finding people who are not in your field to sort of bounce off of and get some perspective because

Rauni: Yeah

Jessica: If you’re only within the bubble of your field, like you end up doing shop talk all the time and not understanding how to talk about your work to other people and the value of your work to other people.

Jessica: Finding, if you’re trying to build a business, finding people who are trying to build a business and not just messing around.

Jessica: And finding those people via communities is the way to go, and coming to either virtual or in-person events.

Jessica: So yeah, if anybody is here who is not a member of the ACC I encourage you to get in there via

Rauni: Yes

Jessica: joining the creative something.

Rauni: That’s interesting what you just said about building a business as well cuz it, that just reminds me of the other thing that has been a real game changer for me is I got involved in a community called the Design Trust, which is London based, but online.

Rauni: And it’s only about, it’s about building creative business, but it’s got a very different focus to the ACC and it’s been a game changer having kind of business buddies who are in different fields.

Rauni: And it’s very handy to be reminded by people who, who you respect, that what you do is awesome. Rather than just talk to other silversmiths who go, oh my God, no one ever pays us properly for anything.

Jessica: Yes, for sure. Jeanie, I was just gonna call on you and see if you wanted to ask questions about commission since you were asking a bunch of different things.

Jeanie: I was wondering how you say no to people when you don’t wanna take the commission.

Rauni: That’s really hard. I think… depends on the reason why you’re saying no. If the reason why you’re saying no is because you haven’t got time, then you have to have prepared some way of talking about your waiting list or whatever reason is related to time.

Rauni: If the reason why you’re saying no is because they’re asking you to make something that they clearly are not, don’t have the budget for, then it’s really useful to have a way of being ready to talk about how a commission works.

Rauni: And kind of have some parameters ready, whether that’s about timing, or the time it takes or the range of cost.

Jessica: I think potentially you can say something like, if somebody has a budget and what they want doesn’t fit in that budget, you can say, well, we could do it this way.

Jessica: There can be some, if you like the idea of working with them, but you can’t do what they want for that amount of money.

Jessica: You say like, well, it’s impossible for me to do that, what you want for that budget, but I would love to do something with you and it could look like this.

Jessica: And you maybe have some different options of things that they could do.

Jessica: And what if they’re, what if you just don’t like them? What do you do? Or you don’t like the project, you’re just like, Ugh, I don’t wanna,

Rauni: Well, you have to have a prepared reason why you can’t do it because your schedule is full or something like that. I mean, in a way, if you don’t like them, it’s probably easier unless you’re desperate, obviously.

Jessica: Right. Which is really hard.

Rauni: So in the, which case, I actually do what you just said, Jessica and I get onto the budget question quite early because I find it easier to filter my responses rather than for me to start talking about all the things I could do because anything’s possible, right?

Rauni: So if somebody says to me, is it possible to do this? I’m always gonna say, well, yes, but.

Rauni: So I get onto the budget question pretty soon, and I say, well, I can design according to your budget, or I can give you a design and tell you what the cost is. But it helps no end to get to further this conversation if we get to talking about budget earlier rather than later.

Rauni: And then, then it’s exactly as you said, Jessica, that if what they want is the world and they’ve got the budget for something very basic, then it’s a suggestion of what else I could do for them that is more suitable, or I know someone else who can help you and I pass them on.

Jessica: Yeah. I mean, if you can hand it to somebody else that’s, and you know that, that actually would be a good match, that is an ideal solution because you’re helping two people at the same time, and the person who you’re giving the work to will be grateful for it. And that’s awesome.

Jessica: But I’ve definitely had people, I mean, people have tried to ask me all the time, like, will you draw a 300 page graphic novel about my, my business or my thing, like Out on the Wire.

Jessica: And the answer is absolutely not. No matter what they are doing, the answer is absolutely not. I will not do that. And so I just say, I don’t do that work, that is not something I do.

Jessica: Not I can’t. Not I won’t. I don’t. Just using that. It’s not the type of work that fits within my portfolio. Thanks for thinking of me. And then you move on.

Jessica: I talk a lot about the yes no yes sandwich and, and like really clear nos, clear fast, nos. Saying no is a great kindness, saying maybe is torture.

Jessica: The faster you can say no to something, the better off everybody is. If you know you’re not gonna do it, just figure out a way to say it as kindly and clearly as possible.

Jessica: If you leave even a tiny crack open, it’s the red flag clients who will find a way through.

Rauni: Absolutely.

Jessica: Thanks for ask, asking that question. That’s really, really helpful.

Jessica: I’ve got another one in the queue here. My last question for today from Chez who says, what can creatives do when they feel stuck because their physical and financial situation means they cannot create or cannot create as much as they would like to?

Jessica: Are there ways to get unstuck in both mindset and practical ways that can open up possibilities that weren’t known or didn’t look feasible before?

Jessica: And I guess, I’m not sure this is really a question for you, Rauni, so much as it is

Rauni: I don’t think so.

Jessica: I mean, it’s a little, I don’t think Chez is here today live, but I don’t necessarily think that I have enough information to answer that question fully. But from a, at a sort of global standpoint, and the kind of thing that this does, I think does connect to today is this idea of like getting stuck financially where you are taking on too many things.

Jessica: And you can’t, you don’t have time for the big, big creation that you wanna be making because you’re trying to make ends meet. You’re trying to do all these different things.

Jessica: That may or may not be what is an issue here, but I think that the really difficult imperative in whatever case it is, if it’s like, I don’t feel like I have time for this, or my physical limitations are X or my financial limitations are X, you absolutely have to create time to step back and assess.

Jessica: To reflect on your situation and figure out what are the factors that are, like, what’s actually important to me? What am I actually doing? So kinds of things we do in every program I do pretty much are like time tracking, for example, just for a couple weeks to figure out what are you actually doing with your time and where is it flexible? Where is it not flexible?

Jessica: And doing that every once in a while, figuring out what are you doing that is low value to you, whether that means financially, whether that means in terms of your creativity, whether that means in terms of any other benefit it has to your life.

Jessica: How can you say no to those things and end those things, and then move forward from there? I think that that’s… even if you like, the more scarcity you feel, the more imperative it is that you actually create a date with yourself to think and really spend some time working on the problem because the scarcity does not get better. It gets worse.

Jessica: We all think like, oh, I just have one more thing I need to do and if I just finish that one thing, that I’m gonna have this acreage of clear space on my calendar.

Jessica: How many of you guys right now, if you looked at your calendar right now, you look a month out and it’s like blank and you go, I have so much time, then. Is this so much time to do stuff in the future.

Jessica: No. Your calendar then is gonna look like your calendar now unless you do something radically different. This is a little like tip that I got from somebody recently from a, a podcast or something, which I’ve heard before, but I had forgotten, which is, if you wouldn’t say yes to something today, like to do it today, like a wedding, somebody says, can you come to my wedding?

Jessica: And if you wouldn’t go today or like tomorrow, then you’re not, you shouldn’t go a month from now.

Jessica: I mean, obviously a wedding, there’s special circumstances, maybe you need to go because it’s a family member and you have to rearrange your life around it.

Jessica: But like, you know, if it’s one of those things where you’re like, ah, I don’t know and you’re trying to decide, if you wouldn’t do it today, don’t put it on your calendar in the future.

Rauni: That’s really good answer. But I just have one other thing to add to that, which is that the, what has been a game changer for me about understanding that I could design my business around what I actually need, which is something that came from you, Jessica, is uh, flexibility because I’ve always been self-employed because I love flexibility.

Rauni: But if you are responding to things that you don’t feel like you can actually say no to, then there isn’t flexibility. And what I’ve done now is design sort of big projects and buckets, you know, the commissions and the one-to-one teaching and everything, it can all be turned off.

Rauni: So I can take a break for it and do something else properly, fully, wholeheartedly, rather than always feeling like there’s not enough time and time scarcity, money, scarcity. It’s the same stuff.

Jessica: Yeah, it is. And I think that, thank you for highlighting that thing of, just the, it was implied in what I was saying, but I didn’t say it, which is that everything we do, the more I do stuff with clients, the more I realize this principle of starting with you, starting with your constraints, your strengths, your desires for your future, your family situation, your financial situation.

Jessica: You start with all of the realities of your life. That is the framework in which you build your life. And it’s also the framework in which you can decide about what you wanna be doing with your time. And I just did a workshop yesterday with Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA, and we’re talking about this idea.

Jessica: And she had this great metaphor, which I’m now gonna use forever, which is the stuff that you’re trying to do. That’s like, we’re usually start there. We start at the stuff and stuff level, and we’re like, how can I manage this and do that and fit this and do those things and whatever. That’s the contents of your life.

Jessica: If you start with the contents, it will overspill the container. The container is you, you are the container. And so if you start with the container and how large is the container and, and what type of container is it? And then you can put things into the container that makes sense. That is like so much more powerful.

Jessica: That’s how you end up with a life that has flexibility instead of the, the inverse, which is what you had before. Like you were locked into so many things.

Rauni: Yeah.

Jessica: Even though you worked for yourself. Well that was awesome. Thank you so much, Rauni.

Rauni: Thank you.

Jessica: Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.

Jessica: Our show is produced by Matt Madden, our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden, and I’m your host, Jessica Abel.

Jessica: You can find all our takeaways as well as any links and extras we mentioned today plus transcripts, in the show notes. Find everything you need at acpod.show.

Jessica: If you enjoyed this episode, I hope you’ll subscribe. And it would help us immensely if you would take a second and pop over to apple podcasts and leave us a rating and review. It just takes a few seconds, but it’s actually a huge help to us and to our guests to get this podcast suggested to new listeners.

Jessica: We appreciate your help so much. And we’ll see you next time on the Autonomous Creative.

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