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INSPIRE: The Road Less Travelled...Didy Ward
Give a brief description of your career path up until now
I worked in the music business until I decided to take my degree as a mature student, moving from rock chick to lit. chick (and back to rock chick, though of a different kind, now!) After graduating I joined a large market research company and continued to work as a freelance when it merged with another company within the group and the department I ran was axed. Out of financial necessity we (I married a prog. rock drummer!) downsized and moved from London to Suffolk where we were nearer my husband’s family and property prices were cheaper.
What prompted you to pursue a creative career?
My freelance work meant I could work from home, but I’ve always had a creative streak which developed into a passion for gardening. I dreamed of raising my own plants and owning my own nursery.
At that time I had not yet discovered the wonder of beads and when I did, about 6 years ago now, I had no idea of the important role they would play in my life.
It was only after my friends and family felt that they had enough jewellery from me that someone suggested I should try selling it. Our local boutique owner took some things and I also made jewellery for her customers to match their outfits. At the same time I was getting increasingly interested in semi-precious gemstones, learning about mineral groups in the same way I had learned the Latin names of plants. I no longer dreamed of a nursery, but of a fully fledged jewellery business and I set up my website with this in mind.
My freelance work had to be my main priority though. We needed the income - my husband had to give up drumming after heart surgery. But my heart was with my embyronic jewellery business.
But the recession was deepening and my freelance work was becoming less reliable until earlier this year I found that for the first time in years I had no more freelance work lined up – and no hint of any to come for the future. All of our income would have to come from jewellery sales, my tiny bits of pension and the tinier bits of royalties my husband still receives.
After discussions with my family, I decided to release some of the equity in the house to pay off some debts and to make a small investment in the business.
What was the most difficult thing about this decision? And what was the easiest?
The most difficult thing about the decision to raise finance in this way was that my daughter would not receive the full value of the house when she finally comes round to inherit. The easiest was that the money would help me start with a clean slate and I could concentrate on what I needed to invest in for the business.
How supportive of your decision were your family, friends and (former) colleagues?
My daughter told me that I must do what I needed to do and all my family and friends have been fantastic, very encouraging and delighted for me with every new order.
How has pursuing a creative career been compared with your previous career? What are the challenges, and what are the highlights?
The transition from working for someone else on a freelance basis to working for myself has not been as traumatic as the one from working full time to working from home. Online forums and craft fairs have taken the place of office banter and gossip!
Have you had any regrets about choosing a creative career?
No regrets. I have been forced to think hard about the type of jewellery I want to make. Handmade jewellery is a highly competitive field and I knew I would need to find my own style. I decided to steer away from the young and funky sector of the market and concentrate on making jewellery that is well designed and well made, drawing on the beauty of the stones or beads themselves. And craft fairs are a great test of what appeals to people.
I do worry that I won’t have the money for next year’s big bills but the augurs are good at the moment, so I should!
What has been the best thing about your decision to pursue a creative career?
The best thing has been the freedom to devote more of my time to what I love doing – without the guilt of feeling that I should really be doing something else.
But more than that has been the ability to fulfil some large orders for new customers which I would not have had the time or resources to do before, making jewellery for the launch party of a new business in the US, an author writing a book on emeralds and – with my Bonny Lass range – supplying our local libraries as they become more independent from the county council after the cuts and diversify into selling crafts.
This summer has been extremely busy for me – lots of craft fairs as well as a steady trickle of individual orders and commissions alongside the bigger ones - and, so far, I have managed to hit all of my financial (albeit modest!) financial targets.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering taking up a creative career, what would that be?
Be realistic about the volume of sales you will need, to earn enough money to live on and to re-invest in your business. Think about where you will make those sales, and who your target market is. Be prepared to be flexible – if you find one thing is selling better than another – use your energy on what sells, even if that is something you don’t enjoy making as much. This is a business now, not a hobby!
What are your plans for the future?
I will continue to work on my semi-precious DiDi jewellery, creating designs and working with more unusual cuts to give my jewellery a unique style. And I plan on developing my Bonny Lass range so it becomes a known local brand! Oh, and at some point I will learn enough silversmithing to enable me to set my own stones!