Book Review & Craft Biz Q+A with Jennifer Perkins

Craft & Design Workshop
Book Review & Craft Biz Q+A with Jennifer Perkins

Naughty Secretary Club: The Working Girl’s Guide to Handmade Jewelry by Jennifer Perkins
Buy the Book ($11.55)
Naughty Secretary Club
Austin Craft Mafia
Jennifer Perkins‘ jewelry company Naughty Secretary Club is a major fixture of the indie craft scene and it’s easy to see why. Her hyper-colorful, supremely kitschy creations are so unmistakably hers, and wearing them will put you no danger of being called subtle. Fans of the larger-than-life look are going to flip for Jennifer’s new book The Naughty Secretary Club: The Working Girl’s Guide to Handmade Jewelry (North Light Books). It boasts more than 50 fun secretary-themed jewelry projects that will find you turning your entire house upside down to see what you can turn into jewelry next. There are plenty of projects for beginners, but the book is also full of clear and helpful photos and instructions that give you the confidence you need to experiment with new tools like high-speed drills and embossing enamel. The whole book has a cheeky, pop-culture infused tone that makes it as addictive and easy to ingest as candy, only learning to make awesome jewelry is a whole lot better for you.
You can find the book online at Amazon–or if you’re in the Austin area, come meet Jennifer and pick up a signed copy at the book release party Craft magazine is co-hosting on Saturday. You can also sign up for special subscription deals on CRAFT, or win a whole host of fun door prizes.
Reading Jennifer’s new book gave me the urge to chat with her about her company’s background and her views on being an independent businessperson an increasingly challenging marketplace. If you can’t get enough of her advice, check out her guest blog entries on the topic at Indie Fixx. Read on to find out what doing it yourself really entails.
CRAFT: How did you make the transition from working for “The Man” to working for yourself? Did you ever find yourself doubting your decision, or was the transition a smooth one?
I was working as an Executive Administrative Assistant to Business and Government Relations at a Telecommunication company in Austin when I started Naughty Secretary Club. Shortly after I was hired my boss left the company, was never replaced and I was hardly ever asked to do another thing. All through high school and college I had done a print zine called Scratch-n-Sniff. Out of sheer boredom at work I decided to put it online and rename it Naughty Secretary Club. I started doing band interviews, crafts and recipes and after a few years I started dabbling in resin jewelry as a hobby. The hobby got to be so popular locally I decided to sell the bracelets with pictures of pop stars on Naughty Secretary Club and soon jewelry took up all my time and record reviews fell to the side. I had started to garner a little bit of national press for my jewelry and at this point was still working as a secretary but was having to make jewelry before work, after work, sometimes at work and go to the post office on my lunch break to ship packages. I received a feature on my jewelry in Bust Magazine and things went through the roof. I got a TON of orders, so many I had to give 3 days notice at my job. It was a tough call because I was scared the orders were just a fluke and the money would not always last. In the end I decided there were other secretary jobs to be had if the jewelry thing did not work or God forbid I would go get my masters degree. Lucky for me I have never had to go back to working for the man or to school.
CRAFT: How do you structure your days when you’re the boss (do you stick to a set schedule, etc.?), and do you have any tips on time/task management? (On a related note, how on earth did you find time to write a book when you have so much going on?)
I don’t have a strict schedule, though I probably should. I find not having a schedule is one of the beauties of working for yourself. Some days I answer emails first thing in the morning other days I don’t answer them at all. If I had a strict schedule it would be back to what I hated about working and school. I like to have each day be a little different. There are some constants like my assistant gets here at noon and stays until 6. That being the case, I try to get a lot of things done that I need quiet for before they get here like interviews, blogs any writing that needs to be done. Speaking of writing, I don’t know how I managed to get my book done. They fast-tracked it so everything had to be done very quickly. I had to do all the writing right smack during the height of Stitch planning. So there I was planning what is basically a party for 3,000 people and writing a book. That took a little more discipline and I did put myself on a schedule for that like how many projects I needed to write per week.
CRAFT: How would you compare the challenges of working for yourself with working for “The Man”?
Working for the man was much easier. I got home at 5 and had nothing to worry about or think about. My weekend were free, there was paid vacation and I had benefits. When you work for yourself it never stops and in order to be successful you need to eat, breathe and sleep what you do. Sure there are vacations, but you worry and hope that your assistants have things under control. Benefits, that’s one of the main reasons I got married so that I could get on my dudes health insurance. Working for yourself just takes a lot of discipline. People think you can slack off and I used to get comments that insinuated I took long lunches and watched a lot of Lifetime Movie Network. Anyone that knows me knows that is not the case. If anything the one thing I have a problem with is turning it off. I’m all Naughty Secretary Club all the time and sometimes I need to do better about finding time to just be Jen.
CRAFT: How important has the internet been in relation to the growth of your business? Also, would you say the bulk of your business comes from your own website, or from wholesale accounts and/or craft show sales? (Basically I’m wondering if you think it’s best for folks to diversify their sales approach or stick with a slow-and-steady plan.)
The internet has been crucial to Naughty Secretary Club. With the internet you can reach so many people around the world. I would definitely say the bulk of my business comes from the internet. It seems often times people either do majority of their business from direct sales through the net, wholesale or making the craft show circuit. I do a fair amount of wholesale, though it by no means pays the bills. Often times I am so busy fulfilling my online orders I don’t have the time to court wholesale accounts. I know for some people wholesale can be very lucrative and I have friends that make a living off of just wholesale purchases. I only do 1-2 craft shows a year. I used to do a lot more, but as my business has grown I don’t do as many as I used to. Plus the largest one in Austin is Stitch, which I produce so I would not be able to have a booth and help run the show.
CRAFT: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently when starting your business, knowing what you know now? BONUS: Any resources for upstart craft businesses that you’d care to recommend? (This can be a web design company you worked with, a business class you took or book you found useful, banking information you’ve discovered that was helpful to you, etc.)
I got really lucky with the way my business went. I am very close friends with Tina Sparkles of Sparkle Craft and Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching. I was super fortunate that 3 of us not only lived in the same town, became friends, but also decided to start our crafty businesses at the same time. We would meet regularly and swap tips and stories from what we were learning about business. This was how the Austin Craft Mafia got started. My hot tip would be to find local like minded crafters and do the same thing. I promise there is a craft mafia, stitch-n-bitch or Etsy street team in your area that would love to meet you. Other hot tips would be to read the interviews with your favorite crafters, buy a copy of Guerilla Marketing and memorize it, join the Switchboards or Craftster. There are so many resources out there to help you make your business a success, a lot of which is free, be sure to take full advantage of it.
CRAFT: Any tips on how to keep your business fresh and thriving/growing? How do you stay inspired?
Update your content regularly, have sales, rotate the look of your front page, take out ads. For someone like me who has been in business for several years it is important that I change things up. Everyday there is a new Etsy store selling jewelry just as cute as mine, so I have to find new ways to stay ahead of the game. That is key. Lucky for me I have crafty ADD so I constantly want to try and make new things. I get bored easily so my style and aesthetic, though always tack-a-licious changes often.
I love cruising Flickr, Etsy and various style blogs for inspiration. Often ideas come to me from various color combinations I see in fabrics.
CRAFT: Becoming an author– was there a bit of a learning curve for you, or did it come as naturally to you as it seems? Would you do it again?
Becoming an author was not that tricky for me. I was always that kid in college that when the teacher gave us a writing assignment that had to be 1500 words and everyone complained I did too, but because it was not enough words not too many. I had also written my own zine as well as written for other publications like Venus Zine, Held Like Sounds, Splendid and more. Not to mention my blog, so I had quite a bit of writing experience under my belt. I would totally do it again. As a matter of fact I am cooking up ideas for book number two as we speak. I’d also love to do a book on marketing your Indie business.
CRAFT: What’s your favorite project in your new book and why?
It’s a funny thing my favorite things are usually never other people’s favorite things. It’s a fact that if I make something I love and put it up for sale on Naughty Secretary Club it will sit there forever. If I make something that I hate and want to take apart it sells first. It’s a weird thing. The same seems to be true of the book. Out of all the reviews, blogs and mentions of the book no one has said anything about the Specs Appeal Necklace and that is my favorite. It’s made with a pair of old cat eye glasses and has a picture of my hubby Chris and I inside the lenses. It makes me giggle. I’m a huge fan of Make and Craft Magazine contributor Matt Maranian author of the Pad series. He used a pair of old glasses to make a picture frame in one of his books and this was my inspiration for the necklace.

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Jenny Ryan

Jenny Ryan is an artist, crafter, and maker of things. She lives in Los Angeles with a pack of various animals (including her husband) and writes about her adventures in creating at Exit Through the Thrift Shop.

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