"It's not impossible, but it's like slave labor."
—Jennifer Kes Remington
It's a few days before Thanksgiving and I'm deep into creating and shipping my handmade jewelry, cards, and small gift items. It's always a challenging time of the year for a one-person shop. My day starts very early and ends very late. I'm ordering supplies, making items, responding to customer emails, photographing and listing new items, packaging orders, and shipping them. And oh yeah, this isn't my only job.
Someone mentioned the iron triangle to me recently. (It seems to go under various names, such as the project management triangle.) It's not a new idea in the business world, but I thought I'd share it because it really crystallized a few ideas I've been trying to articulate. The basic concept is that there are three qualities (cheap, fast, and good) that all customers want. The conundrum is that you can realistically only pick two. How does that work?
If you pick cheap and fast, you shouldn't be surprised when the item is shoddily made and falls apart.
If you choose good and fast, it won't be cheap. I can only get low prices on materials by carefully researching wholesale suppliers, stalking sales (some of which only occur annually), buying in bulk for lower per item prices, and being very careful with my budget. If I need something quickly, I'll have to use more expensive materials (those I can buy in low quantities at full price). If I can't find the materials locally, I'll have to pay for high-priced fast shipping. And if the customer wants the finished piece quickly, he or she will need to pay extra for upgraded (more expensive, but faster) shipping or special rush fees to get the item by his or her own deadline.
If you choose good and cheap, it won't be fast. It takes time to find the right items at the right price. I don't have an infinite supply cabinet of every possible bead, paper type, or metal (although it does feel that way when everything is scattered across my work table). Even when I'm using my lowest priced materials, all the details take time to get right. Luckily, even though lots of people seem interested in this particular combination, most seem happy to wait my current 5-day holiday production time.
As someone who makes handmade items, I won't give up on the "good" part of the triangle. I'm okay turning away the "cheap and fast" requests.
So . . . cheap, fast, or good? What will you choose?
Quotation source: "Good, Fast, Cheap: You Can Only Pick Two" by Jennifer Kes Remington, a composer and filmmaker. Pyragraph is an online magazine for "career-minded creatives."