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new repair business

I posted this information to Sue Dunlap directly but in light of
the recent discussion on the List, I thought I would post it (with
additions) to everyone.

I was saddned to see the original response to Sue's inquiry, not
because it was a bad response but because the tone was so negative
and there seemed to be so little room for turning it into a
conversation.  Thank you to everyone who DID turn it into a
discussion we can all learn from.

Standards are such a difficult topic for us all.  I believe most
of us are motivated by the best intentions in trying to set and
keep high standards.  We all hate untrained people torturing books
and charging the public for it but we also shoot ourselves in the
foot sometimes.  Many times over my career in book
conservation/repair I've had doors shut and have been told, "You
haven't paid your dues yet enough for me to share this with you."
Unfortunately, no one could ever tell me just what the dues were or when
I'd know I had "arrived".  Since I know how much I love this field
and how strongly I wanted to do a good job, I just kept going.  I
wonder how many really fine book conservators haven't had such
thick skin.

I think instead of closing people dowm with a "you don't know enough to
be in this business" we need to educate them about standards, quality
and price.  Most people want to been seen as qualified and competent and
if told by enough people or someone they respect, will incorporate these
lessons into their work.  They will also tend to restate these ideas
when someone asks them for information or help.

Also, by stating our standards of quality and pricing in a positive way,
we look much more professional and raise our standing in the
conservation community and the community at large.  When we have the
opportunity to speak again, are thoughts become more valuable because
people feel we are accessible and that we have such high standards.

So, here is the posting I originally sent to Sue:

> Sue:  I can sympathize with your plight as I'm in it myself.  I started
> my private business last September after 10 years as book conservator
> with the Alaska State Library.  It's a whole different world out here.
> Even when you know what others charge, it's still a challenge to get
> the numbers to roll off your tongue like you believe it - or deserve
> it.  I've handled this in a couple of ways.
> 1.  I give a free estimate.  I try never to estimate without seeing
> the book, when pressed, I say a ballpark figure and tell them I have
> to see the book.  When I do give an estimate, I give a $20 - 50
> spread hoping to come into the middle of the range.
> 2.  I have an electronic timer with an easy start/stop button.  The
> first time I do anything, I try to time every second I'm actually
> working on the project.  Even if my estimate is no where near what my
> hourly wage should be, I learn for the next time.
> 3.  The first time I do something, I figure I'm being paid to learn
> and I don't beat myself up if I don't make any money.  Now the second
> time I do something, it's another story - if I don't make any money
> the second time, that's my fault.
> 4.  I usually have a $ amount in my head that I'd like to have for a
> job.  I also have a $ amount that feels like what I'm comfortable
> charging and they are often far apart!  When deciding on my price, I
> try to listen to both those amounts and come down in the middle, that
> way, I'm constantly stretching my boundaries of what is acceptable to
> me.
> 5.  Never take it personally when someone says "But it's not worth
> that much".  That is a judgement they need to make, not you.  Your
> job is to repair the item the best most appropriate way possible.  I >
> never get involved with what something is or isn't worth, I just say
> "Well, that's up to you to decide." and let it go.  I've fixed real
> trash for alot of money so it's all realtive.  Also, I've had very few
> people be upset about my prices.  I think once they've come to me,
> they've already made the decision to have the work done.
> Asking about money isn't unethical at all, neither is asking for
> advice but you may find it's easier to get help from folks away from
> your geographic area.  I have a  two conservators outside my area who
> are always happy to answer my many questions but I know it would be >
> harder if I was in competition with them.

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