I am professionally trained in various areas including human resources management, business administration, secretarial, counselling, and currently a psychology student.
I started work at a very young age, because I didn’t understand (still don’t) why I had to make a critical life choice of which academic path to take that will greatly impact into my life thereafter – I shall spare you the angst of the very broken educational system here. It is no surprise that I took the unorthodox path to start working after completing Secondary School education. This path that I chose to take, proved to be a very challenging one because I worked to pay for my school fees thereafter (more expensive since they are off the mainstream education with no study grant or subsidy).
I have worked at basic level jobs such as sales promoter, merchandiser, cashier, restaurant server; supervisory and management positions such as senior sales associate, program manager, human resources executive, office manager, office administrator; and important supporting positions such as secretary to directors, CEO, and personal assistant to medical surgeon.
That is quite a broad spectrum of work, don’t you think? The one common thing that all those jobs shared was the employment duration. I performed just fine, if not over-performed, at my job, but I couldn’t stay long in a job – a commonality that is shared amongst the people on the autism spectrum.
The key challenge is none other than people – co-workers and issues with authority. The more enjoyable jobs that I had undertaken were those at the basic level – cashier, serving the deli counter, sales promoter for food and beverages. Although I had to engage with customers, but they were strictly professional conversations. I didn’t have to chit-chat with them – although it will be a very different culture should I had worked in the Western countries where small talks are prerequisites.
The higher I climbed on the corporate ladder, the more politics I was exposed to. I had important duties to perform at work; I went home with a mind consisting of a broken recorder in my head replaying the conversations with different ‘political groups’ in the office and wondered if I had said the wrong things. At some point, I slipped up and made the unforgivable social mistakes, and then the stress level escalated. Accompanied with sensory overload – the sensitivity level heightened along with stress level – I had more burnt outs and melt-downs. I suffered greatly from psychosomatic syndrome.
Sometimes, I left the employment in a bad note; then, I fell off the grid for a year or a year and a half. Shut down.
Functionally Productive – Converting My Special Interests into Revenue and Income
One of the logical ways to deal with this problem is to eliminate the key problem to my short-lived employments – work from home, on my terms.
This is one thing that I am most confident in bragging – I am a very hardworking and responsible person. I work very long hours and I have been known for being a perfectionist. So, I am rarely complacent or self-conceited – I am arrogant in some ways, no doubt, I would like to think of it as the designer’s pride.
Understand this, Singapore does not provide a nurturing and caring climate in social welfare. Even when there are social benefits, it takes a lot of effort on our part to even know of the existence of such benefits. Aside, I don’t want to sit on handouts, it’s unhealthy for personal development. I am only wired differently, but I have other qualities to compensate for the diversity.
I work towards being independent and obtaining a greater sense of self-efficacy. Perhaps I am just very strong headed, or maybe because there isn’t much help rendered to me, in almost all aspects, I have myself to rely on.
With the encouragement and support from my former husband (sure, things ended in a bad way, but I cannot discount the support that he had provided to me during those years that we were married – it’s like this for me, the apple was grossly good except for that part that was rotten, the apple is no good anymore, but the rotting that occurred in the end should not contaminate the parts that were good first), I started selling my crafts online.
I won’t lie. It’s sheer hard work. Again, the way our social welfare department works, most people who have disabilities but with one higher achiever who fetches high income in the household, the social welfare benefits will not apply. So, we are made ‘leeches’ to that one particular family member.
So, I do need to pay bills, and pay for other expenses like anyone does. Did I mention I live in Singapore? A recent report shows that we are one of the most expensive countries to live in – and it’s true.
Our Special Interests – Multiple Intelligences
Our special interests – often referred to as obsessions – are commonly pointed out as a negative aspects of our condition. I don’t deny that some obsessions are way too expensive and functionally disruptive; but many of us have superior intelligence in musical and arts etc.
I don’t believe I have superior intelligence in those (definitely not music, I am totally unmusical!) when comparing to many other talented individuals. However, who says I have to compare myself to them? Essentially, no one is smarter than Einstein (we can never know anyway, he is dead!). I only need to put my multiple intelligences on my scale.
I have superior craftsmanship as compared to doing maths; my intelligence in art is considerably higher as compared to sports. So, I will focus on what I am better in.
Understanding Your Anxiety
What calm me in this chaotic planet are routine – repetitive routine, and precision in strokes.
I start crocheting when I was around 8 years old. If we put all the large crocheted blankets on my timeline, they will form a pattern – most stressful periods. My favourite style is granny squares, because it allows me to work on repetitive stitches without using much cognitive function.
Precision in Strokes
Another action that distribute multiple purposes to contain my anxiety is engaging in activity that involves precision in strokes. I doodle, I paint, I colour in colouring books, I put on makeup.
What it does is basically containment first – full concentration in achieving precision, brush/pen strokes. Then, it’s replacement – once the motion is set, ideas start to branch from the single stroke, and those spontaneous ideas replace the displaced thoughts that cause my anxiety. In makeup, I take time in defining the eyebrows, the eyeliner, the lip liner (but I don’t wear lip liner anymore), and the control of brush strokes for blusher, eyeshadow and lipstick.
What I sell
I design and sell amigurumi crochet dolls and patterns, and other crochet items. I also sell the supplies, such as safety eyes and noses, yarns, crochet hooks etc that I use to make the dolls. Due to high demand, and lack of time, I don’t accept orders for finished products anymore, I only sell the patterns (instruction for crafters to make the doll that I design).
I was an art major, that line of ‘talent’ died in development when I chose the alternate path to reset my life in a different starting point. I am not gifted, but I fared well in graphic art. I am especially ‘inspired’ when I am in a highly stressful state of mind (there are also empirical studies on correlation of stress and art performance). Doodling is what builds my sense of self-efficacy. I can bounce back from the most broken state to be well-functioning again, because I regulate my emotions through drawing which activates my kinesthetic and visual ability to the maximum. So, I start using my artwork to product products for sale.
Take Heart, Be Brave
Many of us suffer from low self-esteem and self-confidence. Many of us produce brilliant artwork, but only a small handful of us take the plunge to put a price tag on our work.
You can defend on a prided high ground, but I don’t buy it. Don’t tell me that ‘selling’ your art is ‘cheap’ or demeaning. When you are getting to 25 years old (increment in age increase the need for independence), and you are still depending on the State handouts or pocket-money from parents, and you have to ask your parents to buy you things that you want, tell me again that you don’t want to be financially and personally independent.
The truth could be that we didn’t think that we were good enough that someone will actually use money to pay for our stuffs. We were more afraid of the disappointment. We are generally not risk-takers. Believe me, I have been there, and I still revisit that place, because my low self-esteem is not eradicated, it’s just moderated and conditioned by great efforts on my part to stay positive.
Understand this, when we showcase our work on social media (instagram, facebook, flickr, twitter, or google+), what we really want is free and instant gratification. So, how many likes must you have earned to convince yourself that your work is good enough that people will pay good money for? Take the first step and sell online!
This is probably one of the most important things to do. Think of a name that can represent yourself and work. Learn from my mistake. I am stuck with Simple Arts Planet – saplanet originals (not that I hate it, but it doesn’t exactly represent me per se, the name came up after my random spurt of excitement in buying a domain name in the middle of the night!) and once you are getting more established, it’s very difficult to break it off, because you have built a reputation and generated traffic to this brand.
Tip: Try to use a domain name checker to check for your business name before setting the business name, because it’s likely that you want to get a custom domain name later, and you don’t want to find out that there is already a website using your business name.
These are some places that I have experiences in selling my arts and crafts on:
Etsy – One of the Largest Online Marketplace for Handmade Products (including commercial supplies for crafts)
By far, this is the best venues that I gained most successes in selling- other than my own website. That is also the first venue that I started out my journey in crafting business. There are nominal fees involved, which I find very reasonable. For every item you list for sale, you will be charged a listing fee (USD0.20) and for every item you sell, you will charged a commission (3.5%); fees are billed at the beginning of the month.
What you need:
PayPal (most International sellers will need this; you can offer other mode of payment, but I advise against bank transfer, because there are many cases of non-payment, and it can be very energy draining and frustrating to chase for payments)
Business cards – you should always include a business card when shipping your items to buyers.
PayPal charges fees too, do check out their fees policy; it has changed many times over the years (adjusted upwards of course!)
Your Own Website
Soon after I set up the Etsy shop and started to make sales, I wanted a platform that I have complete control in and showcase more items. It is partly because I distinguish myself from hobbyist and become a professional seller.
What you need:
1. Domain name – Try to get a domain name that is of the same as your business name, because people usually only remember one name. (I have multiple, but if you google for saplanet, you will see almost all my shops popping up in the search results)
2. Webhosting provider – Domain name is different from web host service. One is just a name (such as simpleartsplanet.com or saplanetoriginals.com), and web hosting is like a cloud storage system, where you can put in stuffs to build your website. I have used several hosts, but I recommend SiteGround (I used them for the longest time until my internet service provider has some settings that cause problem for my website to load at my end), and Host Gator (I am more inclined to recommending site ground because hostgator has more frequent downtimes and outages).
Tip: DON’T buy the domain separately. Domain name is pretty cheap and it’s renewable yearly. Usually the web hosting companies throw in the domain if you sign up for their hosting services, and when you do that, every year, you just need to pay for the hosting. The ‘package’ thing is subject to companies – site ground offered that when I was with them; but at least for the first year, you won’t have to pay for the domain if you sign up the hosting and they will offer you the option to select a new domain.
3. Shopping cart / website builder – If you have the flair for writing codes, you can always go for free shopping cart such as zen-cart and customise your shopping cart; or you can get from other monthly paid shopping carts providers (you will need to google for the reviews and decide on your own, I have not used them, so I can’t recommend)
4. Payment gateway – such as PayPal, google checkout etc (the last time I checked, google checkout is only available to some countries)
5. Promotional tools – Blog (wordpress for more flexibility and customisable options), social media etc; business cards
DaWanda – Europe Based
My DaWanda shop is closed for a while now. I just didn’t have time to manage so many online venues. Europeans have great appreciation for handmade crafts and artistic products, and they are generous in commissioning work if they like your work. Many of my best customers are from Europe.
I had rather good successes on there too, but the Euro fluctuation was too much work for me. On Etsy, I could sell using my preferred currency – Singapore Dollars.
If you are based in Europe, this is a great place to showcase your work; but take note of the taxation. Countries outside EU are not chargeable for tax, but DaWanda will tax you on your commission if you are EU member.
(Note: I should probably go check on the updates to see if they now offer sellers to sell in their own local currencies, and I might just reopen the shop)
iCraft Gifts – Canadian
I had a shop on there. It was via invitation when they first set up and I was invited to open a shop there. It is Canadian based, and I had sold some items on there, but not much. It’s the same reason that I shut down that shop because it was too time-consuming to manage so many shops.
I find the traffic lacking, which I would boldly attribute to less effective SEO efforts. I can’t comment much about successes, but when you are first starting out, you want to be everywhere – I mean virtually EVERYWHERE!
Do checkout their fees before you decide to set up a store there.
It’s a free online store, but I closed it down when they start charging commission. Also, it only allows USD (check for updates on that, I don’t follow up on updates once I close the shop), so the constant need to adjust prices according to currency exchange fluctuations is too much work for me (I didn’t mention I have dyscalculia? Oh well, now you know, we must not stretch our limitations too far).
I did get sales from there, but I suspect that I may gain more successes if I had more time to update the shop regularly. At times, I didn’t update the shop with new products for a few months!
Art Fire – US Based
Some sellers have good successes on there, but I find it redundant to have 2 shops in USA based venues. Etsy definitely has better traffic driving to the shop; but Etsy has a lot more shops there too, it means stiffer competition!
I can’t comment on the success rate, I closed my shop after a while.
Reminder: If you are starting out, put yourself EVERYWHERE (preferably places that offer free listing or cheap listing fees to lower startup cost).
Zazzle – Earn Royalty Fees
Don’t want to make things and bother with invoicing, packing, posting them out, and deal with after-sale packaging tracking stuffs? Zazzle would be great for those who creates art and digitise them.
You earn royalty fee (you decide on the rate, but for new startups, perhaps go for 5-8% to stay competitive and build up seller’s reputation) but uploading your artwork and choose what products you want it made into – ranging from apparels, prints, to stationery etc. Zazzle will print the items and do everything else; you will never have to deal with the customer after the transaction.
Alternative: Cafepress – but artists are pulling out their shops there because of the fees structure. You may want to compare the two venues to see if you also want to sell your art there.
Freelancer – For the Geeks!
So, you don’t draw, you don’t make stuffs, but you have talents in writing codes? Don’t just play with the computer and write up codes for fun, there are many people who need your service.
I know, because I paid someone on there to help with the upgrading work for my shopping cart. I am not so much of a talent in this, but I have a keen interest. I spent 3 months working on my shopping cart, and I am not formally trained in computer, I am self-taught; but I am fascinated by the fact that a script can change the entire appearance and function of the cart! I had been doing all the upgrading works myself, until I was too busy with orders, so it makes better sense to pay someone else to do it. I would prefer to do it on my own, because I love to tweak it further as I work on it, but sometimes, we need to consider economic justification.
If you were a geek on the spectrum, I bet you have one of the most powerful machines and other gadgets and gizmos to play with, so you would already have whatever it takes to deliver the job.
There are many areas of expertise on freelancer, you can check out the jobs that are listed, and if you are confident in delivering what has been requested, you bid for the job (do go for a few) and the hirer will decide (based on price points, and experiences etc) who to give the job to.
Tip: Start to accept jobs at lower rates to build your resume and job experiences (it is shown in the profile, for hirer to factor in the decision-making process).
Things to Consider
There are many things to consider before opening your shop, but don’t let that deter your decision to take the first step to personal independence – by that, I mean that you should at least be of legal age or have a guardian to oversee such activities.
Understand your limitations.
Singapore is one of the worst developed countries for people on autism spectrum. It’s crowded all the time, it’s hot everyday, it’s humid every second, there are public announcements everywhere etc. But this is my birthplace and I am being exposed to the strenuous stimuli every day for years. I am not immune to them, because these factors are rapidly growing along with the country’s fast development. I am conditioned to be more tolerant – or susceptible to more melt-downs.
I would prefer not to have to go to the post office – I didn’t have to in the past – but it’s part of my work, so I endure the hassle. On the days that I have to go out, I would ease off other tasks, to avoid overload.
So, if that is too challenging, see if you could get some help from either family, or social workers (if you are assigned one) to help you run such errands. You will need to familiarise yourself with the shipping rates and options though.
Understanding the process will help you make better decision in where to sell your work, and what you want to sell. If you definitely not want to deal with packing items and all, then you may want to offer digital products such as logo design work etc. (You can do that on Etsy, DaWanda, Artfire and other venues too) That way, you will only need to deliver the digital products.
I don’t know if I can ever return to regular employment, because the idea of having to deal with people freaks me out. Then again, remember that I am only officially diagnosed in recent years, so I have no history or evidence to support that it will not work out better now. I doubt so, Singapore is very weak in public awareness in the area of disorders, so understanding at workplace is probably still far-fetched.
I hope this is a good resource for you to explore into. I know how hard it is, but I have personally experienced (still am) the positive effects on self-confidence when my products sell. Success doesn’t come easy, so don’t give up easy. Start small, and do it casually until you are confident to go full-fledged.
It is vital to have someone supportive. It can be disappointing when the products don’t sell, so it’s important to not indulge in self-pity. Understand that the world-wide web is a huge (borderless!) space, and competition is steep. Don’t account it to your personal failure if things don’t sell, it could be because you need more marketing tools (so, do read up on online marketing, SEO, etc) to make sure your shop come up in searches. Hence, my advice to showcase your work EVERYWHERE when you are starting up.
That said, the first condition in selling anything is the product. Be sure to be original; and read up on how to protect your work with copyright (copyright law may vary from countries).