No romance without finance

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Oliver Budd has the last word. He shares his insights on finance, gleaned from his decades-long career.

By Oliver Budd

Back in the early 1990s, I was working with my father, an astute man who negotiated some massive public art contracts from the 1960s to the 1990s. I started working with him in 1983 so, when he died in 1995, I had developed a good understanding of the running of our business. Bringing in new work was the key; without it we were dead in the water.

I was never allowed to know the reality of the finances, which was always my father’s domain. I always trusted him and was assured that that aspect of the business was sorted. He died and I picked up the tab. We had a massive overdraft of a few thousand pounds that needed to be addressed.

I was on my own. The great raconteur Peter Ustinov once said: “If I’d told my parents I was to start a business in mosaics, they would have shut me down.”  Well, I was up and running, with a large debt, so carrying on was all I could do.

I have a wonderful financial adviser who looks after my pensions etc and he stepped in at that point and put me in the right direction. 

Debt maketh the man. I approached the bank and negotiated a payback deal on the overdraft over four years. Because of that, they trusted me and offered me a further loan for business development, which I declined.

A mosaic business is small fry. Our turnover had been good; around £80-£90,000 per annum in the late 80s. We had some major contracts in Wales and Oman in Saudi at the time and material prices were reasonable. We’d employed people for site work but never studio work, which we did ourselves. 

So, what have I learned about money over the years?

Don’t give all your money to a landlord if you don’t need to. I had a good-sized garden and built my own space in it. Mosaics can be made in sections and, upon completion, sliced up and palleted, ready for delivery and installation.

Pricing is crucial. Certain work has different values. Lettering is very expensive (if done right). Any work that is intricate also must have higher value. Particular materials will affect the price; so smalti, gold and rare materials will increase the budget. It’s very important at the outset of a project to let the client know the cost of all these things.

Never go back to the client and ask for more money once you’ve priced a job. It’s unprofessional and makes you look like an idiot. There is no worst feeling than that of working on a commission when you know you have undersold it.

Most jobs will require you to purchase materials and commit to labour up front, so you need to make sure you have that money. Don’t give your clients credit; you’re not a credit company. 

Structure your job – and contract – in three phases, with payment split across each of them:

  1. Phase 1: Ask for 50% upon receipt of the order. Use this to buy the materials and to cover the initial work.
  2. Phase 2: Get 30% of the payment when the work has been completed in your studio. Let the client visit at any time to view the work in progress.
  3. Phase 3: Request the final 20% of payment after the job is completed on site.

This advice is hard won. I have more than 40 years of working in the mosaic business and I’m pleased to be able to pass on what I’ve learned.

Mosaic, like any other craft skill, is a hands-on task; there’s a beginning and an end. Only you, the craftsperson, will know this. You take on the commission, work it through and complete it to the clients’ satisfaction – and hopefully to yours also.

Dictate the price, enjoy the work.