Surely it must be another sign that I am near-grown that I can put aside my Campfire Girls vs Girl Scouts ism and submit to an interview to help a girl get a couple of badges, specifically Business Owners and Customer Insight. Herein is Saffeyya, 10 years old, grilling me and below is me grilling her.
Were you a GirlScout when you were younger, and if so, did any of the skills you learned help you to this day?
I was a Camp Fire Girl for several years, which I imagine is a lot like Girl Scouts- we sold candy and went to camp, earned badges and beads, had weekly meetings and were involved in various community services. I think the candy sales were really beneficial in several ways. Firstly it was rewarding to help earn my spot at camp by selling candy- it made the camp experience truly mine. It was also fun to sell a product that people really liked- Camp Fire Girl candy may not be as famous as Girl Scout cookies, but it’s delicious and I had many happy returning customers. I’m sure that I learned how to throw a pretty good sales pitch, how to gauge customers interest and not to waste any time or frustrate people who weren’t interested. I also learned how to ‘canvas’ or choose good market spots and I am pretty sure at least some of my tenacity may have come from the experience of working hard to rake in those sales.
How do you find out what your customers want?
Mostly I ask. I run two businesses, I am a freelance wordsmith (writer and editor), and also make jewelry. For the first business I ask what kind of articles the readers of the magazine I edit need or how people want me to edit their projects- do they want my opinion about the stories or just to fix their typos? For writing I usually have an idea in mind that I want to pour out into an article, so then I look around at different sites or publications for one that may be interested in my idea and I propose it to them. Or sometimes I hear about a publication that wants specific submissions and I will write something based on their guidelines.
For my jewelry business I mostly just make things that I think are really pretty and interesting/unique, but sometimes people request custom orders. For customs I ask a lot of questions and as for examples of what they are looking for, then I send samples of photos that I think may be similar until I understand what the customer wants and they understand what I can make for them.
How do you figure out what to charge for your products?
This is such a difficult and complicated thing- I am still figuring it out! I, like many people, used to undercharge for my work because I wanted to build a clientele. Now I have a clientele with both businesses and charge rates closer to market price, meaning what other people are charging.
How did you start your business?
For both businesses I studied the market, meaning I spent a lot of time reading the kind of things I wanted to write and studying websites of people selling jewelry. I went back to school to get a degree related to writing, and I tried to focus as much as my school work as I could on the field I wanted to work in- Islamic or Muslim media. I also talked to my wanna-be peers a lot, such as on eBay there are many community forums where sellers discuss how they run their shops. Similarly I joined a few Muslim-based writing organizations where I learned all about how and where to get writing jobs, and then I was ‘head hunted’ meaning an editor or publisher found me through these writing affiliations (also known as networking) and offered me jobs.
What advice would you give me if I wanted to start a business like yours someday?
Do lots and lots of research before you get started. Being self-employed means that you will have to learn about and do many different jobs instead of just doing one job for someone else, such as in addition to making jewelry I have to do marketing, customer service, packaging, some html, photography, product research and development, and so on.
Some people like to ‘jump into the fire’ and ‘just do it’- but that could be why the majority of small businesses fail before their first year is even up. Allah does not like us to waste the bounty of resources He has provided for us and being hasty (not doing research) almost always results in waste and failure. There is a lot to be learned by not succeeding the first time around, but it’s still best to respect yourself, your time and recourses – all are on loan to you from Allah – and do as much research as possible before you jump in.
Of course also learn all the Islamic rulings on business transactions- that is the ultimate guidance we should be taking and helps to insure that our earnings are halal. Lastly (this happens a lot so don’t be tempted!) do not take advice from people who don’t know what they are talking about. Plenty of people will tell you “This is a good idea” or “You should do this” but unless they are doing something very similar they really don’t know what they are talking about and just think it is a good thing. Talk to or read about people who are doing something similar to what you want to do.
What do you like most about your job?
In the writing and editing job, which is what I help feed my family with- I like that I get to work with a lot of really interesting, active and inspiring people. I also get to do lots of research and learn new things, which is great. In my jewelry job, which is a side job, of course I love to make really pretty things and I get to contemplate Allah’s amazing creations- gemstones and metals are incredible- but I have found out that it is also really rewarding to see how happy customers are with my little works of art.
What is the hard part about running your business?
Organization is not my strong point, so I struggle with various aspects of that- from managing my time to controlling my stock. There aren’t any bead stores anywhere near where I live now (the High Atlas mountains of Morocco) so I really need to plan ahead for what supplies I may need to make jewelry. And when I do have all my supplies, I need to stop myself from spending 12 hours a day making pretty things – I do have plenty of other things to do!
Last question: what surprises you the most about running your own business?
That I can do it! 16 years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, my husband suggested that I find a business to do from home since I wanted to continue to work but also wanted to stay home with my baby. I didn’t think that would be possible, I had no idea what to do. I began telling people that I wanted to stay home and work (networking again!) and I did find something to do through a friend. It took me a few years to start to do my own thing and then a few more years to realize that I really was doing my own thing!
And me asking of Saffeyya:
What do you like most about being a GirlScout?
My favorite thing about Girl Scouts is all the new stuff I’m learning through the different activities we do as a troop.
Which badge are you earning and do you get to choose the order or which badges you earn?
I am currently working on the Business Owner badge, and the Customer Insight badge. We get to choose the order and pace, which I really like
What are some of the things you think you might want to do for a business or work?
EnshAllah, someday I would really like to work maybe as an illustrator, or perhaps my own gallery selling different kinds of art. I love to draw, paint, color, and find new uses for everyday objects.
Do you have a favourite piece of jewelry and if so what is it?
My favorite piece of jewelry is a very fine white gold bracelet. It has tiny heart beads on it, and my dad gave it to me when I was 4.
Ahhhhhhhhhh, Thank you so much Saffeyya for helping me peg some thoughts! ❤