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A Tale of Two Cities - the Reality of Running my Business from Two Places

The internet is rife with dazzling stories about how businesses can be run from anywhere these days. You might have seen appealing photos on Instagram of a business person with a laptop on a beach in Bali or wherever, with the golden glow of the sun falling flatteringly on their skin. While this may be true for some people with certain types of businesses, I’ve found that the reality of trying to run my jewellery business from two places is rather different.

I’m in India as I write this, and if you follow me on social media, you may know that for the last year or more I’ve been travelling to and fro between India and the UK, trying to spend more time here.

The main driver for this is so that I can be in close proximity to my father, an exceptionally clever, energetic 95-year-old. It gives me a lot of pleasure to be able to meet him every week, squabble with him in the same timezone and discuss the trivial activities of day-to-day life in the same city while nagging him to eat properly. If all I can do is be there for him when he needs me without taking away his independence, I’ll be happy.

But as you can imagine, this sort of move can’t be without its challenges, especially as we’ve lived in the UK for 35+ years. And it’s not just the differences in physical environment such as the heat, the pollution and the seasons that present challenges; there’s also the human element.

When I used to come to India for my two-week holiday, I didn’t look beyond my own extended family. They know my idiosyncrasies and tolerate me as I am. But now that I’m here for a longer period, I need to go further and build a part of my life here. And somewhere in there, there must be the subconscious fear of whether I can fit in after so many years in a totally different environment, and still make it all work.

We recently went to a social event where we felt totally out of place, and that night I first couldn’t get to sleep, and then kept having nightmares about being friendless. I had the whole “What if nobody likes me? What if nobody talks to me?” scenario playing out in my head. I’m perfectly happy in my own company, but nobody likes being rejected. Having said that, India has 1.4 billion people, and in amongst them, there will be every conceivable type of person. But I still need to find my tribe.

When it came to running Halo, I thought it would be more straightforward. Presumably all I needed to do was to set up a work environment in India, and carry on as if nothing had changed. Silver and gold are part of the societal backbone of India, so supply couldn’t possibly be a problem. I would get tools and other supplies from local shops, and off I would go.

It turns out that all is not what it seems. Of course, I can buy pure silver and gold by the kilo if I want to. But I use sterling silver for my jewellery, and getting this is a whole new ballgame. It appears that the concept isn’t common in India. You either buy pure silver, which is too soft to make jewellery, or some indeterminate mix of silver and other metal(s), which may not be up to sterling silver standard. But the good news is that over the last couple of trips I’ve brought enough silver with me from the UK to keep me going for a while, and my UK supplier, Cookson’s, delivers to India. Yay!

In case you’re wondering, sterling silver is also called 925 silver, which means that it is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper or some other harder metal, that gives sterling silver jewellery the strength it needs to survive our day to day lives.

Getting equipment was mostly straightforward, although the oddest things were either outrageously expensive or ridiculously inexpensive. I use a simple, very small slow cooker for heating an acid solution called pickle, where you put the silver in for cleaning after soldering. I bought mine in the UK for a tenner from Argos. Could I get one here? Nooooo. They were HUGE and outrageously expensive. And yet, other things, like a rolling mill, cost literally a tenth of what they cost in the UK.

So after a few little hiccups, I’m all set now, and have started making. The photo shows my setup in India, and it’s much the same as in the UK. There are different challenges from those I face in the UK. Most revolve around the general discomfort of trying to make jewellery, which requires a lot of heat, in an already warm environment. There are other, more technical challenges like the difference in texture and behaviour of the supplementary chemicals that I’m used to. It’s not as though one is better than the other – they’re just different.

I’m here until late November, and then back in the UK. I’ve more or less settled into the making processes here, but on my return will need to change gear to go back to how things are in London, including reduced daylight, where making and photography will be vying for the few hours of natural light in winter. But I love Christmas in the UK and can’t wait!

So here’s what I would say. Despite the differences, it’s entirely possible to run Halo from two locations. Admittedly it’s easier to run it from one location, or even from two if the environment wasn’t so drastically different to the UK. And the reality of it is that each transition back and forth takes a little something out of me emotionally and physically, and consequently slows the business down.

But it’s a choice I’ve made based on my personal circumstances, and I’m happy with it. And that, I think, is the crux of the matter. Whether I run Halo from one location or two, what pace I run it at, and the sacrifices I’m willing to make for the business or to my personal life are all within my control. And having that control at this stage of my life is priceless.

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