Snack Vouchers and Business Lessons

Written By Allie Perry March 29, 2024

I started my business 22 years ago today. 

I started it as a side-hustle at the encouragement of an old boss. I made simple things and sold them at the kinds of craft shows that popped up once a year and were attended by locals who may or may not have had any interest in handmade jewelry. I’d spend weeks getting ready for each show, and then when the show dates finally arrived I’d drag my tables, displays, jewelry, and husband to whichever Boys and Girls Club or dimly lit high school gymnasium was hosting.

Sometimes I made money. It always felt like more money than it really was, especially after considering the time, energy, and materials that had already been consumed, but it was real money from real people who appreciated my work.

Sometimes I didn’t make that much money, but I got vouchers for free snacks from the bake sale table. A small win, but a win nonetheless.

At that point in my career, I had the time to start a business, but not the money or the experience.

My career started in jewelry manufacturing but soon led me into the field of jewelry repair.  Sometimes the wind blows you in directions you don’t expect, and I got hired at my first jewelry repair job before I had any idea how to do any kind of jewelry repair. I learned a lot of technical skills at that job and I absolutely loved it. A late morning start time, long lunches, and a boss who was happy as long as I did my work well and on time made the job a perfect fit for me! The huge drawback was the fact that I was working as a subcontractor (my first taste of self-employment) and instead of earning a steady wage, I got paid a certain amount for each repair I completed.  During the busy season, there was plenty of work and plenty of money, but the lean months were very lean. The experience taught me how to save and budget for not only the lean months, but all of the taxes I’d have to pay come April, and it helped me realize if I ever wanted to own my own home or pursue larger goals, I’d have to move on from that job I loved so much. 

And so I left that job that had made me so happy and traded it for a better-paying job that made me miserable.

At that point in my career, I had the experience to start a business, but not the time or the money.

The new, better-paying job with steady wages and shiny benefits (my first and only 401k!) was one of those soul-sucking rites of passage that taught me tons of lessons I’d have preferred learning any other way.

I learned how to change my work habits to satiate the unrealistic and ever-growing production numbers that were expected every day.

I learned that HR is there for the company, not the employees.

I learned that some employers will expect more and more and more from you without being willing to give anything in return, and in turn, I learned how to stand up for myself against a giant corporation.

On the plus side, I learned from a coworker how to make a Brazilian chicken salad called Salpicão, which is still a favorite of mine. A much bigger win than the bake sale table snack vouchers.

But that company, too, fell to capitalism and I was again about to move in a new direction in the jewelry industry…custom design and fabrication.

At that point in my career, I had the experience and money to start a business, but not the time.

My next job, one I would stay at for too long, is where I learned to design and hand-fabricate bespoke fine jewelry. I was honing my diamond-setting skills as I made one-of-a-kind bridal pieces. I was setting multi-carat diamonds in front of the customers who’d just purchased or inherited them. I was gratefully learning as much as I could from the far more experienced goldsmith in the same shop. I was navigating vendor relationships and fine-tuning my sales and communication skills with customers. And I was learning what it meant for a design of mine to go viral online, back in 2012 before going viral was the thing everyone thought they wanted.

What I wasn’t doing was making any jewelry for myself or my business. It would have been a conflict of interest to make and sell jewelry for my business while I was making jewelry for someone else to sell in their business.  In the crystal clarity of 20/20 hindsight, it’s painfully obvious that I was pouring myself into someone else’s dream instead of my own.

Enter COVID-19.

I was required to stay at work long after most places had closed down. 

I contracted COVID. I got laid off. The world was closed.

For the first time in my career, I simultaneously had the time, money, and experience to start a business.

Contracting what would turn out to be Long COVID also provided me with something I hadn’t expected- an overwhelming need to have more control over my health, my safety, and my future.

So I got to work.

I dusted off the business I'd started and shelved so long ago.

I gathered my old craft show inventory and started making new inventory.

I forced myself to remember how to work in silver, after 15+ years of working in gold and platinum, because that’s what the budget dictated.

I re-learned how to photograph jewelry.

I built a website.

I created a following and nurtured a community on social media.

I realized my first website was terrible, scrapped it, and built a second, better website.

I made decisions with the gasping lungs and foggy brain COVID had unceremoniously dropped in my unwilling lap.

I made mistakes and learned things the hard way.

I learned which people in my life would support me when I really needed it.

And I learned that I should have built my business even before I had the time, money, and experience because there is no perfect time to chase your dreams.

So here I am, in my fourth year of working full-time in my 22-year-old business.

I know I’ll keep learning, stumbling, growing, and pivoting because owning a small business can be a crazy roller coaster with more twists, turns, ups, and downs than you’d ever expect.

But I always did love rollercoasters, and now I have all the snacks I want, no vouchers required.


Allie is the owner and goldsmith behind Allie Perry Designs.

Learn more about her here, or connect with her on Instagram!

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