There’s a saying in the stage theatre industry that comes from the great dramatic teacher Constantin Stanislavski: There are no small roles, only small actors. I recently discovered that you could easily change that to the wacky world of entrepreneurship: There are no small businesses, just the humans that run them.
You’ve heard me talk of my history as a weekend seamstress and part-time theatrical costumer as I sold medical supplies and performed other corporate gigs. You’ve also heard me self-congratulate my decision to “go pro” and become the professional Singing Seamstress you know and love today.
But what I haven’t gone into is exactly how such a decision and turning point in my life could have had an equally negative impact on me. That’s right: it isn’t all glitz and glamour.
I’ll preface this with an assurance that I’m not going anywhere; I’m not laying down my hand and walking away from the table. And I certainly don’t intend for this to be a rant-fest. But a couple of issues arose recently that made me – perhaps for the first time – honestly question if what I do is worth the cost of what I do, emotionally and otherwise.
I won’t go into particulars and I certainly won’t name names, but I have to admit if you decide to do an online search of my ratings, you’ll most likely come across what I’m talking about.
The first instance occurred a few months ago. Now, you’ve heard me joke about bridezillas, and you’ve also read me talk about how in many cases they are simply misunderstood. But sometimes, you come across what I term a ‘professional complainer’ – someone who is either never happy or expects to get something lessened in price or free if they express real or feigned unhappiness. These are the type of people who, when dining out, have to have the manager called over to state that it was “the worst experience they ever had” – despite it being a normal experience for anyone else – and not stopping until the meal is comped. And if the meal – or other service like, say, altering a gown – isn’t comped, they feel the need to take their story to the world and facts be darned.
That’s the situation I found myself in. I’ll summarize the experience with my admission that I finally realized the customer isn’t always right. When a bride wants a gown a certain way, and you know it won’t work, don’t cave in to her demands. Especially if it’s a bride who turns out to be a professional complainer who also likes to blame the world at large for everything wrong in her life (as evidenced by her own history of social media posts). She publicly railed against me on my own Facebook page with a litany of false and inaccurate accusations, and I replied in kind. Apparently that really affronted her, because the next I knew, I was being notified by the Better Business Bureau of a complaint with them.
Now, do you know what stung worse than the complaint (which was eventually dismissed)? The accuser’s statement that I should “stick with costuming.” Though it was designed to be belittling (and admittedly had that effect on me), it also denigrated the dozens or hundreds of cosplayers and Renaissance Festival actors and performers that I’ve taken care of over the years.
That woman’s barbs truly did their damage to my commitment, and for the first time I actually wondered if it’s ‘worth it’ to continue working with brides if it meant dealing with more of her ilk. Eventually, I was able to shrug it off and dive right back in, just in time for the ‘busy season.’
The second instance came shortly thereafter. It was actually sort of surreal. The bride in question sent me an email to the effect of “I like you and your work, but I’m going to give you a bad review.” I tried working with her (and indeed also before this point when I once again found myself trying to acquiesce to a bride’s unrealistic demands of their visions for their gowns), but she still publicly posted on a review site. Oddly, she too opted to take a dig at the supposedly relative ‘easiness’ of costuming and how I should just stay with that for my career path.
This time, it took a lot longer – and not a few bottles of wine – before I got out of the resulting funk. At first, I was ashamed of my tears, but was assured by family, friends, and supporters alike that they’d be more concerned if I wasn’t devastated. My pain meant I cared. I honestly had to go through the stages of grief like a bereaved widow to come out of this one.
Again, I replied in an equally public forum; not to get the last word or to be defensive, but to assure clients old and new that there are usually two truths in any given situation, and that they needed both versions to come to educated decisions on their own. Hopefully, my track record of more than 100 five-star reviews outweigh these two 1-stars that hang over me.
As a small businesswoman, I’m realistic. I know I’ve brightened the lives of countless dozens of brides and their families. I know that I can’t please everyone. I know now that the customer isn’t always right and that I’m not in the wrong for pointing it out to them.
I also know the Small Business Association statistics that 30 percent of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 50 percent during the first five years, and 66 percent during the first 10. The SBA goes on to state that only 25 percent make it to 15 years or more. Though the odds are better than the commonly held belief that most fail within two years, there are still many businesses that are closing down every year in the United States. I’ve made it longer than many, but not yet as long as most. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable enough in my chosen career path to rest easy. But that doesn’t mean I stop trying.
So, thank you for allowing me to vent. Now, I’m going to get back to sewing. Wedding gowns and costumes alike.
Until next time!