For professional counselor Ann Finley, metal sculpting was just a fun hobby. But when she realized she could make a successful business from it, she left her day job as associate director of the University Center at Emory University behind to pursue her passion.
What made you want to turn your hobby into a full-time career?
Success. When my rusty flower stakes were chosen for the front cover of the Sundance catalog, I thought it could actually be a viable business.
What were your concerns (if any) about switching careers and how did you overcome them?
My main concern was leaving the security of a steady paycheck and benefits. I never overcame this concern, but my husband’s pep talks are now needed less frequently.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of changing their career and following their passion?
In this economy? They must be crazy. There is always room for the good ones, but it is a lot tougher now. Be able to take rejection.
How did you come up with the concept of Barking Cat Jewelry?
I was looking for a way to unite my silversmithing with the whimsical flavor of IronCraft Folk Art. And there it was – my canine studio assistant, Bruno, staring up at me, saying “make some jewelry about me.”
What was your inspiration for the jewelry designs?
While listening to the radio one day, I heard the lyrics “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.” You’ll notice that’s not part of the line anymore – too much explaining to children. But then Bruno stepped in, and this naturally led to “Sleeps With Dogs.” From there I just listened to my customers (and my pets). They make requests and share ideas with me, so I am continually adding more sayings to the line.
How did you begin working with pet rescue groups?
Artists are frequently approached for donations to silent auctions. Since my work is pet themed, I was a natural for animal rescue groups. When I saw how successfully the pendants sold at an auction, it seemed only logical to structure a fundraising program so groups could benefit on an ongoing basis. Some of my favorite local groups are Angels Among Us, Good Mews, Snap-To-It, PAWS (DeKalb County) and Fur Kids.
What made you want to give back to your community?
I have a soft spot for the animals. They can’t fend for themselves, so it’s up to us. If I could adopt every stray I come across I would. But since I can’t, I rely on the rescue groups in our community who save these animals and connect them with forever homes. These non-profit groups selflessly work so hard and often for little recognition. The least I can do is help fund their programs so they continue to enrich our community and the lives of so many.
You have created a program to wholesale jewelry pieces to non-profit rescue groups to sell and keep profits. How did you come up with this concept?
Talking with staff at rescue groups to see what would work the best for them. My program actually has several options for a group so even if they don’t have staff to sell or take orders for pendants, they can still benefit by referring members to my website (www.annfinley.com). I donate 20 percent of any Barking Cat Jewelry purchase back to the rescue group who referred that customer. The only requirement is that the rescue group register with me.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The only constant I can depend on in my business is that it will continually change. This morsel came at a time when I was participating in one of my first wholesale shows, and learned that a supplier I was using would no longer be available. I remember being frantic until a seasoned artist at the show put life in perspective for me and reminded me that I could count on change.
What has been the best/most memorable achievement since beginning your career as a full-time artist?
While being on the cover of Sundance was a pretty awesome achievement, having the opportunity to visit shelters of the rescue groups I work with is very rewarding. It is nice to see firsthand how the funding is put to good use. My most memorable visit was to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.
What inspires you every day?
I use Facebook and often read updates and see pictures from rescue groups. Their ongoing need for funds to care for the animals motivates me. Also, the fact that a Barking Cat Jewelry pendant can raise funds and continue to help out when the wearer of it educates someone about pet adoption when they receive a compliment about the necklace. Word of mouth is a powerful thing and if my necklace can help save an animal’s life, I have succeeded.