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nancylee

Business Advice Aka How Not To Eat Cat Food For Dinner

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nancylee    30

I put this on a thread I had started, but decided to start another one in the business section. I have some business questions.


 


I can retire in one year, with a crappy pension. My husband has a good pension, but if he dies before me, it goes with him and I eat cat food. I have to be practical, but I also have to take a good look at my lifestyle, the time I now have to make things and my health.


 


I took a year sabbatical two years ago: I was happy and healthy, lost 20 pounds and was busy every day making stuff. Since going back to work, I only create on the weekends and breaks. I leave my house in the dark, around 6:30, and get home around 5PM in the dark this time of year. Ugh. I have no energy to go to either my art or jewelry studio. I try, but I just can't get myself motivated to make things after an 11 hour day. (I'm not 45 anymore!) 


 


I do understand what hitchmss said in the other thread: to make up the money between my salary and what my pension will be I will have to make a lot of stuff I don't care about. Even production work, which is why I asked about how to keep it interesting last week. But when I think of getting up every morning, into my car, to live my life by the school bell (and I'm on my lunch now, taxpayers, so don't worry!) and then compare that to making some things each day that I'm not crazy about, it seems to be an easy choice. 


 


I will have health insurance for life at the price I pay for it now if I retire next year, so that is a plus. I love to teach, so I can see myself teaching eventually, except for three things: I live in a very unpopulated area, there is already an excellent pottery teacher in our area (my teacher!) and I would need several more years of doing this every day to be good enough to teach. (I do plan to move to a more civilized area when I sell my home.) I do know I can teach, as I have taught for 25 years and have taught my daughter and her friends both jewelry making and how to throw on a wheel and was surprised by how similar it is to teaching anything else. They seemed to really pick it up, and do well, although that may because they are all artists in college for art. 


 


How would you go about making a plan?? How much to make, what to make, where to sell it, shows, etc? I do realize much of this is has been out there already, and is also individual and trial and error, but any knowledge you may have gleaned about essentials to make this work would be much appreciated! 


 


Thanks,


Nancy


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GEP    863

Not a pottery business answer, but how much will Social Security make up the difference between your salary and your pension? 

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nancylee    30

Not a pottery business answer, but how much will Social Security make up the difference between your salary and your pension? 

I'm only 55 next year, so nothing. 

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GEP    863

When you spent a year sabbatical feeling happy, healthier, and busy making work, were you making money?

 

Edited to add:

 

If yes, then whatever you were doing that year is where you should start.

 

If no, then you might have the wrong impression that running a pottery business for profit will feel like a sabbatical. It's anything but. I'm typing this as I procrastinate from going down to the basement, where I have about 6 hours of throwing to do today.

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JBaymore    1,432

I know you probably already looked into this, but are you SURE that your husband's pension plan has no "survivor's benefits" at all?  That is a bit rare, I think.

 

Also, should he pass away, you will have the survivor's benefits for HIS Social Security also available to you at some point.  So don't forget to take that into account in your planning.

 

There is no way around it, starting a small business and getting it to a profitable stage is a multi-year process.  No matter WHAT the field that is.  SO being a potter or a jeweler or a XXXXXXX is going to be no different.  The unfortunate truth is that as far as businesses go, those involved in the arts are even harder to get going.... because we are selling stuff that is not a necessity to people's lives.

 

Standard practice is that you have to plan to LOSE money for a certain period of time before the spreadsheet will stop showing red ink.  That means that you should have start-up capital amassed in the bank (beyond living expenses) that will sustain the business until it becomes profitable.

 

Check out the US Small Business Alliance resources for help in you planning.  And Mea has some excellent stuff she hass published that documents her journey.

 

Don't want to be a total "Negative Nelly" .....it can be done....... but you really w ill need to get the "ducks in a row" before you jump into the deep water.

 

We tell our students this kind of stuff also.  This is not "news" to them when they get out.  They know it is hard, and that it has to be run like a business.  And that only those that are "driven" to make it work will make it work.

 

best,

 

.....................john

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rayaldridge    276

Nancy, since I'm not making a living as a potter, perhaps I should not be offering advice.  But once upon a time I did, and so I'll blather on a bit on the subject, for whatever it's worth. 

 

I'm not sure that making stuff you're not that interested in is a realistic plan for someone who hopes to develop significant income as an artist.  The art field is so competitive that if you're not that interested in what you make, you may find that customers are not that interested in buying what you make.  Some folks can do this, I know, but they are an exception, in my opinion.  I believe that at some visceral level, customers can tell how much passion is in a piece.

 

I think it might be a better idea to decide what it is that you really like to make, and then try to locate a market for that sort of thing.  May I ask where in NY you are?  We have a place in St. Lawrence County, way way north, and it's pretty rural.  On the other hand,  NYC is a very large and sophisticated market not that far away.

 

Another factor to consider is the wear and tear on your body from full-time potting.  I'm no longer young, and it would be impractical for me to produce the volume of ware that I did in my 20s and 30s.  I've chosen to put most of my time into a niche market, producing mostly stuff that doesn't require either large amounts of raw materials, or large amounts of physical labor.  As an example, I threw the components for a half-dozen effigy pipes yesterday afternoon, and today I'll spend several hours putting them together.  (I'll also spend some time throwing soup bowls, because if all I made were high-end pipes, it would take me a month to fill up a kiln-- and also because I really enjoy making bowls, although I don't make a lot of money on them.)  The reasons I've chosen this niche are many, but include the fact that there is very little competition from potters who are more skilled than I am.  And in large part this is why I find making them so fascinating; almost no one else is doing it.  The possibilities for original work, as a consequence, seem unlimited.

 

Finally, I'll say that when I was a production potter going to shows every weekend, I really envied the jewelers.  They could put out a table, flip open a case, and they were in business.  And no one ever said of them, "Hey, Mabel, come see what this hippie is making outta dirt."

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Mark C.    1,797

Jewelry is the hardest item to jury into a show as there are more jewelers than just about any other craft.

I never say to myself gee I have to go make things I do not like so as Ray says this may not be your thing

I have a few hobby potter friends who cannot make anything but what they want to and they never make much money at those one of a kind sales .

They are terrified about any production order so they avoid it like the plague.

They are not cut out to be full time potters -which is more than fine as they play with clay.

Ray said it well that we production folks are the exception .

I know what I need to make and make that which is mind set that many just do not want to have.

Starting out is a hard deal and this will take time no matter what path you take.

It took me decades to become really good at this business and thats what it is -a business.

(i'm doing the bookkeeping now and I'm neck deep in reports)

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nancylee    30

When you spent a year sabbatical feeling happy, healthier, and busy making work, were you making money?

 

Edited to add:

 

If yes, then whatever you were doing that year is where you should start.

 

If no, then you might have the wrong impression that running a pottery business for profit will feel like a sabbatical. It's anything but. I'm typing this as I procrastinate from going down to the basement, where I have about 6 hours of throwing to do today.

I haven't ever made money doing pottery, but I was making pottery every day. I was also making cakes for people, so I was working 12 hour days. 

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nancylee    30

I know you probably already looked into this, but are you SURE that your husband's pension plan has no "survivor's benefits" at all?  That is a bit rare, I think.

 

Also, should he pass away, you will have the survivor's benefits for HIS Social Security also available to you at some point.  So don't forget to take that into account in your planning.

 

There is no way around it, starting a small business and getting it to a profitable stage is a multi-year process.  No matter WHAT the field that is.  SO being a potter or a jeweler or a XXXXXXX is going to be no different.  The unfortunate truth is that as far as businesses go, those involved in the arts are even harder to get going.... because we are selling stuff that is not a necessity to people's lives.

 

Standard practice is that you have to plan to LOSE money for a certain period of time before the spreadsheet will stop showing red ink.  That means that you should have start-up capital amassed in the bank (beyond living expenses) that will sustain the business until it becomes profitable.

 

Check out the US Small Business Alliance resources for help in you planning.  And Mea has some excellent stuff she hass published that documents her journey.

 

Don't want to be a total "Negative Nelly" .....it can be done....... but you really w ill need to get the "ducks in a row" before you jump into the deep water.

 

We tell our students this kind of stuff also.  This is not "news" to them when they get out.  They know it is hard, and that it has to be run like a business.  And that only those that are "driven" to make it work will make it work.

 

best,

 

.....................john

Hi John,

Thanks for the response - yes, I'm sure it doesn't survive him. It's a disability pension, and he picked the option that doesn't outlive you because you get more each month. 

I think the Small Business Alliance is a good place for me to start. I know that teaching longer is better financially, but I can't make enough work to sell at a consistent level while working. That is what I am going to have to decide: at what point do I pull the plug and do this full time? 

Thank you,

Nancy

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nancylee    30

Jewelry is the hardest item to jury into a show as there are more jewelers than just about any other craft.

I never say to myself gee I have to go make things I do not like so as Ray says this may not be your thing

I have a few hobby potter friends who cannot make anything but what they want to and they never make much money at those one of a kind sales .

They are terrified about any production order so they avoid it like the plague.

They are not cut out to be full time potters -which is more than fine as they play with clay.

Ray said it well that we production folks are the exception .

I know what I need to make and make that which is mind set that many just do not want to have.

Starting out is a hard deal and this will take time no matter what path you take.

It took me decades to become really good at this business and thats what it is -a business.

(i'm doing the bookkeeping now and I'm neck deep in reports)

 

Hi Mark,

What I meant is that I am sure there are some things that I will have to make that I don't love making, like the mugs with handles I posted about the other day. But I am not a prima donna - I know that there are some parts of every job that are not wonderful, and it's a balance - what can you live with, what do you like and what do you love? I am tired of being a slave to the bell - and the 6:30AM car trip. Making something I'm not in love with making sounds like it's a lot less stressful to me that what I do every day. 

 

I also don't look down on making things people use. I like making practical items that people will live with every day. On my days off, I've been spending 8 to 10 hours making pottery, and I'm not stressed, unhappy or overwhelmed. I feel good and I sleep well. (And this is after a work week.) I know it takes years, which is why I need to get my ducks in a row ASAP. I don't have years to spare anymore! 

Thanks,

Nancy

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GEP    863

I haven't ever made money doing pottery, but I was making pottery every day.

This doesn't quite make sense to me. If you made pots every day for a year, and now you spend your off days making pots, what happens to the pots? Are you selling them for prices that are not profitable? Or are they piling up?

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nancylee    30

 

I haven't ever made money doing pottery, but I was making pottery every day.

This doesn't quite make sense to me. If you made pots every day for a year, and now you spend your off days making pots, what happens to the pots? Are you selling them for prices that are not profitable? Or are they piling up?

 

By making money, I assumed you meant was I making a profit?

 

I sell some on etsy, some in some small shows I've done. I give a lot of them away to family, and have a lot hanging around. I mostly sell urns and mugs. So I have made them, sold some, but not made a profit. I haven't really been businesslike with this, with a P&L statement, etc., so I am assuming that at best I have broken even. 

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rakukuku    122

There is a book called "Your Money or Your Life"  that is about how to get out of the work world and live better. It was written in the 70's but is still good. Tells how to make a plan for getting away from your job.  I followed the advice and was able to quit my "real" job at age 50. There is a similar book called "You don't need to be a millionaire to retire" or something like that. 

 

By law, in most cases there should be a survivor's benefit on your husbands pension unless you waived the right to it - at least in the USA. check it out.     gl   rakuku

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Chris Campbell    1,083

Upstate New York ... you have a car? you have Internet? ... then you have the ability to sell.

There are fair sized cities all around you ... you don't have to head into the Big Apple.

 

First thing I would do is figure out a realistic budget.

What are your fixed costs for raw materials, utilities, rent, food etc.

How much $$$ shortfall do you really need to make up?

 

Then look at your work pricing minus costs ... both pottery and jewelry. How much of it would you have to make to get the income you need?

Assuming you can sell at least 50% of it regularly ... can you produce enough work on a steady basis to keep to this income level?

 

Other questions ... is there a possibility of being a supply teacher part time as you start out? This could take the 'do or die' pressure off.

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rayaldridge    276

Thinking about this during breaks from putting stuff together, it occurred to me that most folks don't enjoy making certain forms if they feel they aren't good at it.  I love making mugs, but if I felt that my mugs were not very good, I might feel differently about making them.

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GEP    863

That is what I am going to have to decide: at what point do I pull the plug and do this full time?

Not until you know there is a viable market/demand for your pottery. If your pension + unexpected loss of your husband = financial hardship, then you really do not have the luxury to quit a good paying job cold turkey. It sounds like you DO have enough time and energy to make pots while working full-time. You need to allocate some of this time towards business development. You CAN do this while working full-time.

 

You are currently doing small-time sales, etsy and small shows. My suggestion is to challenge yourself to do a medium or large show this summer. This experience will give you a lot of data to help you decide if and when to quit your job.

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Mark C.    1,797

I to like Geps suggestions above

I would keep the job for some more years while you transition into the other markets

You could do a larger summer (time off) show and make that work during the year build the experience while working longer

Which helps your pension as well

The dead husband deal is a pie in the sky for now thing unless you plan on knocking him off for insurance money

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nancylee    30

I to like Geps suggestions above

I would keep the job for some more years while you transition into the other markets

You could do a larger summer (time off) show and make that work during the year build the experience while working longer

Which helps your pension as well

The dead husband deal is a pie in the sky for now thing unless you plan on knocking him off for insurance money

LOL! No, I don't plan on knocking him off, but he was disabled by 9/11 clean-up (he was a NYC firefighter) so I do keep that in the back of my mind. 

I applied to a few shows already for the summer/fall. I may add one more. 

Thanks!

Nancy

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nancylee    30

Upstate New York ... you have a car? you have Internet? ... then you have the ability to sell.

There are fair sized cities all around you ... you don't have to head into the Big Apple.

 

First thing I would do is figure out a realistic budget.

What are your fixed costs for raw materials, utilities, rent, food etc.

How much $$$ shortfall do you really need to make up?

 

Then look at your work pricing minus costs ... both pottery and jewelry. How much of it would you have to make to get the income you need?

Assuming you can sell at least 50% of it regularly ... can you produce enough work on a steady basis to keep to this income level?

 

Other questions ... is there a possibility of being a supply teacher part time as you start out? This could take the 'do or die' pressure off.

Thanks, Chris,

Did you mean "substitute" teacher part time? Yes, I could do that. I wouldn't want to , but I could. I like your suggestion to create a real budget, including rent, etc. And then do the figuring that you said.

A friend said to me that there are two ways to save money: make more and save that, or live on less. I don't really need a lot to live happily: some clay, some metal, good music and time. 

Nancy

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nancylee    30

I know I asked this before, but I can't find it because it's an older thread. For a show of, say, 5000, what quantity would you bring of the items you make in particular? I generally make urns (which I don't think I'd make a lot of for shows, as they are usually bought when an animal dies,) mugs, bowls, bird feeders, spoon rests, bird houses, etc. 

 

Thanks,

Nancy

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Mark C.    1,797

I would try to get into a larger show with better attendance than many  smaller mom and pop shows

As to what to take -take all you can-you need to learn this by doing it-none of us can answer what will work for you.

I still think you should keep your job as long as you can until you can do a large summer show and feel you have it dialed.

I realize you may not want to hear this.

 

One last note 

The dry cat food is easier to eat and cheaper than the wet canned food

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nancylee    30

I would try to get into a larger show with better attendance than many  smaller mom and pop shows

As to what to take -take all you can-you need to learn this by doing it-none of us can answer what will work for you.

I still think you should keep your job as long as you can until you can do a large summer show and feel you have it dialed.

I realize you may not want to hear this.

 

One last note 

The dry cat food is easier to eat and cheaper than the wet canned food

Thanks, Mark!!! I'll stock up on the dry.

 

I just found the old thread where I asked how much to bring - thanks! 

Nancy

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Chris Campbell    1,083

I know I asked this before, but I can't find it because it's an older thread. For a show of, say, 5000, what quantity would you bring of the items you make in particular? I generally make urns (which I don't think I'd make a lot of for shows, as they are usually bought when an animal dies,) mugs, bowls, bird feeders, spoon rests, bird houses, etc. 

 

Thanks,

Nancy

Oh gosh ... You should have mentioned pet urns!

There is a very large market for pet urns ... Google "pet urns" and contact the companies to find out how they accept new work. You might get a good little business going from the comfort of your home especially if you are willing to do custom work ... e.g. Pets name, stamped image etc. A lot of people spend more to bury their pets than their relatives.

If you are not squeamish about mixing pet ashes into your clay, there is also a market for that type of customizing. ( No, not all the ashes ... just a teaspoon or so.)

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JBaymore    1,432

Also human urns. (If you can deal with that.)  People pay big bucks for them.  Even the "commercial" garbage.

 

From my point of view... it is about 'niche marketing' as the key to 'making it work' without beating up you body totally.  Make less... higher prices.  Find a niche that has demand and that you can figure out how to reach.  Then fulfill the need there for something unique and different.  What's that saying.... "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door ".

 

best,

 

...................john

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Joseph F    865

I like the advice about urns. I imagine you get in with a few specialty places and you probably have your work cutout for you.

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