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nancylee

Business Advice Aka How Not To Eat Cat Food For Dinner

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Great post from Mike. I would only add that doing shows is something that we find to be very enjoyable. Highlights a great point though, there are different ways to make and sell those 3000 or so pieces of pottery and how you decide to do it will also decide your lifestyle to a very large extent so I would think that part through pretty thoroughly. At the end of the day this is going to be your new job and you will often be doing it in 10-12 hours stretches. There are plenty of full time potters making a good living just doing shows once they find the right shows and product mix. Likewise running a retail operation with a team of potters might be ur thing as it is Mike's.

 

I do wish you the best, it's exciting taking time in life to shake things up and rearrange your life to better match what you want it to be.

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this works because you're making pots for the market and not to gratify your own desires as an artist -- Mike

 

decide if you really get the reality of making and selling $50,000 worth of pottery a year to earn a $25-30k salary -- Stephen

 

 

^ I do a slight amount of business consulting and have talked to  several potters and a few crafters and these are two things that I find to be dilemmas to success.   To be honest I haven't got past an initial one hour (free) consultation with any potter or crafter because I know they will never get past those two issues and the financial investment/cash flow.  I haven't taken any of them on as clients because they are not open to changing their product line or the production reality.  As Stephen pointed out ... 3K of pots to make a living.   I've also found  they can't get a grip on their prices.   They are either priced so low, they are not covering fixed and variable costs OR they overcompensate  with high prices so they "get paid for their time".

The financial investment and lack of income during the two to three year start up time are also deal killers.

 

Good luck.  I don't see many people make it in this business but hopefully you will.

 

(I have a 6 figure plus jewelry business and a 6 figure plus pottery business.  Started pottery in October 2010 and jewelry in February 2012.  6 employees)

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There are two general categories of ways to make a business in XXXXXXXXXX work (insert whatever art medium you like there for the X-s):

 

1.)  Make what the market wants and sell it.

 

2.)  Make what you want to make and find the market for it to sell it to.

 

 

#1 above is the more standard business model "tried and true" approach.  If you've done your homework well on establishing that there is a demand, it can work very well (if you have basic business skills).  It is customer focused.  Of the two approaches I mention above... it is the easier to get to work well.  Find a demand, and then fill it.  In some ways.... simple.

 

#2 above is not typically how more non-art mainstream businesses get started.  (i.e.- I'm not suddenly going to go make widgets for a non-existent car and then try to find a market for them.)  It is a very "niche" driven approach.  It is artist focused.  And it requires serious understanding that there IS a market available, and understanding the size of that market, before you can go that route. 

 

In both cases, you then have to have the where-with-all to get your product in front of that market.  You have to "market position" the product correctly within that market.  Both require having identified that market well, and an understanding of that market.  Both require basic business skills (i.e. - understanding how to analyze the success of the business, marketing, sales, and so on).  Both require drive and commitment (Entrepreneurs work hard!)  Both require appropriate capitalization to tend to assure the business's survival beyond the first couple of years.

 

Some people try to "blend" both aspects.  Tony Clennel's "Some and Some"  (some for the easier market and some for the artist's soul).

 

best,

 

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

 

EDIT:  DirtRoads... I wrote the above while you were writing.  Good stuff. 

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Thanks you all for the very generous advice! Mike, I appreciate all of the information you shared with me. The only issue is I don't know how to do market research! I had a store once and after the opening, I hired someone to do market research which was expensive and complicated. Are you talking about that kind of research, or hitting the pavement, going to funeral homes, vets, etc.? And I have an Instagram and Facebook that I link to etsy, but haven't gotten sales this way yet.

Again, I'm absorbing all,of the, and taking notes. It's very nice of you all to help me.

Nancy,

 

I would not spend a penny on professional market researchers. The type of research I'm thinking of is much more simple than that. For example, let's say you think making urns, specifically pet urns is what you want to do. You might make 6 to 12 different urns, and call some local vets. Explain what you are trying to do-research not sales. Ask them if you could set up a small table in their waiting room one Saturday and bring your urns. Bring a questionnaire and ask folks what they think about the urns, how they use them, color preference, etc. And, collect demographic data too. Prepare your questions carefully. After 2 or 3 Saturday's you will see patterns emerging. Follow the patterns.

 

What you might find is that some people will want to buy, some vets may want to carry your line wholesale. All of this is gravy, and will jump start your business.

 

Offer everyone a free pet ornament or some small piece of pottery if they fill out your survey and join your email list. This opens up your email channel. You'll need this to save on marketing dollars down the road. Remember everyone there has a pet and pets don't live forever. You want to be there to comfort them when they need you.

 

Maybe you like sculpting or scraffitto as an artist, build this into your surface design so you get your artistic jolt while serving the market.

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Great post from Mike. I would only add that doing shows is something that we find to be very enjoyable. Highlights a great point though, there are different ways to make and sell those 3000 or so pieces of pottery and how you decide to do it will also decide your lifestyle to a very large extent so I would think that part through pretty thoroughly. At the end of the day this is going to be your new job and you will often be doing it in 10-12 hours stretches. There are plenty of full time potters making a good living just doing shows once they find the right shows and product mix. Likewise running a retail operation with a team of potters might be ur thing as it is Mike's.

 

I do wish you the best, it's exciting taking time in life to shake things up and rearrange your life to better match what you want it to be.

Stephen...

 

I'm not trying to diss on shows, they are wonderful tools. But remember, they are tactical tools and should be one of 6 or 8 in your marketing program. Every tool should be evaluated on the numbers, not on how it makes you feel. If it performs, good. If it performs at the top of the game, keep it. But, never hesitate to discard under performing tools for better performing tools. Hammering nails with Bobby pins may sound cute, but it's heck on your hands.

 

Now some Potter's do quiet well with shows-fine. We have one line that does terrible at shows, but it rocks on social media. Our artistic line is exactly the opposite. How you approach a market segment (channel) is just as important as what you approach it with (product).

 

Also, most Potter's want a personal income flow, that's beautiful. I get a that. But, I've seen some amazing talent come and go because they didn't have any market focus. And that personal income was lost. Just a little change in perspective and it's scary how far most Potter's could go. Almost all y'all have a billion times the talent I have. I am so humbled by the beautiful things you create.

 

I wish I hand a fraction of your talent and skill at the wheel...

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Hey Mike,

 

Yeah they are fun and we like to spend an extra few days exploring, so there's that as well. Congratulations on everything, sounds like you are hitting it out of the park. I know you have worked hard and taken a lot of risks to get where you are. I'm a part timer in the business but it is a full time gig for the artist. She transitioned from a corporate position and is just not choosing that pace for her work. How she feels about it all, how I feel about what I do in the business is the whole ball game for us, seriously. We spent probably 25-30 grand we didn't need to just to have the best equipment and the right space to work in. I personally feel that anyone here can strike a balance and find forms they enjoy making, at the pace they like making it and can find customers that will buy BUT it takes patience and lots of effort and its going to call for some give and take in deciding exactly what you want out of life and just tailor the business milestones to suit those goals.

 

Even in our emotional approach though there is a business side to pottery and she and I understand this and the business is run properly. I actually could list off all kinds of numbers about the production and sales efforts from last year because I love that stuff.

 

I do get the eye roll when I start calling the work units :-)

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nancy, thank you for bringing this up again.  i had not finished the entire thing when it first appeared and today i read it all.

 

can you tell us what you have been doing lately?  the pet urn idea seems like a winner, something you like to do and a business that can work anywhere you might choose to live.  there are pets everywhere and veterinarians all over so the possibilities seem unlimited.

 

i had an idea last fall but did nothing about it because of timing and fear of success.  there are many specialty magazines catering to people who do all kinds of things.  one i checked out was for chicken owners.  the potential market was the 70,000 subscribers to the magazine.  the item would be a gift with a chicken featured somehow.  if i remember correctly, the percentage of responses to a random advertising mailing was considered good if 1% responded.  so i thought if i could reach that 1% with an advertisement cost of $175 for december, i might sell 700 small items that way.  it was too scary for right then so i filed it away with the rest of the get-rich-quick schemes stored way back in my head.

 

what if you took out an ad for your urns in a pet magazine after building up a pile of stock to supply the buyers?  there are tons of them, dogs only, cats only, etc.

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nancy, thank you for bringing this up again.  i had not finished the entire thing when it first appeared and today i read it all.

 

can you tell us what you have been doing lately?  the pet urn idea seems like a winner, something you like to do and a business that can work anywhere you might choose to live.  there are pets everywhere and veterinarians all over so the possibilities seem unlimited.

 

i had an idea last fall but did nothing about it because of timing and fear of success.  there are many specialty magazines catering to people who do all kinds of things.  one i checked out was for chicken owners.  the potential market was the 70,000 subscribers to the magazine.  the item would be a gift with a chicken featured somehow.  if i remember correctly, the percentage of responses to a random advertising mailing was considered good if 1% responded.  so i thought if i could reach that 1% with an advertisement cost of $175 for december, i might sell 700 small items that way.  it was too scary for right then so i filed it away with the rest of the get-rich-quick schemes stored way back in my head.

 

what if you took out an ad for your urns in a pet magazine after building up a pile of stock to supply the buyers?  there are tons of them, dogs only, cats only, etc.

Good morning,

I am kind of in the same boat as you are - i have a crazy busy vet near me they said I could hang a flyer with my urns, or I could do a Facebook ad like someone here told me, but what if I get a ton or orders? I still have trouble throwing over 3 pounds, plus I still work full time. So i haven't done anything but add a shopify stand along site to etsy.

I am tying my work into my spiritual practice, which is shamanism. Lots of power animals, etc. i have been handbuilding a lot more, took an animal sculpture lesson. I just never have time. It is the one thing i wish i had more of. I did apply to, and got into, a pretty big show near me, so i have to make stuff for that. I'm making Keepsake Urns, colorful, for all occasions: births, marriage, graduations, deaths. I can sell them at a show as is. I have been making medicine bags to go with some of these urns if they want it. So I am slowly puloing all of my passions together.

The chicken idea is good. Find a niche. My friends rescues ferrets, and tells me she know hundreds of ferret owners who would love a handbuilt ferret bath house! I just can't even explore that right now. Another woman on etsy wanted to give up her niche of making discs for canning - she did 3 or 4 thiusand a year in just that. I still make some jewelry, too, so I am working on incorporating that into the pottery, too.

The amazing thing is that I was really liking silversmithing more, but I fell back in love with clay - i think it is the connection with Mother Earth that gets me. I just have to be able to center again. :)

I have you phone number still - would you still want to talk!

 

Nancy

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Yes, thanks NancyLee for getting this thread going again.  I made a presentation to two third grade classes this week about Supply and Demand and Consumer and Producer.  I am a retired school employee who started a business after retirement.  My friend the third grade teacher said the students thought all businesses were BIG businesses (Walmart, large ranches, etc.)  I was impressed with what had already been taught.  The students' questions were thoughtful.  "what happens when you don't sell everything, do you mark it down?" (Blue light special)  "how much inventory do you have for a show?"  "do you make seasonal items?"  It was a good conversation and it made me think about what I am doing and the changes I have made in the last 4 years. 

 

There is a new shop opening here in my small town.  A kitchen shop.  The new owner approached me about carrying some of my work.  I was there the day she got a HUGE order of melamine dinnerware.  We did not discuss terms, wholesale, commission, or anything else, it was merely a passing conversation.   But that HUGE order of melamine stuck in my brain.  I cannot compete, nor do I want to compete, with melamine.  So, I think that is some of what I have learned, I have a better idea of where my venues will be, the places that I will be able to sell my work and actually make money.  Oh, and did I mention have fun doing it???  :rolleyes:

 

Roberta

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sure, but i do not have a cell phone.  if i am in the studio i cannot hear it so leave a message with a time to call back and a number.  it is not a cell phone.

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Stick with me, I’ll get to the pottery for profit part:

 

I spent time during cold weather watching several Youtube videos on Day in the life of an artist.

Only found one on Day in the life of a Potter. There were a couple good videos featuring pottery in a

hand crafted series. The potters bio info and inspiration for creating plus some techniques unique to each artist is always fascinating, however the business aspect usually isn’t covered.

 

Perhaps someone could produce a video on A Year in the Life of a Studio Potter emphasizing the materials, space, equipment, hard work, and marketing realities of being a profitable production potter.

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Well, I just checked out the link to the NH Times geo-economic strata analyzer (it's in John B.'s post 1/16/16 in this thread) and apparently I must either move to Flint, MI to really stretch my dollars and crawl a bit higher up from the bottom (ain't happenin'), or I must become williing to get my protein from Kitty Krunch (would not exempt that from consideration), if I want to keep this clay adventure going. :rolleyes:   

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Profitable production pottery ....

Work.

You work as long as interns in any field.

You fail, you succeed, you learn, you move on.

You take victories where you find them because the hard lessons find you.

And yes, if you love it, it's just the best!

Yes, failure sure does find you! Just rejected for the second year in a row from a big show people say I MUST get into! This is the kind of thing that makes me realize i will not be retiring from teaching any time soon, which makes it very hard to get better at the craft. And, yes, i get rejected from small shows, too. There are just so many hours in a day, and home at 5, dinner, grading papers, maybe an hour or so of pottery, bed at midnight, up at 6. Weekends often traveling to my elderly mother's 5 hours away.

I'm exhausted. So when another rejection comes, i just want to go lie down and never look at clay or jewelry again.

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@nancylee               "Just rejected...get rejected...another rejection...".       I don't see not getting into a show, exhibit, or similar venue the same as being "rejected". That may be more "feeling" than "fact".  The fact is, there is only so much space and many factors come into play when filling those slots.  If criteria/standards need to be better met, so be it...that's what everyone has to do to work their way up the food chain (assuming there is no bribery or other potent favortism rigging the process LOL). I think we (in this case, artists) are at times too hard on ourselves, based on the perceived approval of external entities or the measurable rise in income and recognition. Then again, a properly made NY strip beats cat food anyday, so we just keep on truckin'. 

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nancy, are you entering these shows with 2 different entries, one ceramic and one jewelry?  some shows will not let you combine the two and almost all shows have too many jewelry entries to take anyone new without some special, startling, marvelous difference from the other hundred jewelry entries trying to get into the show.

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