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Business Advice Aka How Not To Eat Cat Food For Dinner


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#21 Mark C.

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Posted 15 January 2016 - 11:43 AM

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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#22 nancylee

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Posted 15 January 2016 - 01:06 PM

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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#23 Chris Campbell

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Posted 15 January 2016 - 03:19 PM

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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#24 JBaymore

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Posted 15 January 2016 - 03:53 PM

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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#25 Joseph F

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Posted 15 January 2016 - 04:02 PM

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.



#26 oldlady

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Posted 15 January 2016 - 04:08 PM



whatever you do, raise your prices. even a dollar extra is a dollar extra in your pocket.
"putting you down does not raise me up."

#27 bciskepottery

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Posted 15 January 2016 - 05:18 PM

With pet urns, just contact local veterinary hospitals and work with them.  Same for human urns, contact local funeral parlors and ask to have yours added to their selection.  Probably more than enough demand locally. 

 

Then, do work for your shows.  Use the urns as a base product with steady income and the shows for other things. 



#28 nancylee

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Posted 15 January 2016 - 07:01 PM

I love making urns, I ran a dog rescue for ten years, and I feel like dog and cat urns are a calling. I'll take a look at some places that sell them. Thanks,
Nancy
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#29 Chris Campbell

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Posted 15 January 2016 - 09:35 PM

I love making urns, I ran a dog rescue for ten years, and I feel like dog and cat urns are a calling. I'll take a look at some places that sell them. Thanks,
Nancy


Sounds like a perfect fit ... Instead of eating pet food, beloved pets could be providing a good living. There are a lot of sites for you to search for the price ranges before you set yours. Do your research before you contact them so you don't undersell yourself.
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#30 nancylee

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Posted 15 January 2016 - 09:45 PM

 

I love making urns, I ran a dog rescue for ten years, and I feel like dog and cat urns are a calling. I'll take a look at some places that sell them. Thanks,
Nancy


Sounds like a perfect fit ... Instead of eating pet food, beloved pets could be providing a good living. There are a lot of sites for you to search for the price ranges before you set yours. Do your research before you contact them so you don't undersell yourself.

 

Thanks, Chris. They do seem to go for a lot more than I charge on etsy. I'll do some more research this weekend. I appreciate it!

Nancy


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#31 JBaymore

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Posted 15 January 2016 - 11:11 PM

In general I have to say that potters are our own worst enemies in what we tend to charge for our work. 

 

With so many people undervaluing their efforts...... including some darn GOOD potters..... I think it affects the entire field.  De-values the medium in the public mind.

 

best,

 

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


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#32 Chilly

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Posted 16 January 2016 - 02:55 AM

Think of a price then double it.  It's much easier to reduce if they don't sell than to raise after word gets out that your items are cheaper than everyone else.


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#33 GEP

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Posted 16 January 2016 - 09:24 AM

In my travels, I see just as many overpricers as underpricers. Both are doing themselves a disservice, by guessing rather than being in tune with the marketplace. This is not a pervasive problem that is dragging all the potters down. Underpricers and overpricers only hurt themselves. Pottery fans will not buy your work because it is cheaper than the next potter's. But they also won't overpay for something they like. I see lots of potters who understand pricing and are doing it correctly. Modern working potters are pretty smart about this.

(If anything, overpricers are doing more damage, if they are overpricing in order to allow the customer to haggle them down to the "right" price. All that does is train wealthy customers to expect all prices to be negotiable. Ugh.)

John, I think you are basing your ideas solely on Warren Mackensie's "mingei-sota" attitude. Real working potters respect Mackensie for many things, but recognize that his pricing is not for everyone. He was a full-time teacher, therefore could afford to underprice his work and still put food on his table. He also dealt in high-volumes, and is worldwide famous. He is a unique individual, and does not represent how most potters work or think. I'm sure there are aspiring potters who try to emulate him, but those of us who make pots in the real world do not. (Go visit some high-quality art and craft shows this year, you might be pleasantly surprised!)

Chilly, your idea is not realistic either. Pottery fans travel from show to show and to different galleries. It's a small world. These people will notice if your prices are too high, and they will notice when you slash them in half. Going in the opposite direction is not a problem, as proven by oldlady's example. She jacked up her prices one day, and nobody minded! We are not selling toilet paper or gasoline, those pricing rules do not apply.

Don't underprice. Don't overprice. Take the time to figure out the value of your work in your marketplace, and price your work correctly.
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#34 JBaymore

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Posted 16 January 2016 - 01:06 PM

............................. being in tune with the marketplace.

 

Hum..........

 

Well first of all, I DO get around to exhibitions and "high quality" craft shows, and am reasonably well aware of people's pricing tendencies.  Not only from being a working potter for a long time (1972 start after college)....... but also because I am charged with the responsibility to teach new ceramists at the college level, and I HAVE to be well in touch with the field to do that well.  Professional responsibility.

 

So I am not "out of touch" with reality.

 

The "Minege-sota" concept was totally off-base in some sort of fantasy-land when the whole idea started to take hold in the USA.  You covered the core issues there well.  That whole philosophy did tons of pervasive damage to the field (I was a working potter back then and saw it firsthand),........ and for that impact I don't have great respect for Mackenzie.  Great potter.....great teacher of ceramic work... poor businessman and teacher of economics.  Living in some sort of utopian fantasyland that even Hamada and Shimaoka and the like were not.  The serious and widespread "in-your-face pervasiveness of that was 'a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away'.  It has diminished.  But the fallout is still there in a more subtle way. 

 

I am not "living in the past" relative to that situation.  I am living with the perspective of time looing AT that situation.

 

I think the key line in this discussion is the item I quoted above.  It is about the consumer's concept of perceived value.

 

You can't even begin to define the real meaning of that above quoted line until you establish what the general potential buying audience PERCIEVES is the "correct price" (in tune with the market).  The "correct price" is what they will pay for it, for sure.  But do the "correct market price" and the "core value" necessarily align?  This is where I see the problem lies.

 

What I am saying is that the "correct price" in the market at this point in time is too low to really allow ceramists to eventually make a decent living.  (So now we have to define the meaning of "decent".)

 

Yes.... you can "match" the current perceived value and sell, and sell many pieces of that object.  Many people do this.  If everyone is selling an XXXXXXXX for about..... $X.XX... then you do that too and you can and will sell them (assuming the quality is there).  But is this really doing the FIELD a service?   Or even yourself? 

 

Well... it might be if you are making a REALLY good living off of it (relative to your efforts).  But that does not fit most potters realities.  A huge portion of the ceramists who are managing to get "decent incomes" are working very, very long hours and beating up their bodies (a non-renewable and non-depreciable resource) in the process.

 

It would be fine if potters (or ceramic artists, or whatever we want to call people selling their work made of clay) were making a Net overall living that was commensurate with their skill levels and the hours of effort put into their professions when compared to the general public.  I get around nationally and internationally, I talk to people.  There are few that I have encountered, given how hard and long they work, that have incomes and equivalent benefits (like employer-paid health insurance) that align with the rest of general US society.  (Right now we are NOT talking about any additional income that comes from teaching, giving workshops, writing and selling books, consulting, and so on........ just selling ceramic art.)  

 

If you look at the typical incomes of people who are at the 'top of their game' in other professional fields, people with 20-30 years in the profession, (we'll leave out people who are a bit of outliers, like doctors and lawyers) when you combine their typical salaries and benefits, they typically are in the solid "middle class" economic realm.  A very good number are clearly in the upper middle class range.  A few certainly are getting into the top 5% of incomes. 

 

Having been in this field a LONG time, I know a lot of folks that make pots full time. I know a lot that make pots full time and ALSO teach part time and do other things to augment the income from pottery sales.  Some of them are what we might call "big names".  Many are "at the top of their game".  We talk. As far as making pots go, they typically work long hours, many have professional educations in their chosen field (as in "letters after their names") and they make good stuff.  VERY few make, after all expenses are deducted, Net Pre-Tax Incomes (the equivalent of getting a "salary" from an employer) on their ceramic sales that would afford them the same "lifestyle" as their professional equivalents in other fields. 

 

So... why is that? 

 

Well........ lots of pieces to that puzzle.  Of course art work is not a "necessity" to the buying public like food, shelter, heat, and the like.  But neither are a LOT of the things that people buy with their disposable income.  A huge amount of things are purchased because people feel that they enhance their lives.  They are willing to pay a certain amount for those things.  A certain segment of the population buys some "artwork".  Within that category, some buy ceramics.

 

One important factor here is that the "market price" that the public is WILLING to pay for a given type of artwork object and quality of object and the price that the potter would need to obtain for that object to have that above described level of Net Income don't necessarily work so well.  It is that comparison that I feel is very important to address for the future of the field.

 

One potential example:

 

I see people with work in National and International level juried exhibitions underpricing unbelievably.  Theoretically, this is "top quality" work... some of the best that they make.   Cream of the crop.  So what do I mean by this?

 

Entry fee $30.00.  Packing mats. to ship $20.00.  Shipping fee there $30.00 (shipping back if not sold, $30.00 more too!).  So just getting the piece into the show, not counting time and materials and other cost to MAKE and photograph the work itself, is coming to $80.00.  Then there is the 40% commission the exhibition takes from the sale price.  The work in the show is then priced something like only $200.00.  200 minus 80 minus 40% equals $40.00 back for the artist if it sells.  (And if the piece does not sell.... shipping back brings that down to $10.)

 

Now lets say that piece took 1 pound of clay and a few grams of glaze and a bit of firing costs. And only 1 hour to make.  So a  COG of about $5.00.  So the artist got a pre-tax net of $35.00 on that sale.  Being self-employed tax-wise, that is about the equivalent of $13.50 earned as an "employee" for that hour to make.  Opps.... we didn't count the time to photograph, pack, and so on!  That brings it down to McDonalds burger flipper wages. 

 

Yes, you can say getting "exposure" from the exhibition.  Well...yes...maybe.  But I see the same people doing the same kind of thing over and over. 

 

If you are happy to be a "top of your game" person making $13.50 an hour... well........ that is pretty low reward for your skills.  Right now..........that's below the level in most parts of the country to live on. (The whole Minimum Wage $15.00 an hour movement business.)  For perspective, Median Household Income in the US is about $52,000 a year.  For most, that # also does not include the addition of some form of health benefits (and maybe some other stuff). 

 

Some of this discussion has geographic context.  The Pew Research Center defines "middle class" as earning 67%-200% of your state's Median income level.  NH's Median  income level is about $65,000.  So here....... middle class is about $43,500 to $130,000.  In Alabama that Median Income is about $43,000.  So middle class there is about $28,800 to $86,000.

 

But within that geographical context... I bet that the pricing of ceramic works being sold is commensurately undervalued in the local market.  Meaning the price for a given type and quality of piece in Alabama will be lower than one in New Hampshire.....but both will be "low" compared to earning a solid middle class income for a "top of the game" ceramist. 

 

Go to a commercial US department store.  Look at the prices that the commercial manufacturers of ceramic wares (Noritake, etc.) charge for functional pieces of table ware.  Work that is produced en-masse mostly without the touch of a human hand and benefits from economies of scale.  How does that compare to the prices you typically see for handmade work?  Yeah,......

 

We undervalue our work all the time.

 

And, over time and repeated exposure, ........over and over and over....... this creates a subliminal message to the buying public about the "real value" of our handcrafted work.  It establishes the "norm" in their minds.  Perceived value.  If I go around to places and see mug after mug after mug priced at $20....... when I get to a store or a gallery and I see a mug priced at $40, I will instantly say to myself, "woah......expensive".  If I am a bit exceptional, I will look to see WHY this mug might be twice the price as what I've come to expect.  But for a lot of people, the term "expensive" will end the story.  It places a barrier that needs tobe overcome before any purchasing decisions. It has nothing to do with whether I can actually afford to spend $40... it is how I "position" that situation in my mind.  It is psychological.  Selling/marketing is heavily based in psychology.

 

But If I've been seeing mug after mug after mug at $40....... this new mug will get evaluated on its merits without the initial and involuntary off-putting "expensive" reaction. 

 

No... sorry Mea...... I stand strongly by my original statement:  Underpricing for our work hurts us all in the field.  And the better you are at this work..... the more that your underpricing hurts.  Not in the short term..... Bob's pots versus Jim's pots at a specific single show...... but in the larger "big picture" arena.

 

"A rising tide raises all ships".

 

best,

 

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


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Former Guest Professor, Wuxi Institute of Arts and Science, Yixing, China

Former President and Past President; Potters Council
 

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#35 Mark C.

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Posted 16 January 2016 - 01:13 PM

I agree with Gep on pricing it needs to work for both parties.
I think I have been more on the underpriced side
That said I know a upcoming potter who has been on the upper end of pricing and is struggling a bit in terms of sales.
The shows they have done are some of the best in the west but the sales have been on the weak side.
The work is top notch just in my view a bit to high priced.

I feel the price point needs to cover your expense and give you a profit but also needs to work for your customers so they can use it and buy more when needed. We are making items that people really can get by without so it has to work for both parties.
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#36 GEP

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Posted 16 January 2016 - 01:37 PM

"Entry fee $30.00. Packing mats. to ship $20.00. Shipping fee there $30.00 (shipping back if not sold, $30.00 more too!). So just getting the piece into the show, not counting time and materials and other cost to MAKE and photograph the work itself, is coming to $80.00. Then there is the 40% commission the exhibition takes from the sale price. The work in the show is then priced something like only $200.00. 200 minus 80 minus 40% equals $40.00 back for the artist if it sells. (And if the piece does not sell.... shipping back brings that down to $10.)"

John, using this type of exhibition as an example shows that you are maybe not in tune with working potters. Working potters do not do these types of exhibitions. Because we figured out there's no money here, after trying them once or twice. These shows have their place in the craft world, but not for working potters. The artists in these shows might be top-notch art-wise, but they are not practicing good business skills.

I don't like to be specific with income figures, but for the sake of this discussion, my gross sales in 2015 were $73k, with a net profit of $52k. That is a very comfortable existence, even in the DC metro area (well for someone for bought a house in the 1990s). I have health insurance and a well-funded retirement plan.

It can be done. Warren Mackensie hasn't held me back.
Mea Rhee
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#37 JBaymore

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Posted 16 January 2016 - 01:56 PM

John, using this type of exhibition as an example shows that you are maybe not in tune with working potters.

 

It was an easy and simple example.  I could use many others.  They'd be more complex to evaluate.  Similar stuff for "craft fairs".  But I think that rather than arguing... I'll just let what I've written above stand.  "Not in tune"......maybe so...maybe not.  Willing to say, "agree to disagree".

 

I will say that maybe you shouldn't automatically disparage the impact on public value perception that ALL venues selling ceramic work have on how the public reacts to pricing in other venues.  Many who buy from what I think is your definition of "working potters" (the implication there in that choice of wording appears the be that those who sell in other venues are not "working"?????) also look at / see various exhibitions/ gallery shows.

 

best,

 

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


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Former Guest Professor, Wuxi Institute of Arts and Science, Yixing, China

Former President and Past President; Potters Council
 

http://www.JohnBaymore.com

http://www.nhia.edu/...ty/john-baymore


#38 GEP

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Posted 16 January 2016 - 02:26 PM

I think a better example of a modern working potter's expense ratio is: spend about $1000 on a good show, including travel and lodging, then gross $5000 to $10000 in sales. Do that ten times a year. This is what I see with my own eyes. I'm ok with agreeing to disagree.

I don't mean to imply that "working potters" are working harder, I mean that when we treat our pottery practices like a job. A very good and rewarding job, but still a job. Not everybody wants this, but working potters are happy to do it.
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#39 MatthewV

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Posted 16 January 2016 - 02:43 PM

Student sales was part of my university's art program. The studio even took 50% to support paying for visiting artists. Really the commission was to be on a normal par with galleries and create realistic pricing. We were given some basic advice such as don't sell a bowl or mug for less than $20 and try to give an appropriate price. And if you weren't willing to sell your work, that was fine too.

 

After years of doing these sales, advertising became pretty easy and people lined up to be in first. Yes, beginner's mugs sold for $20-30. Fairbanks has created a community that values handmade work and the cost of doing it.

 

- - -

When I first started selling my own work it was at the twice a week market. I had a limited stock, was moving at the end of summer and no way to create more pottery. So every week I brought and packaged the same pieces with the same prices. The first week: nothing (well one but that is a long side story) sold and it was raining and miserable. The next week I have a few sales but not really enough to make it "worthwhile". At the end of the summer $150-250/day came my way and my last day was over $1000.

Then I moved to New Zealand. I had a full time job and wasn't willing to spend time selling. 

 

Now I am starting again and I see the same pattern. The first time people look. The second time they think about it. Two weeks later they will come to buy something. This means A) be patient and B) keep showing up! C) if you are worried that your prices are too high, put one selection on sale. Don't change the price tags to have a sale. "All mug $5 off this week"

To top it all off, the first time is hard. Packing pottery, putting prices on everything etc etc is hard work! After a few times it gets easier. The same box will start to have the padding materials fit your pieces and setup is just a matter of loading and unloading. The first market opportunity will be the most work for you and probably have the worst return.


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#40 Stephen

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Posted 16 January 2016 - 02:55 PM

Hi Nancy,

 

Just read through the thread and it sounds like you have some great advice to ponder. We are getting ready for the third season and from that I can tell you that the ramp up is by far the hard part and so many projects we really didn't see as the big time sinks they are.

 

The first year was basically no revenue dollars to speak of and about 20k in expenses (not counting building additional 300 feet of studio space and the previous a 15k or so of equipment. We bought lots of additional tools and supplies and made the 4-600 or so pieces that always stay in inventory as we organized. Just like someone who has to  go buy their opening inventory, as a full time business you will need to make yours. We have about 30ish forms and have 5-30 of each depending on how they are selling and that adds up faster than you think.

 

Probably more like 6-7k HAD to be spent to get things in motion and much of the rest was discretionary spending for additional studio equipment (we added 2 new wheels when we could have made 1 work for 1 1/2 people throwing) and we always have bought new figuring we would benefit from the extra longevity. Cutting this out and being frugal and buying the additional stuff you need used or only as you actually need it might make it where you don't need to actually front that much cash the first year but you do need to sit down and do some math because I bet you are going to need to spend at least some money in the transition and then fund the initial inventory. You could obviously just make between shows we but opted while prototyping to make inventory to start with. We live in the Northwest and the shows are spring until x-mas and some are bunched together and we didn't want lack of inventory to be an ongoing consideration when we look for shows.

 

We did get in a couple of shows the first year but mostly spent about 9 months doing this prototype and make process. It was busy too because you are setting everything up and just figuring out and outfitting your booth burns days of time researching and then incorporating. Our business spread-out too. When it was a glorified hobby it took over a 500 foot garage but as a business it needed another 300 foot of studio space and has consumed an additional 300 in our house so it really is  occupying over 1100 feet of space. This is a comfortable amount of space but again its just 1 1/2 potters.

 

I don't think its the money we spent as a takeaway but rather the huge time sink the transition from serious hobbyist to professional that needs to earn a living. If I had any worthwhile advice I would encourage you to sit down and list off everything single thing that in your view would need to be accomplished to be able to feel, in your own mind, in business as a professional artist.

 

This includes:

 

1) Opening slate of forms and at least a few in opening inventory.  

2) Resulting stock of studio equipment, clay & glaze materials and misc supplies to make these forms

3) Business organized (sole proprietor ship or llc) and all your paperwork figured out and organized for continuous routine operations.

4) Slate of shows (we did 9 last year and we are considering going back to 3 of those) 

 

With this list you can start to see where money will actually start flowing through to you having a paycheck and I think that's where reality hits so many. They spend months and money they don't have getting everything in motion and then when they hit that first round of shows they may be surprised that they have a whole string of shows where they only bank a marginal amount above the cost of doing the show. For me I thought when I was planning the 2nd year the solution would be to simply do more shows but it's really not that easy as we don't know the right shows and even ones that might grow into money makers like Mark C and GEP report are just in there first year so that 1500 show might be a 3000 or even 4000 show 4-5 years from now. We come out of every show with follow-up orders and interest. We also found ourselves at festival type events where folks are there to have fun and often party instead of buying art. Add to that the ones that turned out to be full of buy sell tables off cheap imports, most of the year was not spent making any money but rather learning the ropes.

 

This year we should do a little better picking the slate of shows so we are hopeful that we actually bank a few dollars above expenses. 

 

If you on the other hand did that entire list above and did a 6 show slate for a couple of years as you continued your full time job then in 24 months, when you are 57, you would have already absorbed all of the non-earning time sinks involved in transitioning to full time pottery and can simply sign up for more shows and not miss a beat. Out of the fist 12 shows you do that first 2 years part time may give 3 or 4 good shows to do your first year and that would be a huge victory.

 

I'd also try and decide if you really get the reality of making and selling $50,000 worth of pottery a year to earn a $25-30k salary. If you average around $25-30 a piece then you will be making about 3000 pieces of pottery for a full season. Probably a 5th of it will not make it to the booth or will not sell and remain in inventory at the end of the year and you will have to pay 15% of that salary into payroll taxes.

 

Either way, good luck. Shows and traveling and seeing new places is fun and handmade pottery customers are the best. I really think they have no problem paying reasonable prices and I think most handmade buyers do have an opinion on what they think is reasonable in their area. We cater to the $22 mug, $45 mixing bowl type crowd which I think is middle of the road and seems to be the right range for the buyers that get the whole thing to start with. Not everyone can afford to hire a pro to sit down and throw a mug just for them.






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