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Whether you are selling pizzas or pottery it is crucial to realize that you are running a business and therefore need to act like it.

MAKE A PLAN! Yes, I am yelling. You cannot reach Hawaii by wandering west and not knowing there is an ocean in the way. Please don't  just wander around making costly mistakes.

READ UP ... Research ...  just Google the topic and get advice on how to run a crafts based business which is about the same as running any small business.

GO TO A CLASS ... many community colleges have classes on running a small business, the Arts Business Institute has regular weekend workshops that will save you from years of mistakes. Many, many websites or blogs offer excellent advice on running a crafts business.  This site offers a ton of advice for those willing to understand that the advice is meant for them ... they are not a special exception to the boring work. Read or listen and learn.

Right now is a fabulous time to be making a handmade product if you know what you are doing and marketing yourself properly.  As more 'connected' people tire of the lack of personal contact in their daily lives home shows and studio shows are gaining popularity. People want the story ... they want the personal connection ... yes, they want a part of the dream that is "a life of creativity" .... they need items of consequence and to share the story with friends.

Other Crafts are recognizing this and feeding the need. Even the foodie world is going to extremes to give them an excellent story to go with their meal.

So, take yourself seriously. Do the work. Plan your attack for the long run of 5-8 years building a client base. It will pay off.

I invite you to start here with my website, then continue on to others ...

http://www.ccpottery.com/marketing_your_work_to_gall.html

 

 

 

aperhapshand and Benzine like this

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Chris is right

Never been a better time to have a quality handmade product to sell.The business of functional wares has never been better.

My sales are all up the past years. Very few folks making an effort to fill my shoes so the market has space for many others.

The planning is key.

I also say take a class -U-tube is not a class. In ceramics the personal learning -asking questions and hands on education is key

Plan on it taking at least 5 -10 years to gain traction.

Edited by Mark C.

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Glad to hear this is true for others also.  I'm way up also. 

Past month in particular has been really, really nice!

Amen to the "Youtube is not a class" comment, Mark.  A number of the professors now at my college worked for a major online "university" at one point.  The stories they tell about the dilution of quality and expectations are appalling.  They are 'back in the classroom" for a reason.

And probably the MOST important aspect of this stuff about "business" is Chris' comment about, "Plan your attack for the long run of 5-8 years building a client base. It will pay off. "    I don't care if you are "god's gift to clay".... you are not going to have a successful business overnight. 

It is easy to be successful at ceramics.  All it takes is a lot of really hard work, some serious persistence keeping at it despite a lot of setbacks, and a decent plan to guide you thru those setbacks.  Then, in a bunch of years,.... you'll see that it is "simple".  ;)

best,

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

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This is the true -about as condensed as you can get it.Its spot on.

 

(It is easy to be successful at ceramics.  All it takes is a lot of really hard work, some serious persistence keeping at it despite a lot of setbacks, and a decent plan to guide you thru those setbacks.  Then, in a bunch of years,.... you'll see that it is "simple".  ;))

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On a regular basis, I meet a young potter who is on the cusp. Their line of work is well developed, their marketing skills are current, they understand the industry. Basically they are doing everything Chris is writing about. The most common hurdle that potters at this stage are struggling with is the volume. It is now dawning on them how many pots it takes to add up to a real income. They are struggling to make their pots fast enough, because their production speed is still too slow. They feel like they can't possibly maintain the pace. I tell them that I can still remember when I had the same view. The answer is to keep cranking out pots, and a few years later you'll be amazed at how much less time and energy each pot takes. You have to slog through that phase. Like John said, after a bunch of years, it's easy!

I recently saw a picture of myself from 2006. My arms were so skinny. 

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My advice is to start to throw in series-working up to larger numbers.Most only want to make a few items then drift off to something else.I think discipline is key if this life is for you.

Production seems to be a dirty word but thats the name of the game in functional wares .Sure you can make a few pots and ask a lot but that market is very small compared to what people want to use every day in their lives.

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Handmade is on the rise for sure.  Unless you got some "mad" pottery skills and people digging your stuff and willing to pay for the effort in making show stoppers you will most likely not flourish. Make some strong forms and have a good glaze fit consistently. Develop a line of work that is economical for you to produce. Listen to what people/customers are saying and buying and adjusting accordingly. Apprenticing with someone may be very helpful.  Then you might have a chance. But I would not plan on that trip to Borneo for a good many years. "I would rather make a hundred $10 mugs as opposed to twenty $50 mugs" one of my mentors said this a few years ago. "Take my advice; I'm not using it." is what another mentor told me many years ago.  

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There are two concepts missing from this discussion, I feel the need to add.  Risk management and scale.

Pottery is a capital intensive, low profitability business.  If you were to do a business school case study, you'd be forces to conclude a pottery is not a good investment.  To which you may say, "But Tyler, I make a very good living wage." That's fine, but you're comfortably breaking even--unless you have enough left over for growth.  Profit isn't what you take home, it's what's left after you pay yourself and cover expenses.  And very few potteries of any scale crack the profit code.  

This is a historic problem.  To the Greeks, the "wealth of a potter" was  proverbially fleeting.  Michael Cardew failed a few times, and so did the Brantford pottery near me.  Even Bernard Leach struggled.  Risk is high.  No matter how good last month was, a few months of bad shows and you're digging into savings--and with it your potential to be flexible and productive in the future.

This makes growth difficult and risky.  I know a very talented woodfirer who can't afford to fire her kiln solo.  A local charitable organization can't afford to use their gorgeous and quite large gas kilns (or even have them hooked up because their insurance would jump).  You can go too big too fast, and then you're sunk. 

In my locality, the handmade market is drying up.  Galleries do wonderfully, but craft shows are dead.  And as vendor fees skyrocket, artists/artisans can't afford the risk.  Some organizers had to drop their "handmade" standard and let in retailers selling made in China garbage.  At the last show I was at, no one who actually made their product sold anything--literally nothing--except one painter who sold a painting of a guitar to one of the music acts.  the year before the same show was my best sale ever.

So despite a commitment to making as much as possible, possible is limited by sales projections.  A plan must be rooted in careful strategy and a realistic assement of risk.  When the going's good, throw till your arms fall off, but until then, calculate every step you make.

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Tyler I think markets vary so much area to area. They also change over time. I never thought or have  said it will be easy . I know from my past few years in various states selling that at least in some parts of the western US the market for handmade goods in improving rapidly. My local outlet yesterday said europeans are buy pottery to take home something that she has never seen in the past 15 years at her shop.I have test to have a down show this year compared to last year and last year was my best ever year. I think in many areas this will not be the case but for us out west thats what I have seen. My friend (another high end potter) has seen some downturn at his shows so all experiences are so different and really each person will experience a different outcome.

I like many streams of income from ceramics (wholesale -consignment -direct -and shows are just one form. All shows will change over time they can go away -get better -get worse -or tank.

Just their nature. My next show has lots of JUNK in it (always has past 25 years) but handmade still jumps out and sells well there. This will be my next show I drop as I scale back as its 1,000 miles from my house.

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Mark. it was not my intent to diminish your narrative (ie prompt a defense of your experience)  but rather to say "it's not always good," and to plan for the worst as well, because those days happen and can ruin you without some forethought.

That part of the story was missing here.  In fact, the feel of this thread struck me as plan on making loads of pots for 5-10 years to make it--and then loads more.  And you're right, that's what success will feel like.  

But 5-10 years is eons financially, with loads of capital tied up.  To the extent that it's better not to consider it a full business until year 8, 9, or 10.  Or maybe just plan to keep it paying for itself.  Because, put in financial terms, a 5-10 year capital-hungry investment with uncertain returns, is such that someone may as well open a restaurant if the return is what matters.  At least, then, you'll know what's what by the end of year one.

And so, that comes to my advice:  do it because you love it but plan like a business that you could lose.  Manage risk and scale accordingly.

Edited by Tyler Miller
clarity

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Tyler makes a good point that should be part of every discussion about running a successful studio. It takes much longer to develop a pottery business than most other small businesses, and you need to have a financial plan for the developmental years. I've said several times on the forum before that I kept my day job for 8 years after I got serious about the pottery business. I recommend this type of plan for everyone who asks. I still see plenty of folks who are impatient and think it can be done more quickly. They get frustrated, or go broke. 

Mark makes a good point about regions. This is possible in some regions and not in others. I am very fortunate to live where there are many quality venues, within a few hours drive. We have crappy venues too, but they can be avoided. 

On the subject of profitability, it's not a high income business, but it can be profitable. A lot of this depends on how you manage your personal finances and how much you spend, not on how much you make. I make a modest middle class income but I sock away plenty, invest, and plan to retire early (maybe at age 55, maybe earlier). Technically I could retire now and make it work, but it would be tight financially, and I enjoy what I'm doing too much right now anyways, so not worth it. Anyhow, this means my risk is very low at this point and I would easily survive another recession. For anyone who is scratching their heads at how this is possible, read The Millionaire Next Door. It maps out basically everything I've done with my financial life since my 20s. If you are not willing to live like this, then full time pottery (or being self employed period) is too risky for you. And you don't necessarily have to accept a lifetime of "scraping by" because you want to be a potter. 

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I think these days one would have to slowly work at pottery as a sideline and either have another job (for money ) or a supporting partner to get you thru the lean start up years.

Having a day job would be key. Also the love of ceramics would also be key as you noted and I would agree that this is far far not an easy way to make money.I feel its got to be more love for clay than desire to make money to make it work.

I think risk is in all business and the pottery one has more than usual.

I think Mea's point on how you spend money also has huge merits in the equation .

Enough on this, this am I have our annual apple juicing day this morning-25 folks show up and we juice all of our and the neighbors apples as well as what folks bring. It usually a half day deal.

Last year it was 120 gallons -this year it may be 30 gallons as its a light year.

I need to light the bisque kiln as well.

Edited by Mark C.

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3 hours ago, GEP said:

For anyone who is scratching their heads at how this is possible, read The Millionaire Next Door. It maps out basically everything I've done with my financial life since my 20s. If you are not willing to live like this, then full time pottery (or being self employed period) is too risky for you. And you don't necessarily have to accept a lifetime of "scraping by" because you want to be a potter. 

The Wealthy Potter meets The Wealthy Barber. Totally agree, it's a lifestyle and a mindset. 

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On 9/23/2017 at 9:11 AM, GEP said:

Tyler makes a good point that should be part of every discussion about running a successful studio. It takes much longer to develop a pottery business than most other small businesses, and you need to have a financial plan for the developmental years. I've said several times on the forum before that I kept my day job for 8 years after I got serious about the pottery business. I recommend this type of plan for everyone who asks. I still see plenty of folks who are impatient and think it can be done more quickly. They get frustrated, or go broke. 

Mark makes a good point about regions. This is possible in some regions and not in others. I am very fortunate to live where there are many quality venues, within a few hours drive. We have crappy venues too, but they can be avoided. 

On the subject of profitability, it's not a high income business, but it can be profitable. A lot of this depends on how you manage your personal finances and how much you spend, not on how much you make. I make a modest middle class income but I sock away plenty, invest, and plan to retire early (maybe at age 55, maybe earlier). Technically I could retire now and make it work, but it would be tight financially, and I enjoy what I'm doing too much right now anyways, so not worth it. Anyhow, this means my risk is very low at this point and I would easily survive another recession. For anyone who is scratching their heads at how this is possible, read The Millionaire Next Door. It maps out basically everything I've done with my financial life since my 20s. If you are not willing to live like this, then full time pottery (or being self employed period) is too risky for you. And you don't necessarily have to accept a lifetime of "scraping by" because you want to be a potter. 

I would like to add in my 2 cents to what Mea said about how you are willing to live. I just decided that I probably need to put 4 more years in to my job to get a decent retirement, because there is NO WAY i will make a living with my jewelry and pottery. I had better do it for love, cause the $$ isnt there.

Part of the reason is that I'm tired: I'm 55, I have been running a side business/businesses for 20 years, and I'm just exhausted when I get home from teaching. I just don't have it in me to go in my studio for 4 or 8 hours to make the number of pots I would have to make to make a living.

Another reason is that  after living a basically middle class life on my job for 30 years, I don't want to have to give things up to do this full time. That makes me feel bad, and shallow, but I like my lifestyle. It's pretty simple, but I don't want for much. And I have insurance for life. And I can afford to take workshops and keep learning, and I love learning! 

I think this is why so many artists are teachers. But I started this only 7 years ago, then fell in love with metalsmithing jewelry, too, so there arent enough hours in my days to do it all. Sad. But I finally have admitted it. I can't  quit the day job until I'm 60.

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