Jump to content

Recommended Posts

As I am starting up my pottery business, I’m starting to consider what my venues for sales/exposure are. I know the traditional route of craft shows is probably not for me. In my area, you get a lot of lookie-loos, but all my potter friends say they go in the hole at those shows and fairs.

I have my wares in a local boutique, and while their commission is modest (20%), they charge “rent” every month ($75). It’s not a long term plan, unless I am turning out mad sales. And at this rate, with a full time job, I can’t turn out that much work.

I know some in my vacation town do an open studio style of sale, but my home studio will be in my actual home, not an outbuilding. So, not for me.

Are many of you doing mostly online sales? Instagram linking to your Etsy? What’s been most lucrative for you?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Welcome to the board and good luck finding what works for you.

We always make money well above cost at shows but not the thousands that some here report making. It will be interesting to hear from someone in your area but i wouldn't assume your local shows will not make money for you and more importantly allow you to test various forms for popularity. I would suggest only making a dozen or less of anything and see if it sells before going all in on a form. Also don't give up on slow sellers. I can't tell you how many times we've said we were going to stop bringing a pot to future shows and then it sells that day. Things have different rates of sell through and its easy to adjust your production to match. 

We don't sell online currently but some seem to make it work.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi and welcome!

So my brain is looking longingly at your $75 rent plus 20% comission situation at that boutique.  In order to cover your overhead for being in that store (not talking about the rest of your costs or making profit, just the expense of being there), you only need to sell $100 or more of work every month. That's about 3-4 mugs, assuming prices in the $25-30 range. That's one pot a week. That's pretty good! If it were me, barring anything weird like 3 months straight of no sales at all,  I'd try the venue out for a full year. You want to establish your presence there and to take advantage of retail cycles. You're going to earn a lot more in the months of November and December than you will in January and February.

I think the big question here is how you want to try and market your work. Marketing is different than selling. Marketing is finding the right audience of people who will love your work and want to buy it. Selling is closing that deal. If you want to make sales, you have to do the marketing part first. I have lots of thoughts on this subject, but my lunch break is almost over, so I'm going to write more on this tonight.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am a "hobby business" and I do not do craft shows, nor can I sell from my studio, in my house, due to zoning restrictions. After a year or so it became clear that I was not getting direct sales traffic  through my website, BUT I keep it becasue after people go to the site, look at what have become, in affect, "samples",  then they contact me. I don't do Etsy.   I find local word-of-mouth, and good PR from groups that I am affiliated with work well for me. I donate certain of my "smalls" (tea light holders, hanging ornaments, small catch-alls) to non-profit groups for their fundraisers, and to friends/friends-of-friends having  some occasion where they want gifts for the guests, each with my card attached, sometimes nicely packaged, depending on the event, and that works nicely to get people to contact me later. I am a low production person, I don't do mugs or many bowls, but I am able to cover my clay & suppiles, which is all I "need".  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

OK! Marketing.

I see you asking what others do to get in front of their customers to see if you can find things that will also work for you. I can describe what I did in my beginning, but it's important to remember that there are lots of circumstances that may be different. Having done a lot of looking myself at what people have done to support themseves through clay successfully, I can say that for every person who says one way of making an income is the only way to go, there is another person who says that method is totally unprofitable and to not waste your time. Your personal circumstances will affect your decisions, and how you choose to live your life and fulfill your obligations will all play into how you structure your business.

All that said.

I took advantage of small and medium sized, good quality shows to introduce myself to my community and gather emails. These gave me enough experience and feedback that I was able to get into some larger shows that are more lucrative. These small shows can teach you a great deal about your potential customers, how to stay organized, how to behave professionally, etc etc. etc.  Probably 80% of my income comes from shows, and I've built my peer community here and made contacts that led to me getting into some retail locations. Also, they are a good place to gather emails.

I went to networking groups to introduce myself to the small creative business community. You typically don't go into these things knowing exactly what will come of it, but trusting that something will come of it. Pro tip: bring business cards, for the love of all things holy! And follow up with people afterwards. We all like thank you notes.

I do a farmer's market in the summer where daily sales are variable but nice, but I also tend to get a lot of orders and other opportunities there. This particular farmer's market works because there have always been potters at it during its 30+ year history, and people expect to see pottery there. Working this market also gets me a spot in their highly lucrative Christmas sale. Also, gather emails.

I have social media accounts that are useful tools and have the potential to be monetized. It is my firm belief that social media is a good way to build peer community and get opportunities through. It can be monetized and you can make sales there directly, but it's a much better idea to use it as a funnel to get customer's emails so you can market directly to folks. At the end of the day, you don't own your social media accounts, and you're at Mark Z's mercy if he decides to change algoritms and you loose your visibility. Those who spent tons of time building audiences 5-10 years ago on FB organically are now obliged to buy their follwers back through ads in order to maintain their visibility. Since Facebook owns Instagram, they are already making strides in a similar direction. Social media is an awesome tool and one I'm a big fan of, but you need to understand how that tool works properly in order to use it to your best benefit.

I have an Etsy shop that I tried the "set it and forget it" method. It was a spectacular failure. I tried focusing on my keywords on the Etsy site itself. Also no dice. I put some more effort into driving my own traffic through my website and social media, and had much better success. I buried all of my shipping costs into the listed price of the item and offered free shipping, and that worked rather spectacularly! Etsy can be a really good place to begin: setup is easy, they have some great photography tutorials that are geared towards this specific purpose, the payment gateway is secure, and despite recent price increases, their fees are still pretty affordable. You need to remember a few very important things though:

-Etsy is much more interested in promoting their own brand than yours

-They do not guarantee you traffic, and

-The terms of service prohibit you from collecting your customer's emails for your own marketing purposes on their least expensive service offerings. (They may have added that capability to the more expensive tiers that they're introducing now, but I haven't checked tbh.)

I suggest Etsy as a place to begin and to learn, but if you want to sell professionally or in quantity, it's a good idea to have an exit plan to something you have more control over. I know others have different experiences of Etsy, but that's what happened to me.

While it is a slow moving project, I'm in the process of building a Shopify website with the goal of phasing out some of my less lucrative in-person shows. I'm taking the booth fee from one of my shows where I only made booth plus expenses, and putting that into the website startup, learning about FB ads and having a budget for them. I'll keep you posted on how that goes.

 

You may have noticed that the one thing I think is a really good idea to do regardless of where you choose to sell your stuff, is to get people's emails so that you have your audience consolidated in one place. Being able to communicate with people who have told you "yes I want your email newsletter" is the strongest marketing tool you can own. It doesn't have to be onerous to write a simple newsletter with a couple of shiny images and your upcoming events in it once a month. I think keeping it simple and straightforward is best, in fact. But those are the people that are your audience, your tribe, and the folks that are willing to support you  and your work. It's a good idea to keep them in the loop so they can do that.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

OH yes finding your market

well that is the million dollar question

its also the hardest part of ceramics really. Its not one size fits all -its more like your size only fits you.

finding the right market will take lots of ups and downs-I have no easy way to summ that up-others have said more than I could.

since its  only a side deal (income wise) you will be limited to letting others sell your work. Pick those places wisely.

Edited by Mark C.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

callie,  i am interested in internet sales.   i have considered an Etsy shop and even know someone who can help me make one.  the retrieval of email addresses through etsy is a concern.  i agree that having my own email list is very important.  would this work???

thank you, mrs customer for your purchase of the butter dish.  i am always interested in how people use the items so could you please send me a photo of your new butter dish in use?  i promise i will not sell your private info if you do this for me.   thank you

with proper capitalization, of course.   i do care a lot about the photo but my real purpose is seeing that return email address.     what do you think?  will Etsy notice?

 

Edited by oldlady
add

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, oldlady said:

promise i will not sell your private info if you do this for me.   thank you

I'd leave that off or change it to something like "I value customer privacy" because anything else sounds like you're holding them hostage haha.  Maybe "if you would like to receive my occasional newsletter, I will only ever use your email for that purpose." 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

thanks, good suggestion.   sometimes, when the brain has been fried and then soaked in a heavy rain, it does not work well.  been that kind of a day.   sitting in a gallery with only 8 possible customers walking in, paying $7 for parking at the gallery, driving both ways in rain, having no internet at all and almost thankful not to disappoint customers who MIGHT buy something, all makes me think selling from home MUST be easier.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
26 minutes ago, oldlady said:

send me a photo of your new butter dish in use

Trust me on this: if you have any intention of ever using that photo in your promotions, be sure to get a proper Release first. You can find sample ones online and simplify them or even just get an email saying it's OK to use this helps.  Feel free to PM me for some guidelines on releases if ever needed; publishing people's pics without permission can come back to bite you, in ill will if nothing else.  My website has the essential few carefully researched and carefully worded policies that address some of the issues for you and the online customer. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While the US still allows people to add people to their mailing lists without specific permission, lots of other countries consider the practice unethical, and is frankly kind of irritating from a customer standpoint. As a Canadian, I am actually supposed to use a double opt in process to gain my customer's permission to use their email, and I have to have a clear method for people to opt out of my list at any time they choose. I The EU has even stricter rules around how you obtain and keep emails.

Gathering your customer's emails automatically is not in your best interests, in my opinion. You really only want people on your list that are really, truly enthusiastic about the information you're providing in your newsletter. Those are the folks that are most likely to make more purchases from you. You want them to opt in of their own volition. 

If you're going to do an email newsletter, I suggest you be very upfront with your customer, and ask them if they'd like to sign up for it. A script you could use could read something like

"Thank you so much for your purchase, and I hope you enjoy your new butter dish! If you'd like to stay up to date with my new work and have advanced notice of shop updates and sales, I send out an email newsletter once a month*. Follow this link** to sign up for it. We will always respect your internet privacy."

This is the simplest way to go about asking for an email. Many email marketing gurus advocate giving something to your customers in exchange for that email, wether it's a coupon code with a small discount that can go towards their next purchase, or an entry into a monthly mug draw, a recipe that they can use with their new pot, or some other incentive/thank you. That's more of a "next step" sort of suggestion though, and if it's too complicated for you to do that in the beginning, then keep things simple.

 

*or however often you choose to write it

**give them a link to your Mailchimp or other email software account  signup here, so they can opt in. I like Mailchimp because it's free to use if your list is 2000 people or less, and it's dead easy to use. They have some straightforward drag and drop templates that are simple and easy to customize.  

 

 

edited to add:

Many Etsy sellers include a notecard with something like the above script printed on it in their packages, along with business cards with links to their social media and websites. It's not ideal because it obliges people to take extra steps, and Internet shoppers like as few steps and clicks as possible. But that practice is within Etsy guidelines. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And as far as selling in person vs selling online, I will say I find it to be a comparable amount of work from an hours worked standpoint . In person selling is more of a physical process, but there are a lot of things to learn and keep on top of if you're selling online. Mentally taxing vs physically taxing. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, Callie Beller Diesel said:

And as far as selling in person vs selling online, I will say I find it to be a comparable amount of work from an hours worked standpoint . In person selling is more of a physical process, but there are a lot of things to learn and keep on top of if you're selling online. Mentally taxing vs physically taxing. 

Online selling is a 24/7 schedule, so I'd argue it's even more taxing.  I used to answer customer questions and take orders 20 hours a day when I was running my last business.  And ITS EXPECTED!  When someone emails you a question they expect an answer immediately.  When they place an order, they expect it to be shipped either the same day or the next depending on how early they ordered.  There are a lot of details like these that will separate a successful online business from one that is doing ok.  I was constantly marketing via blog posts, forum interactions, being present on Reddit, sponsoring raffles and expos across the country, doing pro-bono work for hobby organizations, etc.  There was never an empty part of my day, but I was very successful.  I don't think I could do it again today now that I have kids, but at the time it was worth it.

And I'm already at it again, forming an online presence and trying to play by the new rules.  The internet now hates direct unsolicited marketing, which throws a lot of my old skillset in the dumpster.  Marketing now seems to be more holistic, basically offer lots of free knowledge and access to your work, your life, etc, and in turn you might get a sale.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've always been more comfortable with a "soft sell" anyways. I tend to provide information and let people make their own decisions.

edited to add: you still want to make sure you use language that leads people in the right direction, and specific calls to action are a must online. No one gets the subtlety of a hint while scrolling through their emails or social media.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh me too, but on places like Reddit you'll be kicked off the island in very short order if you even mention that you sell pottery.  It's almost like a secret, and people will PM you like it's some kind of black market transaction! 

"Psst, do you sell those mugs you posted a picture of earlier? If so how can I get ahold of some"

Totally different than days of yore.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@oldlady, I completely agree with Callie that it is not in your best interest to collect email addresses under the ruse of collecting photos. There’s no need to be coy, just ask for their email address! Callie’s suggested wording is very on point. Besides, you’ll get more responses with a simple link to a MailChimp signup form (which only takes a few seconds for someone to complete) vs. the request for the photo, which is asking the customer to do a lot of work. And it’s true that the only emails you want to collect are from people who clearly want to receive your notices. All other addresses are not valuable to you. 

And I also second Callie’s advice that selling online is not “easier” than selling in person. Both require tons of work, just different forms of work. So please don’t enter the Etsy market expecting sales to flow with less effort. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My MailChimp account now has over 1950 subscribers. Which means I have to start paying for the service soon (when I surpass 2000 subscribers). I suppose I shouldn’t complain, I’ve been using it for free for years and it has provided an immeasurable value. I would argue that my long-term and consistent collection and respectful use of email addresses is one of the linchpins of my success. 

Still, I’m thinking of deleting all of my 1 star and 2 star subscribers, people who rarely open my emails, just to buy myself more time with the free service. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Callie, your responses are always spot on! 

@Tumbleweed, I sell mainly online, via my Etsy shop, and direct people there through my Instagram account. It has worked spectacularly for me, but I've seen a lot of people struggle with that model too - it is a lot of work.  I also have a website, which I don't sell from. but people can sign up for my newsletter there. After a year of collecting addresses for my newsletter, I have about 500 people on my email list - all voluntarily signed up for it. 

I think Etsy is *almost* required for a new business. From what I have observed, new Etsy shops take off much faster than selling your work from a newly launched website. Not in all cases of course, just from those I have watched lately. Etsy, for all its faults, provides a level of comfort and transparency for buyers taking a chance on a new seller. Buyers can see what you have sold, leave and read reviews, and if there is a problem with their order they can open a case with Etsy.  Once you have a loyal following, you can always move your sales to your own site. 

So, what worked for me was focusing on building an audience on Instagram and using Etsy as my online shop. Who knows how long Esty and Instagram will be around, so having an email list is a critical backup plan.  

Edited by PotterPutter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm curious if  people who use Mailchimp use their actual physical mailing address to meet the anti-spam requirements in their emails or what alternatives people are using. I can't see renting a PO box just to satisfy this requirement.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Min said:

I'm curious if  people who use Mailchimp use their actual physical mailing address to meet the anti-spam requirements in their emails or what alternatives people are using. I can't see renting a PO box just to satisfy this requirement.

I use my actual mailing address. I’d rather not, but I agree it doesn’t make sense to pay for a PO box for just this one purpose.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm so glad I will have missed the online sales in my career.

I did do a 20 year  twice a year stint of bulk mailing (USPS)studio sales back in the day

Maybe I'm felling this way today as i just sent out a small mug  and squared them for 20$ thinking this is no way to make a living.

I still like the big show and lots of customers . for me its still my best way to do it.

I also am warming up to the Grocery store sales as the checks roll in on a regular basis.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I was at NCECA this year, Paul Blais from the Potter’s Cast gave a talk about online marketing funnels that  I sat in on. His background is in sales and marketing and entrepreneurship first, and clay second. He made the most excellent point that the world is changing the way it shops, and that for good or for ill, a lot of that happens online. I think that anyone who is in the process of setting themselves up needs to have a long hard look at selling online. Ok, it may not be for everyone, but selling at fairs isn’t for everyone either. You need to try a bunch of things and see what works for you.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

(You need to try a bunch of things and see what works for you.  ) exactly

I think in todays world online should be in the mix. I sell plenty via e-mail buts its my existing customer base from decades of selling at shows.This base was built before the web and during its early stages.

No matter how you do it you will have to figure it out each and everyone as its always different for each of us.

I know more older potters the most and most of them have no web sites or online presence but they have been established for 30-45 years and do shows ot whole sale.

As we each get older we are all shifting to more wholesale as its easier than shows in some aspects . 

Look for my friend Jeff Kuhns at a show near you -he hits the midwest (MADISON-AND SOME EAST COAST SHOWS) as well as the west coast)is based in silverr city N.M.

Also my friend Jim Williams-He is from Santa Barbara area and does summer shows in Montana and Wyoming ,Nevada,Utah.Makes a line of trout and frog wares.Lots of baking stuff

each of these successful potters do not have web sites or do online anything. They did put in thier time on the road at shows all over just as I have done.

Finding you market is the hardest part .

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.