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Callie Beller Diesel

What are your favourite business tools?

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So here's a little  Saturday morning light reading for everyone. 

I know when I went through getting my BFA 17 years ago, there wasn't a lot of information given on how to actually pay the bills with my art/craft.  In fact, aside from one class that talked a little about grant writing, the different kinds of galleries and how to shoot slides (with film!), we students were actively discouraged from thinking about our finances. The reasoning we were given was that it would somehow detract from our artistic development to consider the marketplace when making anything, and that there isn't any real blueprint on how to be an artist, and you have to find your own path. 

It has definitely been an interesting slog figuring out that path in the subsequent years.

My question to the group then, is what are the business skills, tools and resources that you found most helpful at the start of your various clay careers? What are the tools you're finding most helpful now? I want to hear from everyone at all points in their careers, and I want to encourage any lurkers to come into the light.

(I'll put my favourites up after a few people respond.)

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First of all, I agree with every word of that article. 

My most important business tool by far: email marketing. It’s the best way to foster a good connection with people who are likely to buy my work. Knowing that maybe 99% of people who see my work are never going to buy it, email marketing lets me target the 1% who might.

For a tiny business like a pottery studio, you really don’t need a large list of customers to make your business thrive. It’s better to go after a small list of likely customers. 

Email marketing can be done for free for small businesses. The payback is worth the time and effort. I’ve been using MailChimp for free for about 7 years. I now have almost 1800 subscribers, and when I reach 2000 I have to start paying for it. It won’t be cheap, about $400/year. But I know the value of it is worth way more than that. So I’ll just pay them and not complain. 

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Interesting article Callie. I do not chime in on selling pottery because I build and sell homes for a living.i have two high end interior decorators that sell  my crystalline wall tile on a limited basis. The good thing about crystalline glaze is an outrageous profit margin, and this speciality glaze has an immediate emotional response.

Marketing principles however are the same fundamentally rather you sell houses or pottery: adjustments are made accordingly. With that, I would like to share a marketing story from 1997. The year my home building business tripled in size. Realtors always tell you the responses to open houses: usually how much people liked or loved  the property. My response was: if they loved it so much, why did it not sell?  So I instructed them to start asking what people did not like about the property. Shocked by my request they asked why? Because what they liked got them interested, but what they did not like stopped them from buying. When I started addressing what they did not like sales began to soar.

which brings me to pottery. Just like me and my homes: everyone tends to make and decorate according to personal preferences and tastes. Potters have favorite glazes, forms, or decorative applications. We love to make them and decorate them, otherwise we would not be into pottery. It is human nature to desire positive responses to our work and ideas. To effectively market, you have to ask consumers what they did not like about your product. They may love the form but hate the glaze, or vice versa. That handle you make that fits your hand perfectly, may be uncomfortable to them. Honest critiques will broaden your market shares. Criticism however should be dismissed, plenty of disgruntled steam blowers out there. 

The Numbers Game: the current population of the USA is 330 million. If the pottery market is only 1 percent: then you have 3.4 million potential customers. If only 1 percent of potential customers like 10" plates: then you have  33,000 potential customers. If only 1 percent of those like yellow 10" plates: then you have 330 potential customers. However, if 5 percent of potential customers like 12" plates, you now have 170,000 potential customers. Of those, if ten percent like burgundy glaze: you now have 17,000 potential customers. Marketing is figuring out the highest demand, then supplying it. Yes, you may love 10" yellow plates, and 330 potential customers love them too. But I like to eat and sleep in an AC house: so I will make you a 12" burgundy plate. 

I made the changes to the houses according to the responses, and sales tripled in one year. However, once or twice a year I would build one that I liked personally, just to  avoid the whole process of earning a living from becoming mundane. It all depends on the level of involvement you wish to undertake: to make a living you have to learn your market. Supplementing your income or selling enough to pay for your clay habit is another: you certainly have more freedom to play.

my favorite business tool is market research. Within that, my favorite tool is a Census Bureau stats.


Edited by glazenerd
Added me favorite tools

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I find this info interesting but since I do consider myself a visual artist it does not apply to me. 

The numbers seem about right for visual artists as mostly 2 D work is hard road these days.

I consider myself a Functional Potter making utilitarian items for household use-not a visual artist

That said the start  of this career was so long ago its really moot point. The real info is whats worked the best over time.

For 19 years I had a studio sale and mailing list twice a year(1,000) mailing list-sales where ok -it built  up my local client list. Doing local shows also was key at the same time.

During the start up I did some consignment galleries/shops. I quit that studio sale thing in 1993 and focused on fairs and kept the consignment shops as well. Fairs took off out of state for me in the next 10 years and the ones I had done consecutively for 20 plus years really got great.

My customer base expanded as I show up every year and new clients became more old ones.I kept the consignment shops as well.2 streams of income-checks every month and sales at shows. At least 12 shows per year for decades.Time when by and I downsized shows and took on a little wholesale . 

Yada yada yada -now its about 1/3 consignment 1/3 whole sale 1/3 shows. some consignment shops folded and I never took new ones on.I have taken more wholesale but no new shows-I can not recall my last new show-its been over 20 years at least.

I have written a few posts on all this before so its old ground for me.The 1st decade was starving . Then it slowly got good and now its great. I pick and choose and downsize as I want.

The best thing I have done is sell my pottery for reasonable prices so people can buy and use my products-They keep returning for more or replacements . The other is to do the same shows over and over.I thought I had saturated my local markets until I  expanded into 3 supermarkets  and realized that that space was nit covered at all.Everyone buys food which means it can be pottery as well that works with food.

Edited by Mark C.

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5 hours ago, glazenerd said:

To effectively market, you have to ask consumers what they did not like about your product.

I am beginning to appreciate the common sense of making the burgundy plate rather than the self-preferred yellow bowls, and absolutely believe I can get behind that without selling my soul. My best business tool, which I applied to my fist biz, Shoestring Graphics Plus, and then to an array of non-profit human services (to design, fund, market and sustain specialized programs, you essentially have to develop and maintain a small business, including an astute application of census stats), is SCORE, with its tentacles of affiliations and resources, which are invaluable, being free. 

10 hours ago, Sputty said:

The maturing cultivation of an active appreciation of poverty.

And that!!  I no longer experience or dread abject conditions for myself, but I know first hand how hard and fast the other shoe can drop, so I devote a portion of my clay/art efforts to support individuals and organizations in the struggle against poverty and its affects.  I'm not striving for a profitable clay business, but I do intend to break even soon, so my studio is self-supporting. E-mail marketing and the "fusion" approach to social media is intriguing-I suspect that is my next big project, now that I finally figured out how to make a website LOL. Again, I have to thank SCORE for the webinars and workshops that lay it all out so simply, and the mentors who are there for you, as much as you want. 


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If I had to choose a “second place” on my list of most important busines tools: a photostand, good camera, and the know-how to use them.

Most of the professional art world is closed to anyone without professional quality photos of their work, such as juried art festivals, exhibitions, and publishing, The gatekeepers need to evaluate so many people’s work, and photographs are the only way to do it. And any avenue without gatekeepers probably won’t lead you very far. 

It’s not as initimidating as it might sound. The only expense is a good camera. (No, I don’t mean the camera in your smart phone. These have come a long way but still don’t give you enough control over things like ISO, depth of field, and distortion,) Photostands can be built for very cheap. Studio photography, where the subject doesn’t move and the lighting is controlled, is the easiest form of photography. Potters are mechanical and scientific, these things are not over our heads. It’s a matter of finding the right training. 

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