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Tell us about the things that DID work for you in the beginning!


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Because of a recent post from a new forum member wanting to transition rapidly from paid employment to owning their own business, I'd like to pose a question to some of the members that are farther along in their careers. The original thread had a lot of us sounding maybe a bit harsh about jumping in headlong, which can be discouraging, and I know all of us want to see others succeed. The list of things NOT to do is long and varied, but what is often more important is the list of things you can or should do that's beneficial. I wanted to make a list of things that CAN be done to get going on a pottery business, things that have worked. So:

What kind of information did you need at the beginning of your journey that would still apply today? Was there something you had to figure out but wished you could look up, but didn't even know where to find the information? What did you do that worked better than you thought? How long did it take you to transition into self employment and be able to start pulling a reasonable salary or other form of payday? Are there things you found later that you wish you'd known about a lot sooner? What are your favourite business tools or systems? If someone was making a blueprint for you when you were a new entrepreneur, what do you wish had been on it?

This is probably a long list, so feel free to add things in bits and pieces as you think of them.

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For instance, I wish that someone had been able to tell me how long it takes to get established, and that it wasn't a failing on my part to be taking so long. If a more typical retail business takes 3-5 years to operate profitably, it can take us 5-8, or even more.

For favourite tools, I designed myself a weekly/monthly calendar that has space in the back for special order forms and a section where I can track what I sold at different sales to decide if it was profitable or not. I do not do well with electronic planners. I spend too much time online as it is.

The book on finances and cash management that I just found a couple of months ago and wish I'd had from the beginning is "Profit First" by Mike Michalowicz. In the beginning, I struggled with questions about how much money I needed to keep in my business before I could afford to pull regular pay for myself. I did figure something out, sort of, but this book helped me wrap my head around a better way of doing it. If you use a jar/envelope system for your personal finances, this will make a lot of sense to your brain. I should put a disclaimer on it though: the author states that you should pull a salary and set aside profits right from the beginning, and never roll anything back into your business. I disagree with him on that one point, especially if you've never run your own business before now. Until you have your pricing sorted out and business infrastructure in place, you should roll your earnings back into your pottery business while you feed yourself another way.  By business infrastructure I mean whatever you need to have a simple working studio (no renting someone else's kiln), a cohesive product offering of some kind, and at least a good working version of your booth and/or website design.

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By the time I had started a part-time pottery business, I had been a self-employed graphic designer for 6 years. So I was already comfortable with administering a small business. This gave me a big leg up compared to a most craft artist businesses. So backing up from there, the most positive thing I did before starting my graphic design studio was to hire an accountant. He taught me how to keep books, pay estimated taxes, pay sales tax, and save for retirement. I am still working with him 24 years later! Over the years, he has given me so much good advice, plus lots of support and encouragement. I feel like I couldn’t have done it without him, because there is so much peace of mind knowing that when I have a question, I know he will know the answer. His advice comes from having insight into lots of other self employed businesses, not to mention he knows every detail of my business. His advice is never sugar coated. Sometimes we disagree, but he always respects my right to make decisions. 

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My 2-cents worth is more for someone who is not transitioning to a FT clay biz, but is maybe just going PT or establishing a small hobby biz, and for whom revenue for "survival + a good living" is not an imperative.  So I guess this is more about what made my life easier, transitioning from a FT career, in a very different field, to a home-based retirement PT immersion in clay work. 

1. Early on I did the math, the soul-searching, the priority pros & cons, and made a well reasoned decision to buy the best/newest equipment that I could afford. I know I could have done just fine with a used kiln/wheel etc., but I just plain didn't want to start off that way.  Key to this was having a realistic budget planned out for a couple of years, in the first place...and sticking to it. I have had no regrets, other than realizing I could have actually done  with a smaller kiln. The only thing I bought that I ended up not using/selling, was a compressor. 

2. Free business advice/tools/workshops/webinars from SCORE were invaluable. (In the U.S., it's a non-profit service of volunteer business mentors) Building my own website and learning the built-in marketing/selling/payment features of the site generator (whether WIX or Wordpress, Weebly, or an  Etsy store-they're pretty much all the same) was also invaluable. Even what I didn't implement is very useful know-how to have.

3. This Forum primarily, and a couple of other ceramics-specific social groups are tremendous supports for everything from the technical to the emotional!

4. I agree with Callie-putting my revenue back into my biz is essential in order to stabilize and grow. It took a couple of years just to get up and running, and will now take a few more to do  better than breaking even (which was my primary goal).  My two set-backs have been: (1) coming to terms with certain physical/cognitive limitations (finding work-arounds & dealing with acceptance) and;  (2) effective now and going forward, a serious revision of product output/style/market placement. Those are essentially "personal problems"--the only useful notation I can offer from the experiences is don't try to avoid reality, nor let it get you down.  Whatever the situation, practicing patience, perseverance, being realistic, having determination, enlisting help/support of all types, actualizing discipline, and did I mention being realistic?  is what sustains, maintains, and attains my objectives & goals.

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