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Brian Reed

How To Actually Support Yourself

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With the ending of yet another year of trying to be a professional potter I am feeling a bit discouraged?  Let me start be saying I have another full time job, which pays well with benefits and a very flexible schedule.  I am able to work that job remotely so I can work from my studio everyday which I do.  I work in the Pottery for an hour or so then walk up to my office and conduct a meeting or do some document writing and such.  It is nice that I have that flexibility.


Where I am discouraged is that totaling up my pottery business it makes very little money.  If I did not have another job I would have to stop doing my passion altogether.  To me that is discouraging.


I have run through bunch of numbers and as far as I can figure I need to make about $10 for every pound of clay I throw.  At my price point per item and where I am selling this is about right.  Others have different scales, but that is my current thinking.  So for a bowl that I make with about a pound of clay I need to sell it for about $18 to make it work.  However, and this is the discouraging part  I need to sell an average of about 300lbs every week to make that work.  At this point I cannot even create a path for that to be a reality.  I do not even have a plan that can get me there someday.


There are just so many places to sell, art fairs, galleries, gift shops, auctions, maybe mass wholesale.  I think that even if I get a good network going I doubt that it would create a pipeline that could support that full volume needed.


Then there is facility, In my current studio I would have to do at least 2 or 3 glaze firing a week, and that many bisque firings, luckily I have s separate kiln for each. Even more would have to change, I would need some help doing some things which introduces more cost and then each bowl would need to sell for $20.  It seems impossible.


No  specific question, just where I am. 


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Brian 18$ a pound x300#s is $5400 a week-or 21K per month-thats a lot of selling. Not sure why you need this much from clay?

I  have a few thoughts

My suggestion is keep your expenses down.

I buy in bulk-everything

I always have as soon as I could afford to

I never thought I would not be in clay so it was easy to think more is better

I bought in groups with other potters

Now I do the group buying for many potters its come full circle

Since I never have tried to support myself with electric kiln firing (always more gas than electrics) so I have little data on that end-

I can say that a diversified selling base is best.

I started out my  now over 40 year career very slowly and with very little.I scratched it together slowly never crunching numbers or thinking I had a plan or for that matter considered it work. I loved clay and making pots-got to sell a few along the way. It never paid well but got me by. That was for many years until I made some break through's

First I never considered this life it just happened and even today I'm amazed people pay me to make pots in my studio.I was in the 70's and its still true

I will add I have zero idea on an hourly wage-never have-I know that's shocking for some

Now its a major business and its been a great job and life.

The question is how each of us gets to that spot

One of my thoughts is do not over think this or expect to much to soon.Making pottery for a living takes time takes lots of work and connections and customers-this all takes large amounts of time.

I have a friend who is 30 and is on this very path-Its his second year doing shows on his own.I took him to a show as a paid helper last spring just once so he could take from me some things he could use in his business-Learning from old timers is one way to add to your business. I really want him to succeed as at least where I live there are no young potters taking over where us old timers are leaving off. He did work for a full time potter during high school so he saw what can be done.

I suggest you try to diversify sales-some wholesale some shows some whatever-that way you cover all the bases and as you grow this will pay off or at least it has for me.

I do not have a scale as you posted as my scale is what profit is left over each year. In Ceramics we can really add to the expense column-the trick is to keep it low as you can.

I bought a lifetime of some materials 40 years ago so figuring some costs are just impossible but this has kept me from trying to do that math do much.

(Mea is rolling her eyes now)

I'm willing to talk story about any of this with you in the next two days or when I return from my big show-as this is my crunch month.

Just pm me your phone number and when is good time to call- I'm just about packed a few days before leaving (this is another key point about being prepared) I'll be back on the 9th

Other than talking direct (which is best)

I will have to think some more on tips for your business.

Keep positive if clay is for you you will stick thru the down times as there will be some.


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Brian, I'm wondering how old you are, and how long you have been trying to make income with your pots. Just to echo Mark's words, building up a pottery business takes a really long time. For me it was eight years. Not counting my earliest cheesy attempts at selling, I launched a serious sales operation in 2002 (age 32), and was finally able to give up my other job in 2010 (age 40).


Like you, I had another full time job, I worked at home and had control of my schedule. This is an ideal situation, take advantage of it. I had plenty of time to spend on the pottery business, but I never felt any financial pressure while developing my work. Focus your attention on finding that elusive sweet spot between "work that makes me happy" and "work that sells." I've met plenty of professional potters along the way who did not have this luxury, and I can say for sure they feel much differently about their pottery business than I do. "It sucks to worry about money all the time" vs. "I can't believe I get paid to do this."


Yes it often felt like having two full-time jobs. Some might call that sacrifice, but I was doing what I wanted, and it didn't feel like sacrifice to me.


My advice to you right now, try as many different avenues for selling as you can find time for. The more you do, the clearer your path becomes. You'll learn how to be a good salesperson, and which types of venues are the best fit for you. These answers are different for everyone, you need to figure out your own answers.


My advice to you for later, when you have rational clear evidence that you can, LET GO of the other job. This will be a scary leap of faith, but there will come a time when it is only holding you back. I've been through this twice in my life now. In my 20s I had a full-time office job working as a designer. I started taking freelance design jobs. I dreamed of freelancing full-time but for a while it didn't seem to add up. When my freelancing income reached a point when I thought "I can live on this if I really squeeze my budget" I quit my full time job. The freelancing took off like a kite, once I gave it my full attention. 14 years later, when my pottery income reached the "I can live on this if I really squeeze my budget" point, I closed my design practice, and the pottery business took off like a kite.

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Just to add to my comments ... if your pottery income is not adding up close to a livable income, you should not be analyzing yourself in terms of how much money to make per pound of clay, or per hour of labor. Again, you should be focusing on the work itself, developing a body of work that both makes you happy and fetches income. I did the calculations about my own business when I was getting close to earning a full-time income. It helped me to see where I should focus my energy, and what I should decrease or eliminate. It was really helpful to me. But these types of analyses a not as important as the big picture ... how much net profit per month and per year. Not rolling my eyes at you Mark ... much respect for you and your business! In fact, I think it was Mark who provided the wisest, most boiled down path to a successful pottery business: Work faster, sell more.

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Brian... I'm in a very similar situation... selling some of my work at a moderate rate, but barely in the black. Like you, I do have a second career (and a supportive, mega-successful spouse).


My issues may be a bit different- in that my work is pretty time intensive (one of my water features can eat up 5-8 hours from start to finish... and I can see the process lengthening as things evolve).


So- I need to find a higher end, 'niche' clientele. I know these folks are out there- I've had some moderate success selling my work at art prices online, locally, and at shows. However, not at a pace that would allow me to 'quit my day job'.


Part of me really wants to take the leap of faith that Mea describes above... but it's bloody hard to re-enter academia once you exit, and I need to think about my role as a partner in my marriage, not just my self-actualization.


At the moment, my approach is to display my work at juried contests and shows, work on my web presence, and pour as much energy as possible into improving my work. I feel that I still have a long road ahead in terms of refining my technique and design vision... and feel hopeful that my stuff will evolve to the point where the 'right' people 'have' to buy it.


It's a frustrating place to be, however. Know that your angst is shared. Solidarity!

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Thanks for all the advice and recollections of your past.  Last night I my head was spinning with "why am I doing this", "I will never make enough money to quit my day job", and so forth.  Some clarifications.


1.  Yes my math needs to be reevaluated, I was looking at replacing my income as well as looking at all the costs.  Perhaps better rational could be used to really figure this out.  In a fit of excitement and bewilderment is not the best time to figure this stuff out.

2.  I fire electric bisque and all my glaze is gas (propane to be exact)  I am going to see about using natural gas as I think this would be much cheaper.

3.  I have been selling seriously for two years.  I sold in years past, but not with regularity.  I also did not have my own studio, which I do now.

4.  I am 42 years old, I have been making pots off and on since I was 13 (junior high).


I started at a local co-op Pottery a few years ago, just to get back into clay.  After about a year of hanging out there it became obvious to me, and others in the co-op that I could make the transition to selling my work.  The quality of my pots seemed good to me and as compared to others I had seen mine were very good.  The catalyst that pushed my out of that Co-op and on my own was when the guy running it (Potter 45 years)  said if I really wanted to learn I needed to leave and start my own pottery...which I did.   My plan was to keep going over the next 5-8 years and build up a business, but after 2 years I think I am doing it, but the end game of supporting myself seems impossible.  I need to reevaluate what I am doing and how to make a path that makes sense. The 6 shows I did this year were OK, I took a gamble on a few shows and barley covered my costs let alone pay for the total COGS (Cost Of Goods Sold) working creating pottery to pay others to produce shows is not my goal.  Then on the other hand I had a couple of awesome shows, one where I barely had anything to bring home after the last day.  


The journey will be tough.

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Brian, the numbers will never add up. You have a professional career that many would love to have. Clay is a 3rd world experience despite the technical stuff we have. Look at the production potters of the 3rd world and they slave day in and day out for (in our world) is pennies a day.

Instead of looking to pottery to satisfy your current standard of living, look at what you need to give up to live at the standard you produce now.


A fellow potter told me once that you need to make a decision to either stay a studio potter or get into large scale production and compete in a totally different ball game. He went from studio to hiring turners to slip casting to production in Mexico then to China. He then realized that his market was coming to an end and the margins were too slim to continue. Places like Target and the like under cut him by having others work cheaper. To them it's a commodity not about handmade or craft or any other aesthetic.


Strive to be the best that you can be but that does not equate into your current standard of living.

I just finished a pottery show with over 120 professional potters, many had very good show but none equaled your monthly standard and these folks are very, very good. Many of these potters do 20 to 40 shows a year.


Just saying,


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A hard working, self supporting potter I know says the only answer to "Can I make a living with pottery?" is NO, you can't.

Pottery has to be the only thing you want to do in order to have a chance at success because it is a ton of work and takes most of your time.


"Why am I doing this?" has to be because you don't want to be doing anything else ... otherwise keep it as a hobby you can enjoy for years and years. Take the gorilla out of the room and enjoy making pots for the sake of making pots. There is a true and meaningful joy in doing this process for what you get from it and not what you can make from it. Do some local craft fairs, have an open studio to sell to friends and neighbors.  Enjoy every step of the process.


So, why is this business oriented person saying this?

Life is too short to be beating yourself up for not making money from something you like doing.

If you want to jump in with both feet and commit yourself to making it your full time job by hook or by crook .. Bravo! Go for it.

But if making money or not making money is sucking the joy out of it for you ... consider keeping your day job and reward yourself with your clay time.

Just my two cents ... :)

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Chris is right you have to make some hard decisions, through the years I figured out that making a living from clay was not possible for me.  Tried making sets of dishes for disable people, but got tired of making the same thing over and over and over.  Taught a ceramic class but I just wanted to work in my studio, to selfish to teach.  Now I just enjoy working on what I want and when my shelves get to crowded I find a gallery  to show and sell my work. I am also one of the lucky ones that has someone to support them.  My husband works in the technical arts field and encourages me to spend all of my time in the studio.  Denice

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I am nowhere near being a professional potter- But I ran a business for 10 years and trained hundreds of others to do so.   So here is my 2 cents.  (I am numbering this in order for me to stay organized because my posts tend to not be reader friendly) 


1- Look at it from the opposite angle for a minute.  Create a budget and determine how much Money (profit) you need to survive.  

2- Divide that up by 52 weeks and calculate how much profit you need per week. 

3- Determine what items you need to be able to sell to make that much.  (thinking of your top selling items, and some quick buck items. Any of the outside creative "go with the flow pieces" could be considered icing on the cake to sell) 

4- Decide how much time per day you would need to make those items (on a bad potting day, because they will occur) and compare that to the time you are investing in it currently. Is it possible to spend this time?

5- Decide what adjustments need to be made, if you can enjoy life living like that with the items you need to sell & time spent. 


The motivational speaker in me says "If it has been done before, than it is possible."    How many people out there are strictly potters? (not compared to how many want to be, because want and drive are not the same thing) What is the difference between them and you?  I feel it is wrong to tell someone to give up their dream, they could potentially be the most talented potter in history (given enough practice).  For me, I decided to stop looking at what other potters think of my work and what items "professional potters" make.  I need to be 100% me, otherwise I might as well be a f$&@*^ing  slip casting machine.  I think that is where the line of "craft or art" comes into play as well.  We cannot live up to our full potential in something if we are not in it 100%.  Is it a matter of shutting one door so you can be fully committed? Maybe.  Clearly you have had this dream for a very long time. You stuck with it this long,  this hump could be your step back before your breakthrough.  Get the F in the studio and pot the hell out of that clay today.  Frustration makes for the best artists.   ;)  (ahem, and other things too, but let's stay on topic haha)

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Making a living as a potter vs. making as much money as currently do is a losing battle if your current job pays well and has great benefits. Chances are you will never make as much. Selling $5400 worth of pots every week? Impossible. $5400 a month? Very doable, with hard work.

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All the advice is really nice, and I suspect that I am not the only one on these forums that have the same struggles right now.  I hope others have gotten something out of this as much as I have.  Cheaper than a Therapist.


Especially a big thanks goes out to Mark who gave me a call and we talked for a good hour, sometimes hard advice and some validation is all we need to hear.


I will continue to follow the path I have started on, make as many pots as possible and attend as many shows as I can get to.  I want to open up a wholesale market which I am going to begin starting in 2014 and hope to have something established in 3 years (advice I received with planning from a local potter who has been successful with wholesale).  I believe that patience, hard work, and being as efficient and innovative as possible will get me there.


In the end if I cannot quit my day job at some point in the future I will always have Pottery as a "retirement job" which may be exactly what I am looking for.


Thanks again.

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Making a living as a potter vs. making as much money as currently do is a losing battle if your current job pays well and has great benefits. Chances are you will never make as much. Selling $5400 worth of pots every week? Impossible. $5400 a month? Very doable, with hard work.



.... and if you live frugally, and run your business frugally, $5400 gross per month equals a very comfortable life. Frugality is a skill that many Americans seem to have forgotten how to do. But it is an essential part of the equation for a full-time potter.


I understand that some people think making many multiples of the same pot sounds bad. For some people it ruins all the pleasure, but for others like me, this is very pleasurable. When I look across a table full of production ware at the end of the day, again I think "I can't believe I get paid for doing this." So this is an important question to ask yourself if you are aspiring to make a living at this, whether you would enjoy this or not.

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With the input from the pros here and an hour with Mark C along with your local 45 year local potters advice, it sounds as though you have a lot of support as you work through this.


I poured over the report posted a few weeks ago in this forum on the status of craft in America, and although I found all of the information extremely helpful two things really encouraged me about what is actually achievable. 


1) About 14% of craft artist relied on craft income to support most of their families needs (81-100%).


2) 17% grossed 51-100k, 9% grossed 101-200k.


I combined this with the reported 40% that claim 40+ hours per week and I surmise from these stats that to earn a living in pottery one would need to produce and earn in the top 30th percentile, get to the top 15% and your probably earning a pretty decent living depending on how you can manage your expenses and resulting net. Add a small staff at some point along the way and maybe push into some financial success beyond a good wage.


I guess my 2 cents is that its great to turn to the pros for advise and the ones you have on your side are all successful and I think all earning easily in this top tier. They have all also seen so many wonderful people with a dream try and pursue pottery as a business only to fail, not only costing them financially but destroying their love for pottery in the process.  So while I would not ignore their caution, I would temper that part of their advice as you are not considering a pottery business but rather you are two years in. With this post you started out questioning the underlying earning potential of pottery and ended you're last post with "I will always have pottery as a retirement job which may be exactly what I am looking for".


I get that coming off some dismal outings you had an epiphany that you were floundering and possibly failing. I don't know how many businesses you've launched but that's certainly normal. You did some bad math (unless you really do need 23k a month) that further took the wind out of your sails and you have spent the past few days stressed out that you have been flogging a dead horse.  


I think if you re-read the report I mentioned you will see that there are plenty of artist making a living but that to get there you have to compete with and perform at the very least in the top third of your competitors for a living wage.


It's a friendly competition but handmade pottery it is a niche market and you are going to venues that likely have little increase in overall pottery dollars being spent and you are vying for those dollars to go to you rather than one of the other potters in attendance. I guess at some shows you could be creating market but I am assuming that the shows you referenced had other potters. As the artist it may seem impossible to separate the process from business but ya gotta try. You say your pottery is as good or better than those you are competing with but that is only part of the puzzle. It's a harsh reality that the restaurant that serves the best food is seldom the busiest restaurant.    


I would venture that if you did open a restaurant, car repair shop, grocery store, web design company etc. your odds of success are likely not even as good as pottery given your background and if you fail, then as you said you still have your retirement hobby. Nothing wrong with that but right now after all the time and money you have invested it seems to be jumping the gun until you decide to close the business and pursue the art. I guess I'm saying in this rant don't make the decision passively and just let it fade back into hobby with a sigh of relief. Have a clear cut ending to what you have been pursuing and with that you will know you hit obstacles and you evaluated all the information available, executed solutions and at the end of the day you made the best call. 


By way of full disclosure, I'm not a successful potter but I have been involved in and in charge of a number of launches (some successful and some not) and opening a business, any kind of business is very hard work and it's a given that your product is good and unfortunately that is not what solely drives success. 


As an aside, business courses at your local community college may really help you if you decide to re-organize instead of close down.


Anyway, best of luck and there are no wrong answers to your problem.

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This has been an interesting discussion.  I retired from my job a year ago, and jumped into small business ownership after that.  I wanted to have my own pottery business because I wanted to get better at my craft, and if you are making pots, you have to have someplace to put them!  So I sell them.  I am not a production potter by any means.  I am deliberate (read slow) and enjoy that process.    Here in our county they have a small business incubator that lined me up with a helper from the Small Business Development Center.  One of the first questions he asked me was...."what do you want to do with your business?"   I have thought about that a lot the last year.   And it has changed even in the last year.  Brian, you have all this really great advice from people who have been doing this a lot longer than me!  (6 years as a potter, 1 year as a pottery)  But I will put my little bit in there......just enjoy what you do.  I mean really enjoy it. 


Best of luck to you Brian,



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More than half my sales come in the 4th quarter sales and are mostly gifts.   Most gifts are price capped.  Example, customers "need" to buy a $50 gift, a $25 gift, 30  $5 "Happies), 12 teacher gifts, etc.  Important to recogonize that gift purchases are "needs" as opposed to "wants".  Customers do not have the option of not buying gifts.   Gift buyers are for the most part WAY less discriminating than self purchasers.   So .. maybe consider some items just because they sell and are profit builders versus pottery that will make it into a juried show?  I know people here are going to frown when they hear the words "cookie cutter" and "stamps", but these dinky things sell.  Just have to find objects that have meaning.  We sell lots of Mississippi shaped ornaments.  Crosses, fluer des lis, dragon flies, etc.  Initial ornaments blow out but I couldn't  produce enough of them this year to have them as an item.  The gift market for "multiples" is huge.  And I do mean "multiples".  Like this week I've had sales of 128 (necklaces .. for corporate gifts, not a wholesale account), 50 ($3 Mississippi's), 36 Crosses ($6), 15 small dishes ($10), 15 Mississippi's ($5). The multiples market is 100% price driven.   Personal multiple purchases usually range from 6 to 30.  I've had a corporate multiple sales up to 250 items ($20 each).   Cap amount on a corporate gift so far has been $50.  I did have a lot of these corporate multiple sales in my previous business so I didn't exactly start from scratch there. The key in getting corporate sales is to lock down the amount they want to spend.  And THEN find a product that fits.  That's pretty easy to do with pottery but I always carefully assess the product as to insure profitability.    I consider my prices to be very close to wholesale and I don't do any discount at all. (so far none of the corporate buys have asked for one),


You might have to reconsider I didn't really want that small Mississippi in the line.  But the kids talked me into it.  I just thought $3 is way to cheap to bother with.  The kids kept stuffing their production numbers with these things and I noticed we had like 1500 of them so I stopped production on them.   We sold out of those in October. So I had them start making them again and we put out several 100 a week of those, made from slab scaps and I put at least 30 of those in every kiln.    At only 3 inches, they fit in absolute dead spaces.  I do realize there is no art value in these but the amount is significant to my business.    I don't  consider myself to be a really accomplished potter but I do have a successful pottery business that supports me, dozens of feral cats (that are are all spayed/neutered), 1 full time employee and 45 hours a week employment to 3 college students (family).  If running a full labor schedule, the business puts out about 14K a month of products (not up to to that $21K number you mentioned) but it's profitable (& consider that  40% of that is jewelry, which of about half doesn't have a clay finding). 


I started kicking around with pottery 3 years ago (October 2010).  Been in this studio/retail location 2.5 years.  The business has cash flowed since December 2011.  For 2012 the only capital infusion was for a new L&L kiln which was repaid in December.  Business showed a paper profit in 2012.    Actually I'm very pleased with the financial side of the business as sales have made it to a 6 figure amount.  My 3rd Christmas here and will be opening expanded retail space in about a week.  I'll have about 15k invested there, which has been taken from last year's left over cash.   (still haven't learned my lesson... I have a tendency to invest profits back into a business) I will be adding in a few commercial products in addition to the hand made.  The retail side of this business has become a little bit too demanding.  I am adding  some extra products so I can hire an employee to stay in the "store" part.    I'm thinking I will offset this by having them make jewelry in their down time.   Waiting for year end & I will assess the numbers for this move.  I actually have the labor hours already in place but the kids can only work Friday/Saturday, which is your main retail day except in November/December when the store is busy to the point of distraction to production.  Right now those retail customer are driving me @@@@ crazy.  OMG can't wait for exams and the kids are here all week to deal with them.


Another really successful item in my line is "The Hostess Set".  I pair a bread tray with a 2 cup bowl.     I don't consider something really successful unless you can sell around 1K of them in a year.  By pairing it with the bowl it increases the functional appeal.  Buyers can just see their little dips/chips/crackers in these.   The unattached bowl versus that typical round chip & dip server is way more appealing (those other things don't hold enough dip).  Buyers can visualize the endless possibilities for this set (of course we usually spill them out for them ... just lay out your pork tenderloin in this, put your sauce in this nice matching bowl, etc).  I now have 3 different "sets" in the line.


In my area there aren't very many shows in December.  Weekend days in December are huge retail opportunities, with the Saturday before Christmas topping Black Friday sales for a lot of retailers. So you need to find a place to sell during November/December.     I remember Mark C. showing photographs of his set up in a strip center in front of a pet store.   I thought his set up was a very resourceful temporary kiosk type selling outlet.  Very very smart idea.


My premise is that I am going to make whatever it takes to make this business cash flow.  For example, sold over 8k of initial pendants in 3 years.   Not a real fun item to make but at the same time, I don't consider them a miserable task.  I now assign this job to one of the kids.   I only consider yearly cash profit as opposed to monthly.  The return on my capital investment in this business is very high, comparatively.   I do take some time and make some more artistic items.  I made a few sculptures, larger pieces , two vessel sinks and 2 water fountains last year, selling these from $100-$500.  I have one "commissioned" bowl order for $250 for January.  I do like making pottery but don't enjoy it as much as some of the people on the board seem to. I DEFINITELY don't like it enough to do it a financial loss. I actually liked it better when I was completely solo and did my own glazing.    I like throwing but don't do enough of it to put those items in production.  But I have a glazing employee that has worked for me for 20 years and for my family for 22 years.   So I am going to provide that job regardless.  One of my benchmarks for success in this business was to sell enough to bring that employee on board.  And the 3 college students that work here are family and I am going to provide them jobs as well.    I just have to manage production more with increased employees.   The business was completely stress free & easy profit when I was solo.


In summary,  keys to my financial success:


- Focus on gift market

- Production of items that will hit the "multiples" market for both consumer and corporate markets

- Stockpile of key items for 4th quarter sales

- Strict adhereance to production numbers for me and employees

- Jewelry in addition to pottery

- Diverse color/glaze  selections (I have at least 12 distinct colors in my line and often put out a couple items in additional colors)

- Marketing strategy directed towards becoming a destination retail business

- Selling at wholesale price to general public versus having retail store accounts.  At this point I have no intention of wholesaling.  Most of the potters in my area distribute by wholesaling.

- Use of social marketing to get my name around (I've quit working on this for the moment because we are at full production and are selling as much as we can make)


I'm pretty sure there is nothing I can share about "pottery" with any readers here.   But I might offer some insight on the marketing side.     Just something to consider is that you might have to alter your artistic production to increase the profitability of your business.    Of course if you are in the top percentile, already making a decent living, you will have no need of such tactics.


Brian I noted some of your work and definitely think you have the mechanics to make a pottery business work.  Your stuff definitely shows more talent and detail than mine. From a purely commercial view I can't see any reason your pottery wouldn't sell.  (other people here way more qualified to assess this than me though)  You just need to rethink those numbers and figure out where you fit it.  Rethink your production analysis and see what you need.  With those numbers you threw out you would be clearing 12K a month. (if I understood them correctly). I live comfortably on about 1/3 of that amount.  But then real estate is a lot cheaper in MS.   Not sure how you would make this much in pottery unless you had a full scale production or you are one of those elite potters that sell single pieces for  5 and 6 figure amounts.   I know of 3 potters in this state that have a production type of business but I have no idea of their gross sales and profits but I'm guessing they put out in excess of 500k a year.

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I have a dream ...... Also to live off my art. But right now a regular check health insurance, decent place to live, no crappy roommates, ocasssionally go out eat, and putting money in the retirement piggy.... Is more important.


I spent some time chatting with some successful potters at a recent show, (the biggest one I've attended sofar). Man did I learn a lot. I suggest you do the same. (Like you already did with mark).


Pm me sometime well trade notes

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I think someone said above that it is hard to make a living as a production potter. I am not sure about this, as there is a very successful potter near me, in Vermont. He has three people throwing and a couple of people glazing. He also has sales staff. He sells out of his own showroom, but also sends pots all over the country, including some high end shops in NYC. I spoke to him about his business, and he seems to be making a living, was actually looking for another production potter. His prices are good, though. A big bowl, about 14 inches across, sells at his shop for about $90, mugs are $20, very good quality, gorgeous colors. Easy decoration, though. I think he just spins the wheel, and uses ketchup bottles to put colors onto the base color.


He has the dream job, in my view!!


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Guest JBaymore

An important point to remember when assessing how folks are doing in this (or any field) is, "At what part of their career are they currently in?"  I can say that for myself, the outside picture now and the picture back in the 70's are two different animals.


Yes, someone might be being very economically successful at the point in time you are looking at.


But the real story you need to get is in is how they GOT there.  We are then back to my "last man/woman standing" idea I think I posted earlier in this or another business rlated thread here.  Quite often there was a long period of very lean years and very hard work and emotional upheaval sitting behind the current success you see. 


I'm not saying that is a "bad" thing, but the important point often is that the particular person had the wherewithall to sustain the effort through the tough times, and come out on the other side intact.  That means having the ability to weather the economic realities of first losing money, then barely breaking even on expenses, then making a tiny weenie salary/paycheck but no actual profits on the investment, to eventually drawing a real paycheck, and then also adding in a decent ROI (profit for taking the risks) to the paycheck.  It also means having the ability to emotionally deal with this kind of somewhat normal business start-up sequence.


I know some very successful potters.  In order to reach where they are, some of them had what you might calll "exceptional circumstances" that allowed them to get to where they now are.  Lacking that particular circumstance....... it is very possible that they would be an accountant, truck driver, company sales rep, or chef.  If you didn't KNOW about the path that lead them to where they are....... you might have a mistaken impression of how easy or hard it is to become that successful in the field.  I am not saying this is BAD stuff....... just that it is reality stuff.


So what can those "exceptional circumstances" be? 


In some cases it is that the potter is a "trust fund baby".  There is family money behind tthe scenes that unless you know them very well... you will never know about.  Many people who have money do not lead ostentatious lives with that money.... but it does not mean it is not there as a safety net and also as a business incubator.  The ability to capitalize and economically sustain a business through the startup period is VERY often the real key to the survival of that business.


In some cases, the potter has a benefactor/patron.  Yes, this still happens in the world today.  I know at least one potter this applies to.  Someone who HAS significant disposible money decides that he/she really likes the work of XXXXXX and wants to help them to succeed.  They then go out of their way to find that person opportuinities that they would not have had if the benefactor was not out in the world making things happen.  That benefactor becomes an avid collector of the person's work, and pays high prices for it.  They get  their (usually also weathly) friends to do likewise.  They contact the artist with the gallery owners that they know well (becasue they are already buyers of art).  And so on.


In some cases there is a spouse/significant other that has a very good job and a high income and can provide that REAL necessity... health insurance.  In a sense, this is a bit like having a patron..... but maybe lacking in the "connections" department.  But maybe not.  If that job is in a segment that brings them into contact with a  wealthy segment of the population, that too opens doors for the potter part of the duo.


In some case it comes in the form of a having had a well known and respected teacher, having been a re ally great student, and having a great relationship with that teacher.  If the teacher is "connected" in the art world, then they have the ability to greatly help establish the coming career of that student.  They can network the student into opportuinities that they would not have had otherwise.  Networking in ALL businesses is probably the key ingredient in success.  (Join Potters Council and go to NCECA folks!)


In some cases it is the fact that the potter has found an exceptional employer in something like a teaching field.  The educational institution feels that it is very important to that institution for the artist to have a high profile career outside the institution itself.  So there is a lot of political and financial support for the artist from the institution, and the working load on them at the institution is managed to keep it from interfering with the outside activities too much.  The institution feels that this is a "win-win" situation. (These are few and far between... see "blind luck" below.)


In some cases it includes an element of "blind luck" as to timing.  Hitting a large grant at just the right time in the business cycle to sustain things when all else is bleak and desperate.  Like maybe a $15,000 Windgate Fellowship grant landing in a graduating student's lap.  It is not that they have not EARNED that grant... because that kind of thing is a very competitive thing, .........but it is that there are few awarded.  To get one and get it at the exact right time that you can take maximum advantage of it .......... priceless.  For every one person this kind of event has sustained...... there are ten others that are no longer doing clay full time because it did NOT happen.


So as you build your ideas of doing this clay thing as a real business,.............. dig well deeper than the surface.  Due dilligence in coming up with the business plan.


I'm thinking here of the old radio series by Paul Harvey.  (Only the oldsters here will get this.)  "Now, for the rest of the story."





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i'm doing it. no special circumstances. no outside job, no spouse or partner income. there are better  years and tougher years. you save llike heck during high earning years to help tide you through the tough years. my business has never really come back to the level it was before the real estate crash, as my customers were and are primarily people who are remodeling,(tile, fireplaces, fountain, mural, architectural components.)

so i'm in the process of re-evaluating what i do, where my markets are, whether i should change my focus. trying to listen to and serve  my creative instincts  as well as my business calculations.

i nurtured a business part time for 5 years then took  the leap to full time 16-17 years ago. the job i left was stressful, sedentary and didn't pay all that well, though it was considered a good job in that town. i tried like heck to land a job in academia but it did not pan out. you could say that being a full time ceramic artist is also stressful, sedentary and doesn't pay that well , LOL!  but for me, at least it has the potential, (and it is not as sedentary. ) maybe that is the difference between an entrepeneur and some one who is not..the thought that there is potential, there is opportunity. entrepeneurs and those who are living off of their work are optimists, i believe. you can punch a time clock and be a pessimist but  you have to be keep the engine turning over, and over and over  if you are self employed, so you do sort of have to enjoy that aspect of it...being a self starter..

It is also a bit odd being a full timer in a profession that can seem filled with  part timers , people  doing it as a retirement pursuit and a hobby , and  those who do not need to pay the bills with their clay money.  Depending on where you live, it can be lonesome and tough to connect with other full timers. you will find that most full timers are gracious and generous . You will need a depth of passion that will have  you wanting to run some glaze tests or try a new form or improve something you have already done thousands of time no matter how long you have done it...it really has to be the fire in your belly. 

you have gotten some very good advice fromm other posters.

Everyone is different when it comes to how much risk they can handle and how  they approach major  changes or projects in their lives. some are cautious and plan meticulously for years, either weaning themselves into it little by little or planning for 'the day'. others leap or immerse themselves, and use that immersion as the thing that will tell them if this is for them or not.

one suggestion i have is to work, if possible in a true production  studio. if nothing else, this will give you a sense of the pace  and timing needed to live off the earnings from your work.

recognize your strengths, weaknesses and the passion and committment you have. you really must love clay if you are going to go solo, you will also be wearing about 50 other hats and will need to determine just how many you yourself will wear and which ones you will delegate or hire out. . entrepeneurial zest and communication skills are also a must, in fact , some of the most successful operations , (i.e. more than one person,) are headed up by potters who discovered they had other skills and loves, such as designing equipment or workplaces, doing the designing or marketing, etc, they found they were stronger business people and decided  to hire  production potters, glazer, kiln loader, office personnel,shipping crew, etc.

i will tell you there is no one roadmap, and though you will be with a fine group of folks you will be living by your wits and what you can produce.

whatever you decide, here's to you for valuing our medium enough to consider it!

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This is extremely right on the mark.

stephsteph said-

(It is also a bit odd being a full timer in a profession that can seem filled with  part timers , people  doing it as a retirement pursuit and a hobby , and  those who do not need to pay the bills with their clay money.  Depending on where you live, it can be lonesome and tough to connect with other full timers. you will find that most full timers are gracious and generous . You will need a depth of passion that will have  you wanting to run some glaze tests or try a new form or improve something you have already done thousands of time no matter how long you have done it...it really has to be the fire in your belly. )

I really can connect with this statement-but alas I'm a full timer with a hot belly.


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