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To Sell Or Not To Sell? That Is The Question

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First, a little background: I'm a relatively new potter by this forum's standards. I started taking pottery classes at a local studio about 4 years ago; for the first 3 years, I was only able to dedicate <10 hrs a week to pottery but over the last year, I've been spending >30hrs every week at various studios.

 

While I'm thoroughly enjoying the extra time at the studio, my output has also gone up exponentially. So far I have been quite happy gifting pieces to various friends, family and coworkers. While I'm still happy gifting pieces, I've reached a point where my small apartment has run out of place to store all my pots and I'm also running out of people to gift things to. I've recently relocated and therefore haven't considered local art/craft fairs because I don't have enough inventory for shows at this point in time. I've considered setting up an Etsy/Ebay store but am unsure of what the tax implications are with setting up an online store and am beginning to wonder whether it's really worth the trouble.

 

PS: I'm not looking at this as a way of generating any major source of income and am not a production potter by any stretch of imagination but would appreciate any insight that people in this forum would have to offer :)

 

 

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Hi Ria, you could just step up your game and start attempting very complex projects and forms. The output will go down and if you really push yourself you will likely have less making it all the way through in the beginning and new and different stuff to gift once ou master the new forms.

 

U could also start taking up other aspects of pottery like making your own glazes and maybe even dig/mix your own clay. Having the luxury of time and money can open up lots of interesting opportunities.

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Marcia, there are several opportunities but it's a question of building up some more inventory to be able to set up a table or contribute to a show. It may be a possibility in the near future; I just moved here 3 months ago and am slowly getting a sense of what kind of shows and fairs are in the area. The reason I was leaning towards an online store is because I could list the pieces that I currently have and see whether there was any interest in them.

 

Stephen, thanks for the suggestion! I think that may be the way to go at this point. It involves a sort of discipline that I haven't quite developed yet. A shift in mentality where it's more focused on quality and form than quantity. I recently joined a projects class at a local community studio - the first week was mugs, so I now have 9 mugs & I can see with each mug that I learned something from the previous one. I'm trying to focus more now on taller pieces, lidded pieces, vases etc. Let's see how it goes! I guess another possibility would be to start thinking more about the glazes and the different effects I could achieve with the glazes at hand. I've recently started a notebook to document my pieces because I find that sometimes I want to go back to make something I've done before..but can't remember what I had done! So much to learn and not enough time :)

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My personal experience with etsy is that it only works if you have a dedicated marketing strategy of your own: you can rely on them not at all to do this for you. The seo is arcane, and kind of superstitious. If you have a small inventory, you don't get found in search. Shipping pots is a whole other nuisance.

 

You could have a small open house at your home, and invite friends and neighbours over to buy some Christmas gifts for other people. This way you at least get to visit with people you like and have cookies.

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Diesel Clay - I might actually do that (the small open house)! Thanks! Gives me an opportunity to bake, meet some new people (maybe) and give them the opportunity to actually see the pieces instead of just look at pictures. I realized recently that if I do want to post things online, I will definitely have to brush up on my photography skills.

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You could also stop firing all your work ... You say you saw progress with the mugs, so recycle the first eight and go from there. When you did not have the luxury of time you wanted to fire everything but perhaps now is the time to become pickier about what makes it into the bisque kiln.

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ahh yes, bisque regret. 

 

I still wonder sometimes if I should be selling my work (mostly joking, but sometimes...). However, everyone has to start somewhere. If you do sell your work, only sell your very best! That way when you go to your friend's house and see them using your pots, you won't be embarrassed you sold that piece a few years down the road. Pots have a long shelf life. 

 

I am glad I started selling my pots when I did, but I wish I had been wiser and not as giddy to just put all my crap on the table. I had some good pieces, but most were not very good. Now I try very hard to have very good pots to sell, which takes a lot of time to start getting kilns full of mostly good pots. 

 

I still struggle with the age old, what to do with the kiln gems? Do I sell them for the same price, raise the price, save them for entering into shows, keep them, give them away, etc? I have done all these things. None seem to make sense to me. The best situation however has been someone bringing that kiln gem up to me and telling me how much they appreciate it, that they picked it out of all the other pots and know its a great pot. 

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I still struggle with the age old, what to do with the kiln gems? Do I sell them for the same price, raise the price, save them for entering into shows, keep them, give them away, etc? I have done all these things. None seem to make sense to me. The best situation however has been someone bringing that kiln gem up to me and telling me how much they appreciate it, that they picked it out of all the other pots and know its a great pot. 

 

In my mind there is nothing wrong asking a premium for the special kiln gems (just the opposite of giving a discount for a second or not so special pot).  Fundamentally, price is the  amount that a seller is willing to accept and the buy is willing to pay in an exchange of goods and services.  

 

Although he no longer sells directly from his website, Steven Hill used to offer "reserve" pots which sold for more than the regular price of that pot.  Of course it helps when you have the talent and name recognition to be collectible.

 

In my mind, this pricing strategy should be applied only to really special pots and not to those that are just a tad better than others similar to it.  Otherwise the price structure will be confusing to customers.

 

-SD

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Here's my story about 'kiln gems' ....

 

For ten years I had a home show and at first I would never put out my 'gems' ... I really liked them and was weirdly reluctant to sell them to just anyone. But then my business side took over and they were put out with all the rest ... and they seldom sold. None of my customers could see the 'gem-ness' of them. It was only me that saw any extra value.

Then a few years later I realized I liked them because they were different from my average work and my customers did not like them for the same reason. Some people would ask me what my favorite was and look very perplexed when I would show them.

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i had a friend print up two sheets of lables reading   " Occasionally, something spectacular happens in the kiln.  the price of this item reflects that."

 

that way i can price a little higher those of my regular "production" line that have a special look to them.  out of the 60 printed labels, i have used 9.  i do not think any of the 9 has not sold. 

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Something else you might want to look into is Craigslist.. they have a Art section you can post in... Our neighborhood has a big yard sale every year, were thinking of putting a few out to see what happens...

 

 

9 mugs, cool... glad you see improvement.. CC has a great point about recycling the other 8.. That's where im at now but its hard to do when Cindy likes seeing a full shelf... I see us both improving and she wants to keep our "rough" stuff... I did fire 2 of her earlier bowls today, now its time to accidently fall into the shelf and knock it over :)

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RiaV, I feel as though you express something that I am repeatedly tormented by. I feel as though I cycle, perhaps in a spiral moving forward, but cycle always back into the awareness that I spend huge amounts of my time pursuing exploration of something that is, on the one hand one of the most absorbing pursuits I have ever encountered in my life... and on the other involves environmentally wasteful production of "stuff". Sometimes that stuff is art, and sometimes that stuff is shards.

 

For better or worse, I cycle into trying to justify the money, time and production of "stuff", sometimes joking that it is therapy (which of course, it is), or I turn to vending it, as though being able to gather money for something makes it more justifiable. Part of the vending part is pushed by being in a community studio, where some indeed produce to vend, while others are in that early stage of "each glazed thing is precious". Their incredulous shock as I smash yet another 'not quite good enough in my eyes', usually evokes a "WHY didn't you sell that!!!". Sigh.

 

But who am I to compete for $$ at art fairs and markets against artists who absolutely depend on sales to pay the rent? Before I ever attended a market, I had this check list: 1) do I present objects of a level of skill that I am contributing to a high quality of "stuff"; 2) does my well crafted stuff have a unique(enough) nuance to be contributing to making the... art world? pottery craft? something like that... a better place? 3) are prople drawn to my stone chunks because *I've* put something into them?

 

It took me years to decide that I'd met those three criteria, yet never answering the predicate of who am I to compete for $$. I apologize if I seem indulgent to write this here, and I thank you for reading this, but almost nothing in the 'ethics' side of ceramics describes a constant turmoil that is my constant companion in this journey. The only thing that seems to release me from this potential paralysis is stumbling onto a new challenging technique, and for this forum/website I am most grateful. The challenge always returns me to the studio.

 

As to the stuff? I stop hard at the wet stage and pull it from production; nearly ruthless at the greenware stage. It's got to be really good to get fired to bisque. Clunky at the bisque hits the hammer, for at least it helps landfills at that point. At the end of the year, I donate end of the year left overs to a high school sale that supports the ceramics program. I sell a little on consignment at a cafe. I move on.

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I suggest not firing everything and recycle your stuff that that is not up to speed. That way you get the practice and learn from doing but there is no need to finish this work. So many folks keep everything at the start and that really should no happen for so many reasons.You also get to know that work is not precious but just work and sub standard work or work that needs more definition needs to be reycled back into the bag.

Mark

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Thanks for all the feedback! I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving :) I'm working on trying to be more selective with which pieces I fire. It is quite hard to change that mindset you develop at the beginning of learning pottery...where you feel that each piece is precious and can't be sacrificed. I've gotten slightly better at scrapping the clay at the greenware stage though!

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I find that the first 1 or 2 pieces I throw at a sitting are not as good as what comes after I've warmed up.  Those pieces go back to recycle before they have begun to dry.  Having the pug mill has helped me do that more.

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In NH there are myriad fees to own a business-it is expensive, relative to my situation, and forces you to enter that dark, scary, tangled, tunnel that is "the State". I want to form an LLC, and soon, to protect the name of my future business, but i have no expectation of selling anything anytime soon. Anybody have experience with formalizing a business that is not yet producing any revenue and which won't be much when it does begin to? I am wary of getting into the State system but I want the LLC and the ability to sell online, with something like PayPal, or on site using a device such as the Square--not cash. ??? I will be seeking advice from the SBA and doing my "homework" before setting up the LLC, but would love to hear your feedback first in terms of interacting with your State as a business owner. 

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In NH there are myriad fees to own a business-it is expensive, relative to my situation, and forces you to enter that dark, scary, tangled, tunnel that is "the State". I want to form an LLC, and soon, to protect the name of my future business, but i have no expectation of selling anything anytime soon. Anybody have experience with formalizing a business that is not yet producing any revenue and which won't be much when it does begin to? I am wary of getting into the State system but I want the LLC and the ability to sell online, with something like PayPal, or on site using a device such as the Square--not cash. ??? I will be seeking advice from the SBA and doing my "homework" before setting up the LLC, but would love to hear your feedback first in terms of interacting with your State as a business owner. 

 

Some thoughts (not NH specific):

 

(1) "Protecting your name of your future business" really is a matter of deciding what name you are going to be using as your business and start using it. Most states allow you use a "d/b/a" (doing business as) designation, so there is no need to incorporate to start using your business name. Many states don't require you to even register the d/b/a but you'd want to check and see what your state requires. The only financial investment that you should consider making at this stage is to obtain the domain name of your business. You can get that pretty cheaply through godaddy or another company--and be sure to look around for discount codes online. Then make a free blog using blogger or wordpress and forward your purchased domain name to the location of your blog. Your domain name provider will have a "help" post on this but it is really quite simple. The end result is when anyone types "mycustompottery.com" into their browser, they will be taken to "mycustompottery.blogspot.com" automatically and very few people will even notice.

 

Another reason you want to start using your business name asap is that you want to establish a sufficient prior use of the name so that no one else can claim the trademark. Anyone can create a company of the same name so that is of no real legal protection. What you want to do (and what the big companies do automatically) is to show that you are the first to be using that name. Then, even if someone else registers the trademark, you have a claim of a superior right due to your first use.

 

Finally, you want to use your business name as much as possible on the web so that "all roads lead to you". If a customer has one of your pieces and types your business name into google, you want to have your site pop up on at least the first results page. No one goes to page 2 of google results so you need to get on page one. That is done primarily by using your business name link as much as possible, having it as the address when you post comments on other sites, having it in your post footer as Mark C and others do in this forum, etc. The more use, the better.

 

(2) Getting involved in the "state" - your main concern should be finding out when you need to declare your sales on your state & federal taxes; and when and if you need to collect sales tax. Your local SBA office will be able to help you with both of these or get to an accountant. Heck, do both! The first is free. The second may charge you for a consult or may not, but a good accountant will help you balance your pottery related income from your pottery related expenses, etc. when possible. The main purpose of an LLC is to provide a limitation of liability (hence the name, Limited Liability Corporation) so that if something bad happens (or you run up a bunch of debts), the responsible entity is the LLC and you and your home and personal finances are protected from lawsuits. There is rarely a tax advantage to having an LLC as the vast majority of LLCs are taxed as "S" corporations, which means you (as the corporate shareholder) and not the corporation will be paying the taxes on your earned income. LLCs are not difficult to set up, but there are some filing costs and you have to do annual reports, might have a separate income tax report to file, etc. Fun paperwork that all potters love! ;-)

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Guest JBaymore

Lee,

 

You'll need to file a State Registration of Trade Name" for a DBA situation... that ties up the business name in the State (but not nationally or internationally). Cheap........ $50 for five years.  Renewable.  That puts you on the State "radar" as a business... and is required if you are doing business for yourself.

 

You can do a sole proprietorship with simply doing that and filing a Federal Schedule C.  (Get business liability insurance if you do that.)

 

Until your business profits are above $50,000 per year.... no NH tax forms at all.  Business profits tax is for over $50K.

 

There's no NH sales tax ... so internet sales and sales in-state ... no tax collection nightmare..  No NH income tax either as you know.  (But also no NH social services or support structure to speak of... double edged sword ...... "Live Free or Die".

 

In some ways it is actually EASY here .

 

Here's a thought to ponder however........

 

As an ARTIST........ do you really want to focus on a BUSINESS NAME... or using you own real name?  One suggests more of a "commodity product"...... the other more of a one-of-a-kind art product.

 

 

best,

 

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

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I still have a hard time parting with pieces that are less than perfect, and I have been making pottery for 16 years now.  For me that's usually because each piece takes me a long time to make.  If it's just at the throwing stage then back into reclaim it goes, but if it makes it into the decorating stage and it's not up to par I will spend additional time trying to fix it so that all the time which came before is not lost.  Ultimately if it makes it all the way through the process and fails in the glaze firing it becomes part of mine (or my mother's) personal collection.  Very few things are smashable.

 

I sell my pieces primarily on Etsy because like you I never seem to have the inventory to sell at a big show.  I have done some smaller local shows but the traffic is usually not there to make it worthwhile in my opinion.  I've been selling on Etsy for 2 years now, and each year I sell more and more.  I also partner with a friend who makes jewelry and we have 1 shop together.  That way it's not so much work just for me, because it does take work if you want to sell successfully on Etsy.  You can not simply put your pictures up and wait for the sales to roll in.  You have to be constantly posting your things or other similar content on social media, you have to have really good pictures (which is always a work in progress), you have to work at the SEO to make sure you get found, you have to list new things on a regular basis.  Shipping the pieces is actually really easy, but you do have to deal with customers asking questions, problems which arrive with shipping, returns, and other general customer service related things which pop up.

 

I also don't have a lot of room to store my pieces while I wait for the right buyer to come along.  I keep them in big plastic tubs separated by type, cups in one bowls in another.  I stack those bins up and out of the way.  If you are going to sell online, you will also need to keep shipping supplies on hand.  You can get a lot of them for free through your local freecycle or some businesses, but they do take up space.

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Lee,

 

To follow up on John's advice, you don't even need to register a DBA with the state of NH if you are operating your business under your own name.

 

INAL, but not sure why you would want to form a LLC -- unless you are carrying a whole lot of debt to support your pottery, there really isn't a lot of liability exposure just making and selling pots on a small scale (assuming you are not using toxic glazes, etc..). We did ask our lawyer about it when we were meeting with him on another issue, and he agreed -- just stick to a sole proprietorship for starters.

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RiaV, I feel as though you express something that I am repeatedly tormented by. I feel as though I cycle, perhaps in a spiral moving forward, but cycle always back into the awareness that I spend huge amounts of my time pursuing exploration of something that is, on the one hand one of the most absorbing pursuits I have ever encountered in my life... and on the other involves environmentally wasteful production of "stuff". Sometimes that stuff is art, and sometimes that stuff is shards.

 

For better or worse, I cycle into trying to justify the money, time and production of "stuff", sometimes joking that it is therapy (which of course, it is), or I turn to vending it, as though being able to gather money for something makes it more justifiable. Part of the vending part is pushed by being in a community studio, where some indeed produce to vend, while others are in that early stage of "each glazed thing is precious". Their incredulous shock as I smash yet another 'not quite good enough in my eyes', usually evokes a "WHY didn't you sell that!!!". Sigh.

 

But who am I to compete for $$ at art fairs and markets against artists who absolutely depend on sales to pay the rent? Before I ever attended a market, I had this check list: 1) do I present objects of a level of skill that I am contributing to a high quality of "stuff"; 2) does my well crafted stuff have a unique(enough) nuance to be contributing to making the... art world? pottery craft? something like that... a better place? 3) are prople drawn to my stone chunks because *I've* put something into them?

 

It took me years to decide that I'd met those three criteria, yet never answering the predicate of who am I to compete for $$. I apologize if I seem indulgent to write this here, and I thank you for reading this, but almost nothing in the 'ethics' side of ceramics describes a constant turmoil that is my constant companion in this journey. The only thing that seems to release me from this potential paralysis is stumbling onto a new challenging technique, and for this forum/website I am most grateful. The challenge always returns me to the studio.

 

As to the stuff? I stop hard at the wet stage and pull it from production; nearly ruthless at the greenware stage. It's got to be really good to get fired to bisque. Clunky at the bisque hits the hammer, for at least it helps landfills at that point. At the end of the year, I donate end of the year left overs to a high school sale that supports the ceramics program. I sell a little on consignment at a cafe. I move on.

Drmyrtle, the conversation has moved on to more practical concerns, but I deeply respect your ethics about the production of what you term "environmentally wasteful stuff".  I wish that someone more articulate and more poetic than I had responded to your concerns, but since they haven't done so, I'd like to try.  

 

I suffer from some of those same concerns, but my conscious isn't as fully developed as yours, since I do sell my work even though the world doesn't need another "thing".  Or does it?  When I was young the world itself was enough to pry open my practical carapace and expose my sensitivities, but as I get older, I find that it takes more to make me "continuously imagine what I do not know", to paraphrase an essay by Lisa Samuels on the value of beauty.   A graceful pottery form, a rich glaze, an unexpected combination of colors, a lovely motif or intriguing texture....these things remind me (and surely others) to do much more with our numbered moments than simply plod along to the grave!  

 

As for concerns about the expenditure of time and money:  A friend who expressed the same concerns to her budget-conscious husband received a wonderfully generous and logical response:  "Every human has the need and the right to create beauty, however they define it.  What if you had decided to take up ballroom dancing to feed your soul rather than creating pottery?"  Hmmmm. "The right to feed the soul"..... As someone who has always needed to "pay the rent" with my creations, I've never felt guilty about the expenditure of time and money, but the (now) obvious truth that I am fully entitled to feed my soul never quite occurred to me, either!   And as to whether the final result of all that time and money merits the expenditure, I am reminded of a story by Pearl S. Buck in which a friend's severely mentally handicapped child spent joyful hours each day arranging and rearranging colorful scraps of cloth into what were to him sublimely satisfying works of art.    

 

And as one of many artists/craftspersons who choose to "pay the rent" or even just purchase non-essentials with the earnings from sales of our work, let me take this opportunity to welcome you to our ranks!  We don't begrudge you those dollars!  Every dollar earned by anyone is earned through some kind of competition, so put that concern to rest right now!  

 

In conclusion, Drmyrtle,  you are entitled to rearrange those scraps of cloth to your heart's content because you are human, and the desire to create beauty is surely one of humankind's noblest traits. 

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Thanks for all the feedback--I have decided to not go the LLC route in order to sell my work (when that time comes) as it is just not necessary. I'll do the minimal required legal stuff and the biz insurance. 

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well just to be the thorn on this issue :-)

 

...as I said in another thread, an LLC is very similar to a sole proprietorship as you can have revenue treated on taxes just like a sole proprietorship and if its under $400 (last year) you just list the extra income and over $400 you fill out the exact same form as a SP. It is not remotely complicated to set up and maintain in most states , cost is very minimal and the protections are huge when and if you have a problem.  

 

I think some of the advice to skip it is because there is some notion of a hierarchy on business structure and the starting point should of course be a simple sole proprietorship as everything else is overkill if you are not earning big dough.

 

I personally wouldn't operate a lemonade stand as a sole proprietorship and I am all for crawling before you walk and walking before you run but this decision is a really big one and I would really research before deciding.  

 

Just my 2 cents.

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