I received an email the other day:
It has always been my dream to start my own pottery business. Hoping to do that in the next couple years. Any advice?
My first thought was to just send this person to my blog, but then I thought it might be hard-- even with my half-assed tags-- to ferret out the advice amongst the bitching, crying, and general angst that my posts are usually engaged in. A rational person would walk away from my blog realizing that they do not want to start a pottery business, but ceramic artists are not rational people, at least not when it comes to clay. Look, we take mud and turn it into a freaking cup, so many of us have this idea that we can do anything we put our minds to. Ceramic artists have wills made of steel.
So I thought about it-- what would I advise someone who wants to start a business in making clay objects and then sell them? I made a list.
#1- Get a mentor. Find a successful clay artist and ask them to be your guide, teacher, and mentor. If possible, work for them. When I was first learning how to make pottery, I landed a job with ceramic artist Sandi Dihl. She is a successful artist who has been supporting herself with her work for decades. I leapfrogged ahead in my career by many years because I learned from her firsthand what it took to run a business. What to do, and sometimes just as importantly, what not to do.
#2- Don't sell mediocre work just because you can. A quick peek through etsy will show you that there are many people making unexceptional pottery, and selling it. Don't add to that pile, it is not the path to distinguishing yourself. Brutally assess your work. Find other people whose opinions you trust to brutally assess your work. Make something special that shows who you are and hone that talent before putting yourself in the marketplace.
#3- Realize that when you make pottery for a living, you are sacrificing a part of yourself for money. Every artist struggles with this, and every person who wishes to survive in our society must do this, so don't fool yourself that because you are an artist you can skip by. If you are running a ceramics business, then ceramics is your job. Maybe your dream job, but still a job. I've spent years cycling in and out of burnout and psychological stress from running my art as a business. Recognize that you will need outlets to help balance your life, and put them into place.
#4- Create a support network for yourself of other artists and creative types so that you can struggle and learn together, give each other advice, cry on each others shoulder, and critique and advise one another. Your mother, best friend, and significant other can't do it all for you.
#5- Don't eff up the business end of things, and don't spend one second telling yourself that you are an artist, not a businessperson. If you want to be successful, you must be both. Get interested in running the numbers. Learn quickbooks. Read small business blogs that specialize in the arts. When you are done reading this paragraph, read it again and replace the word "business" with "marketing". Then get interested in promoting yourself. Learn how to use social media and avail yourself of all the online tools that are out there.
If you've been keeping up this week then you may notice a theme developing. I promise to take each point from above and write more extensively about it in the coming weeks, and as usual, some feedback from my readers to keep me on track is always helpful!