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Many potters dream of turning their talents into a full-time business venture; of ditching the suit and corporate world to spend their days in the studio creating pieces that will bring joy to others for years to come. Such a business leaves the soul fulfilled and offers the opportunity to interact with other artists within the community.
Who is this business right for?
Being able to craft a quality clay piece is only half the challenge. You must also possess the creativity and drive to continuously seek out new avenues for displaying and selling your work. An artist who has a knack for self promotion and networking amongst other artists and clients is an ideal match.
What happens during a typical day at a pottery business?
Running a successful pottery business is more than a full-time job. Your days will be spent in the studio forming, glazing and firing your creations and making molds. You’ll also spend a great deal of time putting your creative ideas down on paper and preparing for future projects.
There’s still the question of how you will sell your work. For many artists, this proves to be the greater challenge. Pottery business owners dedicate hours to networking in the community and seeking out new avenues to have their pottery displayed and sold. Their weekends are often spent traveling and setting up exhibits at art festivals. Those who decide to sell their work on a website spend a portion of their day managing orders, taking pictures of new items, and adding new pottery pieces to the site.
What is the target market?
Many consumers settle for cheaper pottery items that are mass produced. Those who purchase handmade pieces appreciate the time and skill that goes into each creation and are willing to pay a little extra for their one-of-a-kind piece. These are the individuals you’ll target when determining where to display your work and which festivals/shows you should attend.
How does a pottery business make money?
Pottery business owners earn their living off each piece they sell. Many choose to sell primarily to individual customers, while others have found success selling wholesale. Whichever route you take, pay close attention to your pricing model. Prices should include cost of materials, as well as an hourly wage to ensure maximized profit.
What is the growth potential for a pottery business?
Through hard work and dedication, pottery business owners have the potential to become very successful. Due to the nature of their work, many choose to keep their business small and local, working alone or with one assistant. There are a number of world-renowned ceramic artists, however, whose pieces are sold and showcased in museums and galleries all over the world.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful pottery business?
To run a profitable pottery business, one must possess more than artistic talent. You must possess the ability to balance your artistic abilities with an entrepreneurial spirit, ensuring your art makes it out of the studio and into a client’s home. Skills such as product development, marketing, accounting and sales should be mastered to ensure long-term success.
Even if you’re business-minded, consider taking some courses on accounting, marketing, and economics. Most classes can be taken at your local adult education center, online, or at a community college. Additionally, the Journal of the American Ceramic Society has a wealth of information that could provide insight into what marketing strategies work best for others in the industry.
As previously mentioned, there’s more that goes into building a successful pottery business than just your art. Time management skills are important for ensuring you devote the proper amount of time and attention to each aspect of your business.
Historically, potters spent several years apprenticing with a “master potter,” who taught them the skills needed to open their own studio. This time-honored tradition is still used today and is an important way to pass on skills from generation to generation.
What are the costs involved in opening a pottery business?
Before making any investments, there are a few items to consider. Will your studio include a wheel throw, or will you build by hand? Do you plan on glazing your pottery in-house, or will you take it elsewhere for glazing and firing? How much space will your kiln take up? If electric, do you have an adequate power supply to handle the equipment?
Depending upon your needs, you’ll either set up shop in your home or garage, or rent or purchase studio space. While investing in a space away from home will affect your overhead expenses, many enjoy keeping their home and work separate. It’s all about personal preference.
Once you’ve determined your workspace, there’s a number of items and equipment you’ll need:
- Hand tools
- Carving and decorating tools
- Glaze and colorants
- Wheel: ranges from $950 and $1800
- Work table
- Storage and display shelves, including a place to store damp pieces
- Kiln: manual or computerized, ranging from $2,000 to over $10,000
- Pug mill: costs anywhere from $2,300 - $8,400
- Business cards
You’ll also want to set some cash aside to cover art festival and traveling expenses. These shows are a great way to start building a name for yourself.
What are the steps to start a pottery business?
Once you're ready to start your pottery business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your pottery business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your pottery business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
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How to promote & market a pottery business
It is important to develop an effective marketing strategy. It helps to first create a list of primary and secondary markets for selling your creations and develop a strategy around that.
Let’s look at a few marketing and promotional strategies that have been successful for other potters:
- Keep a guest book from each event that you attend and create a mailing list. Send out mailers, via email or postcard, reminding people of your work and including contact information.
- Using your mailing list, notify customers of a “kiln opening.” Clients can come visit your studio and purchase pottery right out of the kiln.
- Attend art festivals. While these events can prove costly, they’re an effective way of reaching a broad audience. Don’t forget to take business cards for those who enjoy your work, but aren’t ready to buy.
- Post pictures of your work on Instagram and other social media sites. Many artists have found great success holding online auctions.
- Have a billboard or sign prominently displayed. It should include all contact information and encourage customers to visit your studio.
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How to keep customers coming back
To attract and retain a steady flow of clients, your product line should include a wide variety of items. While you will want to include some items that are guaranteed to sell, it’s also important to maintain your artistic integrity by creating items you enjoy producing. To appeal to a larger market, offer sets of items in varying sizes. You can also offer discounts on sets of items that are purchased together. A balanced line of products and prices and steady use of high quality materials will set a level of consistency that ensures repeat customers.
How and when to build a team
Many potters enjoy hand-crafting their work, and customers are drawn to them because they’re one-of-a-kind. As a result, many choose to keep things simple and not take on a staff. As you get busier, it might prove beneficial to take on an intern or apprentice. They can help with the glazing and firing part of the process, allowing you to produce more pieces.
If accounting isn’t your forte, hiring an accountant to manage your finances would be a smart business decision. It’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind of knowing your finances are being managed properly.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a pottery business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply.
For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Also, if you want to offer complimentary alcohol at special events or showings (as many pottery studios do), you will need an Art Gallery Liquor Permit, the specificities of which vary locally.
Certificate of Occupancy
A pottery business is generally run out of a studio when offering classes. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a pottery business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your pottery business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Prices vary from piece to piece. Carefully consider all the factors that went into creating your work, including materials used and time spent. Never sell yourself short when creating your price list. A coffee mug might sell for $20, while a work designed for display may yield thousands of dollars.
What are the ongoing expenses for a pottery business?
Fortunately, there is very little overhead in this industry. If you decide to open a public studio, you’ll have the standard expenses of rent, electric, and insurance. Otherwise, your budget will primarily be spent on materials, website management (if you choose to have one), and entry fees for events. Since you pay for materials up-front, your money is tied up until you’re able to recoup the money through sales.
How much profit can a pottery business make?
Novice potters report annual earnings of just under $20,000, while master potters make an average of $47,500 annually. Most businesses take anywhere from 2-5 years to really get going.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Some pottery entrepreneurs have reported higher earnings by integrating the following into their business plan:
- Teaching pottery classes
- Selling wine and snacks to alongside pottery classes
- Inviting groups to paint/glaze your unfinished work and take home as a souvenir
- Experience will offer valuable insight into streamlining some of your processes, which increases your turnaround time
- Creating molds, which will allow both you and your apprentice to generate more pieces
- Simplifying some of your more detailed pieces and test them to see how they sell. If they’re popular, you can reduce the number of complicated items, increasing your turnaround time.
- Crafting products that appeal to several markets. Diversification is critical to every successful business.
- Collaborating with other artists in your community - this is a great way to grow as an artist and businessman and serves as a powerful networking strategy.
- Soliciting galleries, bars, hotels, restaurants, and real estate agents. While cold-calling is uncomfortable for most of us, you might be surprised at how many are willing to display your work on consignment or invest for design purposes.