What's the traditional way to become a successful potter?
Successful potters didn’t get successful because they had the best kiln, or they used exotic glazes or materials.
And they didn’t necessarily get to charge hundreds or thousands of dollars for their work because their work is better than yours.
These successful potters who have these dream pottery studios didn’t go out and just build them, fitted it with lots of expensive equipment and materials and then locked themselves away until they finally popped out the door with something amazing and said to the world –
“hello – I’m a new successful potter! I can now live full time off my ceramics!”
No, if only it were that easy!
They found success because over the years, they slowly built up their audience.
An audience of potential customers, who like their work so much, that they could turn them into real customers.
The difference between a hobby potter and a full-time potter is an audience.
So how can you build up your own audience?
Up until very recently, there’s only been one pathway to success.
The typical successful potter has had to put lots of work into building up their audience. They have had to network & network, and they are friendly with all the right people. After all:
"It's not what you know, it's who you know"
They have applied to hundreds of shops, galleries, art shows, and art fairs, and after lots of hard work, sweat and tears, and a lot of rejections, they have slowly built up their name over the course of decades.
Step 1: Network
Step 2: Make some stuff
Step 3: Take photos of your work
Step 4: Apply for galleries, shops, art fairs & shows...
Step 5: Get rejected a ton of times.
Step 6: Get into a couple of shops or galleries
Step 7: Break-even?
Step 8: Slowly build up small pockets of people who know about you "your audience" around the country.
Step 9: Start to make a profit.
But this is a terrible way to find success.
The ugly truth about shops, galleries, and art fairs...
First of all, it all hangs on the whim, and taste, of the gallery owners, shop owners, and art fair organizers. These are the gate-keepers that make and break the careers & fortunes of potters from around the world. These are the people that decide what's in fashion, what's good and what's bad.
And because of these gate-keepers - many talented hobby potters simply give up after one too many rejections.
You feel like no one likes your work, except your family and friends, who support you by buying your work. But you doubt that anyone else will like your work enough to make a full-time career out of it.
Why let your success depend on a handful of people?
Second, If your work does get into a shop or a gallery, then you are pretty much "locked-in" to a style of work. Shops will want the same type of work that you gave them before. Galleries will too.
By having to produce the same type of work, day in, day out, just to sell in shops to make your living, you are limiting yourself creatively. You can't really progress as you would like to. You can't try out new things.
Third, galleries and shops send you back the stuff they cannot sell!
That means you could have hundreds of dollars of stock just sat around for half a year before you get it back again. You might not even know what you have sold until they let you know months later, that actually, you sold one pot.
Fourth, *and this is the most important part* - the people that go into the shops, galleries, and art fairs, are not your target audience.
Even if you get into the busiest gallery in your city, how many of the people who enter the gallery and see your work will actually like your work?
Maybe a couple of people for every hundred through the door?
How many people buy your work?
If you're lucky - one in a hundred?
And how many people remember your name?
One in five hundred?
How many people look you up and see what you are doing next?
One in a thousand?
How many people keep you in their mind, and wonder what you are up to now or have planned next?
Close to zero.
If you attend an art fair over a weekend, you can see it for yourself. You might get thousands of people passing your stall. But how many people stop, and actually think about buying your work, how many sales do you actually make?
Yes we know, art fairs are not just about sales - it's also a place to meet with other like-minded potters and have a good time. We hear many potters say things like "It was a good social, and I managed to break even, so it was a good weekend overall"
And that's the problem with the large audience.
The audience is not your "target audience".
Why are you paying to sit all weekend at an art fair to get your work seen by uninterested people just to break even?
Fifth, How much commission do you pay the galleries to have access to this audience?
How much money do you spend to be allowed to have access to the audience of the art fair?
50% commission for the gallery or shop?
$100, $200, $300 to attend an art fair? More?
- You're either paying upfront costs to reach a wrong audience of people who aren't interested in your work
- Or you're giving away 50% of your profits so that your work can be seen by hundreds of people who also aren't your target audience.
Yes, ok, but another point about getting into a gallery or a shop is the recognition that you get! Right?
But is this good for business, or is it just for your vanity?
Honestly, let's recognize a few things...
- How many galleries and shops and art fairs do you need to attend in order to reach enough people who like your work to make enough sales? Based upon a 1% like rate and a 0.1% buy rate?
- And how much would it cost you in prepaid fees and lost profits in the form of high commissions?
- How much time do you have to spend networking to even get the chance to access these audiences?
- How many magazines do you have to get into?
- How many art shows do you have to win?
- How much work does it really take to get your name out there?
- How many years can you afford to spend on building your audience?
This is an incredibly expensive and inefficient way to promote your work!
So why is this still *the* way to make it as a successful potter?
The only thing standing between you and your successful ceramics career is your target audience of potential customers.
- What if everyone who attended the art fair only came to see you?
- What if everyone who came into the gallery only came to see your work?
That would be amazing, right?
So how can you just reach the people who like your work?
How can you build up your own target audience?
- Just focusing on selling your work in Shops and Galleries is not a good business plan.
- You're paying to get your work seen by people at art fairs - but they aren't your target audience.
- You're losing half of your profits to get your work in front of the eyes of people in the shops and galleries - but they also aren't your target audience.