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young potter needs advice, my thoughts

updated tue 30 dec 03


Chris Clyburn on mon 29 dec 03

Well I haven't yet been able to successfully post from my yahoo account and
have lost many messages that I didn't feel like rewriting, so Finally I
copied and mailed to myself a long post I wrote last night that didn't show
either, so here it is...

Well, I myself have not yet started a business as I am still in
school and waiting to find out where I will settle after grad school
and my wife gets her doctorate.
What I do know though is that if you are married, first and
foremost you should discuss every option with your spouse. My wife
and I had long talks on how I will start my business and the first
thing we came up with was I can't until she finishes her degree and
lands a job. The reasons have nothing to do with a "finnancial
cushion" and everything to do with the fact that her field, English,
bestows a "do you want fires with that" degree unless she is hired
by a publishing house, or a college somewhere since she doesn't want
to teach high school; whereas with my degree I can start a business
whereever we wind up.

That being said, I think the best bet for anyone with the time, would
be to diversify as much as possible before they start any business.
I plan to go to grad school for my MFA in ceramics, and either in
the next few months or while in grad school I plan to take vo-tech
night courses to learn about masonry, plumbing and finally electrical
work. That way when I start my business I can do studio pottery, or
I can do comissioned architectural ceramics with lit fountains,
murals, courtyard features and the like. And with my background in
painting and sculpture I can do formal art as required. After enough
experience teaching from my studio or doing workshops and with a
good enough show record with my MFA I could also teach at a college
or get certified to teach high school in whatever state I wind up in.
I plan to slowly aquire equipment while still in school so I won't
have a lump sum startup. I also plan to learn sandblasting and
etching techniques over time to add that to the business as well.
Basically whatever the customer wants I will be able to say "I can do
that" The key to any successful business is to plan as much as
possible and to be as adaptive as possible. If money is short, with
my skills I will be able to contract out to construction companies
if I have to.

Be flexible. Don't quit a steady job until you have a plan with many
layers of safety nets. I don't sell my pots yet, not because they
aren't good, they are, but they are not great yet. They are not as
good as what I have seen and admired on the market so far and I
can't compete yet. So what my wife or her family does not keep, I
destroy, simple as that. My reputation will be built on the quality
of my work and I refuse to sell substandard garbage. I also refuse to
sell stuff using others glaze recipes, not because they don't meet my
standard, in fact most exceed them, but for me using anothers work
is to succeed is stealing, at least when applying the situation to

Before you start, I would suggest setting a standard to meet, and see
if you can meet it consistently. I'm not talking a perfect ideal
here, that would be foolish, but make sure the work is quality. Also
make sure you have a unique style. I have seen too many pots over
the past month, while staying in Jersey, where I could not tell
without looking that they were made by different potters. The work
is high quality, but it looks like everything else around it. If your
work is indistinguishable from another potter in the same area, the
only thing to set you apart is your price, and our businesses are
too labor intensive and small scale for a bidding war to be
benificial to anybody. So strive to be creative.

Take a few business courses. Most of us are right brained and could
benifit from a few left brained injections when it comes to business
What it all boils down to is, do what you love, but don't kill
yourself doing it. Work smart and stay afloat, diversify and plan,
and above all have several safety nets in place to catch you when you
fall, as most businesses will do at first, the ones that succeed
have a net in place so they don't have as far to climb up to get
back to where they started. Overnight successes are rare but a
flexible, smartly planned business will succeed in the end if you have
the drive to persevere. Good luck to us all

Chris Clyburn
Enjoying a relatively relaxing vacation with the in-laws. Relatively,
because with in-laws everything is relative