Artist and Maker Jennifer Creighton Shares Two Reasons Why You Can't Afford to Undervalue Your Work
Some artists are born and some are made out of a required class they didn’t want to take in the first place. The latter proved true for Jennifer Creighton, who fell in love with pottery while fulfilling a course requirement in her last year of college. The Ohio-based artist and businesswoman now runs a flourishing "functional" pottery business on and offline, while also juggling her Etsy shop with a growing consignment and wholesale business.
We talked to Jennifer about her unusual path to becoming a maker, surviving her first art show and the *big* lessons she's learned about pricing.
I didn’t go to art school and never planned on being an artist. I was even annoyed that I had an art requirement to graduate, so I put it off until my senior year. I chose ceramics because it was cheaper than buying the materials for a painting class.
As it turned out, I fell in love with the art form as soon as I got into the studio. I took two classes before graduating and was totally immersed in pottery 100%. I did a year ofAmeriCorps serviceafter graduation and kept in contact with my ceramics professor. She started a retirement venture and opened a lakeside gallery studio. I asked to to work there and to continue to study ceramics.
I started part-time right away. From the start, my goal was to be my own boss. A little over 2 1/2 years ago, I dove into my current business,Function Pottery, full-time. I startedmy Etsy shopand was mostly doing shows around Ohio, both of which led to wholesale and consignment accounts. Now my business is continuing to gain momentum and direction.
Who was your very first customer?
My first real customers were my family. I did my first solo show withHandmade Toledo, although I woke up with acute appendicitis that morning and was extremely lucky that other artists in attendance ran my booth for me the entire day.
That was truly amazing, a testament to what it's like being a businessperson in a community of artists.
When did you know your business was going to work out?
Last summer I knew I was going in the right direction. Once I goton Etsyand saw that people who didn't know me or hadn't met me chose me out of a slew of other choices, I knew I had something good going on.
Makers can earn a living doing art fairs, but it’s quite difficult as they can be extremely unpredictable. My appendicitis show is a perfect example of that. They're a ton of work with no guarantee of income.
Once the online store took off, I felt optimistic. I’m always busy and I have very few slow seasons these days.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
The amount people are willing to pay for shipping has surprised me. It seems that everyone is used to free shipping nowadays in a world of big online retailers, but it’s simply not possible for my pottery business to have free or inexpensive shipping.
I charge shipping according toEtsy’s calculator, which adjusts by distance. I’m sure I lose a bit of business that way, but it’s just the way it is. There are times when the shipping cost is at least half of what the actual item price is, but people are willing to pay it, which is great.
I have learned to be unapologetic about the shipping cost, but I'm glad and relieved that people will buy online.
What has been your biggest lesson learned in pricing?
I have learned not to undervalue what I do. It’s really easy to underprice myself because I feel almost embarrassed asking for what a piece is worth.
Once I started making full-time, that went away. I had a good look at what I was putting into my work and realized I had to go in at market value. New makers are more inclined to undervalue, I’ve noticed, but there are two reasons not to: people may suspect the products are sub-par and there are also people who price so low that they may want to ruin the curve for other makers.
We owe it to ourselves and the industry to price fairly.
What does a typical day look like for you from morning until evening?
I’m a one-woman show and I spend about half of my time making, the other half is logistics.
A 50 to 60-hour work week is not outside of the norm. I start my day with logistics and email. I also need to do any packing and shipping slated to go out in the mornings. When I get home from the post office, I spend the evening throwing and making or glazing — whatever I need to do.
If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently when starting your business?
I would have gotten online way sooner. It’s so much easier than schlepping stuff to shows all the time. It’s a heck of a lot easier to pack orders in my house rather than lugging a 50lb crate to and from my car and sitting in the sun for 10 hours!
Retail shows are really just one prong in the retail business. I don’t think they're the best option for makers these days. It takes me a full day to prep for a show because of the products I sell!
On the other hand,Etsy Wholesalehas been fantastic, and it was easier to sign up than I could have ever imagined. I set the shipping parameters and my own timeline for each project. It’s also great to work with wholesalers I never would have been connected to before. The platform has really invigorated my business.
What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals like yourself?
I would like to learn more about online marketing, specifically how makers can capitalize on mailing lists and what incentives other small business owners are using to get people to visit their online shops.
I dislike marketing because I feel like I’m bragging, which is something I’ve had to overcome. I'm looking at how I can take that next step with my marketing and reach new customers online.
Let's help Jennifer out with her *big* questions!
Are you making the best use of mailing lists in your small business? How do you reach new customers online if you operate a shop on Etsy or through your website, and what are your best tips for mastering the online marketing game?
Share your own stories and ideas in the comments below! We can't wait to hear what you're learning in your own business. :-)