Ceramics Artist Bridget Dorr Was Slow to Start, But Now She Believes in Her Business
Bridget Dorr has always wanted to bring beauty into other people's lives. The creative entrepreneur started out working with art as therapy and after realizing exactly which part of the jigsaw was missing, she set up her own small business. Now, she creates stunning pieces in clay and ceramics to sell on her Etsy site.
We spoke to Bridget about the journey of learning to trust her own work, how she manages running a busy business day-to-day and what she's hoping to learn next from all of *you.*
I studied Art Therapy in college and hoped to use it to help heal people in my community. I worked with adults with disabilities for several years, but found that I was missing something from my life: I needed to express myself. Clay and ceramics were always my passion in school, so I began making small pieces here and there for enjoyment. Once day I decided to put them on Etsy, and slowly started selling my work.
Who was your very first customer?
My first customer was from Ireland. I made a very simple set of ceramic cups and the customer managed to find my shop and buy them.
At the time, I didn't think anyone would purchase my pieces. They were very underpriced. On that order, the shipping was more than what I made from the items, but the feeling was exhilarating!
When did you know your business was going to work?
I think it was about a year ago that I really buckled down and starting making plans for my business, rather than just producing things and selling them when I could. It took me almost two years of running an Etsy shop to feel confident in my work and company.
If I'm being honest, I still don't know a lot about the future of my business. But, my attitude is that I love this art form and will continue making pieces and selling them, whether or not it's my full-time gig.
What is your most effective means of getting new customers?
Instagramhas been my biggest marketing success. I try to be as genuine as possible when engaging with my followers. I also shamelessly use tons of hashtags! I found a really wonderful community of makers, ceramic artists and customers aftersharing my storyon that platform.
What has been the biggest surprise after starting your own business?
I'm surprised by how slow my progress has been. I'm a little eager! I guess I thought that when I launched a bunch of new designs, they would be flying off the shelves. Instead, I'm finding that marketing and pushing my products takes time before sales and interest starts to generate.
How do you price your products?
I do take into account the time and materials that go into making the pieces, but what I've found to be most successful for me is researching other artists in my field with similar experience and skill and basing my prices off of their work.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day starts off with a cup of tea in a handmade mug! I like to gather my thoughts, reflect on the day ahead of me and plot it out.
I'm a production artist, so I make numerous pieces of the same product at one time. On any given day I'll be working on cups, or maybe serving spoons.
I start by rolling out slabs of clay and cutting them into basic pieces. Then, I let them all sit to stiffen a bit. I'm talking about 20 to 30 cups at a time. I take all the pieces and start turning them into cylinder shapes, then make the bottoms and handles, followed by carving and manipulating the surfaces. That feels like a very successful day for me.
Emails come in often and are not the most creative and exciting part of the business, but I schedule time to answer them, make shop updates and pay bills in between studio work.
How do you juggle other responsibilities and interests outside of your business?
I’ve learned that it's very hard to be well balanced as a small business owner. I just don't have enough time in a week for friends, my husband, exercising and eating well, playing with new ideas and conceptsandrunning a successful marketing campaign. Every week, one of those things just can't happen.
I've definitely said "no" to plans with friends more in the past year, and sometimes that great idea for a weekly e-newsletter or series of Instagram posts just doesn't work out.
I'm learning to be OK with that in order to remain sane. As long as I'm making progress in my business, I’m happy. I'm learning not to run myself into the ground.
Do you have a team that you work with?
Not yet, but I would love to have a team — no more than three or four people who could help me run a small production studio. That would give me more time to come up with new designs and focus on the creative aspects of the business. People to help with lugging around materials, mold making, marketing and answering emails would be nice.
Right now, my husband is my only "employee" — he helps with managing finances, shipping and, of course, emotional support.
If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do differently when you were starting your small business?
I wish I had trusted myself earlier on. It took me a while to build up the confidence to start sharing my work and ideas. Now, with every new piece I create, I learn so much. I get better with everything I put out there.
What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I would love to learn about business timelines and successes from other makers — specifically potters.
When did you quit your job? How much money did you need to save before starting your own studio? What is your most effective marketing strategy?
Do *you* have tips to share with Bridget?
What timeline did you work toward when you started your business and set the initial goals you wanted to hit? How did you manage unexpected changes, or transitioning from quitting your job?
Share your own stories and experiences with us in the comments below! :-)