How I Learned to Stop Stressing about Pricing and Start Crunching the Numbers. Meet Amelia Black
After working as a design researcher for more than a decade, Amelia Black began to feel like her creativity was stifled. Inspired by her undergrad days, she decided to start working with ceramics again.
Today, she splits her time between her ceramics business and freelance graphic design work. We chatted to Amelia about her first big gig and how she learned to love crunching the numbers.
I originally studied design, going on to work in architecture, industrial design and design research for more than a decade. But over the last five years, I felt unfulfilled focusing purely on digital art. I think most people who work in design love creating objects, and when I found myself missing that, I returned to my passion for making ceramics.
I joined a group of makers in April 2015, and together we have a large studio space. After six months, I built up enough of an online following to start my business. I’m part of a strong community of ceramicists in Brooklyn, New York.
I’m lucky to be able to split my time 60% working in the studio and 40% as a freelance graphic designer. I’m still designing on a freelance basis because I wanted to make sure there wasn’t too much pressure on my ceramics business in the first year.
When did you know your business was going to work?
The exact moment when I realized this could be a real business happened when I took my ceramics to the Renegade Craft Fairin New York. It was the first time I was selling outside my local community, where I already had a small market.
And... I sold out in one day!
The response was huge, and it helped me understand my work and how people relate to it. Half of the people who bought pieces that day sent me a direct message on Instagram with pictures of the ceramics in their homes!
I love the whole process: the clay, working with it, understanding it. But it only feels complete once a piece is in someone’s home. The experience at the craft fair was a real rush and it proved to me that I was on to something big.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about owning your own business?
There have been tons of surprises. I was a design consultant for 10 years, giving people advice on how to run their businesses — but it’s very different when you’re doing it for yourself all of a sudden!
I prioritize working and making, but I also spend a lot of time growing my business. The biggest surprise for me was how much I enjoy that work, too.
For example, I’m still learning the best way to approach taxes, plan profit and loss statements, diversify the business and figure out the numbers side of things. Understanding all this is an active and powerful tool. It’s not something I’m freaked out about or pretend doesn’t exist. Instead, I’m embracing the change and educating myself.
I was also surprised by how many resources are available to small business owners like me. For example, the Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Unionoffers support for things like doing your taxes. I met with them and walked away with a folder full of information and a list of people to ask for help. It made me feel like establishing a business wasn’t such a mystery.
How do you price your products?
Pricinghas been a testing game. I tried every equation, looked at the numbers and made an educated decision. I’m still working as a freelance graphic designer, so for now any earnings from ceramics go straight back into the business.
Starting out, I enlisted two friends to take pictures of other ceramic pieces and their prices whenever they saw any. I went to stores that sell ceramics in Brooklyn and Manhattan, everywhere from ABC Carpet and Home to upmarket places like Mociun. This helped me understand the market and where my work fits in, which is something I’m still developing.
I sell my work at prices anywhere from $20 to $240 based on size, materials, labor and whether I’m making pieces in a production setting or as a custom-made object. Irregular-shaped items need more kiln space, so they’re priced higher because I can’t fire as many at a time.
If I sell a piece at $65, then that totals the amount of effort and labor that went into the production, the cost of the materials and the market price. This is different from a simple bowl that’s priced more affordably at $25. These bowls can’t be priced lower because they’re very thin and are more likely to not turn out during making, so I account for losses in the price.
I don’t calculate how many hours it takes me for each piece because making ceramics includes a lot of steps. Depending on how many items you’re making at a time, those steps might end up being more or less efficient. Instead, I calculate the amount of studio time needed to maintain inventory and make custom orders.
I’ve learned that with home goods, if people really love a piece, they buy it and don’t question the price. How much it costs becomes more of an issue when they’re not so sure they want it.
If I can make things that people want and connect with, then I can make a living. For example, I once made artistic rattles and displayed them at a studio sale. I priced them high because I didn’t feel like they were ready to sell, but they were the second item that sold!
If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently when starting your business?
I wouldn’t do all my bookkeeping digitally — instead, I’d buy a 12-column paper ledger on day one and learn what each category means.
I’d put time into understanding what works and what doesn’t work in a deeper way from the start. It’s very easy for creative people to identify as “not good with numbers.”
I wish I had embraced the accounting side faster and gotten the tools I needed to gain the confidence I have now.
What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I’d like to know how to make meaningful connections with people who will support my business — wholesalers, buyers or designers who will commission work.
What networking strategies am I missing? How can I establish those connections without going to a thousand and one cocktail parties?
Can *you* help Amelia make new connections that will help her business?
How do you forge lasting relationships with new people at networking events or online — whether they are wholesalers, buyers or just fans of your work?
If you have anetworkingstory to share, tell us below! :-)