Kara Leigh Ford talks about selling her ceramics online
Kara Leigh Ford originally trained as a fine artist before putting the lessons learned in her evening classes into practice as a professional potter. We caught up with Kara to discover her tips for selling handmade ceramics online, what she thinks about craft fairs, and why she believes social media is an invaluable tool for makers…
How did you start your business and do you work on it full time?
I started my Folksy shop in August 2015 after 10 years of dreaming… and yes, I’m now a full-time potter! I was never happy in the corporate world and I’d always wanted to make a living from being creative. It sounds dramatic but I knew it was the moment to take the plunge when the fear of staying in my job outweighed the fear of starting out on my own.
I probably only spend a third of my time actually making and the rest on admin, communicating with customers, social media and photography.
How and where do you sell your work?
I mostly sell my work online, but I also stock a few shops and do the occasional craft fair. Most of my sales come my online platforms though.
Which craft fairs have you done and have they been worthwhile?
I’ve done a few small local craft fairs, but I find them such hard work and often for very little return. You’re at the mercy of the weather for the most part and also reliant on the marketing of whoever organised it to get people there.
Folksy has helped me massively. They’ve been such a fantastic support… I really do feel like they believe in my work, which has made a huge boost to my confidence.
What’s your top tip for selling ceramics at craft fairs?
I would say always go to a craft fair as a punter before deciding to sell there. You’ll soon learn if it will be worth your time and effort. Chat to the other stall holders and get their opinions on whether it’s been a successful fair or not.
How has Folksy helped your business?
Folksy has helped me massively. They’ve been such a fantastic support, featuring my work on their social media and answering any questions I may have on their #folksyhour Twitter chat. I really do feel like they believe in my work, which has made a huge boost to my confidence.
Have you tried selling your work wholesale? What are the positives and negatives of selling to shops?
For me wholesale has been a big learning curve. I’ve found you need to be super organised and really clear about your pricing as things can easily get confused, especially when dealing with lots of retailers who each have their own terms. I have my work in a couple of shops now and they’ve been super supportive. When you have a good relationship with shops it really helps, so keep talking to them and stay on top of any money you are owed.
How much time do you spend actually making, and how much on admin, social media and marketing?
I probably only spend a third of my time actually making and the rest on admin, communicating with customers, social media and photography. Listing my work and packing up orders takes up a lot of my time – I would say at least one day a week.
Bearing that in mind, have you got any brilliant time-management tips?
Ha ha! No, not really. I’m not the best at time management – it’s a key skill I’m still working on. My dad calls me “lastminute.com”. I often work a little better when under pressure though, so I guess you just have to find a rhythm that works for you. That takes time, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get to the end of your to-do list everyday. I find it very hard to have time off and I’m always working at the weekend too. There’s always something to do!
I would say always go to a craft fair as a punter before deciding to sell there.
How do you calculate your prices?
I have found The Design Trust to be really helpful with things like pricing. They have some really useful articles about pricing, cost prices, margin etc. I’m not sure I’m quite there with my pricing strategy yet, as I find it very difficult to include my time. But the advice there provides a very good starting point to anyone just starting out.
How do you promote your work?
I’ve found social media to be absolutely essential in growing my business. Facebook was initially my channel of choice but now I think I prefer Instagram as my organic following seems to grow faster. I don’t have any advertising budget so rely on social media to reach out to potential new customers. It’s such a great way to communicate with your audience, get feedback and to know that there are people interested in your work. All the ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ really mean a lot.
Is there anyone you think does social media really well?
So many potters have excellent Instagram feeds: @tortus_copenhagen posts beautifully shot videos of himself throwing large pots on the wheel; @floriangadsby shares his amazing knowledge and skill he has built up as an apprentice potter at Maze Hill Pottery; and both @jonosmart and @lunaceramics post gorgeous photography of their work. I find them all really inspirational.
How important do you think it is to use social media if you’re a maker today?
It’s absolutely essential. I don’t think I would be able to do what I do without it. It’s so important as a communication tool, and what’s more, it’s free! All you need to invest is a bit of time.
Social media is absolutely essential. I don’t think I would be able to do what I do without it. It’s so important as a communication tool, and what’s more, it’s free!
You also have a blog. Has blogging helped your business?
I do have a blog (it’s here) but I don’t keep it as up-to-date as I would like. I’m not a natural writer, so it takes quite a lot of effort for me to write posts. I’m trying to do more videos and photography-based posts to make up for that.
Do you find there are certain periods of the year that are busier? What do you do in the quieter times?
I’ve been truly lucky so far that each consecutive month I have been trading has been busier than the last. If I do get a lull in orders, then I take stock of what’s selling well and what isn’t and make a little business plan for the coming months. I find it really hard to plan a year ahead as things are changing so much month to month.
Are there any books about craft or selling handmade that you would recommend?
The best book I’ve read recently is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s kind of a self-help book for creatives, but written in such a compelling and fresh way that it helps you learn how to overcome your fears, live a more creative life and achieve your potential as an artist, writer or crafts person. I’ve read it twice.
Do you think it’s possible to earn a living from being a maker alone?
YES! ABSOLUTELY YES! I’m a prime example of someone who turned a hobby into a career. I’m unlikely to be a millionaire but I love what I do and I can pay my rent! I feel rich beyond my wildest dreams. So do it! Treat it like a business and don’t under sell yourself.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?
A friend of mine who owned a shop selling craft and beautiful handmade items once told me: “Don’t ever take criticism to heart. If someone doesn’t like your work, that’s fine. There will be 100 more who will love it.” I try to keep that at the front of my mind.
You can follow Kara Leigh Ford on social media too: