Shop Talk: Jessica Catherine Ceramics
In this week’s Shop Talk, we talk to self-taught British potter Jessica Catherine and discover how her shop has grown from a “curious experiment” into a successful business. We also learn that, despite being an accomplished ceramicist, a talented photographer and the creator of a strong brand, Jessica still suffers from a “raging impostor complex” and like many makers struggles with self-doubt…
When and how did you start your business, and how has it developed since then?
I started out on Folksy, just listing a few of my first creations to see if they might sell. From there I developed a core product range and worked on building a clear brand. These days I stock a range of galleries and shops and I sell at markets and home/lifestyle exhibitions. I also work on commissions.
What did you consider before you opened your Folksy shop?
It was a kind of curious experiment for me. I didn’t expect things would sell, so when they started to I had to think about my name, my branding and who I wanted to be as a business.
How and where do you sell your work?
I sell my work online, wholesale and at markets. I find a blend of all three works really well and having some diversity in my income stream means I’m not just relying on one avenue to generate money.
What’s been your bestseller?
My porcelain poppies – quickly followed by bird dishes.
Have you got a method for working out your pricing?
I use a cost plus pricing calculation. I have a nifty spreadsheet that helps me work out roughly what it costs me to make something, then I add in a profit margin and work out wholesale pricing options. Pricing is really challenging as it’s nearly impossible to work out the exact cost of firing each item, how much glaze each piece uses and so on.
How do you promote your work?
I use online promotion a boatload. I started out with a basic blog and built up some lovely and loyal readers. I also have a website that shows commission options and upcoming markets. I find that word of mouth is a really powerful promotion tool – people talking about your work and recommending it to their friends and family builds trust in your products and creates sales!
How do you feel about social media?
I like it a lot. I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, as well as blogging. It can feel like a lot to keep up with but I try to work on it in short, sharp blasts so it doesn’t consume the whole day. I love making personal connections with customers, and keeping a dialogue going on social media helps to build repeat custom.
Which social media channel is your favourite and why?
I have a real Pinterest problem. I have to limit myself or use it as a reward when I’ve finished some work! I love that it’s purely visual and I use it to map out ideas and big dreams for my business.
Do you do your own photography? How important do you think good products shots are?
I do my own product shots and I’ve found this to be a steep, steep learning curve! Product shots are so critical that it does pay to take the time to get them right. Building a bank of quality stock photographs is a gigantic time saver. Good product shots and a quality camera are an investment if you want to be featured in print magazines or get online press opportunities.
Have you got any tips for taking good product photos?
I upgraded from a point-and-shoot to a DSLR and it was so worth the dosh! I only use natural light, never use flash, and use consistent staging and props. I do some basic editing on images, cropping and brightening them up, but I take care not to mess with colour balances too much, and I never airbrush out tiny flaws in the product. I want customers to see a true representation of my work.
What’s the hardest part about being a maker?
My initial response is to say time – there just is never enough! But actually for me the big challenge is wrestling a raging impostor complex! Getting over self-doubt and fear to get your creative work out into the world is huge. I’m learning that it never goes away, you just have to find ways to work alongside it.
Finally, have you got any tips on how to get the most from Christmas sales?
I think it’s all in the preparation. This year I started my Christmas prep in the summer. I batch-make big quantities of stock so I can spend the festive season selling, not making. I try my best to keep customer service top notch, even when things are really busy, and have a swift system for packing and posting orders – customers love quick postage!