Updated: Jun 11, 2020
Life IS better when you're laughing, and it's even better to have a network of people who can laugh with you, cry with you and grow with you through all the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
A big business starts small... in my case, tinier than tiny.
Finding a community to be a part of to help support my business specific needs was such a game changer. I was always able to find people/resources to answer questions about accounting/bookkeeping and lease agreements & terms, but had no idea who to ask about PYOP related matters... kiln operations, summer camp scheduling & project guides, product and inventory troubleshooting. Google could only help so much and wasn't able to answer some of my more specific questions.
Here's what I know AFTER owning my studio
I connected with Debra, owner of Fired Up Pottery, in Pittsburgh, PA through instagram and she ultimately saved me and my business- she connected me with a facebook group of other independently owned studio owners that were able to answer ALL. MY. QUESTIONS. I was so happy and relieved I probably cried. I operated a whole year without and connections to prop advisors, had I not connected with Debra in 2016 I may not have discovered & joined that group, but I finally found a community that welcomed me with open arms and bestowed me with all their years of knowledge.
I can't hold a candle to the expertise of most studio owners, but here is what helped me build better connections, understanding of daily operations & growth for my PYOP studio:
Build a relationship with your supplier! In Canada we don't order directly from each individual brand, we have Ceramic Arts for one stop shopping of anything a studio could need. As a HUGE bonus for me they were located 15 minutes away from my studio and had a good selection of pieces that were already in stock & didn't require a delivery time. Let's just say, they got to know me & see me... often... They were & still are a big support & contributor to my successes.
Build a relationship with other studio owners in your area! If 2015 Lindsay (who had just opened the studio) heard that I was saying this now... I'd call myself absolutely crazy. There is a big Canadian chain of franchise PYOP studios in Canada, and I had a lot to contend with that were close to me. So from that standpoint, I developed a gross concept that every other studio was competition.... independently owned or not. But silly little 23 year old me was missing out on some great opportunities. Crack Pot Studio in Oakville (about 30 minutes from me) reached out to me one day seeing if I had an extra inventory of a particular item they needed for an event. That opened my eyes to 2 things I was missing out on:
Companionship OVER competition. Having them reach out to me, gave me the opportunity to reach out to them in a time of need. I see this happening with other studio owners in the facebook group and so many people are willing to help how/when they can. Building that human connection took the intimidation out of competing with them, to learning from other people going through the same trials & errors.
Referrals, referrals, referrals. Again, using Crack Pot Studio as an example, we had 2 different business models that benefitted both of our customers. Crack Pot has an experienced and solid foundation for a clay studio. Wheel throwing, slab building & more was available for their customers to learn from a knowledgeable instructor. All things I never attempted to get in to because I knew it wasn't my strong suit and I would never be able to learn as enough to make myself good enough to teach others. Medium Art Studio though, had become well known for our kids sewing camps & lessons taught by my wonderful seamstress Mom (Sewing and pottery together? Who knew?) My hand lettering on pieces for holidays & custom work had also become well known. So, I'm sure you know where this is going, referrals were made by both owners for the other which introduced new studio experiences for our customers.
Build a relationship with national & international studio owners! This was by far one of the coolest and most humbling aspects of being a studio owner. Whether engaging with others through instagram, facebook groups or pages, I was able to build amazing relationships with studio owners & some of their employees. And seriously, these people know their sh*t and they are SO willing to share to help you and your studio be successful. Whether it's sharing tips & tricks, project inspiration or just some "shop talk", I learned SO much- and still do.
Another resource that attributed to my growth was CCSA. Contemporary Ceramic Studios Association was another wealth of knowledge that I put off joining because it felt like too big of a financial commitment, but once I did join I made my money back and more!
Attending their 2019 convention in Buffalo was more than I could have ever imagined. Although I have to admit, attending in September and knowing I was going to be closing my studio the following January I felt a bit guilty, but I was able to meet new people and the ones I had already gotten to know through social media. The owners from Color My Pot in AUSTRALIA (!!!) made a special stop from Toronto on their way to Buffalo to come to my studio to meet me and see the space. The fact that they, as a family travelling together, took the time to come by and see me was such a special experience.
The PYOP world is a welcoming & tight knit family... I have a branch at the bottom of that tree, but I hope to one day grow higher up with the rest of the wise & wonderful and help provide future studio owners with as much knowledge as I was.