I have a friend who makes ceramics — mugs, vases, cups, bowls, sculptures, whatever she feels like. Last week-end, she sold some of her creations at a laneway market. She booked a stall, bought an Eftpos machine, and invited everyone to come along. Being very excited for her first market day, I went and bought one of her cute little hexagon mugs (and my partner bought a cube vase — a photo of these can be found on my Instagram (see side panel)).
I think she sold more than she expected, but numbers are just numbers, and I’m more inspired by her efforts and her courage than anything else. To create something with part of one’s heart and soul, and then show it to the world, is a tremendous thing.
The other day, she posted something on her Instagram story about something that someone had said to her, and I’ve been pondering about it since. Although it had likely been intended as a harmless question, it had quite ruffled her proverbial feathers. Basically, the person had asked her if she was now “rich” from the market day. To this, she had to explain that a lot of time and materials go into making any one piece, and any money left over after this is covered goes toward buying new starting materials and equipment costs.
When I read this, I thought that the person who made the comment must not have a good understanding of how small businesses work. You don’t magically get a product to sell, charge the highest reasonable price, and make lots of profit from straight-forward sales.
I’m kind of surprised that I’ve never blogged about something like this before because I have a bit of a soft spot for small business. My family used to run a small restaurant — nothing fancy or big, but enough to support the family — so I know some of the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur.
There’s also the creative side of things. I’d like to think that a lot of creative and artistic types like to create for their own personal reasons — be it enjoyment, relaxation, making sense of the world, escaping, expressing, or anything at all — without intent to monetise it. At least initially, anyway.
My creative outlet of choice is writing, so I’m lucky in the sense that it’s pretty cheap and easy for me to do. All I need is pen and paper, or, if I want to get more technological, a computer of some sort. Paper is reasonably cheap, and good computers can be used many, many times before you need to even think about getting a new one.
For others, who prefer to paint or sculpt or sew or bake, creativity can be costly — you constantly need more starting materials, and more equipment (or you need to maintain the equipment you have). And I suppose that’s where money enters the equation. You need input for an output, but you need money in order to have any input. There’s also the matter of time: It can take a long time to make any singular thing — time that some people might tell us could be better spent making money… so why not try to actually make money out of it?
Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think my friend started making ceramics in order to make a business (and money) out of it. When I was talking to her at the markets, she said she just wanted to see what it was like to sell her wares in a public place — there was no guarantee she was going to make it a regular thing. I suppose that having someone ask about the money side of things can, ironically, detract from the real value of the creative process.
I think making a business of just about anything is hard if you’re starting out with nothing more than whatever resources and capital you can gather up. Sure, there are avenues and stepping stones that could be utilised (like crowd-sourced funding, or asking friends and family for free labour), but it’s still a lot of hard work and long hours. I know this from experience.
That’s why I like going to small cafes and restaurants and bars, where the owner(s) is the one cooking the food, serving the meals, or making the coffees. You can tell that they’ve put everything into this, and they rely on it for survival. I find that it’s usually not a get-rich-quick scheme, but a passion for the process that is the driving force.