Tips and Tools: Direct (Message) Sales

Reconnect with your customer base and keep work moving from your studio shelves by smarter selling through social media posts.

Being a studio potter/small-business owner means you often have to wear many hats. Responding to emails, traveling for workshops, updating your website, participating in local and regional sales, prepping work to ship out to galleries, etc.—you do this all while attempting to keep up with production and growth in your studio practice. The list goes on and on. I wear so many hats that sometimes I need to alleviate a bit of the weight and pressure on top of my head!

1 Pink Gridded Lil Dish, 4 in. (10 cm) in width, mid-range stoneware, terra sigillata, AMACO underglazes, washes, fired to cone 5 in oxidation, luster, 2018.

Efficiency and Connection

At some point in the past year I began to find it tough to keep up with everything while also attempting to update my web shop regularly. I wanted to keep it updated as a means to save my favorite pieces of work from firings to sell to customers directly. Making a connection with people and the pieces of mine that they own is one of the driving forces in why I make work. As potters, we often see images on social media of our work in use and in its owners’ homes, but not always, so having this direct sales connection with customers is important.

As I prepared and packed for a summer residency at the Archie Bray Foundation, I came across a batch of pots that were uploaded to my web shop, but had not yet found a home. I packed up those pots and took them with me to the Bray. As I was driving to Montana, I started to think about the amount of time I spend taking images, uploading them, editing them for consistency with the same border and dimensions, listing descriptions, and so much more. Why should I take double the time uploading work to my web shop and then also post those same images with different captions to social media? It was time for me to try something different and more efficient.

2 Blue Babe Coffee Scoop, 3 in. (8 cm) in length, mid-range stoneware, terra sigillata, AMACO underglazes, washes, fired to cone 5 in oxidation, 2018.

Update: Sold

I remembered that my friend and fellow potter Austin Riddle had begun posting images of works for sale on social media while he was a resident at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. It seemed that would be a smart move for me as well. Attending a residency, I knew my work would be changing rapidly over the next several months. I wanted to document and share that progression while also selling a small handful of work in a fast and effective manner so that I could get back to the studio.

When chatting with figurative sculptor Jamie Bates Slone, she had mentioned she was taking a similar approach to sales for the summer to see how it would go. We began suspecting that using word pairings such as “for sale” and “available now” placed our social media posts into the bottom of the ranking by the algorithm used to determine how many people would see the post because we weren’t paying for ads. In short, our posts that said “for sale” weren’t being seen on Instagram as rapidly as posts without those tag lines. Instagram used to post images to your feed chronologically, until July of 2016 when they switched to an algorithm method. To explain this change, Instagram commented on their blog that, “The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting, and the timeliness of the post.”1 I then began posting images with word pairings that alluded to the fact that the piece in the photo was for sale, without having to share the cost or any details and thus working around the algorithmic constraints. For example, I’d caption the photo to read “DM (direct message) if you wanna make this piece yours!” Once the piece sold, I updated the caption on all social media platforms so the first word in the caption read “SOLD.”

3 Blue n’ Pinky Babe Muggy, 4½ in. (11 cm) in diameter, mid-range stoneware, terra sigillata, AMACO underglazes, washes, fired to cone 5 in oxidation, luster, 2018.

Creating Consistent, Engaging Photos

Using poster board or a painted wall is an efficient way to take styled and clean photos of ceramic pieces. Sometimes I’ll find wood or upholstered items—chairs, couches, and tables—or even a brick or wooden-shingled wall to use a backdrop. The size of the work can be easily relatable by using my hand or an object for scale such as a cookie, watermelon, or coffee beans paired with the vessel.

All of my images are taken using an iPhone and adjusted using Photoshop or iPhone’s built-in editing tools as needed. I never put an Instagram filter on work; however, I’ll edit the brightness, warmth, and contrast of images to make them more true to real life. I’ve also found Instagram Stories to be helpful as a means to give sneak peeks of work that will be available and to show different shots of work that may take a longer time to find a home.

This method of documenting and developing a connection with the people who have purchased my work has given me more satisfaction than my web shop ever has! I’ve been spending less time uploading work to my web shop and now use a quick and simple system for photographing the work. Through Instagram direct messaging I’m having more informal, candid conversations with those purchasing
and using my pieces. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a win-win!

4 You’ve Got a Match! 3½ in. (9 cm) in length, mid-range stoneware, terra sigillata, AMACO underglazes, washes, fired to cone 5 in oxidation, luster, 2018.

I still attempt to keep my web shop updated to create interest for viewers, although I am ultimately hoping they access my Instagram and other social media accounts for more images. I have a link to my Instagram from my web shop, but I don’t post a link directly to pieces in my web shop to my Instagram because I think that would confuse a customer. My web shop is primarily used to show and sell pieces that might not sell through Instagram, clay tools from an ongoing collaborative project with Troy Bungart, stickers, etc.

1 Instagram Blog post “See the Moments You Care About First,” accessed December 20, 2018, www.tumblr.com/dashboard/blog/instagram/141107034797.

the author Didem Mert is a potter, designer, and the operations and resident director of Barlow Clay living in Sebastopol, California. Learn more at www.didemmert.com or on Instagram at @didemmert_pottery.

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