Top Tips For Building a Metal Clay Business
There are many universal lessons about how to launch and grow a jewellery business that span all mediums however there are some things specific to the unique and wonderful metal clay world that are well worth considering when building a business out of a love of this craft.
Have a read below for some key tips on building a successful jewellery business using metal clay and feel free to add your own at the end in the comments too!
1. Get Certified: Clay will cost you less!
If you haven’t already, start taking steps to get certified in your preferred type of metal clay. Not only will this increase your skill level and add credibility to your business, but the Art Clay Certification will reduce the cost of Art Clay clay for you – crucial if you are running a business.
2. Develop your own unique style
When we first start out in metal clay we are learning from others. Usually replicating their style or using universal texture sheets, moulds and cutters etc. This is perfect for learning as we create beautiful designs very quickly – one of the reasons we love metal clay so much!
However, over time you want to develop your own signature style. So that when I see your work on Instagram, Facebook, your website or in real life I can say – that is a ‘so and so’s’ piece.
This protects your business from price sensitivity, as customers cannot get what you offer elsewhere and helps you to attract those who just love what you create.
It doesn’t have to be wildly different, little changes and adaptations can help form a style that is uniquely your own.
3. Consider casting as an option for growing Businesses
As your business grows there may come a time when making each piece is taking too long, meaning you have to charge more than you feel you can sell it for. For some, getting your pieces cast (at a casting house) is the answer.
How it works:
you make the original in your clay, refine, fire and finish the piece. Then take it to a casters to get a mould made and ask them to cast X number of pieces (say 6 or 10). You will then get your pieces back from the casters in solid silver (usually sterling) or whatever metal you ask for, and will need to spend some time ‘cleaning up the pieces’. This will involve some basic silversmithing skills - don’t worry it is mainly a little sawing and then all polishing. This is a really affordable way for metal clay artists to start working in gold. You could also look at gold plating or vermeil for your metal clay pieces.
Some artist worry that this removes the ‘hand-made aspect’ – I disagree. To me, if you have made the original, then clean the pieces you have spent many hours by that point with your hands crafting and refining that piece – not to mention designing. In the jewellery industry as a whole this is widely considered as handmade.
The benefits are that you save time in making stock in multiples, which allows you to sell more, either allowing more profits in your business and also potentially a more affordable price point for customers too. Win win!
4. Think about adding teaching to your business
Nearly all of us who come across the inspiring medium of metal clay at some point want to pass it on – and why not! That is how it grows.
For a long-term sustainable business in metal clay, teaching is not essential, but is certainly a highly useful income stream.
If you are thinking about adding teaching to your business, look at point 1. And you may also want to take an evening course or short course in teaching to build up your confidence in this area before putting on your first classes and advertising.
There are no required qualifications for teaching metal clay classes; all you need is;
Experience in making
A love of what you do
A lesson plan
A plan of what you will do and when to make your classes safe and informative for your students
And a willingness to learn about teaching.
We are developing more resources on this side of things so will keep you posted on those too.
5. Write/ share about why metal clay is unique
It is still a relatively new material and there are new adaptations and techniques being added all the time. Your customers would love to know more about what you make, how to make it and why it is so different from traditional techniques.
Celebrate its difference, share about it and entice your tribe of adoring customers who want to stand out from the crowd and wear something they know comes from exciting roots.
6. Get involved in the metal clay community
I am always in awe of how supportive, open and just darn right lovely the metal clay community are. If you need some evidence of this just take a look at this amazing Facebook group I recently joined…
But seriously, if you are a metal clay artist you are never really alone, there is a worldwide community of absolute metal clay addicts! (Takes one to know one). And they are giving with their time, their skills and their enthusiasm for the craft.
Join metal clay Facebook groups, forums, check out the incredible resource site that Julia Rai has created called the Metal Clay Academy >
In these communities, there is no such thing as a silly question, everyone loves what they do and you will be welcomed with open arms.
And don’t forget we have a strong cohort of metal clayers on the Jewellers Academy community Facebook group too, so come on over and get chatting to them.
7. Decide on a business model (or combine a few)
Here are some of the main business models adopted by metal clay artists that are working for them. Choose a route that is right for you or combine a few and off you go…
Bespoke one-off pieces
Creating unique pieces, often for higher-price points as each piece needs to take into account the ‘design time’ and often making-to-order.
Collections (making multiples of each piece)
In collections we tent to make a group of pieces that work well together. It is also common place to make multiples of each piece to sell. Most metal clay artist make small batches of each item before moving on to new collections every 6-months to a year.
Fingerprint/ Keepsake jewellery
Fingerprint and keepsake jewellery can be a very profitable business model for metal clay artists. For this route you need to enjoy working with people (particularly parents and children) and to be accurate and dedicated to making your product stand out as excellent quality.
Teaching / writing projects
This can be a whole business or as an aspect of your business. Teaching is hugely rewarding and a great addition to your work if you have the heart for it. A great example of this is Anna Mazon. She has a very successful Etsy shop, Drakonaria where she sells her metal clay pieces plus downloadable tutorials. She also travels the world to teach metal clay classes.
You may have others to add to the list. These are the main ways I witness metal clay artists making a living from this craft.
8. Remember to think commercially (as well as artistically)
This one does apply to all jewellers but perhaps can be particularly hard for metal clayers. So we call on some discipline!
The costs involved in each piece
Consider carefully the time you spend making it
See if there are ways to increase your efficiency in your making time – for example batch creating pieces so you can get 5-10 done in a day instead of just one (and a half).
Think ahead about how much you can sell the piece for to ensure you can make a profit…
Not because we are greedy or want ALL THE MONEY! (evil laugh)
But because profit is healthy, profit allows you to grow and learn, profit ensures your business is sustainable, and profit is something you deserve as an artist. Don’t you forget that!
Sorry got a bit preachy there – but this is important. I want you to do well, I want you to succeed in your business and in order to do that this pricing/ costing/ money bit (which most of us hate) has to be… well… on the money!
If you need any help with this take a look at our pricing tutorial here >
9. Separate out ‘hobby time’ from ‘making time’
All that said, we still want to have fun, to play, to have pure creative time. Separate out that play making time from business making time so you get the best of both worlds.
10. Get your hallmark
If you are selling precious metal jewellery in the UK (and in many other countries) you need to have a registered hallmark, display a legal document where ever you sell and have any items in silver over the weight of 7g (ish) hallmarked.
Find out more about how to register and what you need to do next here >
11. Know you can do it!
My final one I will leave you with… it may sound cheesy but know and believe you can do it. At least half of running a business is knowing you can and will get through the good the bad and the yep… ugly.
It will be a roller-coaster of a ride, no one said it would be easy, but if you love what you do, stick with it for long enough and learn from each day, you will 100% get there.
I hope this has been helpful – and if not at least a little funny!
Do stay in touch with me and our team of fabulous jewellers over on the community Facebook group >
And if you haven’t already be sure to join us for some of our online metal clay courses – and business courses, you can see details of the making ones here: https://www.jewellersacademy.com/jewellery-making/
And the business ones here: https://www.jewellersacademy.com/jewellery-business/
PLUS at the moment we have a brand new advanced course in metal clay on offer in the pre-sale with a massive 50% off (only until Tuesday 13th November) come and join us by booking your place here >
And you can watch the full trailer for the course below:
Keep up the amazing work Metal Clayers and don’t let anyone dull your mirror finish!