Steve Kelly | Episode 146
Portland, Oregon potter Steve Kelly’s work is rooted in rural Asian ceramic traditions but offers an American urban sensibility. He draws inspiration from street art, typography, and the kinetic human form.
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When I was younger I would try a lot of different projects and not give them enough time to develop. They say it takes three years for any business to get it’s feet on ground and start walking. I think that’s true. I’m just getting to the place where I’m starting to earn dividends on the years that I’ve put in. Where I’m seeing customers that are coming back three or four times. Or ordering things for wedding presents. So some of it is just being patient. And understanding that as time grow my business grows too. And I can do marketing polys that blast a bunch of people into my business, but that’s not where the sustaining business comes from. Being able to sustain yourself comes from building strong relationships with customers. And for me that’s the best idea is building relationships with my customers and getting to know people. And learning about their stories as well as telling them mine.
I have a could weird arbitrary rules that I set up for myself. I don’t know if they fit into any marketing person’s scheme. But I try not to get too personal, but at the same time there has to be some of your personal life in your Instagram. So there needs be enough on there for people to see ‘Oh! He’s on vacation right now!’ or ‘That’s cute. He’s got a family.’ But I find that if I start to put up more than three or four personal things I start losing folks. I want to show my personal life, but for me, my Instagram is really about my business. So I like people to know who I am as a personality as someone who is making this work. But I always try to keep on focus and keep showing them the process. Putting up videos periodically is really fun, showing people how I do things, how I organize things, and people love my mistakes. I think especially other potters. They like to see ‘Ah god. He’s suffering too.’ And I think my customers just love seeing the pots and how they’re made. So just trying to focus on process and focus on events. Focus on who I am so they get to know a little bit about me. Try to have a little bit of a sense of humor. Like I don’t want to follow big companies all the time cause they’re cold and sterile. The beauty of being a maker is we get to share our personality and who we are with folks.
HOW CRITICAL ARE GOALS FOR THE GROWTH OF YOUR BUSINESS?
I think they’re really critical. And…I do it every year. I get to the end of that holiday season. I go into my normal January slump and I get really depressed. It’s just something that I do every year. It’s just part of my biorhythm. And then my wife starts shoving me out of the house and telling me to go to work again. And I go start drawing and coming up with ideas. So each year I set a couple goals for myself and for my business. But I think having a clear cut business plan, knowing where you’re going to be or where you want to be five years from now. It’s super important. I used to take martial arts. And there’s this thing that they show you, that if you hold out your arm straight in front of you and you imagine that the end of your arm is at your fist when someone tries to bend your arm it’s very easy for someone to bend your arm. But if you imagine that the end of your arm is on the other side of the room it’s very hard for people to bend your arm. And that’s just how the mind works. And I think the same is true with business. There’s strength in having a vision. It makes you a stronger business when you know where you want to be far down the road.
Well the first one that came to mind. When I first met my wife I was teaching a comic book class to kids and I had to do this comic book for the kids as an example. And it was Meditation Man. And he would sit in lotus and deflect the troubles of the world. Things would just bounce off of him and nothing would stop him. He would fly around the world teaching people how to do that. So I think I would probably be Meditation Man.