A lifelong career teacher, Susan Fox had always loved pursuing creative activities in her spare time but decided to take early retirement at Christmas 2021. It was a decision that was easy to make,
“When I was younger, I would have loved to have done something more creative as a career path, but my parents wanted to me to have a ‘proper job’. After years of teaching, I was a bit disillusioned with the profession and had experienced a family bereavement, so thought ‘why not – life’s too short!’”
Four years previously Susan had started taking pottery classes which she found she loved. Although the classes themselves were curtailed a bit during COVID, in November 2020 she bought a pottery wheel and moved into a new house which had a perfect space for her pottery studio. At this point, her thought process was just to make pots to give to friends. The idea for teaching pottery courses came later.
A new business that offers an experience
Susan heard about the Inspiring Enterprise project through her partner who was old friends with Julie Stevenson, Enterprise Specialist. After seeing the post that Susan’s partner put up about her new venture, she got in touch to say that she helped support businesses start-ups. Susan found she was eligible for support and thus a beautiful business relationship began.
Susan decided to combine her teaching skills with her love for pottery and now her business, Combe Cottage Pottery offers pottery classes, or as she put it,
“My unique selling point is ‘a personal experience’, I don’t have a mixed ability class, but clients can sign up with a friend or on their own to learn the skills I can pass on.”
As she now has two pottery wheels, she can offer a one-to-one or bring a friend ‘Throwing Experience’ (where Susan finishes off the pottery afterwards), a one-to-one or bring a friend ‘Throw, Turn, and Glaze Experience’ and a 5-week course at a reduced rate if the client books for two people – which means they get to experience twice the amount of throwing and turning and produce twice the amount of pots. The idea being that the experience is with someone they know, for example a friend or relative. She also sells gift cards which offer all these options.
Susan can be flexible in the times of booking, offering during the day or in the evenings, will do one-off experiences and can arrange mutually convenient times with her students. Although the classes are predominantly aimed at adults, as children can get frustrated with the process, she has offered family classes and courses,
“One family has booked an experience for their 9th Wedding anniversary as the traditional gift for that milestone is pottery. They have booked this with their eight-year-old child. I have also just booked up a mother and her nine-year-old daughter for a 3-week course in her Easter holidays.”
Susan emphasises that she is utilising her teaching skills to teach but is still developing her skills as a potter at this time,
“I make it clear that I don’t have years of pottery-making experience, I don’t have a ceramics degree and I’m very much learning about the art as I go along. I love creating pottery and I have years of teaching experience, so I’m combining the two skills.”
A Booming Business
At the start, a friend and her sister came along as ‘guinea pigs’ to her very basic studio, so that she could test out what worked and what she wanted to do. Once she realised it would work, in February 2022 she started booking courses to commence at the beginning of March and at time of writing has 25 courses sold. Well-placed in the commuter belt of Hindhead, she is now receiving regular phone calls and emails enquiring about courses and has a wide spectrum of clients. Occasionally she does sell a few pieces of her own pottery, but this is not where her focus is,
“I have a stall booked at a local fete in the Summer and may well sell a few pieces, but the money is not in the wares themselves but in the experience and I will use this opportunity to give out my business cards and book up some courses.”
Support from Inspiring Enterprise
As a lifelong career teacher, before starting her business Susan has never had to deal with tax and how it works. She had never drawn up an invoice, or in her own words, “had no clue about the financial side of things, such as tax return dates.” Julie helped her with all of this,
“Julie helped me with what I needed to know and what I had to keep in terms of records – the practicalities were totally out of my experience. I now have a template for invoices and a file for the tax man. I have been on a Facebook training course that Inspiring Enterprise participants can attend, and I have been able to get more traffic to the website that I had already set up due to that training.”
Business is currently booming, and she is booking courses back-to-back, but Susan doesn’t want to get complacent and make sure that the business can sustain itself.
“I must push my business and myself and that’s not something I’m used to! I have to become more confident in selling ‘me’ and how I teach, but I am gaining in confidence all the time.”
Susan’s Top Business Tip
For anyone thinking of starting out on the self-employment journey and setting up their own business, Susan has the following advice,
“Do something you KNOW and LOVE, something you already have the skillset for. Also, it has to be something you are happy to commit to.”