In this week’s post, we are doing something new. Every month or so, we’ll share conversations with extraordinary businesswomen. Through these stories, we hope you see the connection we all share and find something that supports you in the work you do.
Today we’d like you to meet Beth Katz, founder of Mt. Washington Pottery. Beth makes beautiful functional and decorative ceramics. All her work is done by hand and on the potter’s wheel in her Los Angeles, California studio.
I’ve known Beth for many years and watched her business grow and become very successful. One of the constants in her business is the commitment she demonstrates, time and time again, to be clear about want she wants to create, figuring it out, and following practical steps that take her in the direction she wants to go. She is true to herself, and the actions she takes are based on her inner clarity. Once she said to me, “I am the heart, and my business is the body.”
To me, this means Beth listens to her heart and lets it guide her in creating and growing her business as a true reflection of who she is. The body of her business is all of the moving parts it takes to run Mt. Washington Pottery, and her professional decisions are based on her inner compass.
Turning a Hobby into a Business
Beth grew up in the 1970s hippie enclave of Topanga Canyon in Southern California where she learned the art of pottery. Before opening Mt. Washington Pottery, Beth had two long careers, one as a makeup artist in the advertising world, and the other as a creative director at a top women’s magazine.
Five years ago when the magazine closed their West Coast office, Beth needed to decide what was next. She went to school to study Spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica. Through the work she did there the message came through — “Do what you love.”
She says, “This seemed irresponsible to me at the time. I had artists in my family who weren’t able to make it financially by only making art.” However, a good friend encouraged and supported Beth to open her studio, and she listened. So, even though it seemed like a crazy thing to do, Beth decided to go for it.
Trust, and Other Challenges of Starting a Business
Starting any business is challenging, and although Beth knew she wanted to make pottery, she didn’t have a clear plan of what her undertaking would be like. The one thing she did know was that she didn’t want to turn the thing she loved doing into something she dreaded doing by “turning it into a business.”
So, at first Beth focused on the work itself — she installed a kiln in her studio, created a product line, started to sell her wares at craft fairs and retail stores, tapped into her extensive network of artists worldwide, and stayed mindful of being true to herself and her work.
“I started checking in with myself,” she says, “as if I were meeting with an inner partner. This helped clarify my feelings about what I wanted and how that connected to what I was actually doing.”
Today, Beth finds that only about 20% of her time is spent at the wheel throwing clay, making it crucial that she can tap into her creativity when she’s there.
She says, “I love sitting at the wheel and being with the clay. People often say to me, ‘Wow, making pottery is so relaxing and Zen-like,’ and although there is truth in this, often people don’t realize there’s also the running of the business to attend to. It’s challenging to go back and forth between the creative mind and the business mind. I’ve found my creativity needs to be cultivated.”
Some of the techniques Beth’s uses to tap into her creativity are time management, task scheduling, and getting assistance in the studio. She was clear that it takes experimenting. “I’ve learned to be okay with not knowing and trying things out,” she says. “Being flexible and having an open mind to switching things up when something isn’t working or doesn’t feel right is a skill I’m mastering. I’m learning to trust myself more.”
Success is an Inner and Outer Game
Beth has always been organized and detailed, able to execute projects and find resources that support her in her work. That said, it’s the inner work that keeps her connected to the heart of her business.
She feels her success comes from questioning, deep listening, and trusting that the answers will appear.
“I know I need quiet to feed my creativity and cultivate ideas. I do that walking my dogs, and if I don’t allow for this, the ideas don’t come. And the truth is, it’s the ideas I have about pottery that excite people and lead them to purchase my work.”
The result is people do respond to her work, its beauty, and functionality, as well as the energy it holds.
Self-Nurturing Supports Your Business
It’s not only the work we do that keeps us going in our businesses, it’s also taking care of ourselves that supports us. Here’s an example: Beth noticed that no matter how many hours she worked, she felt like she didn’t get enough done. She realized this was a pattern that left her feeling overwhelmed.
She started questioning this. “Is it true? How do I know when to stop when I always feel like I’m not done?” From here she learned to ask, “What are these thoughts here to teach me? What does ‘being done for the day’ really look like, and what do I need to be successful?”
Listening within supported Beth in realizing that being self-honoring and taking the time she needs for herself was in the best interest of her work, both artistically and professionally. “If I’m not healthy, happy, rested, joyful,” she says, “then my business won’t be either.”
She’s also learned that everything she does serves her business. Every part, even the things that people can’t see or know, sustains what she does.
Lessons I Learned
Beth sums it up this way: “I feel my business is a reflection of me. My intention is to create beautiful, lighthearted work for people to use and enjoy. This process begins every morning and involves all the choices I make about everything I do and feel.”
More than anything, what I learned from Beth was the importance of being clear and true to ourselves no matter what business we’re in. If we stay in touch with the heart of our business, the body of the business will thrive and grow.