When Designers Hear “Can You Cut Your Price?”

I was so irritated.

It happened.

I’m not going to say their name, give you details, or talk about the proposal, but I certainly am going to write a warning for anyone who will listen.  And I don’t frellin’ care that I want to yell about it all over the internet.

It happened.

Red_Wine_GlassAnd it was asked by the owner of a new business, who days after asking me to commit to a project, came back and bemoaned the fact that she had a slim budget for her grand opening.

Was there any way I could negotiate a lower price?

“I can appreciate the prices you charge because of your extensive expertise, but…. I’m paying for all this wine and I don’t have enough money.”


What. The. Hell.

Really.  After a week of knowing my price, and me setting aside time and making preparations.  Really?

So dear readers:  would you take a 50% pay cut if your boss asked?  Bet not only you wouldn’t, but you’d tell him where to go!


And just because you’re used to buying 3rd world cheap, doesn’t mean you’re justified in asking for my services, scheduling me and then asking me to slash my pay.  (What d’ya wanna bet that ain’t box wine you’re springing for.)  I could have far better respected you coming clean and saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t have as much money as I thought,” than to ask me to work for half price.

“I have 200 people on my mailing list that I will advertise your business to when I advertise my event. So you’ll get exposure.”


“Exposure” is the rotten kiss of hard-work-for-nothing in many cases.  Every newbie thinks at some point that every flirtatious offer to exchange products or services for “exposure” will be good for them.  Too often it just isn’t.  And for some businesses, too much of that kind of financial risk is just the kiss of death.

And 200 people on your mailing list?  That’s all?  If the wind is blowing the right way, I might get one contact out of that.  IF your email ad is done nicely.  But statistics are not in favor of even that.

“I’m sure people who attend my event will become future customers for you.”

Here’s where my eyes start to glaze over just a little.  I’ve heard all this before.  People who try to present themselves as having assets they don’t really have.

In over a decade of being in business for myself, not once has making a donation, or participating in someone’s private event ever… let me repeat that… EVER sent me a lead, much less a sale!

Now.  I do a lot of charity work.  I’ve often donated to cancer causes with no questions asked.

But here’s the big key.  I don’t do it for exposure.  I do it because I choose to give back to the world through a kind heart and generosity.  Because that feels right to me and because I want to.  That doesn’t mean I don’t put my name on my donations, but giving for exposure is the wrong reason.  Spending business assets on possible “exposure” has never paid for me.  Not saying it won’t for someone else, but it never once has for me.

Artists and designers and consultants and musicians and all those other entrepreneurs out there need to be just as respected for their time and expertise as someone who works for the man.

And whatever this weird fatal attraction is, where society is dying to have us colorful creatives around, but you want us to pimp ourselves out for cheap, has just gotta go.

Stop dissing our fields.

Stop diminishing our returns.

Stop using us.  And artists, don’t you go caving either!

We have every right to feed our kids and have a warm bed too.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:

How Much Are You Worth?

When Artists Hear “I Can Make That!

Disparaging Handcrafts In The Name Of Law – How Far Does It Push Us Back?

Cro-pocalypse: The Rise of Crochet

Help Me Travel The World To Study Crochet Hooks!



Filed under Editorial, NaBloPoMo

42 responses to “When Designers Hear “Can You Cut Your Price?”

  1. Great post! Many years ago my wife was a self-employed florist (she stills runs her own business in a different area) and we lost count of the times people would say “is there any chance you can get it any cheaper because we’ve spent so much on the meal?” She even had a couple query whether she should be charging for labor. You would never do this to a mechanic or walk into a shop and try to haggle. The artistic and craft community have skills that should be valued and you should all charge what you want. Good post and well done for standing up for yourself 🙂

    • Thanks for adding to the discussion John! Wow, I can imagine the wedding market is especially ripe for that. I would love to hear how your wife handled some of these requests!

      In my case, it would be one thing if this customers response was due to youth and inexperience, but it isn’t. However her comfort with asking me in such a, I don’t know, weird ballsy way – it has to point to a consciousness that somehow we are fostering in our society. If there is anything though, that I am trying to do, it is to make a difference for the future by teaching my kids and as many as I may have access to, the value of hard work. No matter its form. We enjoy a lot of conveniences in our modern world and society today. But those conveniences are only available so long as they are valued.

  2. Awesome post! As a card maker I can relate. I make my cards and sell them for a fair price. I cringe when someone wants me to make them stuff for “free”, or for so cheap that it wouldn’t pay for the envelope! What cracks me up is they are usually the ones who have so many “demands” they want made by want to give me a dollar or two. Seriously. I charge $5 and I think that is more than fair. My line now is “I am sorry, but I can’t do it for that price. You may want to consider Walmart or the Dollar tree. 98 percent of people think my price is fair, and even offer more. Supplies and your skill and time are not free, and people need to realize that. Your work is amazing! I wish I did some needle work, but I am all thumbs!

    • Thanks for your kind regards on my work and for adding to the discussion Winnie!

      You’re right. Sometimes it’s the really demanding types who pull these kinds of stunts. $5 for handmade handsome cards is very, very fair! Definitely, if they want something cheaper, that’s what a discount store is for. They can buy one-offs there. You want custom? You want quality and expertise? You want personal service and care? Respect me even if you can’t afford my price. :/

  3. Some people have no idea. It’s because of all the hobbyists who only sell to cover the costs of their hobby, so buyers have learned they can get away with it half the time. But honestly, those excuses! On what planet would they think that their having spent too much on wine or food would make you take pity on them? If it was their kid suddenly needing hospital treatment then maybe, but wine? No way!

    And you’ve already put time and effort in? They owe you for that. I would consider trying to not lose the contract by agreeing to be paid half now and half when they have it, and if they don’t agree to that then charge them for the time you’ve lost. If you think you can trust them not to wriggle out of paying the rest. Good luck!

    • Thanks for your comments Knotrune!

      Oh it gets better. I have to admit that when I received the email late at night, I sat on it until late the next morning, fuming and trying to figure out what I was going to say. That Libra in me just really seeks a diplomatic approach, though the Scorpio in me wants to slap someone too. It took her 3 days to get back to me at one point, so I figured I could take the time to carefully word a response. I offered her a 15% discount, which I often reserve for military or senior citizens. And I explained why that was the most I could offer her.

      After sending her this carefully crafted, but solid response, she responded late that night with something to the effect of, “When I didn’t hear from you, I got cold feet and booked someone else.” But she would be sure to contact me the next time she had an event. And me, I’m figuring I don’t need her business. If this is how she works on the front end, what unpleasantry could await on the inside? On the surface, I lost potential income. In reality, I just earned myself some valuable time back. And I’m thinking I’ll schedule a little personal “thank me” time for the day of her event to celebrate that as a win.

  4. Doug

    NSFW rant about this very thing by Harlan Ellison:

    • Omg, that cracks me up. Doug thanks for sharing! Maybe when I’m older and more cynical, I could talk like this, but definitely not my personality and style today. Still, he stabs at the very heart of the issue, illuminating it without reservation exactly what so many of us feel inside while we try to be diplomatic and kind. Because when you peel back the layers, it’s not just about getting paid, it’s also about respect and value for our work. Every hard-working individual deserves to be respected, no matter how you perceive their work.

      Hey y’all – you definitely have to watch this video!

      • Carmel Johnson

        I have seen this video mentioned before, but have never watched it until now. I don’t often use it myself, but there is a time for profanity- when you want to emphasize how you feel about the subject. Sometimes our efforts at diplomacy undercut the seriousness of the message and I like how this Ellison here uses the profanity to emphasize and strengthen his message. Yes, he’s ranting, but he’s still a writer. Ironically, I wonder if he got paid for that interview and how he feels about artists linking to it all the time. I may actually show this to my middle schooler, both for the lesson in profanity and the message- he tends toward the artistic and should get this message sooner rather than later.

        • You know, that is a good point about us artists using this video clip. However, I would also guess that in this case, he’d be happy if it gets the message out and changes things. Also a good point about language. I don’t have a problem hearing language per se. My husband was in the military and commands an amazing vocabulary. Let me tell you, he can rip someone a new one in the most eloquent and intelligent way imaginable. A way I can’t begin to try to explain or give an example of. Though the vocabulary/speaking skill part of that is shared by his sister and father as well. I just don’t naturally voice that way. Though I am very appreciative that there are people who can. Another example of what I would consider more positive use for profanity and rougher language can be seen at http://www.themiddlefingerproject.org. Ash has a lot of business sense and gets the point across in ways you can’t run from.

  5. Here’s an article about a new campaign from the Writers Guild about the same problem” http://writersguild.org.uk/news-a-features/tv/468-free-is-not-an-option

    • Candace, thanks so much for sharing this! I’ll be sharing that valuable commentary along too. I thinks me that this is on a lot of people’s minds lately. Yes, the world is feeling the pinch of whatever it is that the “economy” is doing. But this is a backlash.

      It’s all the same attitude and energy. And you know what? There really needs to be some kind of strike or honor code or something where everyone just stops saying yes to these things. Stop it. And teach the people around you to stop it. We don’t need a union for this. Just you, the individual – control yourself and stop saying yes to these things. Wake up and see that this is equivalent to abuse. I’m not saying stop donating or serving, but make it clear when you are giving and when you are not. What the value of that is and where your boundaries are. This won’t stop until it becomes obvious that there’s no way to get what you want without that important exchange of energy.

  6. Gina


    My husband is a yoga teacher and has the same problem with people, other businesses and organizations not necessarily valuing his time and expertise. And he rarely if ever gets any business from doing all those
    freebies and exchanges of services you describe.


    • Bingo! Thanks for your confirmation Gina! I do service work too, and yes – time has to be valuable. I’ve had to point out to people before that you know what, I cannot let you expect me to work for less than a living wage, much less minimum wage! And I can hide behind my kids and say – I have kids to feed. Which I do. But it shouldn’t matter than I have kids to feed either. My time and expertise and everything that I have poured into this thing that you want from me – that has meaning and value and I need to be paid to live. There is no ministry for my work to make sure I don’t starve! And holy cow, do you guys know we pay taxes too? Not to mention self-employment tax, insurance as applicable, all the fees and headaches that any business requires. You want a pro? Then you have to support what it takes to be pro. Otherwise, find a volunteer or go without.

      • Gina

        My husband does give discounts to students who need this help all they need do is ask. Like the hobbyist issue mentioned above, some teachers
        are willing to work for so little pay or teach on the side when they have a “day job” and, thus, charge less that it impacts those who ARE trying to make a living. I really think it is partly a cultural problem in how we value the arts and crafts, and yoga is an art as well as exercise. Just an example. I’m sure your readers have others. I’m really enjoying the discussion!


        • You’ve touched on another good point Gina. The choices we make, though we are free to make them, do have an affect on others. I always tell my kids that their behavior out in the world doesn’t just reflect on them, but upon their family and their school, etc. too. In the same way, we writers, artists, practitioners and entrepreneurs – we are representatives of our fields. Whether we desire leadership or not, we are presented with the responsibility of it every day. Because we all learn through example. And while I’m not against helping a student or someone in need on occasion, again it still comes down to valuing and it comes down to my choice to give. And even my professionalism about how I choose to give. We’re not talking about doing a favor for a friend or family member. We’re talking about how we represent ourselves in the world.

          In my case, if the business owner had presented her case to me differently, or had a different excuse than the cost of her food and wine, perhaps I wouldn’t have felt the way I did and could have formulated an idea on what would make sense as an equal exchange and solve an issue for us both. Or decided it was one of those times I could afford to give. But as it is, her example is instead a great lesson in professional behavior.

          I’m glad you’re enjoying the discussion Gina! I think it’s one of those things we don’t always talk about, or maybe we don’t always feel like we have permission to talk about. And I’m really glad to see the insight everyone has to offer. I’d love to hear more about what people have experienced and how they dealt with it, or didn’t as the case may be. I think this exploration is valuable. And it’s valuable to have this discussion amongst peers in our demographic, so we can support and compare notes and such too.

  7. Amy

    Gee, I overspent on wine so you need to work for cheap?! You have got to be kidding me. Talk about chutzpah. You’re right. Our society doesn’t value art/craft.

  8. I have, myself heard that many times. I have had a person try to tell me how much they liked something I make, but I charge too much, and she could just go to Target and get it. UM, no you can’t. I have had people tell me I am over priced, and under priced. I just price it now, you like it or you don’t, it sells.

    In your case, I would have responded, ask your wine vendor to give you a discount. I am sure they would have obliged her.

    • You have a point about the alcohol Rachel. I’m always amazed at the generosity of liquor companies who will donate for an event. But, then again, it’s like chocolate. Once you’ve had a taste and know it’s good, you’re going to want more.

  9. Good for you!! I actually wrote something like this (it’s one of my first posts if you want to check it out, the Artist’s Value Manifesto), but anyway, I was SO ANNOYED by people. I was going to start printing t-shirts and it’s over 150$ just for start up costs and people left and right we asking me “design a shirt for me!” “print my shirt idea” and even “i’ll pay you”. Well when I told them their price (supplies +labor+a design fee) they never talked to me again. Or asked me to do it for exposure. Exposure to who? Your closet? Your friends? I could send out random emails to random addresses and have more luck than with that small group of people. It’s really horrible that people expect artists and crafters to work for free. Good for you for standing up to them, it will help us all in the long run.

  10. Gina

    Hi Julia:
    Gina again with some more thoughts re. the “exposure” marketing issue that people or organizations want you to offer your products/services for free or at a reduced cost. The “exposure” they are offering may NOT even be to your target market for your product or service. I wonder if the people making the request ever think of that. It seems to me (and I work with business counselors) that marketing is very thought out and targeted because it can be expensive but also so the entrepreneur does not waste time targeting the wrong market. Time is money, too!

    Some of the things I’ve seen come as requests to my husband (yoga teacher) are really just what could be classified as him giving a donation. I think that would be a much better for the person/organization to say up front rather than telling him that this or that number of people will see his ad in their booklet or program or whatever. The ad, to me, is really more a “thank you” for the donation of services/products. Does this all make sense?


    • Yes, it absolutely makes sense! I have a rule when it comes to bartering – it has to have value to me. For instance, I live in Austin and know a gazillion massage therapists and reiki masters. I’m always getting offers to exchange their time and services for my goods. Their time and expertise has value, but my goods have overhead. And I’m very particular about anyone who lays hands on me. And I have massage therapists I like. So these kinds of offers are not a good fit for me. However, if someone showed up with a sack of farm fresh groceries, I would be all ears. In fact, I’d probably get all giggly because someone took the time to think of that. Then again, there’s a cap on how much food I could possibly consider bartering. And that’s essentially what the attempt at “exposure” is masquerading as – bartering. Except it’s not. The values aren’t equal.

      I participated in a local coupon booklet once. Having a coupon in their book was sold basically as advertising, so it was consciously understood you were taking out an ad. The coupon books were then handed out for free at an event that people paid to attend. This one was a shopping event for moms to buy second hand clothing and toys. Seems like a logical good fit, right? I make incredibly cute teddy bear baby hats. Not only was there not one call, or email or anything I could quantify, they failed to even show me a copy of my ad. If someone had bought that coupon book, I think the chances of those coupons being used would have gone up extraordinarily. But just ads in a book? Not sure if it makes a difference or not. The only thing I can say that might help with is branding. And that’s an entirely different kind of strategy, with an entirely different approach. And it requires more commitment than an occasional spot here and there.

      • Gina

        Gina AGAIN! My husband is in some kind of coupon book thing now. I think it’s just a one time discount on services. We haven’t see a single yoga
        student yet from this.

        You make an excellent point about bartering and what is or is not
        equivalent an exchange. I had not thought of that one and will mention
        this to my husband.

        What customers often forget when buying from a small business, is that
        there IS overhead to be considered. Not just one’s time but utilities, equipment purchase/rental, supplies/art-craft materials, paying one’s own medical insurance (and liability in the case of some service providers), transportation costs, using an accountant and/or business attorney, rent or mortgage one one’s home business space or separate space, etc. This all has to be figured into the price of goods or services.

        Let me ask a question: do you think there is a quality control issue in the craft/art world and, if so, does this influence people’s perception about the worth of art work and crafts? I see this as being an issue in my husband’s work.

        Great discussion and I hope it continues.

        Gina (sister to Amy who commented!)

        • Businesses have to make business decisions. I think too often what happens when it comes to business is that people do not think of it the way they should. They think of it as some kind of robot or clinical thing that doesn’t have needs. When the truth is, business is not without heart, we just ignore it’s heart and needs. Our businesses should be treated every bit like a person. Given the same respect we give people. And in many cases, businesses are like little children. They need boundaries for their health and longevity. No normal person throws a child into the adult world and expects them to function as an adult. And yet new owners do this to their businesses all the time. A business needs care, and rest and fuel and structure, every bit as much as a human does. If you start thinking about the business you create as a life you are care taking, then suddenly things take on a different perspective. And sometimes we realize that we are actually causing harm.

          Do I think there’s a quality control issue in the craft/art world?

          Well, I think honestly the control issue is more the business/show world. Human beings were born to make, the create, to share it with the world. I would never want to squelch that or try to regulate that that too much. That would be equal to regulating freedom. However, I am a fan of juried shows. I’m also a fan of run of the mill anyone-can-get-in shows. I think both are necessary as a means to filter ourselves into the places we wish to serve at. The problem to me is more so that shows and venues will claim to vet their artists, and then not do it. This is a problem online too, but harder to control I think.

          Does it affect how people perceive the arts and crafts? Perhaps, but so does the media, so does marketing. For an illustration, some will claim that crochet is associated with bad looking crafts, but yet if you really look at the world of crochet, you will find amazing work that people never realized is crochet. Why? All those 70’s ads for granny squares I guess. Granny squares have a place, but they are a fragment of what makes up our art. So the only reason anyone hears crochet and thinks “granny” is marketing and industry control.

          In this case, the only way we can break out of that mold of perception is to keep breaking it on our own, no matter what the industry does. Especially in the US.

          Make sense?

          I would also say that some negative perception about arts/crafts actually has it’s roots in old chauvinism and the perceived value of “women’s work.” But that’s another discussion.

  11. Kris

    Wonderful post! Thank you.

  12. Bea

    Such a relief in a way to hear and read this article/ blog post. Having just returned from a rather big show ( Country Living Magazine Christmas fair in London ) I have had the same experience and the same reaction.I know times are hard, and there is a recession going on, but all the things I make take not only my time to craft ( I handmake and handembroider or handpaint cushions, aprons, tea cosies and other textiles under the name My Aunt Agatha) but also time to design and it’s really hard when you have already gone down a bit with your prices because you really want to make some sales and some woman ( not this is what happened to me in london ) takes one of your cushions which took forever to make and is already priced down and says : How much is this cushion? And I say : normally £35,- but on the show I am selling them for £ 29,- and she says :” And that is your BEST price?” ( accompanied with a rather filthy look as though she could force me into a lower price by chastising me ) And I think ” I don’t even WANT to sell anything to you if this is how you treat people”.Aaargh!!Needles to say I said “Yes that IS my best price ” in a rather cross way , hahaha.Amd no I did not sell her that cushion .

    • Good for you standing your ground Bea! We talk about this all the time in crochet. (After all, not one bit of it can be made without the human hand.) People like that are not your market. Your only obligation to them is to teach them with their experience of you. And honestly, most price cutting is not going to make a difference in getting a sale or not, it only hurts you because it makes a difference in your bottom line!

      You price it fairly to start with and you keep it there. You want to run a sale, that’s fun, but make it a special exception, not your rule of business. If you feel that your customers can’t afford a product, then don’t make as many and come up with another product that does not require as much time and investment. You have to have your ranges. People don’t buy for the *thing* as much as they buy for the *experience*. They will also buy based on how much you seem to value yourself. That experience of you the artist is where you want to distinguish yourself! That and your story about your process and what’s involved. One of your best marketing tools will be your story. 😉 People invest in people before they invest in anything else. And the people who aren’t your investors – they don’t belong to you, they belong to someone else. Focus on who you’re here to serve. 🙂

  13. Wonderful post! I’m so glad I have discovered your blog. Looking forward to reading more from you. As a novice in selling my crocheted pieces I’ve only just gotten a taste of what you are talking about. It’s so hard not to undersell yourself and your work when you are trying to get started.

    • Thanks bcre8v2! I’m glad you found me and that my post helps. It’s only tough because you’re new to the job. You’re basically like a babe figuring things out. But talk to your fellow artisans, your fellow show buddies and read around online for guidance. And if you haven’t made some friends at shows, go make some. It will help give you the data and confidence you need to set the right price and then stand up for it. Remember, turning down a sale is a skill too! Like anything in life, you are not here to sell your soul and say yes to everything. You are here to discern and figure out who you’re here to serve. 🙂 Welcome to the life! 😉

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