I received a comment on my blog post from yesterday that shows I need to further clarify what I mean when I say – price is not really why people buy. Mandy brought up the following, and it’s a legitimate position.
“Forgive me… but I respectfully disagree with one of your points. …. It’s not that I don’t value great art, but purchasing art of any kind, for any reason, is a luxury for me. So if your beautiful crocheted scarf that I admire deeply and would love to own is priced about $20 more than what I can allow myself to spend, it’s going to stay right where it is. No offense or disrespect intended, but my funds are limited and my hands are essentially tied. I may be the minority?
Having said that, in the past year or so I have started teaching myself to crochet as a hobby, and have started giving crocheted gifts. As a result, I’ve had ladies ask me if they could buy some of the things I make. I’m lost when it comes to pricing my work because I am a hobbyist, and a newbie. My materials and time are valuable, but maybe not in the same respect as those of you who are true artists and are supporting your families with your craft. I am guilty of thinking to myself that I’d like to offer my work for a bit less than some of the prices I have seen, because of my personal experiences, and because I know most people in my community and surrounding area are not likely to pay “artist prices.” Have any of you run into this, and do you have any advice for someone just starting out? I’m not opposed to one day crocheting to sell, but for now it is just something I enjoy and a way to give practical handmade gifts.”
Mandy, thank you for your valuable addition to the discussion and daring to disagree! I’ll explain my position better below. Dear Community, she’s asked a question of all of us, so feel free to respond, politely.
First, I’ll refer you to my article “How Much Are You Worth.” Here I talk about the difference between novice and expert work and about sweatshop pricing. And that’s something we all have a responsibility to do something about. We have gotten used to being able to live off the work of others in low economies. And so when it comes to the actual cost of our materials and goods where we live, where it’s more expensive, we still think in terms of 3rd world sweatshop pricing. But do we really expect anyone to live off 50 cents an hour? Or for anyone to pay off their degrees and training and education, not to mention materials and taxes and fees that way? Of course not. No reasonable person would. And yet, every time we price our work in par with a sweatshop, that’s what we do. And in an economy that is much more expensive to live in. I cannot usually buy yarn as cheap as the sweater you buy at WalMart. So when I make that sweater from the materials available to me, cheap or expensive, it’s still going to cost way more, no matter what – even if I don’t charge for time and expertise at all. And there’s nothing at this point that I can do about that.
On the other hand, in general, the market will not bear outrageous pricing. So I would argue that there should be a natural cap to how much beginner level type work should go for. Sticking a bead on an ear wire and slapping a $100 price tag on it better mean that’s one heck of a valuable bead. Because we know how much skill and time went into it and that cannot alone bear the weight of the price tag. Sometimes things just aren’t practical or there just isn’t a market for them. Who wants to pay a significant chunk of money for a cashmere wash-cloth to scrub dishes with? Unless you can provide some amazing advantage as to why this would make someone’s life better, this is just not likely to sell. There’s no demand and even more, it doesn’t make sense.
We can’t always afford the work we love.
This is part of life. Sometimes that means we learn to make it ourselves to offset cost of time. But even then, even with my level of expertise, I can’t myself always afford the work I can produce.
For example, I have a friend who has amazing wood carving skills, he literally works for the stars – several celebrities own his work. And yet, he has four kids, one with downs and says he cannot afford the work of his own hands. The materials and time and methods are all that specialized and expensive. Should he stop making what he makes? No. There is a demand for it and what he does is highly specialized and arguably a dying art. He’s really (I mean really) good at it. Would you have him instead do something he’s not good at? Not to mention take away the work that is feeding his family, and paying for the therapy his child needs for downs. Even so, he doesn’t yet feel like he can justify owning one of his best pieces yet. The materials and expenses alone are cost prohibitive.
Now, my friend works in a highly specialized scenario that relies on the help of galleries and such, which also increases his expenses, but his story illustrates a point.
When you are in the handmade market, it’s important to price fairly and consider developing a range of products.
That is, if you have no plans to get that highly specialized. You want your highs, your lows and your middles. For example: I have some amazing purses I’ve made, where the blunt, literal cost in materials to me is over $150 and I haven’t even lined them yet. Their final cost will be substantial. The silk, the beadwork, the specialized hardware to make them look and work right – all of that requires not only a lot of time and expertise out of me, but also the money to acquire materials. And because I’m not a warehouse, I cannot get warehouse prices on materials either. So I’m slowly but surely investing in the work I’m putting into them. Everyone loves them. Will everyone be able to afford them? Nope. But they are my OOAK high-end specialty art pieces and out there someone will decide to snap them up. That said, I also have made some purses I could comfortably sell for $35. My level of expertise is the same, but what is different is mostly my cost in materials.
This is why it’s important to have a range of product prices and work you are doing in business, if you want to hit a wider range of customers. The fact is, it’s my work, my service and my story that will draw you to me. (My writing even.) Either you will like my work or you won’t.
Maybe you can’t buy my high-end expensive purse. In that case – the price data is what helps you say “no” to that particular piece.
However, that is not the same as saying no to me.
Because if I have another beautiful piece, where the materials do not cost nearly the same, and it is in your price range, you will likely settle for that instead.
And that’s one part of what I mean about people not saying no based on pricing.
Sometimes “No” Is Really About Guilt
There’s also the reality where people say no seemingly “based on price,” but it’s really based on guilt. The “it’s not you it’s me” scenario. When a customer has money issues or financial PTSD, that is not something you can ever control. And their bad relationship with money is theirs to bear, not yours. Getting their sale will not make a difference to you in the long run. You have to look at and make decisions based on the long financial picture of a business, not the spur of the moment whim. This gets back to knowing your market and even knowing your individual show. Not everyone will feel like they can afford your stuff. If they did, then you might as well be a dollar store and have trouble paying your bills.
Newbies who are dropping their prices out of fear that they can’t get a sale is an entirely different thing from trying to price fairly. It’s important to understand the distinction. A) Price dropping like that creates an unhealthy relationship with money and it can get you into trouble with your business. B) Most juried shows forbid it and it can get you kicked out. C) Business is risk. Don’t get into it without embracing that fact. It’s not if you will fail at some point, it’s when. And it’s about you learning not to see failure as a bad thing. Becoming a business owner is one of the best things you can do for your own personal-growth. Kinda up there with parenthood. You will learn amazing things, whether you set out to or not. D) People are not turning down the artist based on price as much as they are based on their experience. If you like my work, my story, my service, and if I have something in your price range you want – you are likely to buy it. Period. It’s really that simple. If you don’t like my work, no amount of dropping my price is going to make you spend money on it.
And that pretty much sums it up.
Everyone justifies their spending somehow.
I know someone who for years complained about how she hated her shag carpet, but couldn’t afford to get it replaced. carpet was her “luxury.” And yet, she always had the latest clothes and fine jewelry to wear. It was her choice. She just didn’t invite anyone over.
Me? Hey, I value quality shoes. I’m on my feet all the time and have a degenerative genetic joint condition that causes pain. You better believe I invest in good footwear that won’t aggravate my degenerative condition. It could cost me hundreds of dollars, and I don’t care, I will work a 3rd job if I have to not to be in pain. I also value a good dishwasher. For reasons I just stated, I try to limit the time I’m on my feet. So a dishwasher that never breaks down and practically eats the garbage from my dishes is an asset I want to own. My time is worth more than to be constantly fixing something.
I know someone else who has almost no kitchen ware, but they have cutting edge materials and sewing equipment for quilting. And yet another person who values homegrown food most of all and would sooner spend $10 on seeds than on a new shirt.
We all have those things we see the value in much better than we see in others. You want to look for the customers who will value you.
Back to what I said before about fair pricing.
I repeat, we’re not talking about over-pricing. (Though there are cases where it can be used as a management tool, but that’s another article.) I’m talking about fairness that’s win-win. But as Laurie Wheeler from The Crochet Liberation front said it best: “You are not a sweatshop!” And you’re not. OK? So stop working on something for hours and then charging $2 to a stranger for it. It’s wrong. And anyone who supports that kind of self-abuse is also wrong. As is anyone who raises their kids to think about money and work this way. And those 3rd world countries everyone’s wishing could get better pay will also never be better off, as long as we all help promote this lack of value for time and hard work. If you’re giving a true gift, or you’re doing charity work, that’s one thing. But that’s not what we’re talking about.
What is my hour worth? A sack of potatoes? A loaf of bread? A lunch? Or a cheap cup of coffee?
When you dare to enter business, it’s important to recognize the value of every single part of the equation. And it’s time we grow up and get a handle on what a responsibility this really is. My customers work hard for their money, every bit as much as I. My suppliers also work hard for their money, every bit as I. When all we respect each other, we create balance and everyone can win.
There is another thing though. We tend to be worst of all about valuing the work that women traditionally do. Even we women do this to each other. Even in this day and age. And we need to stop and think about this when we size things up and question whether we’re guilty of it or not.
So, I leave you with a challenge. Whether you own a business or not, it’s a good exercise to help you get a handle on what you value, how you spend and also recognizing how it might be for others too.
Stop and think about a $20 bill and just what you would justify spending it on and what you would not. Would you take a friend out to lunch? Would you buy a scarf? Would you pick up some gourmet coffee or buy a pack of smokes? How about a case of canned goods? How about a skein of yarn, or a tube of paint? Maybe an organizer? Or an iPhone case? Makeup maybe? A couple of crochet magazines?
What things could you do with a $20 bill and would or would not do? And once you’ve thought about that deeply, then analyze each item’s true worth in terms of the value it provides or not. $20 to feed a friend, or to keep someone warm for the winter, or to help you get organized, etc..
Money is nothing more than a tool. How do you use it?
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