Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fair Pricing

Hello Polite Readers!

This week's topic comes via special request from my Etsy team mates, but I think it's something that all of my crafter, artist, performer, photographer, contractor friends will appreciate. Yes, this week we're talking about fair pricing, how to defend yourself, and how to deal with undercutters.

It's pretty much a universal problem for anyone who works in a creative field. You set a fair price for your work, based on materials, time spent on it, your skill level, what the market will support, what you need to make to make it all worth while, etc etc. You might spend months or even years tweaking your pricing formula, consulting with other professionals in your field, before coming up with something that you're happy with. But no matter how perfect your pricing structure is, someone always comes along and says "Why is this so expensive? I could do it myself! This girl over there says she'd do it for half the price" and so on.

What's an artist to do? It's tempting to go off on the customer and explain in patronizing detail just how your work is better than the cheap imported rip-offs at the mall, because hey, what does it matter if you insult them, they're not going to buy from you anyway! But that's not a healthy attitude to have, and you may chase off would-be customers who were planning to pay your fair prices but were disgusted by your attitude.

It's also tempting to give a polite but thorough explanation of what goes into your product. For instance, as a dancer, I've seen some people advising that when a potential client balks at the cost of a 30 minute performance and wants to know why they can't have 15 minutes for half the price, that you politely explain that they're not just paying for your time, but for the time it takes to get ready, for the time you spend in classes, for the cost of your costumes and so on. But the fact is, the client doesn't care that you spend 45 minutes on your eye makeup alone and that your new skirt cost $75.

Most importantly, explaining has two major flaws. It sounds too much like making excuses, and it lays out exactly what goes into your work and ruins the magic. A potential dance client doesn't want to think about all the layers of makeup you apply to transform from your mundane self to a glamorous performer. A potential jewelry buyer doesn't need to know that those really fabulous beads actually only cost you $2 at a yard sale.

Once again, the answer is to be short and sweet. Smile and say "I think you'll find my rates are actually pretty standard in this area" or "I base my prices on the materials used and the time it took me to create it. You'll find that most artists price their work similarly."

But what if someone in your field is charging much less than you? It's a pretty common problem for artists and crafters to pretty much sell their work for just the cost of material, with no thought to the time it took or the need to make a profit. It's common for performers and photographers (and probably people in other fields as well) to work for nothing or a pittance because they "just love what they do." It's unavoidable that at some point, a potential customer will ask you why you are so much more expensive than the other person. Some people recommend saying something that hints at "you get what you pay for" but I find that often seems a little too snarky and underhanded. Try something along the lines of "I charge what I feel is a fair rate for my work. She has a different idea of what is fair for her work."

And what about approaching the undercutters themselves? I only recommend this if you're in a situation to be friendly with them -- they come to your booth at a craft fair and are chatting about your shared field, they're your classmate at the dance studio, whatever. Don't frame it as accusing them of undercutting you, because that will put them on the defensive. Point out that they are undercutting themselves, ie "I can't believe how little you're asking for this necklace! Your work is so beautiful, you could really ask for more."

Being an artist, whether you're one who creates tangible objects or who performs, is more than just being in a business, it's also being part of a community. By building up your competition instead of tearing them down, you're allowing for friendly competition, fostering an environment where your customers choose based on whose style appeals to them most at the moment rather than who has the cheapest price.

And the people who still think you're charging too much? Well, they can go shop at the mall, and good riddance to them. Don't let them bring you down. You are an artist, you are worth what you are charging, and the right clients will find you in time.

Have a tricky convo that you just can't answer? Rude people getting you down? E-Mail Me and get your own Politely Worded response for life's tricky situations.


  1. What a great post! I think you offer some excellent insight when you talk about the importance of being a part of a community and building each other up, rather than tearing each other down.

    I admit that I get extremely frustrated with bargain shoppers and competitors who undercut. Sometimes, I may even get a bit snarky about it, so you've given me some good food for thought.

  2. I think it's good to have someone -- your spouse, best friend, mom, whoever -- who you can snark at privately when you have to deal with undercutters and cheap customers, but your public face should always be polite.

  3. I love being crafty with my friends but most if not all of them just do it for their own enjoyment so the understanding gap is a bit distressing when I tell them what I'd have to sell something for in order to justify putting it in my shop. :(

    1. For sure! When you are just making something for fun, and don't need to replace supplies and invest in advertising and other business needs, it's easy to sell something for cheap. I'm always amazed by people who don't expect artists to try to turn a profit. Does Target sell their stuff for cost? Of course they don't. I shouldn't have to forgo a profit just because I love what I do.

  4. This post is so well reasoned, AJ, and cuts to the core(s) of the matter. In the end, we have to be true to ourselves and hope that someday the rest of the world will follow suit (or get a clue). Thanks for another great post.

    1. Thank YOU for your kind comments, Kat! I'm glad you enjoyed the post :)