biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: the value of your work

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post is by Regina Morrison, owner of the small handmade accessories business and blog, Acute Designs. Regina is actively pursuing her life as a handmade business owner in San Diego, where she lives with her husband and two crazy dogs. Today Regina graciously shares some of her insights on properly valuing your work. Thanks, Regina, for this inspiring post! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

A few weeks ago, someone commented that one of my designs was “not worth the price.” I was not offended by this comment, as I believe that everyone has the right to choose how they spend their money. I was actually a little *ahem* annoyed with the handmade community for inadvertently causing this sort of comment.

I do not fault the consumer. Many people don’t understand why a handmade item costs more than a similar item from a big-box retailer. However, the handmade and small business community needs to take responsibility and accurately price their work.

If someone chooses to buy from a handmade or small business, they should pay more. Why? Because handmade and small business owners should pay themselves a living wage. Unfortunately, I have noticed a huge amount of small business owners making the mistake of attempting to compete on price, and this concerns me.

If you want to buy an accessory from me, you are going to pay a little more. This is not because I am in the business of ripping anyone off, but because I value myself.  I value my time and my work, and I pay myself a living wage.

Some people will never pay the slightly higher price for handmade, and this is totally fine. These people are not our customers. We need to stop trying to entice them with low prices.

We as a community have a responsibility not only to our customers but also to each other. By under-valuing our products or services, we are sending the message that handmade and small business equals CHEAP. And there is nothing cheap about this community or the work that it produces.

When I see a handmade product, I think about the individual behind the price. There is an individual creating, designing or photographing their way to a living, and these people deserve to make a living wage. When I see products priced incredibly low, I wonder why the sellers are selling themselves and their work short. There is no need to over-price your work, but there is a need to accurately price your work.

When we, as a community of handmade and small business owners, price our work in order to compete with the big-box stores, we are doing a disservice to the entire community. A potential customer might see accurately priced web design prices and think, “I saw another designer offering the same service for half the price; therefore, it is not worth that much.”

Whether this thinking is conscious or not does not matter. The fact is, it happens. We live in a society that is addicted to cheap goods and services. Every single one of us reading this post knows of a big store where a $20 dog bed or a $5 necklace can be purchased. Cheap goods and services exist, and I am not arguing that there is anything wrong with these cheap goods. What I am arguing is that handmade cannot compete on price.

If we talk in terms of dollars and cents, it is almost always cheaper to buy from a big-box retailer or to hire from a big company. Small business owners are rarely able to compete on price, but in every other aspect of the buying process, they blow the big boys out of the water.

There is a story behind the work we do; whether it is a woman who needed extra income to support her family or a 20-something college grad who cannot find a job. It is a story of creating our own jobs and our own companies through doing what we love. This is where small businesses can compete.

Price? Rarely. Sentiment? Always.

Value yourself and your work. The right customer will pay what your product is truly worth.

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  • I can think of other things as well that contribute toward the sometimes higher price of handmade products:-

    Originality: handmade is often far more thoughtful, creative, inventive and downright original than products purchased from a larger store.

    Exclusivity: Handmade & small business products are usually produced in much smaller numbers than products for the mass-market, so your necklace / scarf / bag aren’t going to be seen on every John & Jane – you’ve got something that not everyone else can have.

    Customer Service: products I’ve purchased, or friends have purchased on Etsy often come beautifully wrapped and packaged, or the maker is willing to create the same product in a slightly different colour or material. There’s an interaction between maker & buyer, and the maker really does care about their product and want it to be just right for the person that’s buying it.

    All these add value to the product you’re purchasing, and should therefore add to the price you pay as well.

  • This post opens up a lot of interesting issues. I absolutely believe that people, especially women, should value their selves and their work. I also believe that people should value other people’s work.

    However, I think that using the word “accurate” in terms of pricing is misleading.
    Targeting people from higher socio-econmic levels with pricing is a kind of business strategy. It may be the model you follow for your business. But it isn’t the only strategy.

    Many people can’t afford to pay the premium that goes with some handmade goods, and I think your point about how many people don’t know why these products cost more is a good one. Continuing that thread, I think that it is unfortunate, also, that people don’t know why the products of big-box stores are cheaper, that how they are making up for price cuts is through a high price exacted on people’s health, the environment, other countries economies etc.

    Low-pricing is a business strategy to try and get product out to as many people as possible. It creates demand on a large-scale level, increasing profits through number of units sold versus a high profit margin on individual items. High prices run the risk of further rareifying handmade goods and strengthening the divide between socio-economic classes. I think that people of any income level deserve to be able to afford beautiful, handmade creations. In that sense, I think pricing is much more of a careful balancing act than you make it seem in this post. High pricing is not the best way for all people.

  • Great advise about valuing the work and pricing for quality. We need to value ourselves and what we create and compete on quality not quantity.

  • thank you ! I just participated in a christmas fair where I was standing next to a person selling her craft at a very cheap price. so when people were moving from her to me they were often surprised by my prices. but you know what, i didn’t care much. my prices were fair. and as you said, if the people are looking for cheap then they are not our customers.

  • Great post! It is very hard to determine pricing for work that seems to come easily to us, and that we love so much we would do it for free. Thanks for reminding us why it’s important to set prices fairly for both our customers and ourselves! Best of luck with your business!

  • This is a great article. It’s something I often fall victim to, because I think, “Would I pay that much for web design?” when I set my own prices. I’ve learned to squash that urge to price cheap because most of the time, those people who pay the cheap prices are the ones who demand the moon and then walk all over you when they don’t get it (because they never will). It’s so true that we’re addicted to cheap. But hopefully, we’ll sit up and realize that quality is worth paying for. And we are worth that price!

  • This is just the encouragement I needed this morning. As a designer and letterpress printer, it is a constant struggle working with clients who always want discounts and price reductions. As my boyfriend told me earlier, it’s not like I’m sitting there and pressing the “print” button. It’s work that I love, but it is work, and it is special.

    Just last night I spent the evening shopping at Youngblood, a local Atlanta gallery and boutique. It felt great to find so many beautiful handmade items that I will be giving as gifts this year. A few extra dollars is worth it to me to support fellow artists.

  • I definitely can relate to this article. It’s especially apparent at shows/exhibitions when you have people selling handmade mugs for ten dollars and you sell a pair of cups for sixty dollars. Everytime a potter undervalues their own work, it affects the whole community.

  • I find that pricing my items is the hardest part of this whole process. Any tips on how price your handmade items?

  • Great post… it’s easy to forget this when you’re trying to move product. Then when your done you realize all you’ve accomplished is merely covering the costs. Making money off your product is important too.

  • Thank you for this!

    I am either having to justify my prices to people that would rather shop big box store prices or I am being told how grateful my customers are that they have the option to shop local and make sustainable choices. Hearing that makes me feel like what I am doing is all worth it!

  • i totally agree..

    and, really, making stuff is so much more expensive than buying stuff from the store. most of us selling handmade things do not even take into consideration all the material cost (in prototype phase and getting the product just right before we can even dream of selling it) and time invested into that handmade good that we will never get back.

  • I don’t craft for a living but I am a designer and this is always a struggle. But too often we turn our attention (read: annoyance) to the customer who wants rock-bottom prices. As the author points out, it’s about valuing yourself. We just don’t want to look there.

    Too often we wait for someone else to value us. Once you flip it around, you suddenly see opportunities that weren’t there before. Meaning that once you shift your mindset, you free your mind to market yourself, communicate in new ways and more importantly, find different markets for your stuff.

    To the person who asked how to price, take your materials costs and figure out how long it takes you to make something. (Not that time+materials is the only valid pricing structure. Something exquisite that only took an hour shouldn’t be worth only an hour of your time.) But use it as a base. Factor in the taxes you pay and see what kind of hourly rate you’re left with. If it’s minimum wage or less, you probably can’t live on that if you’re supporting yourself. Also look around at mass-produced goods and figure out a % higher that one would pay because it was hand crafted.

    From a psychology standpoint, people want a variety of grades of product or service (maybe vary the detail or quality of material). Good, great, excellent. It provides context for them in which to choose.

    The best thing you can do is communicate the value or benefit to the potential customer. Appeal to their desire to feel special because they have a one-of-a-kind piece and are now a rock star.

  • Can the Biz Ladies please write their own book too? I don’t always read their stuff on the day it’s posted, but it’s really valuable (and easily digestible) information that I reference a lot!

    • Sarah

      The biz ladies articles have their own landing page (see the nav menu above) so you can read by topic if you miss a week :)


  • Great post! I struggle with this also… it pains me to see people undervaluing their work, because it affects expectations for mine. But at the same time, like Bonnie said, I’d do it for free because I enjoy it so much, and despite the time dedicated, it does come relatively easy to me. So it’s hard to reconcile these two ideas. I think that’s one of the reasons you always hear the term “tortured artist”!

  • Great post with great insights. I think a future biz ladies article with guidelines on HOW to price handmade items would be really helpful. I think many struggle with how to come up with a price that is fair to them.

  • The psychology of today’s shopper is to think about price. One thing that I do to try to overcome that in my handmade business is to emphasize quality.

    When I see a pair of fingerless gloves with the flip at a big box store, I know they will beat me on price. But I know they won’t take the product back if there are any problems, they are probably very thin and not very warm, and the ends will peek out of the fingers by the time you leave the store with them on.

    I also allow the world to see my production: with handmade, my customers are more often than not part of the production story. The gloves that I make are custom sized, or an octopus that I made is a color that the customer purchased themselves. Either way, with handmade products, there is a much greater emphasis on the history and on the quality and customization.

  • Every Biz Ladies post inspires me, thank you! This one is especially well-timed as I plan to restructure my pricing in the new year. I can now go for it with full confidence, knowing it’s the right thing to do.

  • Thank you for this encouragement! I’m new to the handcraft community, and sometimes I feel I have to justify the value I put on my items. Thank you for reminding me that quality and uniqueness should always be appreciated.

  • Wonderful post…well written. I’m better with prose than with my hands but I am an admirer of the handmade and often choose to buy a handmade item over a mass produced item. I think most of my large contemporary jewelry collection is handmade by artisans in Hawaii. After I took a metal working class at the local musuem, which I was horrible at (too chicken for the metal cutting and the torching, I’m delicate like that, the hammering I loved), I now understand how much work goes into the design and crafting of certain pieces. Also understood why certain pieces are priced higher than others (if there is metal working involved versus some light wire wrapping). Artisans may also be working with limited special materials, not buying items you buy in bulk and see everywhere. A special, unique piece that makes my heart sing is priceless…

  • Thanks for this post, really interesting read. As someone trying to carve a place for myself I feel I’m constantly struggling to prove my value to others. This article makes me feel a bit stronger in doing that!

  • Thank you so much for this post! I have been struggling with finding a price point for my handmade goods, and selling myself short or even worse not making any surplus on my passion because I am trying to price competitively. THANK YOU!

  • Well said. Thank you for this post. I have received a few shocked looks at my cupcake prices, but have to remind myself (and them) that I do not make cupcakes en masse like the cupcake stores, and do not have the luxuries of large mixers and ovens to do the work for me. Each one is made with love and care, and that’s just how I like it.

  • Thanks so much for this. It is easy for me to forget the work that goes into making or curating, and the difference between people who appreciate that work and others who only want the bargain.

  • Wonderfully thoughtful and carefully considered article. The “real” cost of things has been greatly skewed and confused in the past years with the rise of mass produced and commercialized everything – from our clothing to our food. Buying handmade is a great move back to securing the economic future of this country. Proud to be a follower and member of this community!

  • This is so true but I think it CAN be applied to big companies as well. I work for a major fashion company whose prices are well… pricey. When I’m in the company’s store purchasing my newest wears, I AM willing to pay the hefty price tag because I know the story and hard work behind its development and I value that.

  • I really appreciate this post! I agree…a handmade product has a story and (I think, at least) should be priced as if it were an experience rather than a product. Thanks for taking the time to share some insight.

  • I read a great quote the other day that said ‘Work full price or work for free, but never work for cheap.’ Unfortunately a lot of small handmade businesses don’t realise that undercutting hurts everyone. Hopefully this post will give them an understanding :)

  • This is amazing. I was recently designing hand-crafted wedding cards for a client. He wanted the cards at half the price that he would have paid if he had got them printed. I work with artisan communities and that doesn’t mean that those people don’t have the right to earn a decent living.

  • Have been a fan of Biz ladies for several years – thanks for all the great, encouraging and inspirational posts. Have printed the “We Can Do It” image as a poster which adorns my studio. Pricing has always been a problem for me, textile designer/artisan of handmade home accessories. Since moving to Portugal, two years ago, it has been even harder to keep prices at a sustainable level .

  • I’ve been selling at christmas fairs for the last 6 weeks and have had various comments about the prices of the items I sell. I only sell items made within Great Britain, so nothing I sell is cheap or mass produced. Once I start talking to the potential customers, most get it and realise that with the increase price they are buying ethically, supporting small producers and it is more environmentally friendly. The foot print of the item can be traced and this adds value. Others don’t get it, and as Regina’s says, they are just not my customer. That doesn’t bother me as are there are plenty of customers out there who are looking for a more bespoke product, service and enjoy hearing the story behind the item. I too have been at fair’s where the stall next door has been selling cheap but it is often imports and I know they have lost sales because of this. I think as long as you are true to yourself, your product and offer a great service there will always be customers who value this over price.

  • I agree that we need to price our goods fairly, so that we can earn a living doing what we love to do. If you are providing a product or service that people really appreciate, they will pay willingly. I think most of us start out pricing our goods too low, and learn to place a higher, more accurate value on our time and talents only after we’ve been in business for awhile. If you are constantly improving your business and start to establish a good reputation, increasing your prices is the next natural step.

  • I needed to hear this. Especially the part about the 20-something grad. I appreciate this.

  • Thank you so much for this post! I make raw vegan desserts here in SF, and am constantly trying to explain why it costs more than other desserts (no white flour or other cheap fillers, VERY labor intensive!) To be honest, it makes me very self-conscious and I question the value of my work. Thank you so much for this reminder that I have a responsibility to keep my business alive and to respect other sellers!

  • Thought-provoking post! Thanks for stating it so eloquently. As a consumer I’ve tried to change my shopping habits. Sure I love a good deal, but I now try to spend my money more thoughtfully. Something handmade does have more value to me, and I am willing to pay more for it.

  • Regina, I just want to hug you for writing this article! This is the exact reason I don’t do local craft shows any more. I struggled for two years doing local shows that featured other jewelry ‘designers’ that sold their work for cost only or people who sell jewelry for large companies that can afford to undercut handmade. It was so defeating to have someone make an appreciative comment about my earrings then go to the next stall and purchase cheap earrings there. There were way too many shows where I didn’t sell a thing. Once I realized that I couldn’t compete with the ‘cheap’ and ‘quick’ mentality, I moved on to other better suited venues.

    In response, I sell on Etsy, at a local art store, and to people who request to see my jewelry because I know they are my market. And, I don’t feel bad about my prices at all. They are competitive with other handmade artists of the same quality. I’m not up to the stage where I can fully support myself (I still have a 40+hour a week job) but at least I don’t have to sell myself or my product short. I love that I’m part of the local handmade/handcrafted community and I am just thrilled when others get it too and support local! Thanks again!!!

  • Great Post!!! I am an Interior Designer and Event Planner who always seems to give in to free work because I still think I am too new to charge what I am really worth. 6 years in the biz and I am just now getting the guts and realizing that I am really good at what I do. Posts like this really help me realize that I deserve to live off of my work and can stop waiting tables!

  • Awesome article!!! I have am a blogger about to open a shop because of the demand for some of my designs that I do on my blog. I was not sure where to begin with this so this article has given me a great perspective. Thank you for being so straight forward with your thoughts!

    This same thought can be applied to many aspects of our society today. So important to keep in mind.

  • Very interesting article-it is imperative to “accurately” price handmade goods. Many societies, not just our own, have gotten used to not paying the real price for an item (due to economies-of-scale, subsidies, workers not making a living wage, for example). I don’t have an obligation to price my products so that everyone can afford them-I determine the price of an item in relation to materials, time and effort and the skill needed to make the item.

  • Great post! Loved it’s honesty, so many makers/designers I know (myself included) struggle to justify their prices but we shouldn’t have to.

  • Great point! I’d like to add that when sellers charge low prices for their goods, it undervalues their work in the eyes of their customers. I believe many people are moving out of the more is more mindset and instead want to buy things of value — not cheap things. They want unique, well made items they love and that say something about who they are.

  • this is definitely a thought provoking article. How do your value your work, i’m always curious to find out if there is such a formula out there to calculate the value of handmade products. everyone seem to have a different point of view on how their work in valued. I would love to think my craft is valued at X amount, however, X amount may not sell. There needs to be a balance of not under valuing your work and being able to sell at the same time.

    I love buying and making handmade, but yet as a consumer, i would love to be able to afford handmade and not fork out a bomb for it. So when i do price my work, I try to price it from a consumer point of view.

  • Having read all of the comments it’s evident that most of us struggle with this…not just me. I love these articles for encouraging a higher standard. I’ve just been pricing things for my upcoming launch and this article gives me the confidence to follow my gut and price things fairly and accurately!

    Great article! Many thanks!

  • I completely agree. It couln’d be more right what she said! Thank you for reminding us about what to value and where to stand!

  • Several months ago I stopped shopping at corporate places. I buy my goods and services from small local businesses. I still use corporate vendors for my cell phone, car insurance, and utilities.

    I am happy to pay more for small business. I get superior customer service, goods that are not made in China, and I get to meet and support wonderful people in my community. I love where my money (energy) goes.

  • Amen! So well said! I sell notepads and I often see people selling notepads on etsy with a very low price and it makes me question if I’m charging right, but I am. If I reduce my price, I can’t keep doing it. I love what I do and I would happily pay for handmade because I know a maker pays for the materials and I need to compensate them for that + their time + a profit. That’s only fair!

  • what great comments.I too was under selling my work,the cost of materials has really taken a big jump in such a short time.I do appreciate the local people that do buy from me.If you do use good quality material then I think that they will continue to buy from you and spread the word.This year i’ve added my email address to my word ,see if it add to my selling of my product. Happy crafting

  • Has anyone had the experience of selling through a boutique store and also selling on their own online store? We recently have had a retailer make a stink about price matching the price in the store to our online price. We sell aprox. $15 cheaper on our own online store because people can buy from us directly and we can offer cheaper prices because we do not have the boutique store taking 50% of the sale profit.

    We are currently under a consignment contract of 50/50

    The boutique is forcing our hand stating “If we are questioned about the
    price difference I will have to honor the online price to reflect our
    commitment to good customer service.”

    Is this ethical or is it something that makes sense? Of course it is less from us because we make it and no one is taking 50% of the profit. We must sell it at the price we sell it in the boutique store and if we sold it for less then we would lose money because it takes time to handcraft and object. I feel like they want to work under the same business dealings they would if the good were bought from china and resold.

    Anyone have insight on this…. I really want to stick up for our rights as a small business owner and maker and get paid what the work is worth.

    Feedback is much appreciated.

  • As a store devoted 100% to handmade items, I certainly support the retailer mentioned in the above comment. Just as you need to support the artist making a living wage, you need to support the stores that sell your work. Otherwise stores just become “showrooms” and people buy from the artist. While this is a nice idea to support the artist, independent stores pay so much just to open the doors. For example, it costs about $500 a day for me to open my doors before selling a thing. I wouldn’t carry an artists work who didn’t sell it themselves for at least double the wholesale cost. They need to trust that work should cost that much from any source, them or a store.