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How to Price your Work

Money… It’s one of the most difficult things to discuss whether from a salary, a pricing or a saving perspective. As soon as Rands and Cents enter the discussion, either common sense or decency tends to go out the window. However, as an artist it’s important to understand not only how to price your work, but also how to account for all the effort that goes into the work that isn’t just the actual creation process.

The “easy” way to explain what goes on is that you need to understand what you invest in order to create your art, so that you can determine how much it is worth. As much water that goes out of the bucket must go back into the bucket. Sounds simple right? It could be if you track everything and know what to track!

The standard formula looks like this:

How much money do you spend to create your art?

There are a few categories of things that you need to keep track of to determine how much it costs you to create your art. Here is a handy-dandy table to sum up the different categories that costs usually fall into:

Storable ResourcesItems that you don’t have to replenish between different projects.Pasta machine
Rotary tool
Dotting and needle tools
Work surfaces
Silk Screens
Non-Storable ResourcesItems that you have to replenish and can be used up over one or several projects.Clay
Mica powders
Alcohol inks
Metal leaf
SundriesEverything else. When I say “everything”, I mean EVERYTHING.Petrol if you went to pick something up
Shipping costs to receive something
Cost of learning

Some of these items can be difficult to measure and quantify. How do you know how many pairs of earrings a pasta machine can make? Will a needle tool ever break? It’s still important to get some sort of feel for this because its an investment you make up front in order to be able to create your artworks.

From personal experience I have learned to get the total cost of investment in my tools together and divide that by a gut-feel number of pieces I imagine I would be making with them weighted to the size of the piece. For a pasta machine that you bought for R1 800 if you went for a Atlas you could potentially easily envision making 200 pairs of earrings with it. So to add R9 per earring to the cost is not so bad on statement pieces, but it’s sizable on studs. You don’t have to always add a fixed price for your tools to each and every piece, but it’s important to still consider this cost in your pricing model.

In closing about the cost of your art, an important aspect a lot of people forget is the cost of learning because this is extremely hard to quantify. You know all those failed experiments? All those components that are just shy of perfect and you feel you can’t sell them? They still cost you money to create and despite being failures, they were learning opportunities and are still valuable but those lessons did cost you money.

This is where the profit margin is absolutely valuable. But the profit margin is not just to cover the cost of learning… I will talk about it at the end of this article.

How do you value your time?

The first aspect of this is actually the second part of the equation – your hourly rate. A lot of people don’t know how to value their hourly rate because they struggle to see the value in themselves. Different people have different circumstances and each should be evaluated for yourself.

Some people create art as a secondary to something else – a full time career or the full time responsibility of raising children or a means to keep busy after having retired. Since their art is secondary to something else in their life, they see the time spent creating art as Polyfilla to take up time they feel they are otherwise wasting and as such think that they do not have to be paid for their time. This approach will severely lower your prices even if your work is outstanding, but doing this hurts the rest of the industry – people who charge for their time will struggle to get business since the market will think their prices is far too high in comparison to yours. Not to mention – your time is still extremely valuable even if you feel that you would’ve just wasted it otherwise.

Another aspect that makes it difficult for people to decide their hourly wage is either experience or impostor syndrome – when you feel that your work isn’t as good as the next person’s work and as such you should be charging very little to nothing for your time spent creating it. This has the same impact as above with regards to the community, but it also leaves little room for you to grow. If you don’t factor in paying yourself for your time, when you do get more experience or feel like you are more comfortable in your craft it will be more difficult to raise your prices.

Something to chew on is that minimum wage right now is R21.69 for 2022. It’s a good starting point, but I do highly recommend to adjust that hourly wage amount to suit your current experience and value of your work.

The other aspect of this is the amount of time you take. It is extremely difficult to time yourself doing the various aspects needed of creating your art, but I do encourage you to commit to doing it at least once to get a feel for how much time you do spend on your items. It’s easier to time yourself from start to finish for a chunk of work when working on something smaller like earrings and then divide that time between the various pieces.

The time actually working on your art isn’t the only time you should consider however – time spent talking to customers, the time spent finding your various resources, the time spent packing orders – even the time spent putting together catalogues or loading products is time that you should be paid for.

Now, as you can probably tell by now, measuring all of this becomes an impossible task and that again is where your profit margin buffer comes in to save the day!

The Profit Margin

In art, there is an aspect of value called scarcity. The value of artwork; lies in it’s uniqueness and difficulty to acquire easily by anybody. This effect is because only you and your hands can create your artwork. Nobody else can imitate you precisely even if they do try. And that scarcity has value. Your customers want to pay for the privilege of wearing or using or observing your art in their daily lives. The main purpose of the profit margin is to factor in this aspect of your art. That’s why a lot of the bigger names can charge higher prices and still sell out so fast – the difference in their pricing is more than likely their profit margin but they need to adjust it to account for the scarcity of their work since so many people want it and the amount of people that want it is more.

Another great reason to have some semblance of a profit margin is to counter burn out. Most small business owners feels like they “never switch off” because if they aren’t actively working on their business they are passively improving it – scrolling social media to look for ideas, talking about it to anyone that has ears, constantly checking their phone and emails, constantly just hustle-hustle-hustle. This can and will cause burnout, but if you feel your profit margin accurately reflects your effort, it makes it a bit easier to deal with.

The profit margin also acts as a buffer – not only to absorb costs from difficult to calculate aspects such as touched on above, but also to boost the future of your business. If you’re constantly only getting as much money in as what you spend by selling your art, you’re never going to build up funds to invest in future endeavors – to perhaps branch out into a new medium, or to purchase expensive equipment that will take your work to the next level or ease up on your time spent doing certain tasks… The profit margin is designed to alleviate these concerns.

In closing

Now that we have discussed the various parts of what makes up the general price calculation, I do want to touch on a valuable innate skill that you can and should leverage – and that’s self-awareness.

There are external factors that can push a price up or down – your location, your target market, your intent and the actual people you are selling to. All of these can influence your final price. You can’t expect someone living in a small rural village to have the same disposable income as someone living in an expensive city-high-riser. You can sometimes choose to sell something for cost price or even for free because you will get value elsewhere from that sale or it’s to someone that you hold dear. You can even choose to take a bartering approach which is where you are exchanging goods that you feel are of equal value with someone else and no money exchanges hands which will also be priced different.

And then there is wholesale pricing. This is a whole different discussion with a lot of other aspects to consider and will be covered in a future article, but I do want to touch on two very important aspects unrelated to pricing:

  • Always, always have a written and signed agreement in place covering all aspects of your product, how it’s displayed, stored and upsold with other goods if you do not get your money up front for every item handed over.
  • Never compromise on your branding. Always include your contact details and branding with each product and ensure they are not allowed to remove it. If they try to bully you to provide your product without your brand you walk away. It’s not a “selling opportunity” if you cannot make future direct sales from a wholesale interaction.

And that’s all folks! Please feel free to reach out to me with comments and questions or what you think about all this or what you find works for you!

2 thoughts on “How to Price your Work”

  1. So very true thank you.
    My biggest problem has always been to value my creativity.
    Will most certainly rethink before I price my next selection .
    Am very new at the polymer business but enjoying it immensely.
    Good luck and am looking forward to more informative ideas

    1. It’s the hardest thing – because how to you put a price tag on something you created with passion and dedication? 😛 I’m happy this article was able to plant some ideas! Good luck on your journey! I’m so happy you’re with us!

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