Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Paying for Handmade: A Gentle Rant

My display At Gather Here's Handmade Holiday show 2012

I've been thinking lately about pricing for handmade goods. It's so tricky, one of the hardest things to calculate for makers and the first question they ask every handmade selling guru. There are so many factors to consider: material costs, labor, what is an original idea worth? My life experience and skill levels should count for something too, right? And then a maker has to consider what the market will bear. An item might be in high demand at $10 where sales will cease at $15. But what if you can't afford to make it for less than $15 retail? Then I guess that item can't be in your product line no matter how much you like making it. Some makers offer wholesale and/or consign with shops. They need to make their profit at what is often 50% of retail cost, that changes everything. Some items sell well at higher prices in established shops and galleries but then you take them to a show and no-one will touch them for the same price buying directly from you, it's all about context. But you can't undercut your shops. So some items you sell to/through shops and some you can't afford to.

This leads me to thinking about people who ask makers for discounts. I'll speak from my own experience here. NO-ONE NEEDS MY THINGS. Seriously, there is no medical emergency that requires a Sleepy Sheep ornament. People won't starve without cupcake pincushions. My items are little luxuries. Now it has been my experience that people who own my items find they have an increase in joy and well-being in their lives, and that should not be downplayed. There is value in what I make, but I'm not fulfilling basic needs. I see all kinds of amazing things my maker friends have created and I have coveted them HARD without being able to afford them. It's painful! I get that. There it is, an amazing, well-made thing that sings to my heart! But it is out of my price range. It doesn't feel good. But that doesn't mean it's not priced correctly. It's not too expensive, it's just too expensive for ME. It turns out I have excellent taste :)

Jammed at SOWA Holiday show 2012
Recently, at a holiday craft show, a potential customer asked if I would take $36 for two cupcake ornaments (which retail at $22 each). The previous night flashed in my mind: midnight after day one of a busy show. I had worked a week of 15 hour days to make enough inventory, gotten up at 5 AM to set up in this space, stood all day sneaking in food and bathroom breaks, now I was going to bed, hands and back sore, and I was weepy because I had only managed to make 4 more of my best seller cupcake ornaments and I feared I would be understocked for day two.

Completely stressed out in my studio

Let me be clear: I understand that I live an amazing life. A dream life for many, including me! I could not feel more grateful to be able to make and sell things for a living. But that doesn't mean it's easy. My biggest fear is being understocked after paying $450 to participate in a show. A holiday show like this is a great opportunity at the only time of year when people really buy my goods in volume. I don't sell a lot of wool items in August, you know? I never want to leave "money on the table" by not making enough of what will turn out to be best-sellers in the colors people will want. But I can never predict what those items will be! It's different from show to show, even year to year at the same show. The pressure to produce enough is intense, to fully stock each item in my (admittedly too large) product line.

Mini cupcake ornaments
So all that flashed through my head as the woman held the two cupcake ornaments and waited for my answer. I leaned in and smiled warmly. I said "I can't," (I never apologize when I am not actually sorry) "those are my best sellers." She looked a bit shocked. Put them back and walked away. Which is fine! That's how that goes. The very next customer bought two and was delighted to do so at full price. He said "These are fantastic! We just got our first tree and these will be the first ornaments we put on it." I did not jump over the table and hug him, but I did consider it.

I guess the point is, I do not work in volume. I take my time carefully constructing each of my items. I specifically designed them to take time to create. I pride myself on my careful workmanship and consistency, These things take as long as they take and I can't speed up the process. I'm not going to ever hire anyone to help. I'm always going to be part of the slow craft movement. I rarely have overstock of something I accidentally overproduced that I need to move out of inventory. I rarely have discounts or sales on anything. Occasionally I'll mark an item down if it's discontinued and I have like, 3 left. Recently I lowered the price on my egg ornaments because they weren't selling at the price I needed to charge to offer them to shops. At this new, lower price I won't sell them wholesale or put them on consignment, I'll just offer them in my studio, at shows, and online at the new retail price. I did that because I enjoy making them and want to keep doing it.

Polymer clay egg ornaments
At this weekend's show a woman asked if I would give her a "two for" price on my $14 bobby pins. She said she "needed" two but that would be $28 and more than she wanted to spend. See what she did there? She was wrong about needing them. I'm sure she figured, like most folks, that "It couldn't hurt to ask!" but that's wrong too, it does hurt. It hurts my feelings, it hurts the handmade community, it hurts handmade as a movement in general.

Hand felted nest bobby pins

We are all running businesses that need to profit to continue to exist. You do not have to buy anything we make! But when you do, you support an idea, a lifestyle, art. You encourage the production of objects that hold love, thought, care. You pass that joy onto the people who receive your gifts. You infuse your home with warmth and meaning when you hang that art on your wall or drink out of that hand-thrown mug. You perpetuate a world where objects exist that weren't made by underpaid workers in third world countries to line the pockets of corporate CEOs. You encouraged an artist to sing her song and that enriches everyone.

Well, I don't have to tell you. You know all this. But there are people out there who don't. I don't think it's their fault really. I think they were indoctrinated in Target and WalMart culture because those corporations have very loud voices. Even though I have been a maker all my life, I didn't start to feel queasy about buying mass-produced things until I really got into selling on Etsy and meeting other makers in the community. Of course I'm not out buying artisanal washing machines, I still shop from corporations. But not gifts. I try to make or buy handmade for giving.

This morning another Etsy seller, a newbie with three sales in her cute shop, praised my pincushion rings and asked if I would knock the price down if she bought two or three. I've been working on a response that is warm but firm. I like to be professional. I like to educate and mentor. I think I'll say this to her:

"Hello! Thanks for your kind words about my pincushion rings. I do not offer discounts on multiple purchases. As a maker yourself I know you understand the time and care that goes into each item we produce. Anything you order from me I will make specifically for you, package it sweetly, and get it in the mail to you without delay! I hope you are having a great holiday season.

Warm regards,
Liz"

277 comments:

  1. well said! I wish I could do what you do, but there just isn't the desire in the UK for the things I make (quilts, mainly). It makes me sad.

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    1. Thanks Charlotte! I feel for you. Quilts should cost thousands for the time involved.

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    2. Charlotte, can you market them online? There is usually a market somewhere...you just have to find it.

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    3. Charlotte- with the world being so small- try ebay. people in other parts of the world just love handmade quilts!

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    4. I agree...I have recently done a market and I was sooo disappointed. I did not make but, one sale. My handbags are of high quality, beautiful and expensive..worth the price. I attracted people to my booth, but as soon as they learned of the price, they walked. I put the price down on a few items, attracted customers but, yet still no buy. I know my products are way lower than what they should be..just a real hard sell. I have been told to not undersell..but, what to do to sell?

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    5. I am right there with you. I also handcraft (soap) in my case and people always want a deal....they are the wrong customers. I do not discount because the bars are well worth their price and each one is lovingly handcrafted. December is my biggest month and I too worry about not having enough stock for my shows. Somehow it always works out - but if I am going to have a problem - not enough works!

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    6. Charlotte-
      Have you thought about taking your quilt patterns and using them for other things? Tea cozies, trivets, and potholders would be very cute quilted, and could be sold at a lower price point.
      Good luck!

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    7. Great ideas! Yes, sometimes you do have to alter to find a nice balance of what sells, but don't also let it keep you from doing the things you actually love, because there will always be somebody who appreciates it. This is also why I created 3 B Street, http://www.3bstreet.com. It's a handmade site for high quality only, that way, sellers and customers will KNOW that with quality often comes price. But, it's the old "you pay for what you get" theory too. But with handmade, you get ever MORE than that because customers are buying a "feeling" as well and making a difference in the creator's lives. There's a niche for all, so please feel free to join 3 B Street. - Laurie

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    8. Charlotte
      Some folks seem to manage it with quilts - look at www.speewellquilts.co.uk and see if you are missing something

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  2. amen. So very well said.

    This is something all of us makers will get this type of question, it most definitely pays to have a response ready! I usually say "it takes just as long for me to make the second one as it did to make the first, so...no!"

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    1. I love that response - must remember it! :)

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  3. liz, this is a great post. of course this is something that so many makers struggle with! i know i always do. and you're right, it does hurt feelings when someone asks for a discount on something you worked hard to create. I, too, am a maker who strives for perfection and consistency in my work, and i don't do things very quickly, and that is my choice. but it hurts when someone doesn't get that!
    i love what you said about coveting beautiful handmade items out of your price range. i do the same! and i wish more customers would think "it's not to expensive, it's just too expensive for ME" when they are looking at our carefully made goodies.
    Thanks for sharing this post, well done!

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    1. Thanks Lesley! here's hoping we earn enough to buy those higher end beauties!

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  4. I just adore you and your posts :)
    There's not much to add than Amen.

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  5. You explain all this so well! I love this post.

    It honors handmade, it honors makers. It is true and good and needed to be said.

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  6. I LOVE THIS!!!

    Have you ever read tara gentile's the art of earning? The whole thing is great but there is one part that stuck with me, and you sort of touched on it here - just because you enjoy making something doesn't mean you should feel guilty about charging what it is worth.

    brilliant post, Liz!

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    1. Great point Danielle, thanks for adding that!

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  7. So so so True!! I was agreeing the whole way through and I've had many of those same problems and experiences. I'll be sharing this a lot! Thanks!

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    1. Thank you, I hope we can help more people come over to the handmade way of life :)

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  8. Very well said, Liz. I get this a lot for the soaps I make. I don't think people realize that I make them in handmade molds and cure each soap for 28 days before packaging them ready to use.

    And yes, it is very true. If something handmade is out of my price range, it doesn't mean that it is overpriced! I just have to work so I can move up to afford that range. I look at shows and save and buy the next time.

    You have no idea how excited I am to have one of your sleepy sheep ornaments! Next will be one of the eggs.

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    1. Right, we are not importing these things in bulk! These things take time. I love your products and I love paying full price to be sure you keep making them!

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  9. I appreciated reading this. I hate getting low-ball offers, but I've gotten to the point now, like you, where I kindly say I can't offer a discount and remind them that my products are unique and well-crafted (AKA: they're well worth the price I'm asking). Usually that does the trick, but sometimes I'll get a "that's way too expensive" response! In my early years I might have felt bad about this, but now I know that if that individual doesn't make a purchase, someone else happily WILL at the price I'm asking.
    I don't think these people are always trying to be hurtful. We live in a Target/Walmart/Door-buster-deal society where everyone is out to get the best price. Maybe if we all just continued to say "no" to these offers people would accept that handmade marketplaces are no-haggle zones.

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    1. Usually I feel a little embarrassed for people who exclaim my work is "too expensive". I would never let on I couldn't afford something, LOL, maybe I'm old fashioned and prideful :)

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    2. As a maker myself and possibly "needing" the money more than you... if someone asks for a twofor price I will usually negotiate....that way i take home cash intead of storing stock....I would rather have a happy customer and cash in my hand than an unhappy potential customer and stock to take home.

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    3. Thanks for your input! the way I see it, we all need the money, these are businesses we're running, not hobbies we're indulging in.

      I am not here to judge what another maker does to make a sale. I only wanted to share my personal experience, I'm very aware it's certainly not everyone's experience.

      My ideal intention is to create an environment where makers get full price and haggling is not done BECAUSE we need the money. My wish for you is all sales at full price and empty boxes to take home after the show :)

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  10. Brilliant post. Thank you so much for taking the time to put this into words.

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  11. Thank you for this very thoughtful post. As a person who has a very new and small shop on Etsy, I struggle with how to price my products. I know how long it takes and the material costs. The way it stands I'm not paying those, let alone making a profit. However, I'm just starting out, it feels good to make the few sales I have, and I want to get some sales under my belt. I'm sure it's something I'll evaluate and reevaluate over time.

    Sometimes it's hard to get people out of the mindset of what they'd pay at Target. But to my mind, when I pay more for handmade goods, I feel good knowing I'm supporting "the little guy." Plus, I just love wearing/using handmade goods, because I like the knowledge that someone else put their love and creativity into it. I like that that person made it with her/his own two hands.

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    1. Thanks for your input on the topic from a newbie seller's point of view.

      In my opinion, when you are making something it took you a long time to perfect, you can go ahead and charge what it's worth right from the start. Otherwise I feel you are cultivating a customer base that doesn't quite value what you are investing and likely will not continue to buy from you when your prices eventually go up. The trick then is to find your right buyers, people who will pay full value right from the start. They are out there! but you have to search them out. There are lots of great resources out in the maker world to help you brand and market, like Tara Gentile, Kari Chapin, Tara Swiger. I wish you great success!

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  12. Saw this come up on my twitter feed and really glad I clicked on it (even more glad that you wrote it!). As someone who has a hard time saying "no", and will start stammering and getting red in the face when asked this sort of thing at shows, it really helps to know that other makers have to deal with the same thing. I love the way you have explained it and handle it, and next time someone asks me "for a better price" I'm not going to let myself be shamed or talked into devaluing my hard work. Thank you!

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    1. Yes! The question throws me too! I'm usually pretty smooth LOL but I stammer and blush as well. So glad you feel empowered to gently stay firm on your prices! Made my day :)

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  13. I love this post so much! It's like it was singing to me, exactly the way I feel about spending on handmade. THANK YOU for putting it so articulately!

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    1. Thank you! You bring up the other side of this, how fantastic it feels to BUY handmade!

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  14. Beautifully written! Thank you! I'll be sharing this!

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  15. I don't make things for sale, but I understand this completely. I have had friends ask me to make them sweaters, or socks, and then be shocked at the price of the yarn (totally disregarding the TIME I'd have to put in should I actually make them something). They just want me to make them socks for $10. I make things for family and select friends who understand and appreciate the work that goes into it. That's why I do love to buy handmade, even though I have to save for some things I really want. I know that a higher price means that the maker has really put in a lot of time and effort, and I need to respect that.

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    1. Yes yes yes! You totally get it!! I want to hug you through the computer, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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  16. I seriously cannot like this post enough! Excellent and so well said! I've been trying to get my extended family to shop handmade this year and this totally captures "supporting the maker behind the product". Mind if I share it?

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    1. Of course, yes, please share it and thank you!

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  17. This is so funny, Liz, because my friend just had a customer that pretty much did the same thing...asking for a reduced price. I told her the same thing I've told customers buying from me, that customers need to see that we believe we are giving them our best work and at the best price!! If we compromise that, it's as if we don't believe in our own work! Personally I'd rather not sell it than have it stolen right in front of my pitiful eyes! :-]...Good post!

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    1. You make excellent points! Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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  18. I love knowing when I buy handmade that I am helping pay someone's rent, their dog food, more materials for their products, a simple dinner out (after show season), and so much more.

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    1. That is so awesome, thank you. And I feel the same way when I buy handmade!

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  19. Well said! I will never again say "sorry", because I'm NOT sorry. I simply won't reduce my prices for a sale. THANK YOU for that.

    PS: Someone asked me, at the end of a show, if I'd reduce my prices for her. I told "No, that's the price." She said, "But you'd have a sale", to which I replied, "I'd rather sell it next weekend for full price." And I did, too. :)

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    1. Right? So hard not to blurt out "Sorry!" but with practice I was able to stop. It matters to me to be honest, polite and kind too. To assume the person asking for the discount is just ignorant not cruel and I might be able to help them learn.

      Love your craft show story! Kudos for sticking to your guns and being rewarded for it :)

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  20. Great post, Liz! I struggle with pricing all the time. I want people to be able to afford my soap for every day use, but the fact is some people won't be able to afford it, and that's ok. I can't sell it for the same price as the soap in stores, and I shouldn't expect to because it's a completely different product!

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    1. I hear you! I totally get that. But you make all the accurate arguments right here in your comments. I buy handmade soaps for $8-12 a bar consistently because I LOVE IT. so we (your customers) are definitely out there!

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  21. Love it! We do make little luxuries. Do people buy luxury cars, bags, shoes, etc. and ask for discounts? Probably not. That's not the point. And I definitely desire handmade things that are out of my price range. I love the things I have filled my home and life with so far, and feel proud to support so many artists and be supported by so many customers! Sometimes it blows my mind that so many people love my work that I really can do this full time.

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    1. You know, they might ask for discounts on those luxury things, but those things have markdowns built right in whereas we price at the lowest we can and still make a profit so there is really no wiggle room.

      I totally connect with your love of your handmade possessions and joy at being able to do this full time, it's really amazing!

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  22. Well said! I'm in the same boat as you as people don't 'need' my items. I've tried really hard the last couple of shows not to apologize for my prices. I know they are fair, but I'm Canadian, and well, we apologize for everything. ;)
    Some people will appreciate my items, and they are going to be the customers I look for.

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    1. That is super adorable :) It's hard to imagine your prices are set correctly until you have a show where everyone who shops from you "gets it", then you realize you definitely have a customer base and need to connect with everyone in it!

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  23. Passing this along to a friend who works in an art gallery and is frustrated by "lookie-loos".

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  24. very well said, and I admire you for taking pride in your work.

    being a consumer though, and a one time dabbler in handmade items, I do believe in asking. Some people want to get their merchandise moving, be it to get it out the door so they have room for more or for the experience of the feedback, or what ever reason. the "it never hurts to ask" isn't a cliche for no reason, some people - I would say a lot of people - don't mind, either because they are willing to discount or they see it as an opening to have a conversation with the buyer to instill even more value to the item being sold.

    There are polite ways to address the 'no discount' policies. You could make a statement both on Etsy and on your sales table about that you are firm on your prices. Or not, and take these types of questions as a opening to discuss your craft with your customer..

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to offer another point of view I appreciate it!

      I will have to respectfully stick to my assertion that it is worth it for everyone to pay makers full price no matter what. Folks might want to move overstock but I can assure you they'd prefer to be paid full price for it.

      There's also the possibility that they too are caught up in this discount culture propagated by big box stores and feel they have no choice but to offer discounts when asked.

      Or maybe they are hobbyists, dabblers as you put it, just enjoying being a part of the vibrant handmaker culture.

      But if they are trying to make a living from their art, I see no reason not to support them at full price, and gladly do so.

      I'd like to think that we can create an environment where signs that exclaim prices are firm are not needed, because the idea to haggle is not considered. I know I'm a dreamer but I'm going to continue to crusade for this ideal world.

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  25. damn. i have felt badly every time i have been asked for a discount. and i have caved a lot of those times. my mantra is "two kids in college". what i forget too often and that you eloquently put, is that there will be another guest who wants what i make for the full price. i have some growing pains going on and will be keeping this advice in the forefront of my mind hopefully from now on. i would not like to buy something that was an inferior piece just to nickel and dime someone down. nor should anyone expect me to do that.

    in an associated moment, my husband and i took our 3rd child to buy some clothes at target. i am too busy to sew for her and she hates handmade items. after a long discussion of her desire for an acrylic sweater(can you hear me screaming internally?), she purchased it. (so i am a big ole marshmallow... don't judge me too harshly), it has looked like crap after one washing(as i knew it would). people still stop to admire my over 20 yr. old hand made sweater that took me a year to knit. they will not be asking her about that ugly cosby wannabe sweater after 3 launderings. i am offended as a devout knitter about her choices, but realize that she is only 15 and will be normalizing in a few years, to respect that the handmade life paid her way to college and filled her tummy forever.
    thanks for keeping things in focus. i feel adrift sometimes.

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    1. Well it is so hard when not everyone is on the same page re: how awesome handmade is. And when times are tough, I understand taking a sale over no sale. I am hoping we can educate buyers to buy at full price because of the many rewards that offers makers and all of society. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

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  26. not a rant at all! completely agree with you!

    A twofer is a marketing technique to get you to buy more. Handmade is not about more -- it's about quality! :)

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    1. Right, that's my point about volume. Although if someone can make something fast and cheap that's still quality, I say sell as many as you can!

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  27. Liz -- I love your response to the etsy query. I may borrow it some time!

    I also like that you don't use the word "sorry". I've used it and now regret it, having read your reasoning. I've never been sorry, but it was a natural "blurt". Time to be more mindful of every word!

    Great post my friend!
    Vicki

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    1. Thanks Vicki, it's so hard not to say sorry! But we really don't have to. Feels very weird at first but you get used to saying what you need to say without sounding rude. even if it's not what the customer wanted to hear. absolutely use my words any time they seem relevant!

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  28. It's so amazing to see all the responses to your post and all the different points of view!

    I totally agree with you about people who say something is "too expensive." Not only is it your time, creativity, cost of materials, studio rent, booth fee, parking, gas, and other incidentals, but it is also the personal sacrifices that go into your work. I have a live work studio, which means I have a love seat and a tiny kitchen table that seats two, in order to accomodate both my looms. Yet, I yearn for two full size couches and a dining set for six, so that I can entertain to my heart's content. How do you put a price on something like that?

    And, also, you've done the legwork and you know the market price of your items. But I think the real issue here is that there are a lot of people just don't understand what they're looking at. I told everyone who came to my table last week that my work was handwoven and I cannot tell you how many people then asked, by you? It's almost like they expected me to say, no, by an indigenous people in southwest Brazil.

    I think this can be a difficult concept for people like us to grasp, because we're so steeped in the culture of handmade. But there are a lot of people out there who have never made anything and wouldn't know where to start. And it's up to us to educate them and not to judge them too harshly for being products of our mass consumer culture.



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    1. I often say as soon as someone is looking at my table "I made everything here!" Especially if they have a kid with them because kids seem to get how amazing that is right away LOL :) But mostly because I sell so many different types of things, it can look confusing, I know. I try not to use passive voice ie: "these were made..." but always "I" statements too.

      Of course I don't judge folks harshly for not knowing all about handmade, I say that right in my post :)

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  29. Thank you for addressing this issue. I always want to reply to questions regarding discounts with "the price of silver likely went up while you were asking me to lower the price of my work" but I bite my tongue. I would also like to point out that not only has the price of my materials increased but so has my living wage just like everyone else's. And for those who are sucked in to the culture of Walmart, do they have the nerve to ask a sales associate at a big box store for a discount on an item if they buy three? I think not. They either do without or wait for it to go on sale, or, they hand over their charge card. Why are artisans an exception? If you really want to support handmade, you won't ask degrading questions and you won't sell your items for less just to make a sale. Both are equally wrong on my book. There are buyers and sellers who are on the wrong side in this equation. People need some education on the value of handmade and you are doing just that with this blog post and by answering all of the comments that came along with it.Thank you!

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    1. I hear what you are saying. I think in the big box world, markdowns are built into the original prices of things so customers get used to believing that the price is not fixed and can always move down. they don't have to ask for discounts because discounts are constantly being offered.

      In contrast, I think most makers are already pricing at the lowest we possibly can to still make sales and profits so if a discount is given it eats our profits instead of just lowering them a little.

      I understand why a maker would discount though, and maybe they have it built into their retail price. I just know that I don't And I understand that if you have invested $$ in materials with actual market value, like precious metals, you have even less wiggle room.

      My hope is to make buyers so delighted with the whole idea of handmade that they feel great about the object they get AND the world they have supported.



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  30. In the UK, it used to be that the ticket price was THE price, and no-one haggled. So vendors set a fair price, and that was that.

    Recently there have been a number of TV programs where contestants are shown at a fair or market, haggling down the ticket price by 30% or more, then selling the items on for a profit. Suddenly it's "cool" for British people to haggle!

    So in addition to the should I pay myself minimum wage for the hours it took to make it pricing issue, we now also have the should I over-inflate the ticket price so I have slack for a "discount"!

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    1. Oh that's discouraging! I don't even know what you'd do about a cultural shift like that. I hope the concept of handmade gets separated from mass produced goods and antiques that people are buying to "flip for a profit.

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    2. Rose, you're so right. In the UK there's a new wave of shows like 'Superscrimpers' (or something like that) encouraging people to haggle in all kinds of shops.

      I run a small gallery in a tiny village in Aberdeenshire selling only handmade British goods, including my own. I am so sick of people asking for a discount that I've now, reluctantly, put up signs about it. I absolutely can't afford to knock money off.

      Interestingly, these TV shows never suggest that you should try to haggle in a supermarket - the businesses who are making billions every year and sucking the life out of town centres up and down the country.

      Liz - I think your post is extremely valid and very well written and I only wish it would be seen by the wider public. You are probably largely preaching to the converted here! Maybe you could submit it to a newspaper..?

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    3. Thanks for adding to the conversation! I agree it's a shame that it's the little business that is being nickel and dimed.

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  31. You have every right to rant! Great post, Liz!!

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  32. Great post and comments. I set out right from the start being happy to say no and be firm on price although I have offered discount to friends when they have bought a SIGNIFICANT amounts from me . I have to say my friends and family don't expect 'bargain basement prices' - although one did say 'you MUST make me a skirt in that fabric' erm... well if you want to pay £80 plus... she was shocked he he! The ones who occasionaly expect massive reductions if they supply fabric are firmly reminded of my hourly labour rate too.

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    1. Oh yes, supplying materials does not make it free! LOL :) I love your attitude :)

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  33. I always say 'My accountant won't let me.'

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    1. Haha! I love how that legitimizes the fact that you are a real business, also such a real business you need an accountant, excellent!

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  34. My mom, a painter, gave me permission to share some of her further thoughts on the matter:

    "It hit the spot with me, too. All those unpleasant times when people asked me to reduce the price of my paintings. I did it once, never again. It felt degrading.

    You give us courage to sell our work for what it is worth, and to be totally proud of our creations.

    You help us to see the people who ask us to lower our prices as just clueless, not judges of the worth of our work.

    Great reply to the "no harm in asking." There is a lot of harm in asking artists to sell their work for less. The harm is the feeling of degradation that every true artist feels at even being asked. Not to mention the degradation we feel for giving in.

    You know my stories. I remember each painful episode. I am seeing them now in a new light.

    Those times stopped me from wanting to sell my paintings at all, almost stopped me from painting.

    But then I had clients who said, "How much? OK!" But by then I had been so traumatized, I felt as if I were cheating everyone who paid what I asked.

    Wow, such a great post, about so much more than money."

    Thanks for sharing your personal insights mom!

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  35. Thanks for this great article! Now I wish everyone who sells handmade would price their items appropriately.

    I'm going to have to remember your response "I can't, those are my bestsellers." - fantastic reply.

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    1. Thank you! Hopefully as the culture begins to appreciate the value of handmade, that will allow more makers to price for their time.

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  36. Great timing for me because I am presently creating custom drum bags for a fellow and we are negotiating the price-point. I'm new to making things to sell so it's great to gather as much information and fantastic come-backs as I can.

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    1. It's good to be firm and friendly. I never make a face or heavy sigh or roll my eyes at a discount request. I just cheerfully stick to my guns and my confidence lets the buyer know where the price stands and all questions are removed! negotiating before the fact is a different animal though, I wish you luck!

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  37. This article is fantastic. Thank you! I wish I could force all of my non-maker friends to read it! I am not a seller (on a regular basis at least). It's been a long time since I've accepted money for the things that I make. I love to make things and I love to give them and I wish I could sell them but I don't think it would be worth my time and effort in the long run. That's why I have such great respect for people that do sell the things that they make.

    That being said, I can't tell you how often people tell me, "Those socks are gorgeous! You should sell them on Etsy!" I used to shrug and say, "Maybe one day!" but I'm sick of lying about it. It drives me crazy! If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, I'd have a steady second income! Now I ask them, "How much would you pay for a pair of hand-knit socks? You with the salary that you make. What's the most you'd pay?" And the answers are what you'd expect, as low as $15. And I explain, "Well these took x many hours, I wouldn't feel comfortable selling them for less than $80 and even then after the material costs, I wouldn't be making a good hourly wage." To my frustration, the answer I get is, "Well, this is New York. SOMEONE would buy hand knit socks for $100." I tell them to let me know when they find that person and I'll be happy to make things for them.

    I took a class about selling your work and the one thing that I learned was this: So many crafters say, "Oh, I'd be making this anyway, while I watch TV or relax, I don't need to pay myself an hourly wage" and that isn't fair to you or your work. There is a big value there and you can't pretend that your labor is worthless!

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    1. Oh I know just what you mean! Even as a seller, I sometimes make prototypes I love but there's no way I can incorporate them into my product line that makes sense financially. People just have no idea how complicated this stuff is.

      I also wrote a blog post on whether it makes sense to sell the things you make:
      http://madeinlowell.blogspot.com/2010/10/should-you-sell-your-crafts.html

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  38. Amen, Liz.

    As a knitter, crocheter, spinner, designer, and all-around crafty-artsy type, I could not agree more.

    That being said, it's not only in the handmade/crafted industry that the yard sale mentality rears its head. I used to own a small, retail, hotel gift shop and the number of people that would attempt to "bargain" with me was mind-blowing. They wouldn't aim for a few dollars off, either...I had people offer well below wholesale in many cases, going so far as to justify themselves and their "generous" offer to let me "break even". While WalMart is great for affordable shopping on things we need, their pricing practices cannot be applied to life's little luxuries.

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    1. OMG, offer to let you break even?? Good lord. No thank you!! Appreciate your input, thanks!

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  39. Thank you so much for sharing this! As a jewelry artist, I struggle when people ask for a discount. It's so offensive, I would NEVER do that to another artist. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

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    1. Right? Keep that thought inside your head if you have it! Save up and splurge :)

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  40. Fantastic post. Thank you so much! I enjoyed reading it, and shared it on Facebook because I thought others need to see it, too. Makers and sellers of handmade tend to undervalue their time and talent. But in order to run a business in a sustainable way, we really must develop the habit of giving credit where it's due.

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    1. Thanks, I think a lot of makers start out as hobbyists instead of business people and that makes it hard for them to see it from a business perspective. Also we're taught that work is drudgery, so if you like doing something, how can it be work?? Then how can you ask for $$?

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  41. Great story. There are all kinds of people and unfortunately some people don't really know the value of handmade compared to mass produced products.

    I agree with you that pricing your products properly can be a real challenge. You want to have your products priced so that the potential buyer fees the perceived value is good.

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    1. Yes, and that's where our job of education comes in. Enthusiastically explaining the skills and steps that go into the final product really helps the customer feel they are making a connection with the artist and buying something special.

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  42. People may or may not know the value, but they may also be more accustomed to a bargaining system, or may not know that the price is non-negotiable. If you put out a sign indicating that the price is fixed, then it may make the transactions easier. I know that I have been on both sides of the table and can empathize with both. I think, as long as transactions are done with a smile and with empathy, you may find a customer coming back, deciding that they will go ahead and put their hard-earned money into two beautiful, hand-made items that they really desire rather than spreading it around...or not. But at least dignity is preserved in the transaction (as long as the customer is also civil).

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I am going to stick with my earlier idea of not putting up a sign about prices being fixed so as not to add to the culture of bargaining. I know I am swimming against the tide but I have nice fins, a snorkel, and snacks in the boat :)

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    2. liz, thank you for this entry!
      Jessica, about the signs. My thinking is this - you don't haggle when you go into an art gallery, clothing boutique or grocery store. Why would it be acceptable to walk into a craftsman's studio or booth and exclaim things are too expensive or ask for a discount? People should be educated on the topic and learn what's appropriate, but hanging a sign seems like the wrong way to go about it

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  43. Thanks for the pep talk Liz, I too am a native of Massachusetts re-rooted in the mid-west and I'd like to say "Thank you very much for that 'gentle rant' of yours!" Enjoyed your blog too! I shared it on my Fb page Booth 147 too!

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  44. Oh boy, what a great topic. Thank you for posting it. Standing firm on a price used to be hard for me, but like was said earlier, the second one took me just as long to make as the first one. I'm a spinner and fiber artist. It is interesting when someone balks at my price for my hand-grown, hand-sheared, hand-picked, hand-washed, hand-dyed, and hand-spun yarns. I cheerfully tell them all those steps and that if they want to spend $6.50 for a skein of artificial, machine produced yarn they should go to Walmart. But I remind them that their time knitting should be worth something too, and that life is too short to knit with junky yarn. Handmade is worth every penny. When people look at my felted items, they have to realize that there are many failed attempts at making these that are back in a bag or box in my studio that will never generate any money for me. So if my perfected item, seems too high-priced, I'm sorry, but my time and expertise is worth something. And when they say, 'it looks so simple, I think I could make these' I say go ahead...and they probably could, but not without some time and failed attempts...
    Whew! I think you struck a nerve with this...I'm stepping off my soap box now... :O)

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    1. Love your comment and all the important facts it brings to the discussion! Step up on that soap box any time :)

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  45. Anonymous- you reminded me of a conversation at a show I did. I had many embroidered patchwork pillows. When the Mother used the quoted line her small son piped up with "But Mom you never will". It made my day.

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  46. Thanks so much for this article. I had read another one, last year sometime which was much more caustic and though I agreed, I felt it made artisans look bitchy and superior, which I don't think most are ( I have met a few). I already quit one handmade career (cake decorating) because I was giving away product far below what it was worth. Now of course, cake decorating is popular and pricey and people are more willing to pay. So, sometimes, it's the market itself and the public taste and willingness to appreciate the product. I work in several media for that reason...and because I like it! But, right now my ETSY shop is pretty empty and my booth at an antique mall is struggling. I can't afford to go to many shows and I am generally discouraged. But, it is SO important to remember, I believe, where I once was before I became an "artisan". It helps me to think more kindly on those who don't appreciate what I (and you) do. When I first learned to knit, I knitted with inexpensive materials because I was a young mother of two and lived in a trailer. When I taught myself to sew at 11, I used inexpensive cotton because I was the oldest of 8 and had an absent set of parents. When I first began to fix up furniture, I used inexpensive paint, because I couldn't afford the $40 a quart paint. As I began to grow in my various crafts, I used better materials but often felt my things were not really worth much....because I remembered what I could afford once and felt uncomfortable charging too much. I have learned that "my" customers (those appreciative of artisan work) will happily pay for what they cannot create themselves. All the others, I have to realize, simply do not understand the value of keeping these crafts (dare I use the word) alive. In this world of fast money and disposable product, it is simply that.......something many don't understand. I work as an artisan for the enjoyment of what I do. I do not truly believe I could support a hamster on what I might make, but I continue and try not to mind too much when the 20 something who makes a pillow from a recycled sweater ends up on Martha and is picked up by Anthropologie. I am 58 and so I've seen most of the current fads go through once already and seem to be always kicking myself and saying "gosh, I guess I should have thought to sell that stuff 20 years ago" , but of course.....no one wanted it then.....LOL So you are 100% right...charge correctly, don't apologize and don't lose your love of what you do......but try and be gentle with those idiots (just kidding)....LOL

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    1. No I totally get what you are saying. And I think it highlights the idea that we, the makers, are probably not the market for what we make! We need to market up to people who CAN afford the things we make. I know that's not always possible if where a maker lives is not an affluent area, and that's why it's so fantastic that selling online opens up a whole new pool of customers to us.

      I'm 43 and I've been at this awhile too. I've been on Martha and it didn't boost my sales one bit! I happen to know Anthropologie pays very little for what it buys. So no matter who looks like they are succeeding, I know we are really all in the same boat.

      Thanks so much for sharing your insights, I'm glad you are still making things, I wish you great success!!

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  47. Ah, Liz, you are just amazing. I started a small indie dye business offering millspuns and handspuns and I'm amazed by the number of folks who will try to haggle the price. Two years in (with limited exposure) and I feel really dejected: thank you for giving me insight, I hope someday to be in your (lovely felted handmade) shoes.

    xo
    Christina/DeepWater DyeWorks

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    1. Oh I'm so sorry you feel dejected! Building a business from the ground up can be such a slog. So many stories all around of people whose businesses gained momentum and caught on but really, the majority of us are just plugging away, day by day pretty much unnoticed.

      I know the folks who do get the exposure, the momentum, they work insanely hard to keep their heads above the water. So sometimes I don't mind that my business is very, very small.

      I wish you the best as you keep going with your dream!

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  48. Something to remember though. In much of the world it is not the case that people don't offer discounts on handmade items. I live in India. A lot of what I buy here is handmade and, almost inevitably, the initial asking price is higher than what the seller expects to get. You're expected to haggle. My partner grew up in parts of the world where this is normal and expected. There is no intention to give offense or hurt your feelings if she makes a bid that is lower. She's been shocked and hurt herself by people's anger and taking insult when she does what is perfectly normal business to her.

    Now,at the same time, I do make and sell handmade things and there is a price below which it's not reasonable to go. She totally gets that as well and gets it if someone says, "no, I can't sell for less than the marked price." I just want to say that feeling hurt or devalued by this is, in a way, your choice, NOT the other person's intention. I would simply suggest that you look at global practices about such things and realize that asking is common in the majority of the world. Please don't take it so personally.

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    1. I will respectfully retain the right to acknowledge any feelings I have. Taking things personally is a valid experience which I have honestly expressed here. And though you may not have had the time to read ALL the comments on my very personal post, I will tell you by reading what other artists have said here, I see that I am not alone.

      People who make things are not just selling things. They are selling a product that retains a bit of their heart and soul. And if not that exactly, then at least their time and expertise. We are not resllers making decision based on balance sheets. We are adding value to the world in intangible ways and that makes it very personal for us.

      As your partner was shocked and hurt by the reaction to her attempts to bargain, I hope that creates in her more empathy for the seller and she learns to acculturate to a world where bargaining is not the norm.

      I acknowledge that it is a cultural practice to haggle, I think pretty much everywhere! I am advocating to change the culture to eliminate haggling in the world of handmade. I understand it is a large task! This is my first contribution to the cause.

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  49. I am a musician. Even though I don't hand make a product to be taken home and set on a shelve or to be worn out for a night on the town, I am still an artisan, and this is how I make a living, making music. Try and get people to pay for something they can't show their friends or give to a loved one. My product is ENTERTAINMENT.

    People say you only play for 4 hours why are you asking so much. I can explain: You want me to be completely set up and have a sound check by 6 pm, start playing at 8 pm and finish playing at 12 pm. To meet this schedule now I have to CALL (after being on the phone with the buyer, a total phone time of at least 30 minutes or more for phone calls) the band members and have the band meet me at 1 pm to start loading the equipment. After loading the equipment we stop for gas in at least two vehicles, one of which drinks a lot to haul the heavy equipment. Next we drive 2 hours to get there. Then we have to move the heavy equipment in through the back into the kitchen down the hall up the elevator down another long hall around the corner then down another hall into the conference room weaving around all the tables and chairs that are blocking the way back to the stage.

    Once we are set up and have a sound check is usually when a buyer representative will show up and ask us if we can reposition the P.A. or move the stage. Hence wasted time if we move but do we want to please the buyer?

    Sound check done buyer pleased, so now we wait, well not really just wait we need to eat and then go clean up and be dressed for the show. Both of which can be an expense or inclusive which ever is negotiated.

    4 hours of music and fun but no one is ready to leave and they request an encore. Maybe even request you play for another hour with no offer of more money!!! ( ? ) We can't do that!

    It's 12:15 am to 12:30 am shows over and now we play the politics of business by going out and visiting with the guest and buyer, for a little time only, because now it is time to reverse the set up process and navigate back through the hotel maze.

    Total time invested for today's pay: Meet and load at 1 pm, Out of hotel around 2 am. Back in home town around 4 am unload equipment and get home around 5am. That's a 15 HOUR DAY for 4 people plus gas, food, office booking hours, electricity, equipment, stage clothes, rent, car, insurance ect.

    Congratulations: The buyer just payed minimum wage or less for a $600 a night band. First gas and supplies for the show come off the top, then any money for upkeep on the equipment and for booking cost. Now each band member is making $100 to $125 dollars for the night.(don't forget rehearsal time) A lot of bands only get to play on Fri and Sat nights. So if booked for just one night that cuts down the musicians pay for the week.

    I love what I do but I am definitely considered poor. But I am rich in my heart!!! Please support your local Hand Made Products and Artisans. Thanks Liz, for the awareness.


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    1. Wow do I love your comment!! Thank you so much for this very illuminating description of your experience! I know others will also find this very relevant.

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  50. Bravo, Bravo! As I stand from my sewing chair clapping lol I was trying to explain this to someone, and you've said it well!! Thanks for putting it on paper... I appreciate your creative writing! Yup, made with love! Priceless.

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  51. Liz, many thanks for your thoughtful post. I've been an artist, in art fairs and exhibiting my work since I was ten. Now, after years of education (MFA), exhibits and awards, I'm still asked to lower my prices. Your polite answer certainly beats what I've thought as a response. The lack of respect for the arts in general is a sign of an education lacking balance. But that's another reason to get on the soapbox... again, my thanks to you for posting your thoughts.

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    1. Oh I totally agree, art is completely on the low rung in education and stature in our culture, makes NO SENSE to me. It's like we think we can live without it? Like it's a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have? Insane. I feel for you and thanks for climbing on the soapbox with me!

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  52. Wonderful article. This is what I've been trying to make myself do ever since I started selling my work. You have bolstered my conviction to never, ever undervalue myself and my work.

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    1. Yay! I hope you can find the elusive sweet spot between what we need to make and what the market will bear. It's really slippery, I find.

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  53. I knit and crochet and I sell at a little shop and a farmers market. I too have had this problem....I live in a depressed area and so I charge accordingly...I do not make enough to cover all my hours etc. But I also don't want my things to sit around for long periods of time. But many a time I have had people say these really aren't expensive but if I get more than one can I get a discount etc...I have kept my prices reasonable because I know the area, and to be still asked,is irks me and it does hurt! How you put this in writing for others to read is fantastic!

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    1. I feel for you, it's tough to be in an area that doesn't have the density of higher end purchasers we need to make a living at this business. I hope that if you sell online you'll find you can charge more than you can get locally.

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  54. I've bookmarked this to my Toolbar to KEEP REMINDING ME

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  55. People with the 'it can't hurt toask' attitude about discounts (when it comes to handmade items) really annoy me! This post really spoke to me because I always feel hurt, too, when someone asks for a special discount. I feel like I should be upset, but I am, and I always felt a little weird about it. I am really glad to know others feel the same way, too! You are absolutely right - nothing I make is vital. It won't save lives or keep someone from being hungry. If someone doesn't want to spend a certain amount of money, that's their right. As you point out, it's a crafter's right to say no, I won't give a discount. Thanks for helping me realize I'm not alone!

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    1. So glad you found a community here that knows just how you feel! We can be kind and polite to the hagglers even if we feel bad inside. But knowing all these people are here to back us up takes some of the sting away, right?

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  56. Thank you , this is beautifully written. I also loved watching the Martha Stewart clip showing how to make the polymer clay eggs - great idea, so pretty.

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    1. Thanks very much! That Martha thing was surreal, I had a blast :)

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  57. Just found you via another blog. Your words are so thoughtful and so true. We Americans are so used to cheap, mass-produced (and usually foreign made / cheap labor produced) goods that we balk at paying artisans a fair price. But, we shouldn't. I think we also expect things (like "deals") from creative people that we don't expect from others... do we ask our doctors or massage therapists to knock off part of their price? No, we don't. Your work is lovely!!

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    1. Thanks for your kind words! And I agree, it's cultural, let's change the culture!

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  58. Love this article...when you under value your time, designing expertise, actual materials & labor, then you under value your self.

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    1. It certainly feels that way. I hope we can all life each other up by charging what things are worth! Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion.

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  59. Stumbled upon this link on Facebook. I am also a shop owner on Etsy and have been asked many times to discount my items for multiples. I am ashamed to say that I have discounted some sales in a desperate attempt to make a sale. Sure I closed the deal, but I was left feeling resentment toward the buyer and myself. If I didn't hold my craft to any level of esteem, how could I expect others to do the same. I vowed before the busy push of the holidays that I would hold true to my prices, my value of time, and my art. I was successful and as the new year rolled around, I have actually changed some prices for items that take considerable time, talent, and materials. Thank you for so eloquently stating what I have known all along but just took a while to believe.

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    1. Wow, you touched my heart. It makes me so sad you feel at all ashamed for giving deals on multiples, I have given deals too! I'm pretty sure most of us have. That's how we know we don't like the feeling. We tested the boundaries and now we know what our limits are! No shame in that. I'm so excited that the bad feeling spurred you to hold steady on pricing and that it worked! I hope you have a fantastic 2013.

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  60. thank you, Liz. I shared this with a women's creative entrepreneurial group I moderate. A lot of wisdom in here for people who are just starting out or who have been at it for a dozen years. Thank you, thank you.

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  61. Thank-you Liz... well written and I support your thoughts!

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  62. Would you mind if I posted this in a community where other handmade sellers chat? I think you hit the nail on the head with many points. Thank you for taking the time to write it all out!

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  63. Liz, I love this post. So well said. I usually get a lot of questions about price at street fairs (which I only do 1 or 2 a year). I always say that my prices are based on the cost of materials + my time and that I price my items as affordably as I can, so I'm unable to give further discounts. Sometimes this turns into a conversation about how expensive silver is these days, my process, etc. I like educating people. Bravo to you for knowing what you and your goods are worth! It takes time to get to a place where you have that confidence in your work (well, it did for me).

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    1. Yes, I love the educational conversations that are just fun shop talk but also help in painting a bigger picture of why we charge what we do so that customers feel they not only understand the value of the object, but also feel a connection to the maker through the interaction.

      As to knowing what my goods are worth, that is a tricky bit, isn't it? I'm always fine tuning it but the point is that we give it a tremendous amount of thought and it isn't arbitrary.

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  64. This post really resonated with me. I own a fiber farm and bed and breakfast. I was unprepared when opening the B&B five years ago for the amount of people who would ask for discounts. It hurt my feeling. I didn't want it to but it did. It actually was the one thing that made me doubt if I was tough enough to continue. Like you with your beautifully handmade items I had crafted a comfortable and lovely place to stay while considering the price carefully. I wanted guests who appreciated me and the experience I thoughtfully created. Like your sleepy sheep ornaments, no one "needs" to stay in a pretty B&B. At first I politely declined a discount and offered these people a list of places to stay close by that were priced lower. I did this mostly because I wanted potential guests to realize I was by no means the highest priced accommodations in the area and they had options. More often than not people were unappreciative of my recommendations and I often got comments of "Oh that place doesn't meet our expectations or we couldn't possibly stay there". I also very often would get requests for from people who would tell me that they wanted to create a special weekend for a loved ones birthday or anniversary and dine at one of my areas finest restaurants but couldn't afford my prices. A few times I regrettably got a little snotty and responded "Will you be asking the restaurant for a discount?". And when I suggested that if my price was out of their range then they could perhaps stay one night instead of a full weekend. This unfortunately and unintentionally offended most people. So I caved and started giving discounts to everyone who asked. I felt it was somehow expected in the travel industry and who was I to argue. Well I probably don't need to tell you it was a mistake. It made me feel resentful and a little cheap. But being a slow learner ;-) I continued giving discounts for those who asked for two years. I'd convinced myself that I was a new business and needed to grow my customer base and get good reviews before I could discontinue the practice. I foolishly thought that guests would appreciate the discount and remember me fondly. Then one day I realized that those people were not "my" customers. They didn't appreciate me or my business and wouldn't dream of taking the time to write a nice review. I didn't make connections with any of them, not for lack of trying on my part, and I eventually realized that they would not return or send friends my way. So I stopped giving discounts for anything less than a one week stay. It's hard to do when there are bills to pay, it takes an enormous amount of discipline to turn customers away and have faith that another will show up and happily pay your price. But they do and it's a win-win for them and you because you appreciate them and they appreciate you for what you offer. When I mentioned my dilemma to a B&B owner with many more years of experience than I, her very serious reply was "Jennifer, we are not in the discount business". Oh boy was she right, handmade or otherwise there are so many businesses that fall into this category. Here's hoping those customers who love us find their way to our shops....or where ever, in droves!

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    1. LOVE LOVE LOVE this comment!! I am thrilled this topic is relevant over other types of businesses like the musician who commented further up.

      You are so right about finding your right people. And I find it fascinating that you found it so hard to bond with those who are NOT your right people!

      And this speaks to something I said to another commenter above who was starting out less expensive to build up a customer base. I said they won't be your customers when you do raise your prices so why invest so much energy in them now?

      I just looked at your website and the farm/B&B is GORGEOUS! What you offer is a luxury and people who want to treat themselves will feel decadent and cheerful spending full price on your product. I am bookmarking it for a special occasion splurge should my husband ever wonder where to take me for a romantic weekend away :)

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  65. Sorry for such a long winded comment. I guess this subject really hit a nerve ;-) I'm off to order one of your lovely bobby pins for my niece.

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    1. Ha! Well, I loved your input and am delighted that people are connecting with this topic. And thank you!!

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  66. Excellent Post! And something we all need to consider. I make jewelry and I hate to see someone underprice their work, and then mark it down every week because they're so hungry to make a sale. It speaks volumes about the value you see in your own work, as well as the image you portray to others, and it hurts the rest of us like you said. If we don't value what we do, how on earth can we expect anyone else to? Thank you for giving us all permission to be believe in what we do, to value it, and be firm in it. With kindness of course, and no apologies.... Bless you!!
    Donna XOX

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  67. Well written, and saying just what most of us experience!
    Hi, via Meesh's blog

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  68. I couldn't have said it better myself! : ) Your work is beautiful.

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  69. Liz, I am so happy you wrote this article. My advice to artists is to never discount their work, other than giving a commission to the "host" or shop. I am so glad you explained about why you don't sell things at galleries and shops that you can't afford to wholesale at half your own retail. You "get it" in a way that I wish everyone did. Kudos to you, Liz. .

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    1. Thanks so much! I will say I didn't get it right away, I came to the understanding over many, many years :)

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  70. Perfect! and Perfect.. Could not have said it better

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  71. I have to say that this is a great post and it definitely reflects the feelings of a lot of us makers. I, too, have found myself rethinking prices, and this is a great reminder of the amount of time, effort, cost of materials and value that we need to remember to put into our creations. Thanks!

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    1. Pricing is so tricky and always needs revisiting and tweaking, I find.

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  72. Really great read! Thank you! The hardest ones to deal with are the fellow Etsyians asking for discounts. I always find that extra insulting.

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  73. Please add my thanks to the list of those who appreciate your eloquent expression of the challenges we makers face. On parallel, I believe, with "need" vs "want" are the perceptions of value and worth. I did not have the chance to read all of the comments; maybe others have mentioned this as well. As you pointed out, many in our mass market/big box world don't understand the value of handmade; therefore they do not understand its worth. In my exploration of local opportunities to sell, a gift store owner who offered me consignment space commented that she thought an $18 handmade mug from another local area artist was overpriced, because it is "just a mug," and mugs can be purchased at Target for $5. I replied that those looking for $5 mugs should absolutely buy them at Target, because they probably wouldn't appreciate the worth of a one-of-a-kind, handmade mug. In thinking on this issue, I am also perplexed by peoples' willingness to spend considerable amounts of money each week in restaurants and coffee shops for goods that are literally here today and gone tomorrow (or sooner)! Thank you again for sharing your experience and insights.

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    1. Right on! I agree that part of this disconnect is a lack of understanding and we are the ambassadors who will teach the culture about handmade!

      Yes, absolutely a $5 mass produced mug and an $18 (which sounds like a bargain to me) hand-thrown mug are NOT the same product and have different customers.

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  74. Debbie Goard shared this post and I am so glad I read it. I bake cakes and I run into similar situations every day. It took me several years to learn what my work was worth. Now when clients ask if I can make their cake for less money, I tell them that I always work with budgets and I offer to reduce the size or complexity of their cake. No one gets the same cake for less money. I do think the Wal-Mart mentality is to blame.

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    1. Yes! Less money, fewer features. That is how that should work! Thanks so much for your valuable addition to the conversation.

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  75. Can't help but feel this is all born out of a poor understanding of capitalism (some would just say "economics"). The best price is the one that makes the most money [under capitalism] - yes of course if you know you'll sell at full price then don't sell them cheaper ... unless you can sell more. But then of course you come up against the limitations of producing quantities as an artisan.

    The insistence not to offer a discount for multiples though seems to be a failure to understand opportunity cost. You have cost of production, which is high for UK made goods compared to regular high-street goods. But you also have the cost of selling those goods, the cost of your stall, your time in sales, the effort to get your goods before more people to wow them and convince them.

    Once you've convinced them to buy one item you can often sell them something else. This saves you opportunity costs in finding another customer. Think of it like this, your time at minimum wage would cost about £14 gross (before tax, NI) - if it takes you an extra hour to sell because of your price then you need to sell at ~£14 higher in order to make your ~£8 minimum wage.

    Once you've made one sale the cost, in £, of the additional sale is lower for you. That is why you can offer a discount. As it stands you are effectively charging people that like your work more for the 2nd item than the first. Imagine it like each person paying both product costs and your sales time, once they've paid their share of your sales time (in their first transaction) why should they pay again if you were just going to be sitting waiting for the next customer. (If you weren't going to be sitting waiting your prices are probably too low).

    Large retailers exploit this with offers on multiples, or they use tactics like having a wrapping service for only a few pounds more, or POS items.

    If you can't afford to offer a discount on multiples then your single item price is probably too low! It works the other way too - if you doubled your price would you sell less than half your goods?

    pbhj

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    1. I agree in theory. I love economics theory! You stated in your comment the two issues tying our hands on offering discounts and ignores another.

      The first is this: "But then of course you come up against the limitations of producing quantities as an artisan."

      That is the crux of the issue. As individuals we cannot produce in volume and are therefore handicapped. But we are willing to continue on small scales to retain complete control over production. Also the maker retaining a hand in production adds value as it becomes art rather than just a commodity.

      So, for the ignored part, in my opinion, this is where economic theory and simple math falls short: We are not merely making widgets, we are creating, by hand, items imbued with intangible value because we made them by hand in small batches.

      Your other point: "If you can't afford to offer a discount on multiples then your single item price is probably too low!"

      Is the second issue I agree with, also probably true for most of us. my products aren't priced high enough, because the market won't bear an increase.

      Though we are individual makers, we are participating in a market dominated by mass producers who can take advantage of economies of scale in purchasing raw materials, production, packaging, and marketing.

      We makers are generally offering our items at the high end of what the market will bear (luxuries) with very high production costs, which affords us very slim margins. I know I am not making the same profit on every sale but I calculate that diversifying my sales over many platforms: shows, online, shops, all with different costs, will average out into a decent living wage. Selling retail is the best way to make up for the smaller profits I get selling through shops, for example.

      Selling through a shop might not be as profitable but I do it because it offers other benefits such as soft marketing, boosts brand legitimacy, and brings in a steady check month to month.

      I understand that what we are doing may not make the most economic sense, believe me, we know, but we are driven to try because the rewards are greater than monetary. The more buyers we can get on board with us, the more people we can convince that owning handmade goods is valuable beyond cost, the more makers will be able to afford to keep making things and society will be better for it.

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  76. As an art fair potter, I always want to ask the customer " what day of the week do you work for less?" They have to realize they are not at a flea market. I'm sure they are making much more money than I am.






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    1. Oh I know, whenever I see Martha gleefully haggling on TV I want to scream!!

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    2. I actually did say this to a gentleman who said he would pay me $15 for a $25 pair of earrings - I asked if he would work the last hour of his 8-hour workday for free. He looked at me funny and said, "No." I said, "That's exactly what you are asking me to do." He got it. He didn't buy the earrings (and I don't think he ever intended to), but the message got through.

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  77. At my last craft fair, someone actually came up to me and told me how glad she was that I had raised my prices since the year before! (A fellow crafter, of course.) It totally made my day!

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  78. Hi and thank you for this post ! Great read and I did not realized until now that you have contributed to the 'Handmade Market Place'. For few months, this book was at my bedsite table and eventhough it's written from USA point of view, it's still valid and very inspirational here in UK.

    Pricing is such an important subject and I must admit I have a split opinion on this. On my handmade fabric decorations I don't normally offer any discounts or offers, but I also make chocolates and run courses. Sometimes you need to apply a bit of psychology to the selling. I have two types of customers - one that I can price my work according to what it costs me etc. and they are very appreciative of my products. Other type of customer is conditioned by wider shop market place and doesn't react unless there is 'Buy one get one free' or discount. It doesn't matter, that they don't need the item and it doesn't matter what the final price is. It could be £1 or £15.

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    1. I was so grateful and honored to be included in Kari Chapin's fantastic book! She is a treasure in the handmade community and a wonderful person. I'm so glad the book helped you. It helped me too!

      I totally hear you. My opinion is that I don't have time to pursue the bargain shoppers because what I am offering is a luxury. The people who will only buy on a discount are in fact, not my customers.

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  79. As everyone before has already said, what a wonderful post. Beautifully written and oh how I wish I could persuade all potential customers to read this first!

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    1. Thanks, I know!! I am going to start a movement to get buyers on board. I'm not kidding.

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  80. As a fellow craft show seller friend of mine said: This isn't a garage sale! :)

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    1. I know! We are not cleaning out the closets, everything for a quarter!

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  81. Not sure if this comment has already been made but in my short time selling handmade pottery I've noticed that in many cases I do myself harm by setting lower prices or offering discounts because that devalues the work in the eyes of the customer. They no longer see it as the one of a kind luxury that it is but as a discount item. If I offer a mug for $5 suddenly mugs are only worth $5 in their minds, if I raise the price the perceived value is raised. Thanks for this post it has given me resolve for this coming season!

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    1. Great point! I'm not sure it has been said this succinctly, so thank you for saying it!

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  82. Liz, THANK YOU! I feel the same way & love your words. I have had to come to the realization of valuing myself, my work, my time, my thoughts & ideas. I love gifting handmade, but I reserve the right to choose who I gift to & if it has a price tag on it, it's for sale. For sale at a price that took time, calculation & thought, too.
    I have had a few bad experiences with shoppers at shows, but in the end I am glad they are not wearing something I made by hand. If they had their opinion that they had to share or show with behavior they would never appreciate it & that is one of the saddest things in life. To never know the appreciation of handmade.
    Best wishes & Tons of Love.

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    1. Oh I totally agree! I really want my items to "go to good homes", if you will :) I know my mom feels the same about her paintings. Thank you!

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  83. Great article. Was posted to me today by a fellow crafter - I had been having a bad day and wondering whether it was worth it or not to continue doing what I do! Your article has given me inspiration. My biggest downfall is not feeling my work is worth any money as I don't seem to be able to sell. I think the best thing I could do is grow a set of balls and have the courage to tell people that my products are worth it - my time is precious. Am sure customers feed off my self doubt!! Working for 50c an hour is not the way to go. So difficult in Ireland and UK to get many people who understand the value of handmade goods. Am going to keep moving onwards and upwards. Thank you for the boost!

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  84. Bravo, Liz. . .and the others who have related their own stories. I read this at a timely moment, after spending 8 hours glazing and only managing to glaze the three-dimensional critters I add to my pottery and the drawings on some pieces. It took another day to finish the glazing. . .and I do not have a huge kiln! I try not to sell too cheaply, though I know I've underpriced a few things in order to increase sales. I do also try to make some less complex pieces to have a fuller range of "price points." I do not, however, feel hurt when people ask for discounts. I spent a year in a country with a tradition of bargaining, even for lovely hand-made work. If you can respond matter-of-factly with a "no," some people will go ahead and buy full price. If you have the time and inclination to make it a teaching moment, you help all of us. One potter I read about was sick of people asking how long it took her to throw a mug. She wrote up a list of about 26 steps it took (including purchasing supplies, mixing glazes, etc.) and added at the bottom "twenty years of training and making." Good luck in this new year and thanks for your thoughtful post.

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  85. I wish they had a show on T.V. that would show the masses just what they are getting when they buy from us makers. I am a baker. I do everything from birthdays to weddings, and you would not be shocked to know they expect a 4 tiered, highly detailed, very delicious cake to cost the same as a sheet cake from the BIG stores. They are shocked that they would have to pay $3.00 per guest. But yet, if they went to a restaurant they would have no problem paying $3.00 per person for a slice of mud cake that was made in a factory months ago! I wish there was a way to educate the masses. To teach them the value of an item. To remind them that we do not want to work for $1.00 per hour while they see a minimum wage job as way under their own worth. You would never ask to purchase a brand new Mustang convertible at the same price you can purchase a station wagon.

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  86. Thank you, Liz, for a great post! I also hand make headbands and sell them weekly at the market near me. I use high quality and often don't pay wholesale either just to maintain a variety of ribbons for my customers. So, my cost and time can be expensive. I often call them the "toxic headbands" when I tell somebody the price then they throw it down like it's poisonous. I have learned to find humor in it. With that being said, I'm also the creator of 3 B Street, a new handmade marketplace online to buy and sell. http://www.3bstreet.com. Listening to everybody above, this website has also been my "baby" for the last two years. I've dedicated my life to this site to be something extraordinary and offer great services to both sellers and buyers, and even the artists themselves are constantly asking me for discounts and deals. So, your comments above even extend to what I've done with a website, which ultimately benefits sellers and customers as well. I've developed a pricing plan that is fair and competitive but I'm constantly asked for "free trials" or discounts. The only thing I can consider is that people have NO idea what I've done to create this, just like customers do not know the kind of detail and work you put into your products. While I'm more than happy to help out in special situations and truly care about 3 B Street's members, others also need to realize the same exact care, heart, resources, and energy I've put into a website of this magnitude. Joining 3 B Street is an investment, a feeling, and an experience only intended to help your success along the way. Thanks again for your wonderful and honest post.
    -Laurie Barron, Founder 3 B Street, LLC

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  87. Liz, this post makes me want to quote you. Like, in my policies and my shop announcement and maybe even in every single listing in my shop. Would that be overkill?

    I get at least one request a week for a discount in my shop, usually from a complete stranger (i.e. someone who has never purchased from me before). I have always responded to these unsolicited convos politely, letting the person know that I am not currently offering any discounts (I have just one big sale a year, Black Friday thru Cyber Monday), and I thank them for their interest. I literally can't think of one person who has gone ahead and made the purchase anyway after asking for discount and being told (politely) no.

    So, from now on, they will also be getting a bit more info:
    "Thanks for getting in touch! I am not currently offering any discounts. My jewelry is my job and how I earn a living: asking for a discount is the same as asking me to take a pay cut. Thanks for understanding"

    Thanks again, Liz, for this affirmation that so many people so needed, including me.
    xo
    Cassie

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  88. Thanks for giving me the link here, Liz. Great post. You generated a spirited discussion.

    As I said to someone else on Twitter last night, the decision of how to respond to the woman who asked for the discount yesterday involved weighing desperation against self-respect. Just writing those words down made it clear what the right decision was. I will admit to feeling desperate for a sale sometimes (actually quite often) on Etsy. I lowered my print prices not long after joining Etsy as I wondered if my pricing was chasing away sales. I regret having done that now as I realized that it just takes a while to be noticed on Etsy and pricing probably has little to do with that.

    I also struggle with pricing my original artwork. I paint in a delicate, detailed way. I can spend hours or days on one small painting. I am able to price some small, less involved paintings under $100 but many I need to price well over. I was talking to my husband about how hard it was for me to put a price tag over $100 on a painting. (He's an accountant so has a completely different perspective of most things.) He said someone wouldn't blink if a plumber charged $100 for an hour of work. Why would I even hesitate to charge more than $100 for something that took me several days?

    Prices for original artwork are all over the place on Etsy. I think some people vastly undercharge for their work but maybe they paint quickly and are more prolific than I am. In the end, we have to figure out the price point of respect for ourselves.

    I sold one of my original paintings to someone in January who visited my studio. I had priced it at $185. She started to go through my paintings and setting aside others she was interested in buying--maybe later this year. I started to say that I would try to figure out a global price for her. She looked me straight in the eye and said she wasn't negotiating, she was simply telling me the work she was interested in and expected to pay full price. I felt like hugging her. Actually, when she left, I did. :)

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  89. Hi Liz. I am also in MA and I just recently did a blog on this very subject. I never could understand how people could think it's OK to play "let's make a deal" with your livelihood. Do they walk into a store and bargain with the sales help? Not usually. You're products you make and you deserve to be appreciated. Yes it may be a dream job. But it is a job. When was the last time these people with so called real jobs worked for .10 an hour? stand your ground. The people who appreciate the work you do make it worth while. We are full time artists who work hard to earn a living. Good luck with all you do.

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  90. Thanks for writing this Liz. I always fear that I'm over charging for my goods and I sometimes feel guilty asking people to pay a price where I actually make a profit. Just because I couldn't afford my goods if other people were making them, doesn't mean that other people can't afford them. Thanks again!

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  91. Oh, Liz. I don't know you, don't know if you read the comments, but I just want to hug you right now. You made me laugh out loud at a couple of points and do a fist bump in the air in a couple others (and I look ridiculous doing fist bumps, let me tell you that!). Go, Liz!

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  92. Just wanted to THANK YOU for this. Every single word. So well said!

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  93. This is fabulous! I love how you mentioned not apologizing when you're not sorry. I think we all tend to lead with "Sorry", when it really isn't helping ourselves to do so.

    There is always someone who asks: "Is this your best price?" and I've been responding: "Of course it is, it's my best work"... But I'm always looking for new words to use, so thank you so much for sharing!

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  94. One of the first things I've read that compelled me to follow someone on Twitter. I really enjoyed reading this. All makers need this reinforcement from time to time. Thank you!

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  95. Thank you so much for saying all of this. This is true for all makers and should be true for all major companies too, but sadly it is not. Best wishes for an amazing holiday season!

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  96. Very well stated. Thank you! Makes me feel much more confident in the prices I SHOULD BE putting on my items as I'm told by other artists that I undersell my pieces. I will be reworking that now. We are artists and great care DOES go into everything that we make. I really like your reply to the Etsy person. Great Job!

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  97. OH HOORAY!!!!!!! SO totally true! Every. Single. Word. So glad you stood up for yourself and for asked for what you're worth. THAT is self respect indeed.

    I also wrote about why it's important to pay artists & makers properly, here ~ http://tractorgirl.com.au/opinion-why-do-we-need-art-in-our-lives.

    Cheers, tractorgirl :)

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  98. OMG. AMEN! I needed to hear this today. Amazing article and from one etsy shop to another you seriously made my day! You put into beautiful words what is so hard for me to say to customers. Thank you!

    allshewrotenotes

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