So I just came across the Instagram feed of @wild.roe, and was quite taken with the thoughtful way in which Morgan Campbell uses her feed to ruminate on various topics. What caught me in particular was the post where she describes her struggle with figuring out how to price her work, and how to balance valuing herself without comparing herself to other makers.
I found myself thinking about this and corresponding with her quite a bit as I simultaneously edited two scientific manuscripts this morning (I know, I know, multi-tasking sucks, yada yada). And I found myself articulating some interesting things, thoughts that were new to me, and I wanted to share them with you here and to say them out loud so that I can roll my eyes at myself in a couple of years.
The main thing I realized was that I value momentum over almost everything else when it comes to thinking about the business as a whole. I leave money on the table, in the form of the difference in price of what I could charge vs what I actually charge, because I want the momentum that comes from a lot of work. In the long run, that makes me a better carver. I heard Tony Robbins on some podcast say that he didn't become a successful motivational speaker because he was so naturally gifted at it. He became so good and so successful because he deliberately set out to do two, four, eight times as much of it as his peers.
I invest in my momentum by leaving this money on the table, and sometimes by spending money, like kicking off Spoonesaurus Magazine with a couple thousand of my own dollars to print a free issue, or by buying spoons from makers I admire and tools that I think may help me be a better craftsman.
By keeping my prices low at first, I also strategically give myself somewhere to go. I want to be able to increase my prices over the years and not diminish demand, but actually find demand increasing even as I do so. This is a careful calibration, and the circumstances of this balancing act are different for everyone. The best I can say is that I just went with my gut and then moved the price around, often up, but sometimes down too, when I miscalculated my momentum. For me, the number of repeat customers has become a useful metric of whether my pricing is on target. They are the canary in the coal mine. If I increase my prices but customers still come back, then I am still in that sweet spot where I can build momentum.
There is this idea that we are all in the same marketplace with social media and the internet more generally, where what I do or charge can negatively impact someone else and vice versa. And while this might be partially true, I've come to realize more and more that I just need to run my own race. Because in the long run it's a sure recipe for failure to let someone else define the rules of your own game. I'm paying attention to myself, not the other guy, and the more I play by my own internal logic the better things go.
So if you are just starting out, I hope you will shy away from the trap of thinking in terms of time and materials when determining your price. Let price be a totally separate issue and a separate strategy from your growth as a craftsperson. Better yet, let your pricing strategy bolster and drive your growth, in whatever way that works for you. Because we all come from different economic backgrounds. Some of us have a mortgage and kids to support. Some of us are living a deliberately itinerant livestyle (although that carries hidden costs of its own) to be able to afford this. Some of us have access to markets that make all the difference, or skills with written media, photography or videography. Some of us just have money from other life factors. Some of us are fighting tooth and nail to make this work. Some of us are hedging our bets. Some of us are scared to jump in the water.
These are all equally acceptable places to be. The point is, what works for you is what works for you. Don't agonize too much about it. Just go and do. And then be observant. And then adjust.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.