Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's worth more than you probably think

I've realised it's been about a week since the last post- I am working on the next one, every day I read it and edit and add and delete. It's a thinker. While I'm carving it out, I'm going to post some wonderfully wise words from a very respected seller on Etsy- the lovely Dawn from Desert Talismans.


I think there are few of us here who couldn't site Dawn's shop as something of an artisan paradise. Her exquisite work in outstanding quality materials, expert craftsmanship and gorgeous photography is only enhanced further with the depth of the story in each piece. Every process in the work she produces seems to be a love letter to a place or people, and I know for me that is everything I aspire to. Even her packaging is a work of art.

Anyway! Putting the rose-strewn adoration aside, I was bowled over when Dawn wrote back to my letter asking for her opinion on the whole pricing lark. What she wrote was so heart-felt and honest that I've attained permission to publish excerpts of it here in the hope that it will affect something in you as it did me. Emphasis are mine; read on and most important- listen.

 There are two things that will have me shouting at the screen on Etsy: bad photos of great work, and prices that are too low. When new artists price their work, I think there must be some lingering mentality of competition that really does not reflect the changing paradigm of the times. What do you really want for your work? The bottom line is, you must not only respect what you create, but you deserve to make a living at it. Perhaps some people are thinking that they shouldn't be charging higher prices for what they make because they aren't professionally trained, or because they do it part-time, as a hobby or for fun. That makes no difference. What you make is an expression of who you are. Honor that, and the time and effort you've put into it. It's worth more than you probably think.

Remember that money is just a form of energy, neither good nor bad, and sometimes you just have to unplug from the mass-consciousness attitudes toward it. People might be surprised to hear that I can't allow myself to even think about money while I'm working. I can only focus on what I'm doing and do that without compromise or worrying about what others might think.

I am a shaman, and making jewelry is part of that spiritual path and is one way I send blessing energy out into the world. I always seek to be spirit-guided in my approach and am invariably told not to worry about money, to just show up and do the very best I can and not hold back for any reason. It was a little frightening at first to make that commitment and take that leap, but ironically as soon as I did, the work really began to sell and my customers came back for more...and they're still coming.

A good example is the sterling bangles I started making last year. Sterling silver Precious Metal Clay had recently come out, and it's a great medium for bangles but is horribly expensive, well over $100 for a little 50 gram pack. A bangle bracelet takes most, if not all of that, so I had to charge what I thought would be way too much money for a silver bangle, around $350 each. It turned out that I couldn't keep them in the shop, they sold so fast.

And by the way, I am actually self-taught with a few workshops thrown in. My BFA degree is in illustration, not jewelry. I don't sell anywhere else right now except on Etsy, although I have sold in galleries, shows and museum shops in the past. This is full-time work for me and right now it's all I can do to keep the shop stocked.

Anyway, this is a hugely long ramble, but I wanted to hopefully encourage others to value--and trust--what they do as well. That's what I love about Etsy: its egalitarianism. You can put your work out there however you choose without worrying about someone else judging you. And remember, all it takes is just one person to love what you do and be willing to buy it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Intermission - That Thing You Do That Others Do Cheaper

My gosh my gosh my gosh- thanks everyone for your superstar responses to the last post! Really amazing and thought-provoking stuff, I am so happy to see the effect this has had so far- believe me we haven't even started! I'm working through all of your comments in my brain- stewing them up like the tastiest mind soup ever. I'm trying to get the answers in here rather than replying to all of you in turn, since the answers are stuff everyone should know.  In fact there's so much I want to talk about in regard to what you have all said so far, I'll be working a lot of it into further posts (we have at least two more installments to go)!

Right now though, I'm making this post an 'intermission post' to deal with those extra excuses and fears you all so cleverly came up with in the comments. 


Something that came up a lot was the comparison thing. Beatnheart said it best so I'm just going to quote her: 'what bums me out is seeing people who do make stuff from elements and cheap stamped findings from China and a bit of "brass" chain...selling a whole lot more than me and getting the same prices I am what does that mean...people like cheap crap and are willing to pay for it....most young hipster types that buy from some hot style guru that is 18 and blogs about fashion and sells these brass feathers and airballon charm necklaces..."

Ha! I think we all recognize that situation and can align with it. Shops who charge as much as we do for a bit of chain and some findings; the reason they charge as much as us is because they're charging a retail price for their stuff which turns out is about the same as your wholesale price. It's also likely have a low income need and even more likely, they haven't consider the expanding of their business. In addition, if they're getting the same prices you're asking for just a bit of brass n chain, all that shows is people who only want to spend that much are only looking for a bit of fluff. People who want more will pay more.

But we're not going to waste any more time thinking about them. Fact is, people who buy a feather charm necklace for $18 are probably not our customer. It's depressing to see shops run by college kids, selling high waisted shorts or neon rocks by the hundreds; but remember feather earrings? They belong to the past. Trends peak and fall in a very short space of time. You are timeless.

amen sister.

I noted a few of you who are selling supplies said you were nervous about raising your prices because people might not pay it. It's tricky in a way because your item goes on to be part of the material cost of someone else's finished piece. On the other hand, supplies have an upper hand over finished jewelry in that they're usually made in batches. I know when I make my bangle hoops, I can knock out quite a few pairs in an hour. This enables me to charge fairly low for them because they don't then go on to have the further cost of making them into finished pieces. Supplies also have a keen market; something I've observed as a seller and a buyer- supplies sell. Even when no one is buying our finished stuff, we artisans buy supplies- because we have the urge to make!This is something Etsy knows and is probably the top reason why they have supplies on their site at all. If you go to craft count and look at the top ten Etsy sellers, you'll see they're ALL supplies.

Handmade supplies are unique, and even the most simple piece can add another layer of detail and quality to our work. Just using Rey as an example, though there are many more of you - her stuff is so full of substance it really doesn't need much to become a complete piece.


Look at that - tiny little artworks you can wear. Rey charges respectfully for her work and we all buy it, because we know it's worth it.

Getting people to understand the cost of handmade supplies ought to be easy,  but many artists don't understand their own worth, let alone the worth of their supplies. So in actual fact when artists don't charge enough for their work, they're undervaluing the handmade supplies they used in it as well. It's our job as artisans to support the people who make our supplies and we can only do that by supporting our own work in turn.

Rashabellydance had some sage words from her field about 'hobby' or casual earners pricing themselves low because they don't need to make a living from their work. She says 'if you don't charge what you're worth for your time, you will eventually feel undervalued and resentful, and if you charge below what a full-time artist would need to charge to survive, then you are making it even harder for anyone to make a living from their art, which can only damage the overall quality of work that's out there."

I think there are many of you out there now who already feel resentful that you are 'forced' to mark your goods to compete with the cheaper people on etsy. It's difficult; because etsy is an open playing field with all levels of shops, competing is so much more raw. But keep in mind that not all shops are courting the same shopper. A Target can be in the same mall as a Tiffany&Co and neither will suffer at the hand of the other- they both have completely different customers. 

Jiorji noted something very interesting- she said in Sweden people will pay more just because it's handmade. This is very important info! Because we all sell online, our market is the entire world. Therefore the culture we live in might be sending us in the wrong direction. Here in Australia things are expensive; if you want something you buy it- there is no hunting around for a better bargain, no coupons, no refunds just because you don't like it any more. You can take something back to the shop but a lot of people don't bother. This too is a culture that pays more for handmade, which is why I can't fathom going to Etsy and seeing handmade earrings for $15, or vintage dresses for $30. We pay $30 for the most basic dress in chain stores here, vintage ought to cost more than that, and so should hand made.
I wonder...
source - dunno!

Handmade's price is more than just the time and skills it took to build it. When you buy handmade you're supporting people working to make their own living instead of hooking into the big machine. You're supporting a local economy- an artist who can sell online doesn't need to move to the big city, they can stay in their tiny mountain town and keep that rural economy stabilized. You're putting your hand up for human made, honest, quality (hopefully) soul-ful things. A handmade item makes your world better and it makes the artisan's world better too. This is something you must take into account.

I have a big mug of earl grey with me right now, in my favourite pottery mug. If that mug suddenly fell off the desk and smashed into several pieces, I would probably cry. And I'd have no problem shelling out $50+ to find it's like. It's sandy texture, creamy colours, cuppable shape and the way the glaze looks like a stormy country landscape... all these things make my tea taste better, I'm sure of it. For the record that tea is also the highest price on the shelf, because it's fair trade, natural and delicious. Tea is an elixir of life, you don't skimp on your elixirs! This is the sort of emotional connection people are looking for when they search out handmade. Yes there are no shortage of buyers on Etsy who are looking for the $15 bargain, but there is also a good quantity of people who are looking for the well made, the soulful and the sublime. 

Lastly, I want to make this clear when I talk here about how much your should charge and why it might not be enough, what I'm trying to do is get you to recognize your worth. This may not be a default 'raise your prices' for everyone- some of you might be selling at a level that's fine. If the only thing you get from this is 'yep I'm doing good' then wonderful! You deserve a gold star!

But judging by the comments in the earlier post I don't know if there are that many of you who can say that. I've seen your shops- no hiding!

Okay next post will be nitty-gritty as promised. Formulas for pricing your work, what you should charge, how to figure that out and why all of it is important. I'll also be talking about how to optimise what your customer wants, how to find out who they are, and...there'll be a little bit of magic wisdom from a very respectable seller. Ah that's got you excited hasn't it!? I should think so.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Excuses Excuses - That Thing You Do and Why You Don't Charge Enough to Do It - part ONE

Yay for all the answerings on the last post! Valuable and interesting stuff, thank you- I digested it all and have come to 3 main conclusions; everyone hates business junk, no one makes enough money from their work and no one makes enough money from their work.

Which is what I suspected! One of the reasons I started this missive (which has grown beyond my intentions, as you shall soon see) was because I didn't feel I was getting enough for my work. I resisted all efforts to counter it and yet constantly, silently, resignedly complained that my jewelry was priced at the same level of Target, which is an abominable situation. I made quality jewelry using unique materials- if I were a charm on a chain kinda girl then yes, Target prices would be fine. But I ain't - and neither are you.

So herein begins the giant adventure I'm about to lead you on. We'll be looking at basic pricing formulas as well as my pricing and how I came up with it (no secrets)! We'll also be looking at a few other things toward the end about perceived and added value, branding and quality, all of which help to determine a price outside of your basic costings. There will be some easy but scary math - scary because it will sound off in your head like a klaxon. Because by the end of this wild ride, you will not only better understand your dream, your brand, your wants and your needs, but you will be unable to properly ignore your prices. No matter what excuse you come up with, you will be able to knock it flat with reason.

Are you ready for this?

Are you sure?

Okay- I hope that answer was yes because here we go!

To begin, I'll explain my stuff- I know you know it, just humor me. 90% of my materials are ethically sourced; they're vintage and/or antique (which gives them another level of value) and I've gone to great lengths to find crystal sellers who work with independent miners. Much of my supply comes from thrifts, which means my money goes into the community around that shop. Every piece is hand made from scratch, there's no sending it off to be put together by industrious Indonesians, no hobby store junk (even thrifted stuff is closely inspected), no glue and almost no plastic (it's just a thing, don't ask). A lot of my elements are fairly hard to get, like raw crystals and certain kinds of vintage chain, and much of the elements are either altered by me or made by other people, like drilled driftwood from England and artisan supplies such as those by Kim and Petra. Most of it is One of a Kind. Every single material is sourced by me and every item is made entirely by hand by me and every single photograph is taken by me. I list it, I write the copy, I answer the 'phones' (convos), process the orders, I even wrap it up and take it to the post office. On foot!

To find all of that in a piece of jewelry in a retail environment, you're looking at a 3 figure price, no problem.

So I said to myself last week  'okay me, up your prices. Go do it now. Go. Use Edit Express, it will be done in moments.'  At first I felt a little queasy. I started to feel the guilt, the fear, the excuses flooded in. But, no, because... I've done this before and fobbed it off, but this time I stopped and thought about it. I had a long and awkward conversation with myself which culminated in my not being able to make any further excuses. Everything I could think of I could shoot down just as easily.

So for this first post in my re-pricing epic, let's take a look at some of those excuses in no particular order. Because sure as eggs if I was making them up until 2 days ago, you're making them right now.

1."Other people sell for less than me, there's no sense in competing" 

Other people sell for more than you too, how do they compete with you? Secret- they don't. Competitive pricing is only applicable if you have multiple areas where you can cut costs and there are people selling exactly the same product. It's rarely applicable in the handmade realm and it's a dangerous game- someone starts out selling something, someone comes along and undercuts them, the other drops their prices to compete, a third player enters, the whole thing starts again and pretty soon someone somewhere is making a negative income.

I'll go over this more in a later post when I delve into who you are and what makes you special and yes, that very much has to do with prices. Right now just take the advice- If someone charges less than you, let them. This may shock you to learn, but not every shopper is after a bargain. Don't price to compete with lower people - price your work to compete with what you want to be. I know that you- just like me, just like everyone else, have at least one shop online or in a nearby town where we creep around in awe-struck heartache and wonder why they sell like they do with 'those prices'. If they can, so can you.

2. "I want everyone to be able to afford me"

This is a very honorable stance to have and I'm sure we all feel it. As artists we instinctively want to provide beauty for the masses. If this is something you have a genuine passion for, then you need to gear your work around it. You have to decide how far into quality your materials go- authentic antique trade beads, artisan lampwork and sterling silver findings will have to work hard to be a part of an affordable jewelry shop. Handmade jewelry can be affordable, but it takes some savvy math.

If on the other hand your high quality, artisan level pieces are kept at a rate where everyone can afford you, you will never have the income and lifestyle and life you want and need. I can't afford my own jewelry- and I never will if I keep charging fashion jewelry rates for artisan pieces. You need to stop catering to those who can't afford your work.

3."I have to be cheap because people don't have any money - it's the economy" 

This one is outright lies. people who close down and blame the economy don't know how to run a business. Sounds harsh but study after study has shown that 'poor management' is the highest cause of business collapse, not economic downturn. Do you think Mr. Gucci says 'oh people are poor now, I better stop making my 5 figure handbags'. No he doesn't. It's not that other people have no money- people have plenty of money; you just have to charm it out of them. YOU make your market from something as simple as your prices. Jewlery is a stuffed full category on Etsy- there are successful jewelery shops there selling on a price point from $3.50 to $3500. There are also people all over the forums, in the street, in your local hairdressers, telling all and sundry that 'no one's going to pay that'. Don't listen to them. Mr.Gucci doesn't!

4. "I don't need to charge retail because I don't have a shop to pay rent and utilities on" 

Yes you do! I'll explain all this later in pricing formulas, but if you sell one thing at a time to regular people, then you have shopkeeper expenses, whether that's a craft stall table, Etsy shop or rented cabinet in an antique mall. Retail prices not only keep you on the same level of perceived value as other artisans (again, I'll explain that later) but they will be your life raft when wholesale comes knocking. And don't say you'll never do wholesale.

5. "I'm afraid to raise my prices in case my current customers get mad and leave." 

We all love our customers, they are our life blood. Many of us have repeat buyers and we love them. But let me tell you something my child, if someone loves your work that much, they will find a way to own it. And if it's not the customers you have now, it will be new customers. Over the years my prices have gone up and up as I gained confidence, and I have always had repeat buyers. If someone chooses to get mad at you for charging what you deserve to be charged, they are not the kind of person you need to sell to.

I'll talk about this later when I look at other stuff like finding out who your customer is- knowing that is the heart and soul of any business and will determine more than anything how much you can charge for your work.

6. "I just don't want to- I like my prices where they are."

What's that supposed to mean? I'll tell you what it means - it means you're finished talking about it. You've run out of excuses and you would prefer if everyone just shut up. This is because we have reached the worm in the bud. We have run out of reason, of excuses- and we are left with the fear.

Fear is the mother of all excuses and in this case it hides the biggest and the worst one of all. We very rarely use it, because we are ashamed of it, and yet there it lurks, right up the back of our mind, under the stairs of hope, in a box marked 'ignore this'. It's more than an excuse, it's a reason, and the reason for all those other excuses.

'I'm not worth it'.

It's true. Just sit there a moment and let that sink in. That's your biggest and most powerful excuse as to why you don't charge enough for your work. You think you suck and what you make is just a bit of crafty junk. Just accept it. No arguments- please; if you did think you were the shit, you wouldn't need me to tell you your shit is too cheap, would you?

bill+murray+you+suck.jpg (JPEG Image, 319x400 pixels)

The truth is you don't think what you make could possibly have that much value. Deep down inside yourself there's a mean person pointing at you and yelling 'how dare you think what you do is any good!? You made that necklace while watching re-runs of Oprah, you didn't even get dressed that day, it cost you $2.50 in materials! $10 is what Target asks for their stuff and it's more than you deserve!!!' That voice in our head is pretty persistent. And you think if you raise your prices other people will start thinking this too. Or worse, saying it. To your face. IN PUBLIC OMG THE SHAME

It's okay- everyone thinks they suck, it's part of being human and essential to being an artist. It is traditional for anyone who produces creative work to think their stuff is all worthy of the bin. I'm still getting through it- people send me letters all the time telling me how great my stuff is, but 90% of the time I stare at it and think 'where exactly is this genius you speak of?'

So suck it up sucker, because you're about to learn how to act like you don't suck. We're gunna fake it till ya make it. If I could just add one thing though- you don't suck. You are an amazingly talented person who makes great work, and you deserve to be paid for it. Let's say that again - You are an amazingly talented person who makes great work, and you deserve to be paid for it.

Here ends Part One! (aw you just got cozy.) I want to hear lots of comments especially if you're unclear about something or you have a question - or an excuse you don't see listed! I'll read every single comment but I'll answer them in the next post which will be in a couple of days.
Saddle up!

image sources: weight baby; shopping mall ; Bill Murray pics - every website everywhere.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Business Cat time - a quick survey on handmade pricing

 Business Cat

I spend a great deal of time in the Etsy forums (when I'm not being banned) helping people out and often point the way to the Etsy Seller Handbook because there really is so much in there. While perusing it I came across a video entitled, 'the art of pricing for profit'. Since I'm trying to make a full-time income from Etsy, I watched it with interest, but not thinking I was going to get a lot out of it. (I needed something to entertain me through lunch.)

In fact I did get an enormous amount out of it! So much so I'm going to be doing a blog post on it soon, when I get it wrangled. It's in rough drafts at the moment but it's my hope that it will encourage all of you to be able to make sense of your own pricing. So with that in mind, here are a few questions for you. You can answer them in the comments to this post- anonymous posting is activated so you can do that if you're shy about it. If you prefer you can email me at sparrowsalvage at gmail dot com and I will (anonymously) use the answers to help me write a better post. 

Many people consider it rude to talk about income, money, pricing of art/craft work etc, but I've never really understood why. We're all just regular people trying to learn from one another, I don't see where being secretive about these things helps. Sharing helps. So if I could pry...

1. Do you make enough now for your handmade to be your sole income?

2. Do you (want to) make a full income from your handmade or is it supplement?

3. Do you HONESTLY feel your handmade is priced for what it's worth? Why/not?

4. Do you think you under-price yourself? Why?

5. (for high price point sellers) Was there ever a time when you were afraid to charge big? How did you get around/over that?

6. Have you ever noticed a correlation in sales vs prices? (ie sales went up/down when prices did)

Thanks chaps!

(this post has been updated on 30/09/2015 - some portions have been edited for brevity.)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Raw Nerves

Finally after all these years of pushing buttons, I was banned from the Etsy forums today. They sent an email saying I was banned because of this comment:

>>>Your shop and website are amazing- MASSIVE amount of stuff, it must be overwhelming to make all these by yourself. There's no mention of other team members in your profile. Etsy requires collectives (ie shops who need more than one person to make what they make) be stated clearly so I assume you work alone. Your studio must be huge!

Most people would look at your stuff and assume it's not handmade, but then if it wasn't you wouldn't be here!<<<

Which was on a thread started by this woman. Look at the shirts she has in her feedback, now look at the shirts available! She was illegally selling Tshirts from The Mountain. She's even changed her shop name- she was pretending to be them and pretending the shirts were handmade by her. The owner of The Mountain even stopped by on the thread to let us know!

Anyway, apparently Etsy have a rule where you can't tell people if they're doing something that breaks Etsy rules. (Instead of helpfully telling people where they're going wrong, you're supposed to REPORT THEIR SHOP and let Etsy deal with it. No wonder their 'integrity team' are constantly overwhelmed with shops to investigate.) Even though that thread was 4 or 5 days ago and they just muted me today.

Because it's not the real reason!

The real reason they're banning me because I've been vocal and supportive of the protests around their sudden decision THAT RAW CRYSTALS ARE NOT LEGITIMATE SUPPLY and they're going to start requesting people take them down. Seriously. The only stones allowed now have to either be in some way visibly changed by the seller (wrapped, set in bezel, polished, etc), they have to have a flat back so they're considered a cabochon, or they must be drilled so they become a bead.

Here's the link to the thread in which Etsy lays down the word (see first Admin response, Sarah). As you can see this is not the most popular decision they'd made, the whole thread has been hijacked by outrage.

Good to see Etsy spending some time making their site legit huh? God forbid they should spend time getting rid of the shops who are doing the real damage, like all the fucking Chinese resellers. Not that they'd get rid of them, after all, they make Etsy so much money!

This place is fucked. One seller who supplies raw stones he mines himself has started sticking little paper mustaches to his stones, so they qualify as handmade. Meanwhile, people dip something in neon paint and it's handmade. A room of 500 Indian girls on sewing machines can be called a collective if the boss puts all their names on his profile. You can sell paper straws as supplies, and re-package stickers as handmade if you make your wrapping super-cute enough. (That shop has been a featured seller on Etsy before, by the way.)

Etsy has become a wasteland of loopholes, get-arounds and unbridled resellers. It makes a mockery of the notion of handmade and let's you call something made in 1993 'vintage'. UGH.