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The Great Mates Rates Debate

Let me set the scene.

cha-chingI’m at work (because I still have a day job *sigh*), and I hear the cha-ching of an Etsy sale coming from my phone. I am still quite new to the Etsy game so each cha-ching still fills me with schoolgirl excitement. I do a little happy dance in my chair and my colleague leans over and asks, “What are you so happy about?” A conversation ensues where I tell her about my online business and all the things I make, I show her a few pictures and she ooohs and ahhhs in all the right places.

But then she says the words I always dread after a conversation like this, “Oh, well you can make me a father’s day card then.”

Now, I know you’re probably thinking, Hey cool, you made yourself sale – you go girl! But here’s where the water gets a little muddy: What she actually meant was, “Oh, well you can make me a father’s day card for free then… obviously I won’t be paying you; I know you!” And I know that this was the true meaning of her statement because, sensing my discomfort, she went on to suggest that if I made her the card, she would do me a favour in return.

Hobbycraft accept cash, all major credit and debit cards, and gift cards.

Not favours.

Let me tell you a (1)

The whole conversation left me feeling a little grimy and disappointed, because people are only so bold when it comes to home businesses. If I ran a shop (dream big people!) she wouldn’t walk in and say to my employee, “Hey, I know the owner so I’m just going to take these.” or “Don’t worry I know the owner, so I’m going to take this and then next week I’ll babysit her kids for an hour.”

And this is someone I work with, not even someone I deem to be a friend. As for my actual friends, they are easily divided into two categories; the ones who are just like my colleague and expect something for nothing (good old mates rates!) and the ones who are not.

ARIYANAH  cardTake my best friend for example: She asked me to make her two cards. I was going to do them for nothing, because she is my oldest, truest friend and is more like family than a lot of my actual relatives. But do you know what she said to me? “Charge me properly, please. No mates rates. I want to pay you what you deserve.”

At first I felt a little odd sending her an invoice but not only did she pay, she actually gave me extra as a tip. When I thanked her, she said, “This is how it should be; you’re running a business and don’t expect any special treatment. Period.”

2016-04-24-18-01-39 (1)I have another good friend, who offered to pay me for a couple of cards I made for her, but I refused. She has since ordered two more, but has insisted on being charged the full amount for both this time.

She admitted that she didn’t feel at all comfortable with me making the first two for free, as she knows a lot of time and money went into them.

These are true friends in my eyes. These are the people who understand me, what I do, why I do it and what I’m trying to achieve.

Now this is very paradoxical because a huge part of me wants to give those friends a discount (at the very least!) precisely because they are willing to pay the full amount. I want to reward them for their friendship, but they won’t let me! And you know what? Rightly so.

As unnatural as that feels to someone like me (I can be magnanimous to a fault at times!) I am starting to believe that is exactly how it should be. Otherwise, you will be using up valuable time and resources making freebies for your friends, when perhaps, from a business perspective, those resources and that time would be better spent on paying customers.

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Potentially, when you’re starting up, a lot of your sales will be to people you know, as they’re the easiest people to reach and they will want to help you on your way. But if they truly want to help, then these transactions should indeed be SALES, and not freebies. And they should pay what your products/services are worth. Their investment in you is not only a great advert but also a great confidence booster; it shows you that they believe in you, and it will persuade others to believe in you too.

When I make it big and I have a chain of stores (a girl’s gotta have a dream!), I will absolutely have a friends and family discount, but while I’m in my start-up phase, perhaps mates rates is something that is best left on the shelf.

And I think true friends will not only understand that, but encourage it.

What do you think?

niobe

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The World’s Most Expensive Card

Materials + Labour + Expenses + Profit = Wholesale x 2 = Retail

The above seller’s formula is what most craft business owners are told to use when working out how to price their items.  It’s what is fair.  I mean, let’s face it, as much as we crafters, artists and other creatives do what we do because we love it, if we’ve taken the leap into selling our makes, it’s because we want to see a return for the time, money and passion we’ve invested.

And rightly so.

But, see, there is a fundamental flaw in using the above formula that most, if not all, crafters also have to take into consideration; what consumers will actually pay.  Most of the time the two figures don’t even come close to each other.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a popular item and work it through: The featured image on this post (see above) is a bespoke card I made for a customer whose friend’s last name is Fox. She saw and fell in love with my button fox wall art (see below) and asked if it could be turned into a card. My answer was, and is always, “of course.” Because I love a challenge and I am a people-pleaser to the core.

IMG_0591

My framed button fox took me about an hour to make. Let’s say I pay myself the current UK national minimum wage – because this is work – that would be £7.20 for the labour. The materials cost around £5.00, expenses would be around £2.00 and I always try and give myself a profit of around £5.00 on each piece of wall art. That gives me a total wholsesale price of £19.20 and a retail price of £38.40.  Would people pay that? I’m still undecided – and at wholesale price, Finn the Fox is still unsold!** – but for a piece of wall art, it’s a possibility.

Now, let’s take the formula apply it to my fox card. As a reference point, the fox is the exact same size in the wall art as it is on the card.

So, again, it took about an hour, perhaps a shade under this time, so I’ll set it as £6.30. Materials varied slightly (no frame, different paper) so they came in at £2.20, expenses stayed at £2.00 and it’s a card, so I usually allow a profit of just £0.50.  That gives me a total of £11.00 wholesale and £22.00 retail.

Take a second to digest that.

£22.00 for a greeting card.

£22.00.

£22.00?!?!?!?!

OK, so clearly that’s never. going. to. happen. So here’s what I did:  I took away my labour costs and sold the card at wholesale price, which brought it down to a much more respectable £4.70.

Can I just say here that this handmade hustle is HARD.  Because I can guarantee you that there are hundreds of card makers (and other crafters) out there completely and consistently underselling their work. The main bulk of my business is cards, but there really is no profit in them. When I make and sell a card, I do so purely for the enjoyment, and I’m OK with that. I’ve made peace with that.

What I really want you to take away from this though, whether you’re a creative or not, is that the next time you see something that’s handmade and think HOW MUCH?!?!?! please first consider this formula, consider the maker and consider the time and care they’ve put into creating it. But most importantly consider this:

They are probably STILL selling themselves massively short.

** Somebody very lovely has since bought Finn.  I hope he’s enjoying his new home – I certainly miss him!

niobe

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Wonky Stitches

Life of an artist

I don’t purport to be a true artist.  There are many more talented people out there who deserve that title.  But I use the term “art” to mean anything which is made by a creatively inclined individual.  So whether you are a knitter, as sewist, a cartoonist, a painter or a cardmaker, you are an artist for the purposes of this post.

And as an artist, let’s see if you recognise this scenario: You have an idea for a piece of art.  You plan the piece of art. You make the piece of art. You hate the piece of art.  Sound familiar?  You are not alone.  I truly believe that this is something we all do at some point.  In fact you may find yourself at a point where this happens again and again.  You start to doubt your work, doubt yourself.  You feel like you aren’t good enough. You wonder whether it’s time to throw in the towel (the knitting needles, the paintbrush….)

Your own worst critic

Artists are their own worst critics.  I have a friend who is a cake maker.  Her cakes are stunning (and they taste amazing – a winning yet not always achievable combination).  A couple of months ago I asked her to make a cake for my daughter’s fifth birthday so she asked my daughter what type of cake she wanted.  My daughter requested a pink cake in the shape of a 5.  The day before her birthday my friend turned up at my house and practically threw the cake at me, wailing “Take the bloody thing, I never want to see it again, you’re lucky I didn’t throw it against the wall!!”

After the outburst I looked at the cake (as a non cake maker) and asked what was wrong with it.  Because I thought, as usual, that it was stunning.  She went on to explain that the icing wouldn’t roll properly, the ribbon wasn’t long enough, she couldn’t get the gems she wanted, and about half a dozen more things that made it, and I quote, “the worst cake” she’s ever made.  While I tried to make light of it and reassure her that it looked incredible and that my daughter would love it (it did, and she did) part of me, as a fellow artist, completely understood where she was coming from.

You are good enough

Sometimes we can get so caught up in the details, in the perfection of our craft, that we fail to stand back and take a look at the bigger picture, which is, quite simply; we are good enough. Our art is good enough.  I can tell you right now; that piece you made but tossed aside and refused to put in your online shop because of that thing that went wrong? It’s good enough.  And that other piece that you made, and then hated because it didn’t turn out quite right? It’s good enough. You are good enough.

One man’s seconds is another man’s masterpiece

How do I know this without seeing your work?  Because art is about the labour of love. It is as much about the concept, the creative process, the passion of the artist, as it is about the finished piece.  I personally love to see a wonky stitch, a smudged pencil line, a piece of ribbon that is a fraction too short, because it reminds me that is has been handmade, that it was a labour of love, that the artist has given me a piece of themselves.  It reminds me that it was made by a human being, not mass-produced in some factory, and that we are all vulnerable and fallible.

And that, fellow artists, is a beautiful thing.

See it through their eyes

And so, the next time you feel disgusted, frustrated, distraught because of a piece of your own art, don’t discard it yet! First, do what I am *trying* to do myself: Look at it through someone else’s eyes. If you have someone whose opinion your trust (which I know as an artist is difficult), then ask them what they think. Stand back yourself and look at it as if you were not a knitter/illustrator/cardmaker. Ask yourself, would a layperson notice that stitch? That smudge? That wonky ribbon?  Would they care even if they did? Is that flaw the only reason you are not happy with your work?  How about the 99 other stitches that are perfect?  Can it be fixed? Altered?

Does it even need to be?

If at the end of all of that you still don’t even want to look at it, then fair enough.  But instead of throwing it away, can it be used for a giveaway? Sold for seconds? Give as a present? Used for scraps???  Even if the only thing you can take away from that particular piece is a lesson learned, then it still has great worth.

And, hey, if you do still decide to chuck it, I’ll happily take it off your hands! 😉

Here are some of the pieces I have made and then hated… Feel free to share links to some of yours in the comments.

 

niobe