Now more than ever, people are breaking out of the traditional employment mold. Thanks to the internet, a small niche business that would have died on the vine fifteen years ago can now thrive with low overhead and easy access to a worldwide customer base. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns for everyone, but for many, it’s a great way to make a living while re-defining your role as a world citizen.
I exchange emails with woodworkers everyday who are taking the plunge. The story is very often the same. You start making items for your own home as a hobby. Friends and neighbors find out that you’re a woodworker so they begin to inquire about your services. Because you’re a nice person, you charge them for materials only. Word gets around and you begin receiving requests from acquaintances who hear that you not only do good work, but you’re cheap too! This is where the problems begin. Even if you aren’t interested in becoming a full-time woodworker, you will likely start to wonder if you’re valuing your time appropriately. Is it fair to charge someone a reasonable fee when you truly LOVE what you do? Should you fight that sense of GUILT you feel at charging someone money while you fart around in the shop?
If you’re planning on changing careers and doing this woodworking thing for a living, you better answer with a resounding, “YES! It IS fair to charge a reasonable fee!” If you are taking on jobs as a side-business simply to keep your hobby going, your choice might be a little more difficult. Though I’m sure many professional woodworkers would really appreciate you charging appropriately for your work.
At the heart of this issue is the question of value. How valuable is your time? How valuable is the material you use? How valuable is your creativity? How valuable is the final product you produce? Does the customer see the same value in that product or do they value it more or less than you do? These are all interesting questions to ponder when deciding how much to charge for something. But if you are starting this process by undervaluing yourself and what you bring to the equation in terms of skill and creativity, then you’re going to have a significant uphill battle. If you don’t value your own time and skills, how can you possibly expect your customer to?! Undervaluing your work is a great way to become the busiest woodworker that ever went out of business.
I bring this up today because of a video I recently watched from a friend of mine, Bill Doran. Bill is a prop-maker and owner of Punished Props. He makes custom props for use in cosplay, TV, and movies. Much like a woodworker, Bill receives commissions and has to price his work accordingly. He has to come up with the plan, source the materials, and build the item within a reasonable amount of time and he faces all of the same challenges woodworkers face. He recently made the video below explaining why he has to charge a hefty sum for his commissioned work. While he is focused on prop-making, the message applies to woodworkers.
As you can see, independent woodworkers aren’t the only ones struggling with this issue of valuing one’s time. In fact, here are three other articles I highly recommend you read:
This is a huge topic that deserves much more time than we can give it in a single blog post. After all, even after you convince yourself that you’re worth it, you still have to convince your customers. That’s always fun. But I’d love to hear some of your pricing stories, concerns, anecdotes. Do you struggle with pricing? Do you find that most of your clients are willing to pay your asking price? I’d also love to hear from folks who are currently undervaluing their work. Tell us why this works for you.