The Internal Struggle Of Putting A Dollar Amount On My Work

I anticipated many challenges when I launched my design business, Life Remembered, beyond just the work. Promotion and social media? Need to figure that out. Work/life balance? Tricky. Taxes? Yikes.

But there is one enormous hurdle that never really registered until I got smacked in the face with it — putting a price on my work. I used my favored form of procrastination — research — and concocted a massive spreadsheet of competitive data, complete with pivot tables and conditional formatting. I could tell you the average cost of a custom made wedding album on Etsy down to the penny. . .and yet the price field on my first item listing stayed blank.

Why is it so difficult to value myself, and publicly ask that others do the same? There is something that feels so incredibly bold in declaring, “Yes! My time and effort is worth money.” In the same ten minutes, I would pick a price, delete it because it was too high, retype it, and delete it because it was too low. Where does this internal struggle come from?

If you research tips and guidelines on pricing handmade products (hello, procrastination), you’ll find article after article about how the most common mistake is undervaluing your work. "Since I am able to make this, it can’t be worth that much," our subconscious insists. "I would never pay someone that much just for this. I’d better scale the price back a bit."

That’s not how our economy works, of course. People purchase goods and services for many reasons. I have invested in the high-end tools, training, and experience to create my albums and montages, and I know that I produce high-quality work. I am willing to sit down and cull the highlights from thousands of family photos, getting them off people’s hard drives and onto their coffee tables. I design slideshows telling love stories that bring together hundreds of wedding guests. I create custom books that help children learn about letters and colors, using photos of people and toys in their own lives. These are things many people are willing to pay for.

But those logical arguments are easy to ignore when it comes time to name a price and stand behind it (sometimes literally, in the case of craft fairs). Once, I even counter-offered a client a lower price than the one he was already offering to pay — I just couldn’t swallow asking for that much money. That’s just messed up.

I suspect there is a very gendered element to all of this. There are scores of studies about how women are at a disadvantage when negotiating salary, both in the way we have been socialized to undervalue ourselves and in the way society itself values male workers more than female. That’s a lot of culture to overcome before pressing “Submit” on a pricing screen.

I have long been terrible at salary negotiations, and was always glad to have it behind me when I started a new job. I never quite realized that selling my own work would require constant financial negotiation at every turn. It’s exhausting! But it is also good practice. Now, a year later, it is a bit easier to feel confident in my pricing. If a potential customer complains about cost, they simply weren’t the right customer for me.

The best motivator has actually been my daughter. Every moment I spend on my business is a moment I am not spending with her. Regardless of how I may value my work on any given day, I know I am a great mom and my absence needs to be compensated. My time and effort is worth money (repeat as needed).

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