DONT. MAKE. THIS. MISTAKE.
Seriously. It’s probably damaging you and your business, but also the industry as a whole.
If you’re new to making money from your calligraphy or lettering work, you miiiiiiight unintentionally be screwing yourself over, and screwing over the industry you’re trying to break into by not charging properly.
It’s really really hard as a beginner to know…
Are you supposed to charge what people with more way experience are charging, even though you’re brand new?
Or do you go lower (on purpose) to account for your experience level?
And if you go lower, how low should you go without bringing down the value of the industry as a whole?! (or undercutting people)
How do you know how high or how low to go when you’re brand new and don’t know where you fit in the industry?
It’s confusing, (I know. I know that. It’s not really something you’re even supposed to know right off the bat) and not many people talk about it. So let’s break it down.
For starters, let’s talk about how to position yourself as a beginner and how to make sure you’re pricing properly.
Prefer to watch? Click below and listen to my tips on pricing your work as a beginner.
What pricing as a beginner comes down to is positioning.
It can be really tempting when you’re first starting out to price yourself low compared to your competition (or “undercut”) for a few reasons– you may be nervous that you won’t sell anything or get hired, you may feel like you’re not talented or experienced enough to charge higher rates, or whatever the case may be for you (that makes you feel uncomfortable).
You might also hear this low-pricing strategy referred to as “undercutting”. Undercutting essentially means to purposely price your products or services lower than your competition. In most cases, undercutting is simply a way to get more business: lower prices = more sales. Think about a grocery store pricing their milk $0.30 cheaper than their competitor. That’s undercutting.
But it’s a little more complicated in the case of creative businesses, and especially in art businesses, it can be waaaaay more damaging.
Specifically with beginners, it’s often unintentional– many beginners are simply not confident enough in their skills to command higher prices yet, or they feel unethical charging the same amount as someone who has been doing this for longer.
Those concerns for beginners are totally valid– realistically you shouldn’t feel comfortable charging the same amount as someone who’s been doing this type of work for 20 years. But there’s a fine line between charging lowER (so you’re not super close to the person who’s been doing it for 20 years), and charging TOO low (which is when we start to get concerned).
And contrary to what you might think, having a low-priced product or service can often actually make it HARDER for you.
Here’s an example to illustrate that point.
Let’s say you’re getting married, and you’re comparing five different calligraphers to work with for your wedding place cards. You need 200 place cards done, and you’ve found 5 calligraphers in your area to get quotes/prices from.
CALLIGRAPHER A: $2,000
CALLIGRAPHER B: $400
CALLIGRAPHER C: $350
CALLIGRAPHER D: $250
CALLIGRAPHER E: $70
Looking at this list, you automatically make some assumptions, right?
You look at calligrapher A, and think “clearly they are in the business of working with luxury clients with big budgets… they must be getting hired by celebrities”. That one’s not a fit for you because you’re not planning a luxury wedding– you just want your average nice wedding. Then you look at calligraphers B, C and D, who are all within a similar ballpark, between $400 and $250. Seeing three of them all within a similar range helps you, as a client, understand that this price range is probably fairly average and fair, right? So what happens when you see calligrapher E who’s charging waaaay lower than everyone else? You naturally assume that this calligrapher’s services will not be as good… that perhaps they aren’t as experienced and might make more mistakes, or their work won’t be as pretty, or they won’t be using as high quality materials. Make assumptions that because it’s so much cheaper, they must not be what you’re looking for.
Now of course, this is a super simplified example, but I would hazard a guess that the AVERAGE bride planning her wedding would choose someone in that middle range who they know is pretty average rather than the highest or the lowest in that range. They would go for one of the ones in the middle to play it safe.
So let’s say you are calligrapher E in this scenario… you priced yourself low because you’re new and nervous to ask for higher rates. You are ready to work your BUTT off to make a name for yourself and you know your client would be very happy with your services. You need the experience, so you priced yourself low to get clients. But that client sees your low prices and now you’ve unintentionally priced yourself out of the competition altogether by going TOO low because that client assumes you’re not any good. This is when pricing too low can really hurt you.
There are two important caveats here, though.
1. The first one is that we haven’t taken into account style.
In these examples, we are assuming that the client is basing their decision solely on price. In reality (and especially in artwork), the client would be weighing the price of your work against how much they like/want your style for their project. If they absolutely love your style and other calligraphers can’t compare, they may be willing to pay your higher prices. This is why it’s so important to develop your own style and stand out for it.
In an ideal world, calligraphers A-E would all charge in the same ballpark (the industry standard), forcing the client to choose their artist solely based on style preferences rather than price. Maybe someday we’ll get to that point where we all charge the same amount if we all continue to talk about pricing for artists and understand our worth.
2. The second is…. bargain hunters.
Pricing yourself really low will certainly get you some jobs, because there will always be people looking for the cheapest option possible.
The important thing to understand here, is that by being the cheapest possible option, you will inevitably attract the bargain hunters who aren’t great clients. They’re almost certainly choosing you solely based on the fact that you’re the cheapest rather than based on your talent or style, as mentioned above. That’s not usually the type of client you want to attract.
Not only are bargain hunters notoriously more challenging to work with, “nickel and diming” everything as you go (honestly, ask any artist who their neediest client has been, and it’s likely the one who also paid the least), but it’s also unlikely that this will be the type of project that makes you excited, or that makes for excellent content for your portfolio.
Of course this isn’t always the case– but in general, you want to avoid being the go-to for bargain hunters. For your sanity. And in order to grow your business in the future.
So you can’t charge too high as a beginner, but you also can’t charge too low. Sooo…. What the heck should you do instead?!
What you should do is research. Research so that you are pricing yourself in line with industry averages and standards.
Do your research on what the industry average is, and aim to be within that range. You can be on the low end of that range if it makes you feel more comfortable at first, but don’t go TOO low. Don’t go so low that you’re pricing yourself out of the game.
And then most importantly, remember that if you’re commanding an industry average for your product or service, you need to be able to DELIVER on your promise.
If you don’t feel like you can deliver an output in line with industry standards, it may not be time for you to be turning this into a business just yet. Perhaps you just need more practice! Friends, family and charities are perfect for practicing on pro-bono to gain experience and confidence.
And that’s a wrap!
So hopefully this helps you understand where to aim when you’re starting out as a beginner.
Again, if you’re looking for more pricing help specifically for calligraphers and letterers, you should grab the free “5 Keys To Confident Pricing” webinar.
It may or may not also have a giant coupon code for our full Panic-Free Pricing course for calligraphers and letterers… Just sayin’.
Not so fast! I have a dad joke for you…
How much do chimneys cost?
Nothing, they’re on the house.