Price Is Not The Same As Value

Last month, we announced Up Up Creative’s crazy, inspiring name-your-price experiment on paper goods for the month of September. If you didn’t watch the video Julie put together about the project, you should go do that now. It’s inspiring and thought provoking. In the many comments on that post, you asked her to report back on what happened during the project, and what she learned. The result is today’s post. It’s more philosophical than factual, and it contains a ton of business lessons and career lessons. It spoke to me about how sometimes flying in the face of what’s expected can really piss people off, but how it’s usually worth it. Plus, it’s accompanied by pictures from Julie’s business sketchbook (I know, rad).

There’s sort of a business adage (adage? rule of thumb? bit of advice? moral? truism?) that says you should price for the customer you want. If you want a high-end customer, you need a high-end price. If you want a bargain shopper, you need a bargain price.

I actually just gave this advice to two separate individuals in the last 48 hours.

At some point early on in this experiment, it occurred to me that at least in part, my goal for this experiment was to do this the other way around: find the customer I wanted and then let that customer set the price. And who was that customer? She was the kind of person who believes in the power of her voice and her dollar; the sort of person who would think carefully before naming a price. She was thoughtful, maybe a little bit rebellious.

I agonized over my so-called pitch. I worked so hard on the video, on the FAQs. I was selective in which blogs I contacted. I wanted to make this an experiment about ideas more than it was an experiment about how many customers I could bring through the door. I wanted to focus on finding the right name-your-price customers.

After all, it’s just me here. Me and an ex-intern (back to school in September) and a very pregnant sister and a husband neck-deep in prosecuting bad guys. And two young kids in just-part-time daycare. So it’s not like I wanted an onslaught. But I did want participation. I told Meg that my biggest fear was that no one would participate.

And thankfully, people did. In the end there were 33 orders.

The money stuff you can read about here. It was better than I feared, about as I expected, and as awesome as I’d hoped. In the end it even put some money in the coffers, but at the expense of a lot of my time. Put another way, it covered my raw materials but I was paid only part of my hourly rate for all the work.

And ohdeargod was it emotional. I cried. I did Meg Ryan-inspired full-body high-fives. I soared, I despaired. One night I considered taking the whole thing down after a customer admitted she was feeling tortured by having to name a price for my value. I suddenly felt so mean.

So yeah, it’s not sustainable in its current state. It requires too many hours for too few dollars. It made people happy, but it also made them uncomfortable, and not always in that good-you’re-growing way. Plus it’s fair to say, I think, that it pissed off its fair share of people in the stationery industry (although I have to say that appeals to the Mary Mary (Quite Contrary) in me just a bit).

But I’m glad to have done it, and I’d do it all over again. I’m happy to put in this experiment’s worth of extra hours because the experiment taught me that price actually isn’t a main factor in my own vision of my business or in my now crystal-clear vision of my ideal customer. Price. Materials. Those things are incidental. They are complicating factors at best, points of contention at worst.

They’re easily changed. Adjusted. Reevaluated. Scalable.

What’s valuable about my business is me.

My ideal customer is someone who gets that. She wants a connection with me on a personal level. She wants my expertise, applied to her particular situation. She wants to work with me. She shares my belief that the creative process is capable of producing tremendous highs, and that connecting over the creative process can create real relationships.

Pricing isn’t a part of that. My ideal customer may have $70 to spend on the whole shebang or she may have $70 to spend on each invitation.

I now see it as my job to be creative about making it possible for me to work with each of these people in a way that creates a connection and still pays me adequately for my time and expertise. I’m not going to back down on my hourly rate. I’m not going to double my workload in order to make ends meet. But it’s completely possible to figure out ways to work with all manners of budgets so long as the customer’s aching to work with me.

It sounds kind of self-centered. In fact that’s one of the charges hurled against me this month. But it feels good. My gut says yes to what happened this month. My gut says that even though it sounds self-centered, it’s really very much something I’ve learned from the things my customers have told me. They liked working with me. They like my point of view. No one ever raves to me after the fact about the paper. Or the price. They write to say how easy it was, or how perfect the wording I helped with, or how my design set the tone for their entire (relaxed, fun, personal) event.

(But then, y’all get that, right? It’s the same way that this-here APW blog is what it is because of Meg’s own (Mary Mary, Quite Contrary?) attitude and approach to weddings. While team practical has grown bigger than Meg herself, what she’s done here is create a world in which her take on things is the sane and rational take on things. People read this blog because they want to believe what she believes about weddings, and marriages, and wife-hood.)

I want to thank all you Practical readers most sincerely for letting me do this experiment and for helping me get this conversation going. Believe it or not, the conversation was wide-reaching. I’ve been fascinated to see all the places people have written about it. Even though many of the individual voices seemed quite sure of their opinions of the whole thing, I found that my own opinion vacillated wildly. On the one hand, I believe in most of the things people leveled against me as charges. I believe in a fair wage for artists. I believe that if we underprice then we’re not helping ourselves or our peers. I believe in profit. I believe that I should be able to take home as much money as any teacher or lawyer or store manager.

But I also believe in creative business, emphasis on creative. I don’t believe that we have to do it the way our peers do it just because that’s the way they’re doing it. I believe in taking risks and making friends. I believe in rebelling even when you don’t think you can topple the opposition. I believe in resistance and I believe in voices. I believe in optimism and I think that perfect plans are never as productive of meaning as are imperfect ones.

I believe in the conversation.

I believe in the relationships.

I believe in agreement and disagreement.

I believe in vision and in revision.

I believe that good things have already come of this experiment, and that good things are still to come.

Images: From Julie’s business sketchbook (yes, she has one)

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  • Jo

    So, Julie, awesome creative business owner who is inspiring all of us by the moment, since people had to name prices with kind of no idea of what they were doing… is there a way to allow them to now actually offer to pay you more, now that they know where their requests fit in with your costs?? Because if it were me (and it isn’t, because I didn’t place an order) I would read this and want to then be sure I covered way more than your basic costs. I would read this and want to pay more, just for all the work you’ve put into explaining your business model to everyone. In fact, can we just add a little direct paypal button for Julie somewhere, too??

  • Anna

    so so truly inspired

    thank you julie

  • Sara

    Incredibly inspiring. and thought provoking. I applaud your commitment to your core values — and I agree, it’s really hard to know all the costs that go into a finished product – whether it’s a teacher, lawyer, or artist. Thank you for challenging us to think and for pushing yourself, us, and the industry harder than we would have pushed ourselves :-).

    Thank you.

  • Julie–
    I really admire your courage in taking on this experiment. When I began consulting almost two years ago, I was confronted with this notion of value and setting a “daily rate”, and I found it to be incredibly difficult and painful even.

    There were the hard facts of what it takes to run my household. There were industry averages (highly malleable). And then there was my low self-esteem and my lack of belief in my value. In any case, what happened, was that I set my prices “too low” then as my confidence grew and I saw that I added tangible value, I felt better and better about upping my rate–but always within relative boundaries (without which I would have been lost and in complete despair). Work is work, and time is time, and a living wage is just that–even when it is a labor of love. And the unfairness of the world just seems to come out so strongly when it comes to setting a price on effort and the relative scarcity of a certain skill set.

    I truly believe that this discussion about our value is a very “female” discussion. You just don’t hear men agonizing about negotiating for more money.

    Thank you Julie, for making me think, HARD about my value. And thank you Meg for carving out space–this space–to do that.

    • I truly believe that this discussion about our value is a very “female” discussion. You just don’t hear men agonizing about negotiating for more money.

      I agree, and I often wonder if male small business owners are subjected to the same kind of emotional manipulation – or, how would I put it… negotiation of value? – as female small business owners.

    • “You just don’t hear men agonizing about negotiating for more money.”

      YES! I work with my husband (we’re both lawyers) and last year when we ran the numbers, I was earning about 25% less despite having taken many more clients. Why? Because I was undervaluing my service and would regularly let clients negotiate my prices down. I made it my personal goal this year to figure out an hourly rate that I can live with and sticking by it. I practiced saying “I’m sorry, but I feel my price is very fair for the service I provide.”

      I also put the following message on a sticky and put it on my desk. “I’d rather not work and not get paid than work and get paid too little.”

      • Rowany

        I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. EVERYONE (woman and man) should read the book “Women don’t ask.” Because they don’t.

        • Yet studies are also showing that when women *do* ask, we are perceived very differently (even by other women) and given less respect. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t kinda thing.

          It’s refreshing and encouraging to read how others (women specifically) are going about asking for what they deserve without the bullsh*t.

          {{Meanwhile, I’m putting that book on my reading list!}}

          • The book talks about that too!

  • Julie,

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and lessons and process in such a thoughtful and articulate way. I love that you trusted your gut, took a chance, opened yourself and your vulnerabilities to the world and came back to tell us how it went. Brave, brave woman!

    As a small business owner who has struggled with the idea of price and value and worth, it’s refreshing and validating to see others working through the same. Thank you!!

    I love this community more every day and I’m not really sure how that’s even possible!

  • “What’s valuable about my business is me.”
    This is something I come back to over and over again as a freelancer, and something that I have to remind myself often when I get frustrated. I have learned not to take jobs with people who don’t understand that (or not to take them again with people I have learned don’t value my input).
    There is a huge difference between people who hire me because they want my experience and creativity and artistic input, and people who hire me because they have a big project that needs to get done and they don’t feel like doing it themselves. I’m learning what you seem to be, that the amount someone can pay does not correlate with the way I am going to be treated, and while I need the people who can pay a larger amount, I will work with people on more limited budgets if I know I am going to be treated well and appreciated.

    • Last night I happened to be reading a book geared to marketing fine art photography that said effective marketing in this area is more about the artist (the artist as the selling point- who the artist is, their approach to life and art, their passion for their art, etc.) than the individual works of art, and I was thinking that this idea also has applications in my field, theatre, and starting thinking through what that mean mean for me and future career choices and direction. And Julie’s post today about wanting clients who want to work with *her*, and then your comment about saying “no” when you suspect or learn that maybe a person doesn’t value what you can contribute, helps solidify those ideas. Thanks!

      And this rings especially true:
      “There is a huge difference between people who hire me because they want my experience and creativity and artistic input, and people who hire me because they have a big project that needs to get done and they don’t feel like doing it themselves.”


  • I totally love this post!

    “She wants to work with me.”

    Right on. As a small business owner, the value we bring to the table is “me.” I don’t do things exactly like the other businesses. I’m not replaceable. It took me 3 years to figure this out. I spent so much time chasing my tail, trying to be like everyone else but at the end of the day, that doesn’t work. It just dilutes you and your services. Let’s face it, we work for ourselves for a reason.

    • This is so true. We do work for ourselves for a reason. I started working for myself because I had had enough of working for assholes. I just wasn’t doing it any more. I had unique approaches that got dramatic results but because they were a bit unconventional, I found myself constantly justifying, fighting, and working hard to keep my protective force fields up. When I got out on my own and it was just me and my clients–and no intermediaries putting a stop on the creativity–I was able to relax and really let my light shine. The results were dramatic for clients and for me at all levels. And it was a real lesson.

      I’m actually about to go back to work again for a regular employer, but one who values me for who I am and the unique perspective I bring to the table–but I will CERTAINLY work for myself again. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and I think some of us are just built for it.

  • SpaceElephant

    This is fascinating. I applaud you for sticking to your beliefs.

    I’ve been thinking so much about value lately. We booked our just-starting-out photographer a year in advance, and I was able to negotiate a discounted rate. I was so happy because we loved her portfolio and wouldn’t have been able to afford her otherwise. Fast forward to now, 3 months after our wedding, and we have some gorgeous photos of SOME of our wedding, but a huge chunk of our formals and ceremony were lost forever to a combo of “corrupted files,” rushed work, and a lack of attention to detail.

    Long story short: I wish we hadn’t negotiated a lower price, bc the value of our wedding went down in this vendor’s eyes. Also, we should have budgeted the price we were willing to pay for photography to reflect the value we placed on it, which was much higher than what we wound up getting.

  • I have been fascinated by Julie & her brave experiment since I read about it on APW. I followed Julie on Twitter & read her blog to stay up-to-date on everything. From start to finish, she has inspired me as a small business owner to re-think & re-evaluate. Thank you, Julie, for your courageous experiment & beautiful inspiration!!!

  • Tea

    Julie, your thoughts here made me think of a post I read earlier today about creatives. Maybe you might find some resonance:

    Also, when I was a kid my mom used to make me pick my own punishment when I had done something wrong. I hated it! I was always torn between letting myself off easy (cheaply), and knowing I needed to be fair because I had truly misbehaved. It required me to THINK and be a participant in the process, and that is often an uncomfortable place to be. We get by so much these days without thinking deeply about our decisions–especially purchasing choices and their impact on the community and culture we live in.

    Good for you for taking on such an experiment–and what great realizations it brought you.

    • meg

      AH. My parents did the same thing. I thought I was the only hippie kid that did this. But of course not, APWers did it too :) It’s why we’re all made for each other.

      • aww. now we all need shirts that say APW: MFEO…

  • I loved this post, but mostly I just wanted to say that I’d like to hug you for the “Meg Ryan-inspired full-body high-fives” bit, in addition to your amazing business sketch book drawings! I didn’t participate in your experiment but it’s really interesting to hear how it went from your perspective – thanks so much for sharing here.

  • Although the experiment may not have worked out as originally hoped, I certainly appreciate Julie taking that chance and opening up about it here. Money can be such a hard topic for people on all sides. How much are you worth? How much should you pay? How much can you bargain for? Is it okay to really talk about money? Again, this might have not been the original hope for the project, but I for one am really glad to see this subject discussed in such a supportive and intelligent forum.

    • meg

      I don’t know… I think this WAS my original hope for the project. Us learning about our own worth is ALWAYS an amazing thing, and kind of what I saw coming…

    • I think it was a MAJOR element of my original hope for the experiment, too. : )

      • Major success then! So glad you did this and then shared your experiences.

  • This was a cool post and an interesting experiment. I love the way you analyzed and picked it apart.

    Yes, what is valuable about your business is YOU!

    I struggle with these issues all the time. I tried a similar experiment years ago with my pricing, because I heard about another photographer who did this.

    I made my shoots free, and my prints exorbitant. (I think at the time, that meant about $100 for an 11×14). Mind you, my shoots were already $1500 at that time, so as long as the customer ordered 15 prints, my business was about the same. I figured people who could afford more, would, and those who couldn’t would buy less. It was a huge gamble. It lasted one season.

    Here’s what I learned: My clients DO value me and my time and expertise as a photographer, but they DON’T value the actual print (which is what we photographers THINK we are selling…but we aren’t). Even if they paid nothing for the shoot, they had a really hard time paying $100 or more for a print that cost a few bucks. I had to give up the system.

    Even if the bottom line ended up lower, doesn’t that seem crazy? I went back to my old system, which apparently didn’t need fixing.

  • Kate

    So I have been thinking a lot about this as I plan my own wedding and look at the cost of things. As mentioned in so many of these comments here today, yesterday and on the ESB post this morning, most of us don’t regularly throw parties with so many elements for 100+ people.

    As a general consumer I try to be really aware of and well versed in price value etc so that I can consume in a way which I am ok with. I constantly have to remind my partner that it isn’t just about a wedding that necessarily makes something expensive, such as nice stationary, and that a nice box of normal thank you notes with a nice design on nice paper is expensive as well.

    I also think that in general it is easy to think about an individal and feel like a rate is high because it may be just them, but for large corporations we often don’t blink an eye. As far as $60 per hour as a rate, my hourly wage is lower but not miles off that, and I don’t have to pay out expenses and am guaranteed that for a year. I think it is easy to forget that an individual running their own business has so many other expenses and can’t always benefit from economies of scale – which is also something you are (or should be) paying a premium for if you value it, the individual attention you (should) get from them.

    Sorry this got long but it is something I have been thinking a lot about and have developed quite strong feelings about!

    • meg

      Yes! It’s like billable hours (plus expenses). A freelancer may charge $60/hour for work they do for clients, but you have to remember they may only do 20 hours of work for clients on a good week, with another 25 hours of behind the scenes work. So they are making more like $30/hour, less expenses, which might well make it closer to $20/hour. And suddenly you get why they charge what they do.

      And hell. David’s billable hour price, as a non-firm, lower priced attorney, is a ton more than that (which dosen’t mean he makes a ton, but you know). But that stuff is good to remember when we think about prices.

      • Kate

        YES! I am in a profession that has billiable hours/charge out rates (not law) and my charge out rate at a discount is easily 5x the $60 that many freelancers seem to charge. Now I get that lots of freelancers wouldn’t/couldn’t charge that but I don’t think that I am that much more valuable to someone that anyone else is and often would have been willing to pay more that what I have been quoted. Not miles more mind you but I feel like some are an insanely good deal. Which may be why I look at some of the rates people are talking about and don’t feel like they are all that high?

  • Krista

    My suggestion for the next stage of your experiment: create a calculator order form, so that people can adjust the materials and amounts to cover raw costs, (maybe add in a time estimator for yourself? is that predictable?) but then let them name their own price on the VALUE portion of the overall cost equation. That way the stuff that outsiders wouldn’t know about (paper costs, ink cost, etc), can be covered without making people feel uncomfortable, but the but you really want to get at – how much people value your own creativity and how much you can bend to work with great people – can still be something to be played with.

    LOVE that you’re doing this!

  • Remy

    I read the original post announcing this experiment with interest, but I didn’t participate because fair compensation (what I would consider fair) for materials and creative services just isn’t in my budget. (We are going with a standard VistaPrint design that I’m quite satisfied with as I get to include all the nitpicky text formatting I want! But it costs pennies per item — less than the postage. I’m okay with paying that to a large company that can afford it, whose practices don’t give me hives, but not for a small business owner.) Now, if I were considering personalized invitations anyway, I definitely would have jumped at Up Up Creative!

    I’m not used to price negotiation, from either side, but I’ve been trying to do more of it lately. (“Women Don’t Ask” is on my library list!) As I’ve researched and then approached vendors for my tiny tiny wedding, I’ve done so with the understanding of what I value about their services. I mean, after cutting out many or most of the traditional wedding elements, we’ve settled on a few that would be really useful or that my partner and I find important. Those are what we’re choosing to pay for. While I have other options that would cost less, and I can reconcile myself to having to settle for them, I’d much rather contract with professionals who are good at what they do and value their own work. So I say that, and I point out how my wedding needs less than many others might, and I explain how much my budget will stand, and I always leave room for a graceful refusal — which, if these business owners are truly as classy as I thought they were when I picked them, they can take.

    So far, they’ve said yes.

    • meg

      I love this.

      And I also love that APW Sponsor Kelly Prizel doesn’t do price cuts when you ask, as a feminist position. She says that statistically men and people in a non-minorities are more likely to ask for discounts, and she doesn’t want to give men/non-minorities lower rates on average, so she turns down all requests for random discounts. And that makes me want to make out with her. Basically.

  • Forgive me if I missed this, but did any of the name your own price clients ever get price quotes? To ascertain what they would pay if this program was not running? That might go a long way to educate and help people know whether they are underpaying or overpaying to support the project.

  • I’ve been thinking about this from the customer’s perspective. Normally there are some hard lines in the sand about how much we can afford to spend on any given wedding-related expense. I saw you said you had 16 non-custom orders, totaling $3471 – that averages out at about $217 per order. So this is your lower end customer, but they are still spending over $200 on their invitations, and that’s frankly more than most people can really afford (also as you talked about, this didn’t even reach your break-even point).

    I think we need to face up to the fact that the kind of service you offer is only for a minority of people with above average incomes.

    You talked about finding a way to offer someone with a $70 budget something that still pays you something fair. This is what I’m most interested in. If I have $50-$100, what are my invitation options if I want to pay you fairly?

    • Arachna

      Yes I think this is a fundamental issue here. An artist’s work for essentially handmade invitations is a luxury good. An expensive luxury good. But there’s a lot of people out there who have been convinced that they must have this luxury good, cannot really afford it, and don’t really prioritize it over living like a pauper (which is how they could afford to pay the artist a truly fair price).

      IMO part of the problem is that if the good you are offering is by it’s nature expensive (and should be) your customers, whatever else they might be in terms of personality and values, should be wealthy.

      No one should be in serious distress because of trying to pay for a luxury good. And you should get a price that is correlated with people’s admiration of your talent and not their concern over their budget.

      • meg

        Ok, let’s back up. I like us to be careful with language here. Several things pop out of me from this comment, so let me walk through them:

        A) First, APW will never convince you that you NEED anything, no matter what it is, or what it costs. We offer lots of cheaper invitation options with sponsors who do custom pdf’s or paperless invites, and also have encouraged you to hand write invitations, in the past. So let’s take need out of the equation. You don’t NEED wedding invites, period. No one is saying you do.

        B) Here at APW we talk a lot about making a wedding budget that is created around what makes you happy. IE, do what you love and ditch the rest. I (to my great surprise) cared a lot about creating custom invitations, which we did with help. That excited me, but I was willing to totally ditch a lot of other things, (no DJ, no florist, no favors, no night wedding, etc.) to help make that happen. I spent on what I loved, and got rid of the other stuff all together.

        C) Wealthy. Just like I don’t like to talk wedding budgets here, because it’s hard for people to compare and people tend to get judge-y, let’s not throw around words like ‘wealth’ because it can mean so many things to so many people. First off, the average reader of APW, given average household incomes shown in our reader survey, could totally afford these invitations…. IF THEY WANTED TO. That’s the key part. They shouldn’t feel they HAVE to, or that cool people would get them, but it’s an option they probably could afford, if that was a priority for them. The average APW reader, for the record, is not wealthy. But maybe they care about invitations or maybe they don’t, either is fine. Or maybe they care about supporting visual artists, so they make it work even though they are flat broke, who knows! (I have been a flat broke artist, and spent to support other artists, so that’s something that happens). That’s what Julie is talking about, finding readers who want to work with her. And maybe you’re a reader who CAN’T afford Julie’s services. That’s ok too. That’s the question she’s grappling with, and that’s the question this whole site is built around… EVERYONE CAN AFFORD A WEDDING. Now, the question is how. That’s what I try to answer every day.

        • Arachna

          That there are a lot of people out there who are convinced they need X doesn’t mean APW convinced them. :) I do know that APW spends a lot of effort on convincing people they don’t “need” anything but their SO and a legal person to do the legal thing. But the fact remains, that a lot of people out there are convinced they need cool invitations and/or crave those invites.

          The part we disagree I guess is that I feel that most customers of luxury goods should be people to whom the money is negligible, who won’t miss it or stress over it and won’t have to cut other things they want passionately in order to be able to afford it. Yes, there are some exception for other artists that are broke or other people to whom the particular item is worth it – but those people are by their nature a minority and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect many people to prioritize a luxury in this way simply because it’s the product of an artist.

          Bottom line, I don’t think an artist can get what her art is worth if most of her customers need to stretch to afford her product.

          • meg

            Hum. Interesting. We *night and day* disagree here (not a bad thing). I’m always going to cut other things to put money in the hands of artists. It’s one of my core values (you know, as an artist). I think the world is a better place when things are created by people, and I’d rather have one thing made by an artist than five things made by an industry, and we built our wedding on that principal. And the truth is, a TON of APW readers feel the same way (which is why the sponsors here are so happy). I totally get that not everyone feels that way, but it’s one of say, the top ten things I personally believe.

            And I will say most of the artists hanging around APW are making a living wage… because other people feel like this too, which is rad. Heck, I make as good a living as I did when I was a cog in the corporate wheel, making things happen that I didn’t believe in. And I do it making things (words) for you guys that I REALLY believe in. And this community supports that and makes it happen… hence.. why I believe in artists value so damn much :)


      I would imagine that the only way to make a $50-100 budget worthwhile for the designer would be to utilise pre-made templates, and limit the client’s choice to those. Creating a design from scratch and then working on wording and layout could never be worthwhile for such a small profit margin. Even our Vistaprint invitations/rsvp’s were around $70 for 100 or so, using their template and with recycled card.
      As a designer (interior) I too find it difficult to put a price on my value, and prospective clients often don’t understand that YOU are the value they are paying for. So this is a great discussion to be having. Thanks ladies!

    • meg

      Please see my comment below. I don’t like us throwing around terms like, “what most people can afford,” because it’s general and open to interpretation. APW is all about finding what works for you, whatever that is. Maybe it’s custom wedding invites, maybe it’s not. I’m all about about spending on what you value. And as someone who’s been a flat broke artist, and chose to spend money on other artists, because it’s what I value… well… there are a lot of ways to look at a question.

      That said, should you decide you want wedding invitations (you don’t need them) and you want them designed by a graphic designer (you don’t need that either), and you want to spend $70… well, we have SEVERAL current sponsors who offer printable options in that price range. So it’s a do-able thing.

  • What makes Julie incredible is not just her skills (though she has mad skills), not just her gumption (which she pushes in herself which is better than being born with 100% gumption), but also her deep thoughtfulness. Look at how she is trying to think of ways to work with ALL customers who value her, her in particular.

    There’s some lesson about art and design that we are taught in order to not devalue ourselves. I have no idea how it *precisely* goes, but it’s something like this:
    Outraged person says “How can you charge $xxx for 10 hours worth of work??”
    Artist says “That is not just for 10 hours worth of work. That is for 10 years of my working hard to get here. And I have worked hard.”

    Something like that.

    • meg

      It’s the Picasso story that I told earlier in the week in the comments! (Roughly) A woman came up to him in a bar, and asked him to draw them a sketch on a napkin. He did. She said “Thank you.” He said, “That will be $500,000.” She said, “$500,000?? But it took you two minutes!” He said, “No. It took me thirty years.”

  • clo

    This whole thread is interesting but i am saddened by the lack of actual profitable business smarts. Not getting paid for your time!!!!!???? this is not a hobby in high school. Sustainable business prove their value/perceived value through experience and marketing. What have you gained from this experience other than knowing not to do it again? Find the right clients who can afford your services.

    If ‘You’ are the best part of your business, then the $70 client who can’t afford customization and ‘You’ can not be YOUR client. not the right match. move on.

    • meg

      Well, she did move on, and she does have awesome business smarts. This was a limited time experience, with the goal of learning something (which she did) and getting publicity (which she really did). Now, since it didn’t work out in a sustainable way, she’s back to running her business in a normal profitable manner. Readers of APW can and do afford her on a regular basis, it’s just that last month she removed ALL prices from her website, and only let people pick a price. Why? Because she’s *super* smart.

      Be nice and thoughtful in these comments, we don’t stand for anything else.

      • clo

        Sorry that came off mean, but really I am surprised that she put herself through all of the stress and loss of income (could have been earning $, instead she broke even). creatives can learn without getting burned…. learning comes in many different ways. How much of the publicity and name-your-price clients will turn into real clients who pay full fees? Successful social experiment, but that’s where I see it end. $ of mental and emotional strain was too great. I can see where this thread has intellectual benefits and can appreciate sharing this with all the readers so that their LEARNING has none of the negative impacts that Julie experienced. Yes, even smart people make less-than-stellar decisions. To clarify, I don’t think this business experiment was smart, not Julie herself :)

        • Dee

          CLO, maybe the mental and emotional strain would have been too much for you, but obviously it wasn’t for Julie as she successfully handled the situations brought to her by the experiment. Money isn’t everything. Julie stated she knew that it was likely she wouldn’t profit from the experiment, but the results were apparently more important to her than September’s income. That doesn’t make her decision to perform the experiment a bad one.

          • clo

            In her words it was hard. not mine. Why would you, Dee, imply that the stain would have been too much for Me? The AUTHOR included this in her report of what happened and how she felt through the process. Of course money isn’t everything! But it is crucial to a successful business!!!! What is a ‘business’ if it is not a sustainable one? Could she have learned the same exact outcome from going about the project differently? What about stating out-of-pocket costs and having people name their price for only her creative fee? From her description there were no safeguards at all in place. What if 100 times the number of people placed orders? My understanding is that her greatest gain was from the appreciation people had with Her and Her work. The “YOU”. not the ink, not the paper. I strongly believe that this can be successfully learned without subject to 1 months’ income plus the crying and strain described by the author. “the experiment taught me that price actually isn’t a main factor in my own vision of my business or in my now crystal-clear vision of my ideal customer”. Did she need to put herself through the experiment? She did. She liked doing it. fine. she can do it again.

  • There are lots of very interesting ideas raised here.
    In my work as an actor, people work very hard for free all the time. Skilled, professional actors work hard, for free, all the time. Why? Simply because they’d rather perform than not perform, and if an opportunity comes up in between all the auditions, they’ll take it. Of course many actors don’t ever work for free, or they do to begin with and then they stop.

    I have strong feelings about this. Artists getting taken for granted as free labour is not good, especially if they’re not treated well or not compensated in other ways – there are many problems in the industry
    But I have found that some of my favourite acting experiences have been unpaid or low-paid work.
    This RSA animate video talks about motivation based on money not working, compared to motivation through self-direction and mastery, it’s well worth a watch.
    I decided to take matters into my own hands and make my own theatre, do my own fundraising. It’s 1000 times more work, but it’s right for me (I get to speak my own words). And I have more fun :)

  • Maxine Cramer-Roberts

    I have been fascinated by the dialogue that has been presented on this topic. The article itself was a great inspiration for me – I am a wage/salary earner who has dabled in self-employment but sadly didn’t have enough smarts to know my true value – but I can honestly say that reading all the comments and the initial article has made me realise that I still have a true value to my employer and also my clients with this company. So even though I don’t have the anguish of having to go day-to-day drawing on my creative abilities to bring in the dollars – I still need to be able to present my value to my employer when I come to negotiating my annual net worth to the company! I don’t suppose this is making much sense but I found Julie’s notes and drawings to be fantastic for me…so thank you to Julie, Meg and everyone who took the time to comment.

    I am a better person for your time and inspiration.


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