Last month, courtesy of Twitter, I read about an amazing business owner/designer/invitation maker/stationer who was running an “experiment” called “Name Your Own Price For Wedding Stationery” or something along those lines on Scoutie Girl’s Blog. I immediately got intrigued and supportive of this woman and her experiment.
Julie Green is the business owner I’m talking about (I really need to get her to be part of my entrepreneur series!) and I’ve been following her incredible story/journey this month. It’s been a bit hard for me not to follow her story mostly because I’ve loved her idea since the beginning.
Now, let me state again, that I love what she’s doing and while I do think that her experiment is revolutionary, it has been done before (her own reference to Radiohead is fitting), I don’t see the revolutionary in her idea to start a conversation about the industry she, I and so many others are in.
Why the disagreement?
Well, because I converse with my clients all the time. It’s actually part of what the customers are paying for when they contact me to design something for them, regardless of the event details.
See, when I launched S2 Stationery and Design, I did it with a completely different idea in my head. I wanted to launch this eco-friendly, revolutionary stationery company! I was going to be the queen of green stationery and I was going to be awesome at it. I had no intention what-so-ever of taking a stab in the wedding or baby sectors of the stationery industry. I’m sure there are a few friends of mine out there that can testify to this.
And then I got a Bar Mitzvah invitation order. It was THE order that launched many orders. It was THE order that showed me my capabilities. It was THE order that made me nauseous and had me lose sleep. It was THE order that propelled me into the realm of being an artist and a designer. It IS the order that I still go back to when I need inspiration for other orders. This order pushed me in the direction that I had no intention of going for at least the first 3-to-4 years in business. It pushed me to wedding invitations and baby stationery. Sigh.
I haven’t since looked back.
Actually, that’s not true. I look back often and wonder what would have happened if I had stayed focused on the goal and timeline. But I digress. I can only look forward, which is why last weekend, I FINALLY cut the prototype for the item that is the basis of my stationery company. I’ll share more about that soonish.
Back to Ms. Green and her experiment, though… I know how hard it is and can be to talk price. As a matter of fact, I have learned MANY a lesson about price. I’ve also learned a lot about my clients and future clients in dealing with price issues. EVERY client will have different needs, requirements, and budgets. The point is how you deal with these differences.
A great lesson I learned even as recent as last year is that I get carried away with designs. When I’m really digging a project (I dig every project, but some projects really get my engines revved more than others), I throw caution to the wind and just design. I don’t take into account cost or time. As a result, I’ve even shocked myself at the cost when the project has ended. I’ve had some very unhappy customers with the final cost and I, too, have been unhappy. So unhappy that I don’t even want to share the final cost amount. I’d rather just forget that I did the work, but then I can’t. It’s really showed me a lot about my personality actually. I’ve only had about three cases like this and the end resulted fine, but I definitely took away lessons from them.
I’ve since learned to discuss cost right up front. I also always ask people what their budget is so that I don’t get carried away. If someone wants a design of mine, but they can’t afford the cost I’m asking for, I let them know that while the cost of that particular invite is non-negotiable, I can work on custom designing something for them within their budget. Yes, that means you can’t get exactly what you want, but you can get something that you do want-that is unique to you and that doesn’t require that much work on my end. What I mean by “that much work on my end” is stitching, hand cutting, assembling and anything else that may be included.
Maybe that’s why I disagree with Ms. Green on the non-communication aspect of her experiment. I’m by no means saying ANYTHING about her work because she’s got amazing talent and I’m a bit envious of some of her designs and her experiment. I mean that. BUT there’s no way that I can discount items that I’ve hand stamped and glittered myself- I don’t just do digital printing. As a matter of fact, I’m awed and angered when I go online and see people who price cards at $2.00 for letterpress work. Last time I checked, that letterpress card required your hands, which is a lot more than feeding paper through the printer. It is because of the fact that everything I do involves some sort of handy work that I charge as much as I do and it’s why I now have the conversation with each and every client before my hands get to walking excitedly around the work space.
When I started, I remember telling one client who asked about cost, “you can afford me now because I’m still new and don’t know what to charge.” Yes, I said that. It kind of makes me giggle at my naiveté. I learned an important lesson then, too – lining an envelope with tissue paper is not only a pain-in-the-butt, but it costs a lot of my time and therefore should be charged more accordingly.
As I developed and took on more techniques (which I continue to do), I realized that in addition to designing and creating, I’m also offering ME as a service. Seriously! My personality creates excitement and becomes a source for many of my clients. I’ve had many clients thank me for keeping them on track, focused, and offering suggestions that help them with planning. I’ve also had several clients thank me for always coming prepared and being available to assist them outside of just creating their invitations and additional pieces.
Folks, there was a wedding that I did the seating cards and then set them up on the table minutes before the guests arrived at the reception! I felt like a wedding planner. I remember thinking, “When did I become a wedding planner? I thought I was a guest!” I didn’t get paid anything additional for the “wedding planner service”, but I realized that I do go above and beyond the normal role of designer and stationer and that is why my prices have increased.
It is no longer just the layout, proofs (which by the way, I offer unlimited rounds until we come to the final copy), and printing. It’s the fact that I will offer suggestions, help you write the text of the invitation/announcement/card, and then assemble everything so that the client only has to stuff envelopes and visit the post office. Although, I will have you know that I’ve even gone that far for a few clients-where I’ve mailed their invitations out for them. I will also have phone conversations and exchange emails with the client to alleviate their fears and concerns and guarantee them the BEST event ever.
Okay, so maybe I’m a planning therapist more than anything else. BUT when a project has ended and a client is happy and they are notifying me of the positive feedback they are getting in response, I am swelled with pride. My baby has been born and can talk, walk and eat grown up food!
So maybe I shouldn’t be comparing myself to the talented Julie Green because maybe her model is different. As a matter of fact, I’m sure it is and not just in the size of her business, but in her offerings. I can see that and I can respect it, but I think it’s unfair to say that the industry doesn’t communicate because I do think we do. I do think that clients and customers do talk and need to talk so that everyone feels good in the end.
Clients should be happy to pay the amount they are paying for a product. Many times, clients ARE happy to pay the amount you’ve asked for if they perceive that the product is worth the cost. Or as someone told me, “people will pay for the things that they want regardless of the cost if they value it.” Yes, there are those that are cheap and they are the ones that don’t want to pay and aren’t going to pay your asking price, but in the end it’s about value.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts about price recently. I think a lot about price and Etsy. I wonder if my pricing is too high for the clients of Etsy. I also think a lot about price and design. In today’s market, anyone can design anything. The crafting notion has been around since the beginning of time and it inspires people to design. I am by no means comparing design and crafting, but I do think it’s important to note that people who craft think that they are designing things and they are, to an extent.
The bigger issue is that this creates an unrealistic idea of what the cost of design and custom products such as stationery and wedding invitations should be versus what they are worth. If you were doing a DIY kit of Walmart or Target, then you are going the cheaper route (good for you!) and that is fine, but you are getting what you paid for. If you want a custom design piece by me, or another custom designer and they are really working with you to get the exact feel and look you want, plus assembling, printing and shipping , then you will pay more.
Which is why I commend what Julie is doing because I think it’s a great experiment in learning what people perceive as “worthy” design and I’m definitely interested in seeing the results. Today, Julie wrote a post, on Heartmade Blog, which not only inspired this blog, but made me feel deeply. I was really pleased by her outcome and her positive ending, but while I read about her one client, that almost derailed the experiment, I really wanted to jump into the screen and help her fight. I was so horrified and angry for Julie. I mean really, $100 for something that in my world would cost like $3000! The nerve!
At the end of the day while the money helps keep individuals, families and businesses a float, it is so deeply intertwined with the value of the artist. My work is an extension of me. Yes, you’ve paid for it, which is why it’s top quality, but I have created, nurtured, and packaged it for you. As much of it is a representation of you, it is a representation of myself. There is a lot of pride, not so much ego, but pride behind every one of my designs and I’m sure Julie’s (and every other stationer for that matter )and having it undervalued can not only break pride, but really cause chaos. In the case of Julie, it almost stopped her experiment. In the case of me, it might have me depressed and unmotivated for a week (we all handle things differently).
The next time you’re wondering about pricing an item or are hurt at a discount request, or feel a lack of confidence, think about Julie and then find your strength to continue on, asking for what you’re worth and what your product is worth. If the customer doesn’t like your price, they can always find someone offering something a little less cooler for a cheaper price. You, on the other hand, can go on moving forward toward the clients and fans that see your product’s value and are willing to support you and your art.
I wish Julie so much success as the remaining days of her project continue and I hope that her experiment helps teach a lot of people (I have a feeling it will help me ) about the importance of pricing and value.