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~ Pricing Your Work. Can You Live on What You Make? ~

I think that most people that enjoy creative endeavors have fantasized at one time or another about quitting their "real" job and earning their living doing what they love. I know I used to. Now that that has become a reality, it has been a real eye opener. It's not as easy as one thinks to be able to produce and sell enough of your wares to provide a decent income. The words "starving artist" do have a basis in fact after all!

We recently entered a phase in our life where what I make from my glass work will be almost our entire monthly income. I have always taken the income from my work seriously, but this will be the first time that we will be dependent on it. I love what I do, but something has been lost now that I know I "have" to do it and that so much is dependent on it. Mixing being an artist with being a business person is a difficult task. What makes you good at one does not necessarily support being good at the other. I am a willing artist but a reluctant salesman. The following are some of my thoughts and observations about the ability to earn a living as an artist and putting value on what we do.


In order to live off of the income from our sales, we have to be able to set a fair price. One that will not discourage a buyer but one that also pays us for our time and efforts and allows us to put food on the table. We can't only count the time that we spend producing our product. We have to count all of the related time as well. There are only 24 hours in the day (some of which you have to use for sleep). Ask yourself this: "If you have eight hours a day to devote to your job of beadmaking and everything involved with creating and selling, could you support yourself on what you make? Remember to include the following which all take time and are all related to your business and must be done during "business hours":

1) Purchasing supplies. This includes time in the car, at the suppliers, on the phone, unpacking and putting away supplies, returning defective merchandise, tracking down suppliers, going through catalogs, etc.

2) Preparing your materials (cleaning and cutting glass, making stringers,fussing with the silver foil, dipping mandrels, making mandrels, mixing bead release, changing O2 tanks, etc.)

3) Time at the torch. This also includes the time that you are sitting there trying to think what you are going to do next!

4) Casualties. You also have to include the time spent on beads that you can't sell. Also the beads that should've taken 10 minutes to make and for some reason, took you 30 minutes to make!

5) Selling. This could include pictures, descriptions, phone time, banking time, emails to customers, packing your merchandise, trips to the post office, dealing with returns, bead shows. If you sell from your studio, you could spend an hour with a customer and only make a $30 sale, but during that hour you are not able to produce any more product. It might have only taken 30 minutes to make a bead, but it took me another 10 minutes to get a good picture and write a description. Then another 5 to load the pictures and set up the auction, 30 minutes to get the pictures loaded in the photo album and the links set up, then another to email back and forth, answering questions, following up on the sale (where is your payment??), and another 5 to 10 to pack it securely and take it to the post office and write feedback for the customer. If you are treating this as a career, you don't have the luxury of not counting this time into the equation. If I wasn't trying to make a living out of it this "extra" time could be spent with my family, or soaking in the tub, or any number of other things.

6) Down" time. Sick days, vacation days, doctors appointments, emergencies, equipment failure, class time for skills improvement, etc. When you are working for yourself, even a 15 minute phone call can cost you money because you are not being "productive". Believe me, when you are working for yourself, you start attaching dollar amounts to those two hour waits in the doctor's office.

7) Flexibility. When you are self-employed you will find that many friends and acquaintences think this means that you can do what you want, when you want. You can sleep in, take a 2 hour lunch, spend an hour on the phone with them, pick up their kids because they are delayed at the beauty salon. Of course you can do all of these things, but being self-employed means that you have deadlines each and every day and if you can't meet them in your 8 hour shift, then you might be up all night. When I say deadlines, I don't mean the usual "Ms. Williams, I need that report on my desk first thing in the morning!" I mean that you have to make a certain amount of money each and every day to pay your rent, your food bills, your health insurance, etc. If you don't work, you don't get paid.

7) Cost of doing business. These are costs that come "right off the top" of your profit. Supplies, insurance, phone, internet, equipment, classes, periodicals, gasoline, oxygen, propane, shipping supplies, postage, electricity, medical insurance, business insurance, commissions, etc.

8)Misc. Organizing and cleaning your workshop. Assembling, repairing, or cleaning equipment.

I am sure that there are many more little things since I know that I have days that are "eaten up" by them, but you get the idea. Most days, I am doing business related work, but not production work until noon. So, generally half the day. So, let's say that I use the other four hours for making beads to sell. If I charge $20 per hour for what I do, that means that I have to live on about $1600 per month, and that's gross profit (before all of my business expenses are deducted - cost of materials, supplies, etc.) This also assumes that I don't get sick and that I don't ever take a vacation. In reality, I work seven days a week, usually 12 hours a day, and I am NOT getting rich.

Placing Value on What We Do

Many people who balk at the price of art work, wouldn't think of working at jobs that involve the amount of time most artists spend on their craft, much less work at a job with no paid vacation, or paid sick leave. If you sit down and figure what you are making per hour including all of the items above as part of your work time, there are very few people that would work for such pay. An artists time is just as valuable as anyone else's.

I believe that many artists don't put a high enough value on what they do. Many work for pennies. Some do it "just to earn enough to buy more supplies". Unfortunately, in doing so, they are educating the public not to appreciate what they do, or at least not the time they have spent on it.

We have educated the public in thinking that most artists are hobbyists and this is something "extra" that they do to earn a few bucks. I have seen some beautiful work done by excellent craftsmen and have heard the buying public say "can you believe what they want for that????" Most times, the prices compared to the hours spent have meant the artist is working for less than minimum wage. Many talented artists are discouraged from continuing their craft because they can't make a living at it and we are thus deprived of the beauty they could create and we could enjoy. Many people think nothing of spending $100 on a dinner out but wouldn't spend $100 on a piece of art that they could have forever. It's because they don't value it the same. It's not because they can't afford it.

Believe me, I have not always looked at it this way, until I seriously sat down and figured how much time it REALLY takes me to sell a bead. I remember being chastised once by another artist who was making his living at this. He told me that I had the right and the luxury to price how I wanted since I didn't have to live on what I earned, but if I was thinking about being "unfair" to think about the people that I was competing against that DID have to live on what they earned.

There are MANY beads that I would love to own, and really, I could afford to purchase some of them BUT I choose not to most times, because there are other "luxury items" that I give priority to. I think many people are this way. Really. I have friends that say "oh, I just can't afford that new dress" but then they go out to dinner twice a week.

I would have to say that I am frugal. I was raised by parents who went through the depression and I guess a lot of it rubbed off. I am not miserly, but I am not wasteful. I like to consider dinner out a treat, not an every day thing. I have found from experience that sometimes when someone says they can't afford $20 for a bead sometimes it means they can't see spending $20 on a bead when it could be spent on something else more important to them. Many times we can afford things we admire, we just choose to spend our money on something else, that's all. I'm not complaining, just observing. I do the same thing myself!

Do I enjoy making and selling my beads? I must say, that I have often fantasized taking my beads and leaving them, much like the Easter bunny or Johnney Appleseed, in various places like parks, schoolyards, fast food restaurants or just handing them to strangers on the street. I think I would get immense pleasure out of what I would imagine the delighted reaction to finding a treasure would be to most people. If you found a treasure in the park, wouldn't it make you happy for the rest of the day, thinking what a lucky person you were to have been in the right place at the right time to find such an object? Would you recount the story to friends and relatives about how you found it, just lying there waiting to be rescued? It seems that I have come full circle. Someday I hope this fantasy can become reality. For now, one fantasy at a time, and my "real job" of making beads means that I must sell them, but, if one day I am walking through the park, and a bead falls through a hole in my pocket........

©2002-2006 Mary Ann Williams/

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