Bitchlings, today we’re bringing you a variation on a question we get a lot: How do you fairly price your own work? This question is especially important to artists and freelancers. And as you know, we’re passionate about people getting compensated fairly for their labor.
While our personal freelancing days are behind us, we still carry the scars of thousands of hours of freelance work, earning our monthly student loan payments and rent money. Let these battle-hardened former freelancers pass along the wisdom of our fight. Learn from our mistakes and avoid the wounds we earned in this good fight!
And for fuck’s sake fire your shittiest clients.
This week’s question
Today’s question comes to us from beloved Tumblr follower Call-me-DJ. Call-me-DJ asks:
Hello Bitches! I was wondering if you had any advice on pricing your own products, specifically artwork? I want to try selling some of the paintings I do, but I don’t know what would be a fair price.-Call-me-DJ… and we will
We’ve discussed before the importance of fair compensation, especially for artists and freelancers. But when you’re self-employed (and anyone with a side gig or freelance work is) you’re all on your own when it comes to pricing. So where do you even start? Before we get to the episode, check out these classic BGR articles:
- Should Artists Ever Work for Free?
- Stop Undervaluing Your Freelance Work, You Darling Fool
- Freelancer, Protect Thyself… With a Fair Contract
- How NOT to Determine Your Salary
- 11 Awful Mistakes I Made as a Self-employed Freelancer, and How You Can Avoid Them
If we can get even one freelance artist—or freelancer in general!—to raise their prices because of this podcast, we will go to our graves content.
… and then we will crawl back out of them to stalk late-paying clients with our terrifying visages until those freeloaders pay the fuck up!
TW: DENTAL WORK.
This week’s episode is brought to you by Capitalize! We’re constantly singing the praises of Capitalize: how it’s free, how it makes the process of rolling over your old retirement account easy, how it’s stress free. But did you know there’s one more good reason to use Capitalize? It saves you money. Because the longer you wait to roll over an old retirement fund, the more fees you’re paying to keep that account open! So quit your procrastinating and roll over an old 401(k) or 403(b) with Capitalize right fucking now.
And of course, we owe so much to our generous and stylish Patreon donors, without whom there would be no podcast, no blog, NO BITCHES AT ALL. A world without the Bitches… can you even imagine? It takes many dollars to keep this project running and (to stick with this week’s theme) keep paying our producer, Ducky, a fair wage. Help us practice what we preach and join our Patreon for as little as $1 a month!
Transcript (Click to reveal)
This episode, like all of our episodes, is brought to you by our beloved Patreon donors. This week, we’d like to thank Mar and Claire. And an extra special thanks this week to Riana. Riana is a recently rediscovered ancient goddess, believed by many anthropologists to be a protectoress of very cute kittens.
So I got fancy new insurance with my new job, and I went into the dentist and they were like, hmm hello ma’am with your fancy new insurance. You need a deep cleaning. And I was like, that sounds expensive, painful, and like no fun. And they were like, well great news, your insurance covers it 1000%. And I was like, okay, well I guess if it’s medically necessary, let’s do this deep cleaning. And it was, as you know, ‘cause I told you at the time, it was awful, they had to stick me with needles like 7 times. And you know how much I hate that, especially when it’s into my gums. And the result is that you can see my teeth sparkling from space, but it was still unfortunate and painful and they were like, all right, we now need to see you once every 4 months. And I was like, [deep sigh] okay, I guess if it’s medically necessary. And then, so yesterday, I had my third every 4 months appointment with them, and I walked in and they were like, “that will be $95, please” at check in, and I was like, what now? And they were like, “yeah, your insurance only covers like 2 cleanings a year, so this will be $95.” And I was like, stop right there. Cancel my appointment. Schedule it for January. Because I am not paying for another cleaning when you gave me a deep cleaning and I’ve already had 2 cleanings this year. So, you were right. Because you were all like, they’re just trying to get at your sweet, sweet Insurance money!
Yes. There are a lot of dentists who cannot be trusted. They have built their practice out of giving unnecessary treatments to bill as much as possible out of insurance or even to extract money from people who can’t afford it who don’t have insurance, or they’re offering things that insurance doesn’t cover. So yeah, I’m really sorry you got—when you told me that I was like, you have really nice teeth.
Look at these chompers. Okay, for our podcast listeners, just imagine this perfect set of teeth. [bares teeth]
They’re really nice. We have very American teeth.
We do. You can tell we’ve had braces.
Like, big. Straight. Mine…my coffee’s showing a little bit, but otherw—and look how cute my buck teeth are. [shows her buck teeth]
You do have adorable buck teeth.
They’re so cute!
They are one of the cutest things about you.
They’re soooo cute.
I love them.[deep breath] Let me just ground myself for a moment and now I’m just gonna—
[sighs] You’re gonna do it, aren’t you? You’re gonna do it, you’re gonna say it.
I was right!
Because I’m always right!
I am always right, I told you so.
No, you’re not always right.
Theme Song 3:06
If you need some dough
You don’t know where to go
In this patriarchal capitalist hellscape
Well here’s the ‘sitch
We’re gonna help you, sis
Because bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
And so can you
And I’m Kitty.
And we’re the bitches in Bitches Get Riches.
We’re classy as fuck.
And we’re here to sip champagne and scarf down Dinobites.
But our time on this planet is limited.
So let’s get started.
Okay. Today’s letter comes to us from Tumblr follower call-me-dj. Thank you, I will, DJ. call-me-dj asks: Hello bitches! I was wondering if you had any advice on pricing your own products, specifically artwork? I want to try selling some of the paintings I do, but I don’t know what would be a fair price.
I love this question.
‘Cause you and I have both freelanced. And you are an artist, and many of our followers are freelance artists and musicians, and other creative types. So where do you start the research into how to price?
The first thing I would do is, know what your basic cost of production is. No matter what you making, whether it’s artwork or if you are a freelance writer or if you’re a freelance bricklayer, like it truly doesn’t matter, but you need to know how much it costs for you to do what it is that you do. So, for an artist that might be how much does your canvas cost? How much does your paint cost? And then kind of the next tier—so like obviously, you should never ever sell below cost.
Because then you are, in a very real sense, losing money. The next tier up of thinking about what does it actually cost, is factoring in like, well, if I went to art school and I have $300 a month that I have to pay in student loans to make up for that.
I was just gonna say that.
That is part of the cost. If you photograph your own stuff. What’s the cost of the photography? If you rent an apartment that you use wi-fi in while you sit and make your artwork, all of that should be factored in as well. Basically, there what you’re starting to play with is the idea of, when you sell one painting, how many days or hours of supporting you as the artist are you making the client pay for? So there are some artists who might only sell 2 pieces a year, and then they price them enough so that they are able to live off of those 2sales. There are other artists who need to move 2000 units of something before they would be able to live comfortably. So again, it really depends on what your particular situation is, what that kind of product that you’re trying to make is, but those are kind of the 2 levels to think about. And I think a lot of artists are very successful at pinning that first layer. It’s that second layer that they struggle with. Because once you start to do that, you start to realize oh, art should be very, very expensive. And it’s like yes, it should be. So let’s say you sell one very specific kind of artwork. You sell…
Yeah, you sell bejeweled toilets.
It’s an homage to Dadaism.
If that is your thing and you go online and you see other bejeweled toilets, it’s a really valuable way of knowing like, okay so if this person—if I can look on Etsy and see that this person has 800 sales over the 4 years that their store has been open, you can steal that and do that math and think about like, oh okay, well, would that be enough for me to make ends meet? Should I shoot for something similar? Do I want to price just a little under this person because our products are really similar and I want to attract people willing to pay a slightly lower price?
Get your bejeweled toilets at etsy.com/bitchesgetriches.
Yeah, you’re welcome. To expand this beyond art to any freelance field or creative field, I spent a lot of money on my undergraduate degree in publishing. So when I was a freelance copy editor, I knew like, all right. The minimum payment on my student loans every month is $200. I need to make at least $200 in freelancing every month just to pay my student loans. But the other thing that we haven’t really talked about yet, is the time. You know, your time is valuable. So even if your craft that you’re being paid on a freelance basis for doesn’t require any special equipment or materials—there’s no big fancy photography camera. There’s no paints or, I’m not an artist, whatever the artsy types use—you still need to be compensated fairly for your time. And I think that, you know, there’s a minimum wage out there for obvious reasons. And I think that one of the first things you should do is, examine the minimum wage of your state and then ask yourself how you feel about that. Do you feel like that’s a fair amount for someone to be paid, like at minimum? And then I think you can kind of take it from there.
As was sort of rightly highlighted at the very beginning of the pandemic, art, entertainment, media, writing, this stuff, although it may not place highly in like a zombie apocalypse mindset, it actually is one of the absolutely defining characteristics of humanity. And it is an essential service and I think for too long, the people at the very, very top of the production food chain, the producers and distributors, have been overcompensated. There are Hollywood actors who are making millions and millions of dollars per picture who are overcompensated. There are fine artists who are selling their shit, their shitty digital artwork for absolutely ludicrous amounts of money. But there are so many amazing artists quietly doing God’s work and they are not able to pay their bills for it, which is really sad to me. There’s a real element to—when you price something, the perception of it changes. So if I—I’m going to use a prop. I’ve got 2 nail polishes here. If I told you these were distinct products that came from two different manufacturers and this one cost $2 and you can buy it at Target, and this one cost $40 and you can only get it at Sephora and this is their third time making it, the first two times they made it it sold out overnight and they’ve said this is the last time they’re going to make it.
Mmm. I’m gonna buy…
Even though these are—obviously like you and I are going to go with the cheap one because it’s nail polish and we don’t care.
Obviously. Right, cheap queens.
But that is really how pricing works. Story matters, where it’s sold matters, the price matters. And if I were to ask you well, which one of them do you think lasts for longer? Which one do you think has a more beautiful color?
The more expensive one, obviously.
Obviously. The more expensive a product is, the more we assume that it has innate value. So I get frustrated with artists who underprice their work. Not just because I worry about them as individuals, I want you to be able to pay your bills, I want the world to be filled with artists making the world a more beautiful and worthwhile place.
Yes, please. God yes.
But also it drives down the value of all artwork when you price too low.
When I meet artists,freelancers, service industry people, I make it my business to inform them when they’re being underpaid. I was sitting in with my friend who was providing the music for this street fair. So on my break I went around and I found her, she’s like a plant artist, not a florist but like she makes like wall art out of like moss and ferns and stuff. Super cool. So I looked at some of her stuff and I was like, I’m absolutely going to buy this because I’m a crazy plant lady. And I asked her how much for this piece of wall art, and she was like $35. No no no, you’re with the band, so you know, $30. And I was like, no. Stop. I was expecting you to say $75 at minimum.Like I would have expected you to say $75. ‘Cause not only did you create this from scratch, you paid for materials, and it’s a plant. It’s a piece of living art. So you’ve been keeping it alive for the time that it’s taken you to market and sell it. Like I told her I was like, I’m going to buy this from you at full price, but I’m going to commission you to make a second one and I want you to reevaluate your prices. I got my second one from her and she was just like, so I took your lesson and if you want me to deliver it to you, it’ll be a $20 delivery fee. And I was like, I’m so proud of you!
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Kitty & Piggy 14:17
End of Sponsored Content 14:19
One of my favorite pieces of advice that I’ve gotten from my dad over the years is that any time you’re negotiating, and I would say pricing is sort of a negotiation with you and an imaginary client, a hypothetical client. Any time you’re negotiating, you will know that you’re saying the right price if you feel really nervous to say that price out loud. If you have this terrible feeling that like, oh my god, they might actually just laugh at me. Are they going to laugh at me? They might just fucking laugh at me or they might get up and walk out the door. Like that is how you know you’re setting the right price. Because artists and young people, which I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that an artist who hasn’t quite figured out how to price themselves yet is more likely to be a recent grad or a young person. We’re trained to undervalue what we do.
Because we’re afraid that somebody is going to laugh in our faces if we state the real value.
Yes. Any time you have a client who’s willing to pay you $10 an hour, they will refer you to clients and those clients will want to pay you $10 an hour. If you can find one client who’s willing to pay you $100 an hour, they will refer you to other clients who want to pay you $100 an hour. This is so counter-intuitive and it’s really hard to turn away paying work even if it’s underpaying work when you’re a freelancer. But like really I need you to listen and trust us on this one because we have been there and we have lived through the pain of undervaluing ourselves and we don’t want the same thing for you. If you take low paying work, you will attract more clients who want to under pay you. You will end up with clients who are really, really picky and who take tons and tons of your time and maybe say, oh yeah, your check’s in the mail and it’s not coming. And the worst client I ever had was one who was extremely picky about something that only ended up taking 2 hours of total time, it was a very small project, but she was super picky about it. And at the time, I was charging $40 an hour. So just $80. And when I sent her that invoice, it took me 9 months—the amount of time it takes to make a full ass baby!—to get this $80 from this woman. And finally, how I was able to get it was I sent her an email where I was like, this is me giving up on you as a client ever paying me this ridiculously small bill. I’m so disappointed in you. Anytime your industry comes up in conversation, I’m going to tell everyone, man, make sure you don’t use this woman because she completely burned me when I was a 23 year-old college student trying to make ends meet. And she was like, I’m venmoing you. Like she figured it out suddenly.
And I love that because you know, you have to take the risk of firing clients. You have to know when to cut ‘em loose. But also as a freelancer, I raised my prices a number of times over the years and it was great for 2 reasons. One, the first time I raised my prices, I was like ugh I’m gonna lose clients. This is going to be rough, this is going to hit my bottom line. No, I didn’t lose a single client. And I was like, uhh, these people could afford to pay me more all along and I was charging them—this is ridiculous! And the second time I raised my prices, I lost clients but it was actually good because I had more work than I had time to handle. So it was like I suddenly was less busy but I was making the same amount of money. So that was really valuable. And now, you know, my reputation is so good in that area that I don’t freelance anymore and I still have people coming to me begging for me to work on stuff. And it’s great, because I refer them to the younger editors that I mentor. And I’m like, you know, this person is just starting out, give them a chance, they’re priced accordingly. But it’s gotten to the point where like, I don’t need the money anymore.
Trust me like—trust us.You’re not going to lose work that you can’t afford to lose
100%. That’s my experience as well. My pricing strategy when I was a graphic designer—I started out making $15 an hour which to me at the time felt like an enormous ask. By the end of my career, I was charging $300 an hour because I was intentionally trying to turn people away. I wanted everyone to say no so that I didn’t have to freelance, and the rare opportunity that did come through that was like sure, we’ll pay you $300 an hour. I was like, okay well I guess I’ll do nights and weekends work if it’s gonna get me a grand for three and a half hours of work, yes!
We don’t get out of bed for less than $300 an hour.
Exactly. Like ideally you want to have one whale of a client, or two whales of a client, rather than 20 tiny piranhas who are just pecking your time to death. So my pricing strategy was every 6 months—and I told my clients this up front, I said by the way, every six months in January and in July, I raise my prices by 10%. And I think actually, at a certain point, I’d wanted to sort of lose clients, as you were saying it means less work for the same amount or more money. At a certain point, even 10% wasn’t enough and I went up to I think 25%. And as long as you give your clients notice and they understand why, it’s totally fair for, you know, I had many people who are willing to hire me at 23 and 24, and they found that I was a very naturally skilled graphic designer, but that I didn’t have a ton of experience and that sometimes it might take me a little bit longer than it would take a seasoned professional who charges $100 an hour. So they were fine with paying a little bit less money for the quality of work that I was able to do. And I said just, you know, as I gain experience, I gain speed, I gain finesse, and I need to raise my prices accordingly. And not only did I never lose good clients, and I did the same thing you did, I developed mentees, who I could pass that additional work along down to, which was life-changing for them at their point in their careers, which is an awesome feeling.
Yeah, always pay it forward.
But also there were actually a couple of clients who would say like, good for you. I’m really glad that you’re doing that like, you’re worth it. And that’s a really nice feeling, so. I think the main enemy when you’re trying to price yourself as a freelancer, and especially as an artist where the cost of what you do is so subjective, your main enemy is always going to be your own self-doubt and your own conception of yourself as an artist. You have to make a commitment to pricing yourself more highly than maybe you feel the confidence to. And that’s difficult, but it’s totally doable.
Totally doable, totally worth it. And I feel like you hid this tiny nugget of wisdom in what you just said, which was transparency. You know, like, transparency to yourself and transparency to your customers. Because if you are explaining to your customers, like this is how—my prices ensure the quality of my work. They ensure that I can afford the highest quality materials, they ensure that I can take the time necessary to ensure the highest quality of the final result. They ensure that I can pay for the education that got me to this level of experience. Like have that transparency both with your clients and yourself. Because again, it’ll chase way that self-doubt and it’ll tell your clients like, oh shit, I’m paying for a premium product.
And if you do, occasionally, have those clients who like scoff or laugh or push back and say like, that’s a ridiculous price. Don’t take that as a clue that you are wrong in the prices that you’ve set for yourself. You are just watching someone embarrass themselves because they have a perception of what things cost and their perception was wrong. I would feel terrible if I set prices and the first two clients that I talked to both said like, there’s no way I’m paying that then I will go on my god, I don’t know, but like stick with it. I think if you are in a field where you are freelancing, I think it’s better to fail early before you invest a ton of time, before you potentially go into debt, before you rent a different apartment so that you have space to make your art, like whatever it is that you need to, in any way that you could be investing in that business, you want to make sure that you’re not investing if there’s no chance that creating that product will one day give you a viable source of income that allows you to live comfortably. If you cannot support yourself with a fairly priced product, better to find that out and then make that art your hobby and find something else to make to make money for a living because you don’t deserve to toil in poverty and obscurity just because you’re an artist. That’s bullshit and I hate it.
It is total bullshit, and I think the key word there is support yourself. So, if after you have, you know, check the competition, added up the cost of your materials, education, and time, and come to what you believe is a fair wage—if after you go through that, you cannot support yourself with that amount, then you’ve done it wrong. You either need to create more or price higher, and I tend to think you should price higher.
There is this story, and I don’t know if it’s true or if it’s just a tall tale, but supposedly one day, Picasso was in a cafe and he was waiting for his coffee and he was sort of scribbling on a napkin. And he made this quick little drawing and a woman recognized him and came up to him and said like, you know, I recognize you, you’re Pablo Picasso. Can I have that napkin that you just scribbled on? Because it looked like he was probably going to throw it away at the end and she said, I’ll pay you whatever you think it’s worth. And without missing a beat, Picasso said, sure. $10,000. And she says well, but I just sat and watched you, you just drew that in 30 seconds. And Picasso says, no, I drew that in 30 years. And his point was that the quality of a work of someone who can jot something off in 30 seconds is not innate genius that someone is born with. Even if they are born with innate genius, that’s not it.
Thank you for saying what was on my mind and in my heart.
You’re welcome, you’re welcome. Yeah, absolutely.
It takes years. It takes decades, it takes thousands and thousands of hours to build the kind of mastery of something that would get you a result like a napkin drawing that looks like a Pablo Picasso.
You should not waste one extra minute of your time on someone who tries to negotiate down your price. Just say, well I’m sorry we couldn’t agree on that price. I wish you luck in finding the product of your dreams. And move on to the clients who will tell you, not only am I happy to pay that price but I would love to commission you to do more.
Yep. Hard agree. As you progress, DJ, you may find that commissions are really your bag or that they’re really not your bag at all. The more input your client has into the final product, the higher you should push up your price.
Oh yeah. Any round of revisions, that’s another like layer of cost on top of it.
Exactly. Always factor in, if it’s something where your client is—you know, if you are like, say an artisan who refinishes furniture, well once they pick the color, the stain, and you sand it down, and you restain it, and then you hand it off to them, you’re kind of done, right? But then there’s other things where maybe you’re a freelance writer and you want to write a blog post for someone. And then they come back at you with like a list of revisions this long and it basically means you have to go back and rewrite half of it and spend 50% more time than you’d originally budgeted. Those are bad clients. Fire them. Raise your prices until they flee.
Fire your clients. Yes, exactly. Exactly. Are you good with that?
No, there’s just one more thing I want to emphasize.
Fire your clients. Fire all your bad clients.
Fire your fucking—! Fire your bad clients. Fire them. You don’t fucking need them.
Fire your bad clients! Your life is too short to have bad clients. Yeah.
Yes, exactly. Exactly. Don’t dig a hole with bad clients from which you cannot dig out. And charge interest on late fees, charge for extra revisions, like [whispers] charge for your time. Your time is valuable.
And limited. Yeah. Okay, are you good with that now?
I am good with that.
Okay, great. Great.
Listeners, if you want us to answer your question, go to BitchesGetRiches.com and click “Ask the Bitches.” Our goal here at Bitches Get Riches is to help people, but we want to make a living wage for ourselves and our assistant doing so without being like a total piece of shit sellout. So if you believe in that mission and you want to help us achieve it, the easiest way to do that is to go to patreon.com/bitchesgetriches. We also accept one time donations through paypal.com/paypalme/bitchesgetriches.And if you need more of our spicy, spicy wisdom, you can read our articles and follow us on social media, and you can do all that stuff at BitchesGetRiches.com.
Hey, is there anything else they should know?
Yes, the weirdest thing happened to me last night. I was home alone, making dinner for myself, and I got out a package of tortellini. And the package said 7 servings on it. But wouldn’t you know it? Once I made the tortellini, there was only 1 serving in that package.
[deep resigned sigh]
Good to know.
Kitty & Piggy 29:45
Bitches out. [laughter]