Last words before the summer holiday
I must be brief today because I must pack our bags and head off with my family for a week’s holiday on the rugged and dramatic coast of southern Wales.
All the same, I see from many comments on my last post how one particular question needs more attention.
Therefore even here, where we focus on glass painting techniques – even here, I won’t apologize for returning to the topic of price.
Price is one way of standing behind the value of your work. That’s why it’s so important we also discuss it here.
Pricing – why the traditional model is wrong
So let’s say you’ve painted a beautiful stained glass panel.
How do you go about pricing it for sale?
The picture just below contains a vital clue:
We discussed it last week in a very different context. Today you’ll see how it’s also relevant to price.
Now the usual way of thinking suggests there are two big mistakes you must avoid.
When you under-price your work, you will maybe lose respect in other people’s eyes, you undermine the value of the object, and you maybe also make it harder for other makers to earn an honest living.
When you over-price your work, you will maybe starve, you might appear greedy, and you can harm your future credibility.
Now that’s all clear and simple, isn’t it?
The trouble is, it’s too clear and simple.
The trouble is, it suggests price is an objective form of measurement, like establishing the weight of something:
When anyone thinks of price as an objective scale of value, just two things can happen.
Remember, this is the real world we’re talking about – not some textbook example of perfectly rational and presumably bloodless decision-makers.
Either this happens:
But I reckon this whole model is mistaken, because price isn’t objective like that.
And the only economists who disagree are the mathematical geeks who brought you the ongoing financial crisis of 2008.
People like to think price is objective because they like to think they’re better than they are at making decisions about how to spend their money.
But the truth is, we all need a lot more information than a simple price-tag.
We all need a lot more help.
Supermarkets are absolute geniuses at hiding the help they give. They are so talented it might often be called manipulation. Words like “new” and “original”. Smells like “fresh” bread (when it isn’t). Colours and shapes of “fresh” vegetables (when they aren’t). The relative sizes of different boxes (actually hiding the true contents). Special offers like two-for-one. Bottom shelf vs. top-shelf positioning. And so on …
This is all very complicated for the likes of me and you.
After all, we’re “makers”, we’re practitioners of a craft, some of us are artists, mostly we don’t mass-produce anything (though David and I do have something of an assembly line for all the inscriptions in the tycoon’s 16 stained glass skylights …).
What this often means is many makers don’t want to work hard at pricing.
And the reason is, they prefer to work hard at making.
But the problem is, anyone who doesn’t work hard at pricing will find they lose control of how other people see their work.
Like I said, we all need a lot of help when it comes to agreeing to pay a given price for something. And either you, the maker, provide this help. Or someone / something else will do it for you, with potentially disastrous results.
An example – think long and hard about the clubs you join
Now the point here is to talk honestly about us, about Williams & Byrne – about the studio we run. Because, just like you can learn from our techniques, so you can also learn from our experience.
So here’s a true story …
When we started out, we joined a guild.
It was and is a very good guild.
Everyone is vetted. This ensures high standards across all the makers.
But two things combined to make life difficult for us.
First, this guild is a club of local makers.
Second, we ourselves specialize in architectural stained glass – really big pieces, we don’t make things that people can pick up and take away the same day.
So when this guild held its annual fair, we found ourselves standing next to basket-makers, or weavers, or jewellers, and so on.
And visitors found this confusing, because they had actually come to shop.
At first we tried to get around this problem by making sample panels and displaying them on light-boxes.
But visitors also found this confusing, because the basket-maker’s basket cost £25, the weaver’s blanket cost £49, the jeweller’s ring cost £86, and our painted stained glass panel cost … £725.
Nor was it any use at all to explain this beautiful stained glass panel was part of a limited edition, numbered, and individually signed by us.
In truth, nothing we (“Williams & Byrne“) could do would ever counter-balance all the “help” and “guidance” that was coming from the wider context of the fair and all the other exhibitors, plus the information put out by the guild of which we were signed-up members.
In truth, we had joined the guild because it seemed a cost-effective way of getting our name around without spending a lot of time proving to people that the work we do is absolutely worth the big prices we charge.
That’s why this illusion – though on one level it’s all about colour – is also relevant to how you price your work:
Fact is, both A and B are exactly the same shade of grey. But your eye and brain are fooled by other information like the tower and its shadow.
Same with how you price your work.
If you just use a costing formula, you risk losing control of how people see the things you make.
And yes, I do know there is a common idea that high prices command respect.
But I don’t think it’s true. Or rather, it misses out a vital ingredient – because high prices command only respect when they also come with high value. And whatever ‘value’ means here, it’s been worked at. Worked at long and hard. Even supermarkets know that. Or rather, especially supermarkets know that. Which is why they are successful despite selling a lot of truly awful food.
So my advice is, don’t make the mistake of simply calculating the price you charge.
If you have the skill to paint beautiful stained glass, then you must also take the time and find the energy to create the whole context in which your price is seen.
It’s a harsh and busy world. No one will care about beauty, or even recognize it, unless you make them understand why they should.
Now if you like article, I absolutely hope you already get our regular email newsletter. It’s free and packed with techniques. So if you don’t already get it, you’re missing out – that’s not a good idea when all around you the world is going crazy and things aren’t getting any easier. So get it here and start learning the tips and techniques we only send to people on our list.
P.S. I think this gives the background to the truth of Carl’s comment last week that “One has to think highly of himself – or no one will” – the price you charge for your work (along with the work itself) is part of who you are. I also think it provides useful insight into why Sue’s tutors appeared to suggest there was some kind of secret formula to pricing which they just weren’t prepared to divulge. There is no secret formula. Yes indeed, you need to know your costs. But you also have to understand that the price of your work is something which, as a result of all the other work you do, is something you must first create – and then command.
P.P.S. There is obviously a lot more to say about price. We’ve lots more useful anecdotes and discoveries to relate.
P.P.P.S. One last thing – we won’t be writing any more posts until September. It’s important you know this, otherwise you’ll wonder what’s going on (especially with the way things are right now). First, like I said, I’m away for a week; then so is David. Second, both of us will take time out for the rest of the month to think up new ideas to share with you. Yes, that’s another way we have of being professional in how we work with you: we take time out in order to do our best for you.