Alright babe, it’s time to get down to business here and talk about one of the most anxiety-inducing topics in the girl-boss universe: Pricing. Pricing can be a mysterious grey area for a lot of people, but thankfully, calligraphers and artists all over are becoming more and more open about pricing. Being transparent about what you charge helps to create an industry standard, which then elevates the community, and allows us all to be compensated fairly. Hence why I’ve published my base pricing & rates, which you can check out here. I used to keep my prices under wraps only because custom projects vary in price so much, I didn’t want to give clients an expectation that, for example, ALL place cards will cost $2.00 each (since there are now so many different types of place cards - paper, marble, agate, etc, and the processes are all so different). However, for all the ranting I do about pricing, it felt like time to be transparent and provide a resource for my fellow calligraphy ladybosses out there.
There is a lot of confusion out there about how to price your work, and unfortunately often a lot of pricing variation from one calligrapher to the next. That is a result of conflicting information, as well as the simple fact that for whatever reason, we tend to feel badly charging “too much”. The issue there is the word “feel” - it leads to what is known as Emotional Pricing. The only way to pay yourself fairly is to completely remove the emotional part of it. This requires a shift in mindset, and removing yourself from the equation. When I first started out and had no money, I would think about what I could afford, and feel bad charging anything more than that. Well, not everyone is in the position that I was (burning through their savings because they just prematurely quit their not-particularly-well-paying-anyways graphic design job to pursue the fairly instable world of freelance) - some people are lawyers, or marketing professionals, or chefs, or whatever, and what they can afford is very different from what I could have at the time. Calligraphy has definitely become more mainstream in recent years, but it is still a luxury service. I hate saying this because it might sound mean, but there will be some budgets that calligraphy just doesn’t fit into, and that isn’t your fault. (But it is a great reason to start teaching calligraphy, because maybe you will have people who don’t want to alot $500-1000 of their wedding budget to calligraphy, but are willing to attend a $100 workshop so they can DIY it!).
You will come across people who don’t understand what you do and why it costs what it costs. It’ll be hard not to compromise in the beginning when you don’t feel like you should be turning down work, but the thing is that as long as creatives agree to work for cheaper rates, the cycle of artists being underpaid and undervalued will just continue. It’s kind of like a responsibility we all have to each other not to compromise, and to understand and stand by our worth. For every person who wants you to work for free (you can’t pay your bills with “exposure”!) or ludicrously cheap, there will be someone else who totally appreciates your work and is more than willing to compensate you fairly.
I could honestly go on about this topic until the end of time, but nobody wants to read a 300 page blog post. So instead, here are my main tips for pricing your work with confidence:
Practice until you would hire yourself
One thing I do regret from when I first started booking calligraphy gigs, is that I probably should have waited a little longer until I was at a higher skill level. Not only would I have avoided a few mishaps (that turned into excellent learning experiences, at least) I would probably have felt a lot more confident charging appropriate prices. I wasn’t charging enough for a long time, and part of that was not knowing better, but also not feeling like I had a right to charge more. In order to prevent that pesky old impostor syndrome from creeping up on you and preventing you from charging high enough prices - ask yourself, would you hire you you? Or better yet, would you hire you to do the calligraphy for your best friend’s wedding? We tend to want the absolute best for the people closest to us, so if you don’t think your skills are good enough for your bestie, it might be best to keep working at them until you feel completely confident in your abilities.
Do your research
Like in any industry, standard prices and salaries will vary based on the area you live in. An important part of determining your prices should be doing local research and finding out what the going rates are where you’re located. (Bonus points if you become friends with the other calligraphers in your city and form a badass girl gang). You want to be on par with other local calligraphers, even if they are more experienced than you. I think I speak for all established calligraphers when I say that I would rather lose a job to someone because the client prefers their style to mine, than because their price is lower.
Put together a Pricing Structure
You may have heard me talk about this before, but I am a huge proponent of having a pricing structure instead of using an hourly rate for everything. I feel strongly that charging by the hour should be reserved for very select circumstances. In my opinion and experience, it is much better to have set base prices for all of the services you offer, and develop a kind of sliding scale to accommodate custom requests. So for example, for seating charts: I charge a base design fee, and then a rate per name, a rate per table number, as well as travel and materials fees if applicable. I would say most seating charts take me between 5-6 hours, but depending on the circumstances they can take me less, or more. If they take me less time, then I penalize myself by charging by the hour. If they take me more time, I penalize the client by charging by the hour. So, I completely eliminate that issue by using a tried and true pricing structure. (I go into a lot more detail about this in my Business Babe Course!)
As you start to send out your quotes and book clients, you should always keep track of how many inquiries you get compared to how many people actually book or not. Sometimes people don’t book for other reasons, but price is usually the culprit for a booking slipping through the cracks. By keeping track of this ratio, you can get a sense for if your pricing structure is appropriate - as a general rule of thumb, if 10 out of 10 people are booking you, your prices are too low. If only 5 out of 10 people are booking you, your prices may be a little too high.
Need a little more guidance?
The Calligraphy Business Bible is the resource that I wish I had when I first started my calligraphy business! In the course, I tell you how I got started, how to carve out a niche and build your clientele, and all about pricing, workflow and policies.
Recommended Reading: Graphic Artist Guild Handbook & The Calligrapher’s Business Handbook
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