Cheeky title, but after reading this post on Vianza about running a sweatshop there is a truth for me that rings loud and clear: as a consumer, at first glance it is hard to tell sometimes between a hobbyist and someone who is determined to make a full living from their handiwork.
I have never taken what I do as a hobby.
There is a certain stigma that comes with the label sweatshop that is pointed out in the article, but by definition working grueling hours for little to no pay and benefits is sweatshop working. I have definitely had my share of that working for myself, but it’s very important to understand why it is not only detrimental to you as a business owner, but as a person with ambition. I understand that we have to get a little dirty at first: funds might be extremely low when you start out. But they will stay low if you don’t grow as a business owner.
One thing I always share with friends who come to me for advice on starting a business, is to not rely on a platform to get you money for too long. Do it to get your feet wet, but certain online sites definitely contribute to this pressure of having to undersell because they host both the self employed and hobbyists. Any innocent person can go online looking to buy something and not know which one you are. Especially in the beginning. It’s worth the money, effort and time to invest from early on in yourself. I look at it like this: if one of your main reasons for striking out on your own is to not work for someone else, why would you willingly share any of your profit for 100% of your hard work?
I’ll use myself as an example. Say I’ve spent $150 on different beads on one shopping trip. I still need to buy every single metal piece to make something out of the jewels. When I go shopping, I usually spend at least 7 hours going from shop to shop, coming up with color combos I like that are readily available and then working out what to buy where. Sometimes it takes 2 full days of shopping on beads alone. I shop like there is absolutely no pressure to buy so that I don’t end up with a $30 strand of beads I’ll never use. I learned that the hard way a lot for the first 6 months or so. Next trip, I need to get all the chain and extra fixings in order to make functional pieces. So roughly $200 later and about 21-25 full hours of shopping is banked. Then I go home and start the process of what to create. Sometimes I get right into it. Sometimes I need to sit and sketch. I’m not much of a sketcher. Then I go look at art for a few days for inspiration.
Now its about 1.5 weeks later. This is all time that needs to be accounted for. I’m ready to make something! I clock how long it takes me to create each piece using a timer. From idea to finished piece. I also keep a close inventory on what I have in stock and break down the price of each item by the amount of beads on a string. So I know how much each inch of cord or wire or each clasp or each bead costs me. That’s a lot of math.
I put that all into this monster of an excel formula I created a few years back. This formula calculates the price of each item based on the salary I would like to make. It calculates time, shipping materials, all my bills that go into making the piece (I didn’t use a time machine to just end up in the bead shop, I needed public transport), raw material, production time, just about anything needed in order for my business to survive. I even calculate vacation time. Treat this job like any other job and you’ll see just how much you’re cheating yourself out of financially.
In the beginning I had a really hard time dealing with the prices it would give me because I was obsessed with comparing myself to all the wrong people:
- The super popular were doing some of what I was and making LOTS of sales and in turn, money.
- The hobbyists who didn’t care what they made and would charge 1/3 or 1/4 of what I was asking.
- The beginners who didn’t value their worth for a myriad of reasons.
I mean I’m still not perfect at asking exactly what I should be, but I’ve come a long way. The days of changing my prices 4 and 5 times a day are long gone. The biggest danger in always appearing to cheapen yourself is that if you start to makes sales and haven’t changed your inventory too much (still making the same style because it’s your signature), then people who purchased when the price was higher won’t want to purchase again because they might feel cheated. And those who purchase when you’re on a perpetual sale will never want to pay full price. You really are digging your own financial grave.
As a customer, I would never go into a shop and haggle with someone over the price of something but it is bizarre how many people will try that when you are self employed. I am even starting to dislike the term “indie artist”. I’m a self employed person with a business platform. I’m not trying to wing it and see what happens and if all else fails I’ll just go get a “real” job. This is my job. I have working hours.
Value yourself. Understand what you are not only doing to yourself, but your potential customers mindstate, your competitors and your sliver of your industry. Stop being a sweatshop. We wouldn’t tolerate it from a large company, so stop tolerating it for yourself.
So, have you found that you’re a bit of the sweatshop kind? I know I’ve been. There’s no shame in it, but it’s important to break that cycle. What have you done to change this in your own business?