Ask The Expert, Design, Studio, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized

September 28, 2017

The Stationery Pricing Taboo, Part I

On the Blog: The Stationery Pricing Taboo Part One

What IS it about pricing in the stationery industry?! Yeesh.

Something about this topic makes for some really heated arguments. Some people are adamant about not sharing any pricing with anyone except paying clients, while others freely give out information on their pricing structure and sometimes help newbie stationers price their projects.

So…who’s right here?

(answer: no one, really. but hopefully you can make your own judgement call soon.)

Let me break down the debate for you in a two part blog post.

My latest potential client’s response chimed over my phone at 7am. I didn’t see it until 9am (because I’m a night owl and anything before 9am is evil to me), but when I did, I kinda regretted it:

Wow, $15 per invitation? Don’t you think that’s a little expensive for 40 pieces? How can you even price things that high?

My immediate reaction in situations like this is to Defend Myself At All Costs, but I took a breath before I responded, reminding her of the pricing we spoke about in our phone consultation and explaining again why some printing styles are more expensive than others.

And the stationery for this wedding was certainly expensive, even with the small guest count. $15 per invitation does sound expensive when you’re only ordering 40 pieces for a small wedding.

BUT, $15 per invitation is not expensive when you request 1 color letterpress + blind debossing, full calligraphy, and a venue illustration. And that price doesn’t include the vintage postage and pointed pen envelope addressing. [edit: for clarification, the $15 per invite is just for the invite itself. That definitely does NOT include the envelope, other pieces in the suite, or my design time (which I bill separately as a lump sum). $15 per invitation for 40 invitations is pretty low for letterpress, but this also wasn’t a completely custom piece and I was able to use a plate from a previously design.]

Relativity, right folks?

I bring this example up for two reasons: one, because there are a lot of problems in the stationery world in regards to pricing. Two, because clients are uneducated about the level of service and quality of work they can expect from stationers and calligraphers like myself and my colleagues.

 

THE STATIONERY PRICING TABOO

With classes on every virtual corner, more calligraphers/letterers/etc. join the workforce every day.

That’s great for our work, because the less people are scared of calligraphers and their pricing, the more they’ll be inclined to hire us.

What’s bad for our industry are the calligraphers/letterers/etc. who don’t charge an industry standard rate because “they’re just starting out”, “they’re doing a project for a friend”, or worse, “they’re not a professional.”

News flash: if you’re exchanging goods for money, goods for goods, or goods for services, you’re recognized as a professional in business.

Undercharging for any reason hurts the industry in ways that you may not realize:

  • It encourages those with less practice time under their belt to continue charging low prices because of the response they get to their lower pricing.
  • Inaccurate pricing misleads industry pricing as a whole, leading clients to wonder why Jane, who provides the same service as Susan, charges 3 times as much.
  • Potential clients ghost professionals with accurate pricing because they “saw it cheaper somewhere else”, or they don’t understand the value when someone else provides it for less.
  • Lower prices drive the value of calligraphy down, down, down. Those who have practiced and perfected their skill, who use calligraphy as their sole income, find themselves losing clients to those who don’t value their skills enough to charge comparable pricing for them.

I’m not suggesting that all calligraphers or stationers charge the same price for all services across the board, but I do think there should be an industry-standard price floor. And anyone that has perused Etsy for any length of time can understand how frustrating it is to see someone offering pointed pen addressing for $.50 an envelope.

 

STATIONERY IS NOT A PRODUCT-BASED INDUSTRY

I might blow your mind a bit with this one if you haven’t thought of it this way, so take a moment to let it sink in:

Calligraphy and stationery are service-based, not product-based, industries.

Sure, they often are physical products in the end, but the level of intimacy created between client and stationer/calligrapher makes this more of a service-based industry than a product-based one. The client/stationer-calligrapher relationship is underestimated and underrated, but frankly, right up there with the relationship between client and wedding planner.

If you’re still not sold, think about it:

As a calligrapher, how many experiences have with clients that started with a “Hi, I’d like to commission some calligraphy on envelopes for my wedding!” and ended ten minutes later with the client leaving, saying, “Thanks, I’ll pick them up next week!”? (um, I’ve never had an experience like this…)

And to the stationers out there: how many times has a client walked in with a perfect sketch of EXACTLY what they want, the colors they’d like, and a perfectly comparable paper choice?

I can tell you how many times I’ve experienced either of those things: exactly N-O-N-E. (If you’ve had a client interaction like that, tell me where you’re finding your clients because I need more of them in my life.)

Why don’t more of these interactions happen?

  • Because calligraphy and stationery aren’t things that people order on a consistent basis. People probably buy cars more often than they commission stationery and especially calligraphy.
  • Because most clients don’t understand the intricacies of paper, the way ink interacts with it, and how we solve those little problems that we run into.
  • Clients see something pretty on Pinterest or Instagram and assume that these things can be produced on a massive scale for the price of a Minted invitation.

If any one of these clients come to you to commission work, you have to educate them, and if you’ve been to any kind of paid-learning institution, you know that knowledge. ain’t. cheap.

You have to have extensive knowledge of your industry (or know where to start looking to waste as little time as possible), which means that you have to spend hours upon HOURS of research (read: possible billable time being used up but lessons learned). Sometimes, you have to try something only to fail (read: money down the drain but lesson learned).

But why do the ready-made design places (*cough* you-know-who *cough*) charge so little? They have years of knowledge, so many designs, foil and letterpress options, etc..

The reason why is this: there’s no interaction.

The only human interaction you get from those websites is when you have a problem, and that’s the very LAST instance that you want someone talking to a human being at your company for the first time.

At least…that’s the way most of our stationery and calligraphy businesses work, am I right? Maybe I would feel differently if I owned a company that made over $1 billion in revenue last year.

 

THAT’S ALL REALLY GREAT, HOLLY. SO HOW DO I PRICE MY WORK?

I’ll go over all of that information in the next blog post! Check out some of my older posts here.

In the meantime, what’s your biggest struggle with pricing your work and being competitive in the stationery industry?

 

Holly signature

  1. Elisabeth Young

    September 29th, 2017 at 8:28 am

    Definitely spot on! Thanks for sharing your thoughts girl 🙂

  2. Holly

    September 29th, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Thank you, Elisabeth! I’m glad you enjoyed the read! ?

  3. Genevieve

    September 29th, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    If I could hug you, I would! It’s so wonderful to see another creative who “gets it”.

    As a creative industry, it’s gotten out of control coupled with customers’ high expectations + less patience.

  4. Holly

    September 29th, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Thank you, Genevieve! I’m sending you a hug right back, because it’s so awesome that someone in another industry gets it, too! You summed it up nicely with customers’ high expectations and less patience – it’s a snowball effect from the digital, instant-gratification world we live in but we creatives have the power to educate our clients and potential clients by being honest with our processes. Just because we do something quickly or make it look easy doesn’t mean that it IS, or that we haven’t put in hundreds of hours getting to that point. Let’s all keep having this conversation!

  5. Genevieve

    September 29th, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    To add to your point: “With classes on every virtual corner, more calligraphers/letterers/etc. join the workforce every day.”

    I have a love hate/relationship with classes. I took a letterpress class just for the fun of it & now I have a better understanding as to why it demands a higher price.
    Then on the other hand, classes create a low barrier of entry thus diluting the market with hobbyists parading as professionals.

    By being honest about what goes into being a creative entrepreneur, you are pulling back the curtain of what our lives are really like & I thank you.

  6. Holly

    September 29th, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    I’m totally with you! I took a letterpress class to get more of a feel for the work involved (which was a lot, of course!) but I completely understand that with all of these classes and workshops, more and more people enter the stationery/calligraphy world with no instruction on how to price things. I think it would be beneficial for workshop hosts to explain pricing and impress upon everyone attending that while calligraphy is a great hobby, there are many people out there whose sole income comes from calligraphy and undermining their rates hurts their livelihood. I’m so glad we’re able to chat about this!

  7. Magen

    September 30th, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Holly,

    I am so so glad that several calligraphers & stationers I follow on Instagram shared your blog post. THIS.IS.SPOT.ON!!

    You so accurately yet delicately exposed the issue with both clients’ obliviousness about our time and labor, and with industry “newcomers” not charging what they are worth.

    I think this was such a good week for our industry. Firstly, with the publication of this blog post, much more light is being shed on what’s going on behind-the-scenes of pretty stationery and calligraphy (and on Etsy). Secondly, Becca of @thehappyevercrafter and Joanne of @indetailcreative on Instagram got together and released an e-workbook called “Panic-Free Pricing” that breaks down everything about pricing goods, calculating accurate minimums for jobs, and most importantly realizing and recognizing your worth.

    Thank you so much for sharing your insight with us. I’m definitely looking forward to reading part 2, and I will FOR SURE be sharing this on my social media!

  8. Holly

    September 30th, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Magen!

    Thank you SO much for sharing your thoughts! It’s so difficult to educate clients when stationers themselves don’t have a good idea of what to charge for their services.

    At the end of the next blog post, I’ll Be sharing resources for pricing guides including Becca and Joanne’s Panic-Free Pricing Guide and a few other guides/books I’ve found helpful. In the end, we all need to hold each other accountable for fair and common pricing and I’m so glad that there are other stationers/calligraphers who want the same level of pricing transparency or at the very least, a price floor! Thank you so much and I hope you enjoy the next few posts!

  9. Celeste

    September 30th, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Hi Holly, it is my first time knowing you through Nat of Papel & Co on her Instagram story mentioning your much-needed-to-read post.

    This afternoon I was just asking my friend, how much should I price for a customized tumbler? Is it too expensive? What is the right price? These questions have been going through my mind and I certainly have no answers to them because there is no pricing structure thrown out there for this industry. Like what you have pointed out, I am in the pool of calligraphy newbies and amateur, and I am also a person that tends to under-value my own work and effort (I could end up to be one of those pricing my own work at super low price and damaging the industry standards, if I didn’t come across your post). Art and craft works do not come easy. It takes SO MUCH time and effort to practice, and make things look right. I value your post and opinion so much. Looking forward to your second post 🙂

    Celeste from Singapore (calligraphy is my brand new hobby (have wanted to try for years!) and I can be found on Instagram @thewhitemartcalligrahy)

  10. Holly

    September 30th, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Hi Celeste!

    Thank you so much for reading my post! It’s so hard to price (especially as a new calligrapher!) because of the lack of transparency in the industry, and it makes me so happy to know that you are valuing your time and skill in order to price better! I hope the next few posts will help you even more — I’ll be sharing some examples and a quick way to establish basic pricing, and some contributors will be sharing their tips, too!

    To price something like a one-off piece, consider your time spent sketching your design, digitizing if needed, your materials, the time it takes you to do it, whether you’ll be providing the tumbler, and the trial-and-error process to finding the perfect application for the surface you’re working on. Once you consider all of the factors that go into your work, it really becomes easier to start charging your worth!

    I hope you enjoy the next posts and thank you so much for taking the time to comment and let me know! 🙂

  11. The Stationery Pricing Taboo, Part II - Seattle Wedding Calligraphy & Stationery | Seattle Wedding Stationery | Sablewood Paper Co.

    October 5th, 2017 at 10:04 am

    […] read Part I? Click here to catch […]

  12. Karie

    October 5th, 2017 at 11:33 am

    Love this post and the most recent part II. I wish I could make all of my invitation inquiries read these posts. I think the biggest issue with client’s understanding the price is their lack of understanding in what all goes into creating the final product and the differences in printing. Yes, my prices are higher because I specialize in letterpress and foil invitations. The paper is more expensive and the dies are very expensive especially with foil. I often wonder if potential clients are comparing my higher quality/prices with those of another designer with lower prices and digital printing but they don’t understand the difference in printing techniques. I’m in the process of building new website and I think now more than ever it’s important for me to include a section on the differences in printing and why the difference in price.

    Thank you for such wonderful posts. Looking forward to Part III.

  13. Holly

    October 5th, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    Hi Karie!

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed reading about the pricing taboo in our industry! Like you said, there is definitely a discrepancy between the client’s perception of the invitation design process and the actual process. So how do we fix that? I believe we start by being honest about our pricing and working our way out from there. If we don’t value our work, how are our clients supposed to value it? So many clients I’ve spoken to have also been surprised at my foil and letterpress prices, because they don’t understand that you have to create a die, ink a press, etc. – but once it’s explained to them, they always seem to be even more excited about the project knowing what it takes to get there!

    I think it’s a fantastic idea to include a section on different printing styles and what that means in terms of pricing. It’s not the client’s fault for not understanding, but it is our fault if we don’t try to educate them about our processes. I hope you enjoy Parts III and IV, and thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me! 🙂

  14. The Stationery Pricing Taboo, Part IV - Seattle Wedding Calligraphy & Stationery | Seattle Wedding Stationery | Sablewood Paper Co.

    October 26th, 2017 at 11:17 am

    […] you haven’t read them yet, catch up on the Stationery Pricing Taboo Series here: Part I | Part II | Part […]

  15. Paper + Things – Jesica Gloria

    October 26th, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    […] out to Holly, the lady behind Sablewood Paper Company, who wrote four awesome blog posts about “The Stationary Pricing Taboo”. Her work is amazing, and her heart is amazing. I […]

  16. The Calligrapher's Christmas Wish List - Seattle Wedding Calligraphy & Stationery | Seattle Wedding Stationery | Sablewood Paper Co.

    November 30th, 2017 at 10:02 am

    […] The Calligrapher’s Business Handbook – Buy it! I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend this book. What kind of pricing fanatic would I be if I didn’t?! This book is an excellent (and short) read for the beginner and advanced calligrapher. Even if you’re doing this “for fun”, you need to pick up a copy of this book. Remember that we’re all in this together, and if you don’t remember, check out the Pricing Taboo Blog Series. […]

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