raising my prices killed my business (but it was still a great decision)

This is a guest post from Chantelle Brightbill.

"Turn In the Road" by Terra Holcomb - click for info

A few years back some of my friends told me my quilts were really good, and I should sell them. I was a stay at home mum with one child, so I dived right in, set up an account on Etsy, consigned at a local baby boutique, signed up for a show, the whole craft scene. I didn’t write a business plan because I didn’t actually have one. I was just making stuff and throwing it out there and seeing what happened. Some stuff flopped. Other items sold really well and I hated every second I worked on them. Some items sold well but paid $1/hr.

I was floundering around and hoping something would work. Miraculously, something did. A few of my designs became popular; I started selling them as fast as I could make them. I had an eight week lead time. I felt successful, if constantly stressed. But then I discovered when I added up all my costs (because, of course, I hadn’t been keeping track) that I had made a loss for the year. I was concerned, but I had been told that no one makes a profit the first year, right? But the next year wasn’t much better. I had more success at shows and selling online, but I still only broke even.

I thought I was charging enough, but I was not.

I was constantly busy, but I felt like I was chasing my tail, spinning in circles.

I had plenty of excuses for my lack of profitability. The economy is slow, I am still learning the ropes of running my own business, I had two more babies. But while those things have certainly affected my earnings, the real problem was this:

My prices were too low.

I did possibly the most terrifying thing since l signed up for my first craft show: I doubled my prices. I would love to wrap this up by saying that sales took off and I am now quite profitable. However, my sales have been very slow since. But I can think again. I am no longer spinning.

You see, I have been reading along here, and on other sites focused on the small craft business for years. I am naturally quite an introspective person, so I have taken much good advice to heart and reviewed my business periodically and thought about how to make it best serve me. I have made lists of goals and five-year plans. Inevitably they get lost under a leaning tower of sketches and invoices in the studio I am too busy to keep tidy.

Having this hiatus means that I can actually stay on track and begin working toward these goals.

I did not have a great eureka moment. I already knew everything I needed to know, but the status quo kept pulling me back.

The raise in my prices has accomplished what I could not do alone, forcing me to take time to take the steps I have needed to take for a long time. I am working on following a better path, with more thoughtfulness and linear direction and less circles and dead ends.

What about you? Have you been so busy making money that you forgot to make a profit?

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Chantelle Brightbill is a modern quilt designer with a strong commitment to sustainable materials. She wants the art you put on your bed to be as beautiful as the art you hang on your walls.

17 thoughts on “raising my prices killed my business (but it was still a great decision)

  1. Thank you Chantelle, this was just the thing I needed to hear right now. I am a visual artist and I recently raised my prices as well. I was totally scared when I did it and I am sure it has put some people off, but my previous prices were unsustainable. To compensate for the higher prices of my originals I decided to offer a large range of prints at much more affordable levels. All in all, it feels like the absolutely right thing to do.

    1. I am thinking about a similar direction. I know I will sell less quilts now, but I am planning on offering a lot more patterns, and I think it will level things out.

  2. YES!! i totally understand this! i’ve been learning that just charging what you think people will pay is an unsustainable business model. i’m learning the hard way as usual. LOL! i also am learning that, when you charge a price with profit built in, you don’t have to sell as many pieces. i’m now trying to find my market, the ones who appreciate what i have to offer and honor my pricing, which is still pretty reasonable. thanks for a great post!

  3. Chantelle, you’ve really described what we’ve all felt. I felt like I was reading my own story. I have recently increased my prices but haven’t quite reached double yet. I have had such a strong following that I’ve been shy to pull the trigger. I may do it sooner than later as I am back to feeling super stressed & that there is not enough time to do all the things I need to do to build a sustainable business & have a business plan (not a dream…a real plan).

  4. Thank you for this! It’s always tempting to set your prices low, or “affordable” in order to get sales. This makes us feel successful, like people really like us and want us, but really in the end we’re just allowing them to take advantage of us. The more crafters that realize what their worth actually is, the better of we’ll all be instead of pricing each other out of the handmade market. It’s not a race, afterall!

  5. Thank you for sharing. I too have struggled with when raise my rates.
    Your quilts are beautiful. I think you should be paid like the treasured artist that you are. How about approaching City Quilter about doing a show in their quilt gallery. They also maintain a list of quilters that take on custom work. Maybe you could get on their list.
    http://cityquilter.com/
    It’s just about finding the market who values you talents. I met this quilter at an Etsy lab she hosted teaching her quilting techniques. She sells her quilts for $450. http://www.hapticlab.com/

  6. Hi Chantelle,

    Thanks so much for this post. I haven’t had the exact same experience, but definitely the same feelings. I’m particularly happy to hear another quilter write about this. I stopped doing craft shows locally, because I was competing with people who weren’t even charging enough to cover their materials and that’s what buyers expected.

    Your work is gorgeous. I’m sure there are people out there willing to pay your fair prices. I hope you find them soon.

  7. When I saw this posted on Facebook I rushed over to read your story. The title implied your business is over but in reality your business has just begun! Before you were running a loss-leading hobby, now you are pricing your products correctly, you are running a business. Yes, you may get less customers but with each sale you make, you will be making money. So raising your prices, slowed down your sales but actually your business is just getting started! I’m excited to see where you are headed. You now have to find your ‘right people’, those how can and will pay what your products are worth and what you need them to buy them for. Good luck for the future!

  8. So few people (etsy shoppers) realize how underpriced the handmade items are. I cannot believe how many people have the gall to ask for discounts/price breaks/free shipping on my etsy items. They really don’t realize how little money we make to begin with! Good for you, raising your prices! When you do that, it helps correct some of the devaluation that runs rampant on etsy.

  9. YES!! I’m totally with you… just started this new philosophy a few weeks ago & already feel so much less stressed & more accomplished. Working on the right tasks each day to build my business as opposed to chasing non-profitable sales, and having a lot more fun :)

  10. When you devalue your work you do a disservice to yourself but you also devalue everyone elses work. Artists work very hard and deserve to be paid for the value of their workmanship. Who would dare ask a solicitor to charge less for their services or any tradesperson.

  11. I am totally going through this at the moment. I struggled for success for years, then found something close to it… with items that were grossly underpriced and as such, really dissatisfying to make. Right now I am slowing down and trying to figure out a way to make and sell what I actually love, at a price that I’m comfortable with. It’s an ongoing, difficult problem, and I applaud you for talking about it.

    Also: your quilts are beautiful and IMHO they’re reasonably priced. I have a quilt that my grandparents made for me and every time I use it, I know how many hours and hours they spent on it. Some handmade items can be priced low, but others just plain can’t…not only because of the time to make them, but because of the years of experience and learning you had to go through to make them as well as you do.

  12. This makes me feel good. In my case, I started my shop at Etsy at the end of April. I learned how to price for profit with Tara. I value my work and I value my creations (fabric necklaces) but I’m not selling much at all.
    How do I find my market? This is the time where doubts plague you. I will keep trying. Thanks for cheering me up!

  13. I saw a funny sign at a craft show. It read, ” You may have noticed that I have raised my prices this year. I have been in therapy and have strengthened my self esteem.” Or something to that effect. I can relate!

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