Discounts Will Bite You In The Ass

Don’t give them to anyone

When I started selling my art professionally, I had two price systems set up. One was for the general public and one was for friends and family. It was a mistake.

While my friends and family appreciated the discounts, it impacted the value they attached to my art. Pieces ended up in garages, in junk rooms and generally not treated as valuable.

No everyone. No. But enough.

When I ended the friends and family pricing, that part of my business dried up, but it was fine because I no longer resented how little my art was selling for. AND… strangers were gladly buying my art for full price without making a fuss.

After twenty years, I’ve finally wrapped up my freelancing services. No more making books for people. No more websites. No more graphic design or illustrations or anything. I don’t have the time. The business I started up last year with my business partner has taken off and we’re leaping into amazing, self driven projects.

But I wanted to go out on the sweetest note. I wanted one last project as a kind of farewell tour. A dear friend of mine wrote a book and really wanted to see it published. I arranged for a professional editor to go through it. I offered my services at well below cost. This friend, tight for money, had a life long dream I wanted to help make happen.

I billed her about 30% of what I normally charge for a project of this size and involvement. I had invoked friendship pricing but worse, this project took me away from paid work and was far more involved than it should have been because my friend insisted on meeting in person for every single update.

Whether we’re pricing our art or pricing our services, charging full price and a decent price at that is important. It shows our clients how much we value ourselves, our skills and our time. When you price low, it makes a statement about all of that and that statement isn’t a good one.

I make throwaway art because it’s cheap. My time doesn’t matter, my skills not so special, because I’m charging so little.

The book project ended at the beginning of January with the release of the book and my work was done. Sweet indeed. It reminded me of why I had helped people get their books published. My friend, so happy.

But, and this is where pricing bit me in the ass: she wanted changes to the book. Updates to the manuscript. And she wanted it on her schedule at no additional charge, regardless of my availability.

You can see where this is going. And let’s just say it ended with the most awful text message and email I’ve ever been sent made worse because in her moment of demanding and completely not understanding how much she got from me, she killed our friendship thoroughly.

I’m not sharing this because I’m using this platform as my personal diary but because this is important:

If you price your work, your time and your skills too low they will not be appreciated. You will not be appreciated. And your boundaries will not be respected.

People don’t buy art, or services based entirely on price. They buy them based on perceived value. You start that perception by pricing correctly for what you’re offering, and you continue that perception by not ever offering discounts. Not to friends. Not to family.

In addition to pricing, set boundaries. Define your working hours and availability and don’t ask your clients if it’s ok with them. You are your own boss so act like it.

My former friend was used to me squeezing her in for a 3 hour coffee meeting and lost her shit when I no longer had three hours in a day to spare for her, much less for free. Entirely my fault for not putting firm boundaries in place. Also my bad for giving her such a massive discount.

At least, I hope, someone can learn from this. I know I have.

Paula Mould

Paula Mould

Paula Mould is a fine artist, published author and business coach for Leigh & Paula.

She also swears, mostly on purpose.

Topics