This is part 1 of 4 in a series on Faux Finishing Business Success. Part two is here.
Faux Finishing Business Success: A four part series
“Business? Yuck! I just want to paint”
This is often the song of the artisan when faced with business tasks. It’s rare for people who love working with their hands to also be excited about business.
This issue is so powerful that some artists make the conscious decision to not engage in business at all; working a separate, “steady” job and only making art on the side. Thus avoiding all business related stresses and concerns. I’ve been there, maybe you have, too.
But for those of us who rely on faux finishing business success, avoidance is not an option.
This Art Gets Used!
If you’re reading this, you’re likely practicing “applied arts” of some sort. This includes faux finishers, car painters, furniture finishers, set painters or the myriad of others who focus on applying decoration to objects used in every day life.
Fine artists can stockpile their canvases, showing them when they wish, or not at all. But applied artists need victims (or… uh… customers) to fulfill our need to decorate walls, cars, doors, tables, floors…
Knowing how, and how much, to charge for our services is as much a part of our craft as the painting techniques we practice.
Can you afford to be a faux finisher?
Tools, materials, license, insurance, bond, clothing and shoes, education (skill development), advertising and marketing, studio/shop rent or payment, office equipment and supplies, accounting services or software, vehicle payment, maintenance and repair…
And that’s only a partial list of the cost of doing business! It’s crucial that these costs be calculated and used as a base rate for billing new customers.
Here’s a great article on Lifehacker that walks you through how to establish a cost of business base line, and then how to add in profit margin.
Here’s another article that goes a bit deeper. It’s directed at digital freelancers, but applies to you and I, too.
This process is a great first step, but it’s important to recognize that “cost of business” is only one aspect of growing and sustaining your art business.
“I love what you do!”
When a potential customer says those words, they tend to be well on their way to making an emotional commitment to hiring you.
The natural next topic of conversation is often “how much does it cost?”. Knowing what to expect (and how to respond) is crucial to getting the job.
I wrote about this issue in another blog post. Please take a minute to give it a read.
The #1 cause of artisan business failure
As discussed above, it’s imperative that you calculate an accurate cost of business and then add the value of your time to that number.
For many artists, valuing our time can be fraught with issues ranging from internal fears to outside forces that we have no control over.
As such, undercharging for projects is the number one cause of artisan business failure.
Some thoughts on why we tend to undercharge…
Feelings of fraudulence or self-doubt
“I’m not worth it” or “My work isn’t good enough” are feelings that artists often struggle with.
- Maybe you’re right. Are you happy with your skill level? Could you use some education and skill development? Is it time to stop bidding on paid work, break out the notes from school or that workshop you took last fall? Maybe do a bunch of foundational skill building (drawing, color theory, brush technique, finishing/sanding…)? Great art is made by those who’ve honed their craft.
- You’re probably already good enough. Perfectionism is a scourge among those of us who make stuff. The world needs you to share your art, and to do that professionally, you need to be paid well for it. If your skill level is similar to or greater than others in your field, then reject the internal voice that says “I’m not good enough”. Definitely continue practicing and building your skill set, but decide right now that you’re going to be well paid for what you do.
Fear of low ball competition
The market offers clients a wide range of price, and quality of work. Don’t get distracted by low-end offers and those who provide or seek them.
Overheard at the paint shop: “With all these unlicensed/unbonded newcomers getting into the business, pros can’t make a living any more!”
I have some good news for you; artisans have been having that very same conversation for thousands of years. There will always be someone who’s willing to do cut-rate work.
“But… cheap immigrant labor!”
Every culture on earth has faced immigrant labor issues. There will always be employers willing to hire cheap, low-skilled labor, both foreign and domestic.
These issues aren’t going away; what to do
No artist ever earned a dime complaining. Decide right now to spend your precious time developing your own business instead of complaining.
Offer a product worthy of your price. What can you offer that the unlicensed, unbonded, inexperienced newbie can’t?
- Experience and Professionalism
- Cleanliness, Conscientiousness, Safety
- Consistency and Stability
- Quality work, A great portfolio, Excellent References
If you’re not very experienced, you’ll need to be certain that your art and business acumen are top notch. If you show up early with gorgeous work and great organization, you’ll be miles ahead of most other bidders. Even some with more time in the business, and especially those who are low balling bids.
Belief/concern that the customer can’t afford your bid
Beginning artisans often start out doing cheap or free work for friends, family, bosses… As beginners, it makes sense to do a certain number of projects pro-bono to build up our portfolio, gain experience and get our work in front of people.
Too often, during this portfolio building stage, artisans get confused about the value of their work. Consider these issues:
- Just because you’re doing a free or low-fee project, doesn’t mean there’s no value in it. Make sure the friend knows how lucky they were that you picked them to practice on. How? By doing AMAZING WORK for them. Blow minds on those portfolio builders and paid work will follow.
- Some artisans use pro-bono projects as an excuse to do sub-par work, drag out the timeline, or other unprofessional behavior.
- Worse yet, some get into a habit of undercharging to avoid professionalism. “I’m not charging full price, so don’t expect full service”. Yikes! Don’t be that person! Your friend is doing you a huge favor by giving you their valuable trust. Do amazing work in a “timely, workmanlike manner”. Then take pictures for your portfolio, get testimonials… and use that experience to go bid on profitable projects.
Financial desperation bidding
At some point, you’ll be “all in”, depending 100% on your decorating skills to pay the bills: No backup job, no fall back plan, no lifelines. This is when things get real.
It’s perfectly natural to feel the need to do whatever it takes, including low-ball bidding, to get the job and get paid. Any pro has been there.
Here are some tips to avoid the desperate bid:
- Create a reserve: (I realize this advice is useless if you have no surplus cash right now. Please keep this concept in mind for when you have cash flow again, and keep reading; this series is all about cash flow!) Keep 2 or more months worth of income in an easily accessible account. It’s a massive stress reliever and provides a vast range of options and freedom. Here’s a brief article on the Entrepreneur site about this subject.
- If you must low-ball: As in, to survive this month, consider this: Think of low-ball projects as a portfolio builder mentioned previously. Do high-quality work, get the photos and testimonials… Don’t diminish your reputation just because the job doesn’t pay as much as others. Keep your side of the street clean to ensure a better future for your business.
- But seriously, don’t low-ball. Here’s a brief profile of the client seeking the lowest bids: Stressed out, always rushed & disorganized, show’s up late to meetings, insane driver, poor health, often short tempered and angry, high expectations with no understanding of your work, pays late or not at all…
You get the idea. The strangest thing about this type of client is, no matter how hard you work for them, they’ll still complain. Why? It’s just who they are.. Keep this person out of your life. If you go after business like this, be prepared for little or no return on your efforts.
- Avoidance is futile and unprofitable: Getting good at business tasks will pay off, big time.
- As a decorator, you must know the cost of running your business.
- Profit is everything over and above the cost of doing business.
- Undercharging is the #1 cause of artisan business failure.
- If your skill set isn’t all it could be, put in the effort to bring it up to speed.
- You’re probably good enough now, make sure you’re getting paid for your skills.
- Leave the low ball bids to the amateurs.
- Complaining about issues you cannot control is a waste of time, build a great business instead.
- Offer a service that’s head and shoulders above the competition.
- Customers who hire low ballers and insist that you cut your rates are often toxic and crazy. Do not work for them.
- Choose low-fee jobs carefully, do your best work and treat them as portfolio builders.
In part two of this series, I show you how to develop a sample portfolio worthy of the best jobs and clients.
Thanks for reading. Please ask questions, comment below, or head over to my facebook page to comment.
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Excellent points. Even when business is slow I still prefer not to low ball as the client, and whomever they refer you to, will expect similar prices in the future. Great article. Thanks
Good point, Dean and thanks for the comment.
Sometimes bad customers refer like minded people. I don’t mean to completely disparage folks who need to negotiate a bit.
Differentiating between reasonable negotiation and crazy low-ball is something to explore.
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