An Unpopular Opinion On Lowballers

Brown and mustard chainstitched coverall, Bespoke Hogaboom

Today’s blog post is short and sweet, on a topic that galls most artisan makers and Creatives:

Lowballers!

That is, people who want work from you and either don’t do their homework on your pricing, or – through ignorance or design – make an offer to you well below your going rate.

The last few years several niche Instagram accounts have popped up, gleefully roasting lowballers and how tacky they are. These accounts – I follow several – are a great way to blow off steam and I love them for that!

But a lot of times the businesses following and commenting on these accounts need more than just snark. They need help. These fledgling businesses do not have sustainable pricing and do not know how to run their sales cycle – in other words, they have too-low sales or lots of tire-kickers who waste time without ultimately purchasing. Lowballers are happy to get in their DMs and think nothing of taking up a lot of time chit-chatting, while all the time they are nowhere near ready to pay proper rates.

Lowballers cause stress, hurt feelings, time mismanagement – and annoyance. Sometimes they will even pursue a business in DMs or on the businesses own platform, insulting them for not working for cheap!

No shade on inexperienced Creative entrepreneurs who are struggling with these “little crabs” (as one client called them), these underpayers. Business-building skills are not taught in school, and there are many hobbyists and failed-entrepreneurs who are more than happy to provide us bad advice.

I am not immune to lowball interactions, but as I gained my business education and acumen these transactions reduced to about ten percent of the outreach I receive. That is to say, at this stage of my career when anyone contacts me – through DM or email or by appointment – there’s only about a ten percent chance they aren’t willing to pay my price. That means I’m not wasting time, and I don’t have to worry – at all – where my  next paycheck comes from.

I didn’t get here by accident and I didn’t get here by luck: I got here through strategy (and experience, #lolsob)! 

And I got here by getting realistic.

Let me provide some illustration by way of empirical experiment.

Last week I finished the pictured handsome backpiece, for a coverall. I posted in my email, my IG, my twitter, and a large chainstitching group and asked – 

“How long do you think this took me to stitch?”

I qualified the experiment – I described the fabric, and said the time to stitch in this case was measured between AFTER I’d transferred the pattern to the fabric, and as soon as I finished and had my threads tied off.

Readers! I had about fifty guesses in total ranging from one hour, to forty hours! 

That is a huge, huge data spread.

(What’s wild is my one-hour guess – which would not be possible for any chainstitcher regardless of acumen – was by a fellow chainstitcher!)

I share this to illustrate a point:

When it comes to artisan work, many people simply don’t have a clue how long something takes, how much work and time went into the acquisition of skills, what education and R&D we had to put in, and what supplies are involved. Not only that, but most people don’t have their head around business expenses in general! They don’t realize that as a business we must price to cover our overhead – everything from our accounting software to our equipment maintenance to our business insurance to our postage and packaging, and website host!

In other words many people aren’t trying to be insulting or even apply pressure (some of them are, but most aren’t). They are used to artificially-suppressed price points resulting for our nation’s Capitalist, exploitive business practices that profit off the backs of overseas workers and indentured domestic ones, industrial practices that destroy the ecosystems of the environments they pollute. Look, this system sucks entirely – but at the very least please recognize that our ideas of what something should cost are heavily impacted by a colonialist infrastructure and habituation.

I think when I realized what I was up against, I stopped feeling annoyed. Well, as annoyed. And I certainly stopped feeling pressure to provide something that was not reasonable to ask of me. If I had to describe my feelings today, I’d say I feel sad. I feel sad that the average American has been conditioned to believe they deserve top-quality work for slave-wage labor, for price points that benefit billionaire owners while exploiting the planet.

That’s just how it is. I didn’t set the system up, but I have to survive it.

Lowballers aren’t fun, or cute. But usually – usually! – they simply don’t know better. (Maybe I should write a blog post about the ones who DO know better, and DO try to apply pressure, because those people are real crumbums!)

You should be building your pricing on a little principle I call MATH, which needs to realistically assess your time, your COGs, your OE, and your income goals. Every single small business can start a proper pricing structure with a simple spreadsheet. After you have your pricing, publish it (or, like me, post your range)! Regularly communicate your policies, provide beautiful content, invite people in to your process. Build infrastructure they must step through, to consult with you (a waiting list or application form, work well).

You’re well on your way!

We can never eliminate lowballers all together but we can drastically reduce these interactions.

These “little crabs” are literally not a problem for me anymore – at all. And I truly believe any Creative can get to that place – with a multistep, careful approach that involves solid pricing, consistent warm and generous community interaction, an invitation into the process, an application or vetting client request system – and an absolute zero-pressure sales approach.

And by the way? The backpiece took three and a half hours, from beginning to end. 🙂