Financial Organization, Here We Come!

Did you know that you can get an automatic six-month extension on filing your taxes just by filling out a short form? You don’t even have to give a reason, you can just take six more months to do it. You still have to pay your taxes by April 15th of course (Uncle Sam doesn’t like waiting for his money), but since you pay quarterly anyway, that’s no big deal, and — 

Wait, you didn’t know that you have to pay quarterly estimated taxes as a small business?

Yes, federal and state income tax. Not sales tax, though. You can still pay that annually, but — 

Yes, you have to pay sales tax! You collected it from your customers, didn’t you?

You didn’t know you had to?

And you thought you got to keep it?!

You’ve just overheard me on the phone with my 2004 self. When I started my first business ten years ago, I didn’t know any of these things. I didn’t pay quarterly taxes my first two years. I didn’t know I always had to pay sales tax — even when I didn’t collect it. When Etsy or my online shopping cart collected it for me, I thought I just got to keep it. Luckily I was able to correct these things before they came back to bite me, but I can do you one better.

At the Craftcation Conference next week, I will be launching a small selection of financial organization services to get you on the right track. If you’re at the start of a new business and you want to make sure you’re doing everything correctly, but you still have a lot of “unknown unknowns,” I can help you get organized.  I’m not a CPA or a tax preparer — I won’t be doing your bookkeeping or taxes for you. What I will do is set up a customized financial system for your business and teach you how to use it. Not only will all your i’s be dotted and your t’s crossed, you’ll be able to see the health of your business at a glance, as well as what you need to do to make it more profitable — all for the cost of preparing one tax return. Here are the goods:

  • Squeaky Clean Books ($500 for service-based businesses/ $650 and up for product-based businesses): get a one-of-a-kind, customized Excel bookkeeping ledger that contains exactly the features your business needs and nothing extraneous, plus three hours of private tutoring in proper bookkeeping techniques, using your ledger and your receipts. The ledger is sweet — it does all the calculations for you automatically. Come tax time, all you’ll have to do is print the front page! (does not come with Excel software)
  • My First Quickbooks ($650 for service-based businesses/ $800 and up for product-based businesses): get your Quickbooks software (Pro or Premier Manufacturing & Wholesale edition) set up specifically for your business, plus five hours of private tutoring in proper bookkeeping techniques and how to use the software. (does not come with Quickbooks software)
  • Price Hacker ($300 and up): I will help you set sustainable, market-appropriate prices that you can feel confident about for all of your products and/or services.
  • Wealth Builder ($450): get a personalized financial plan for saving, investing and/or paying down debt, based on your life goals, plus three hours of private tutoring on how to build wealth confidently and painlessly.
  • Sales Tax Master ($200 and up): I will walk you through filling out and filing your California Sales Tax return, and help you set up your records so that it’s a breeze next year.

If you’re looking for something a little different, you can contact me to customize a package just for you. I am also available to consult on specific topics on an hourly basis. If you will be attending the Craftcation Conference in Ventura, you can take my personal finance and/or bookkeeping workshops to get a sense of how I structure things. I’ll also be speaking on a panel about pricing and offering personal office hours for your financial questions. Let’s get in touch!

 

Craftcation Recap

It’s been almost a week and I’m still not sure I’m fully recovered from the Craftcation conference.  I was scheduled to run three sessions in three days, but then added a fourth at the last minute when another speaker had to cancel.  Having been a middle school teacher for six years, where you teach 4-5 hours a day, I didn’t think it would be a big deal, but I was exhausted at the end of every day.  I forgot how tiring it can be when all of your down time between sessions is spent networking, even meals!

Moving your Business Beyond the Kitchen Table panel at Craftcation with me (moderator), Angharad Jones, Delilah Snell and Nicole Stevenson

Despite my exhaustion, I had a really good time.  I love helping other creatives (especially women) get their businesses on the right track, and I got to spend a little quality time with other energizing crafty business ladies.  I had one particularly raucous dinner with Steph Cortes from NerdJerk, Rosalie from Unanimous Craft, Marlo Miyashiro, Danielle from Etsy, Ashley Jennings, and Rena Tom that I will not soon forget.  I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

Marlo, Rena and me

I was really pleased to see such great attendance at Craftcation, though some of my sessions didn’t run quite as smoothly as I’d hoped.  The session on pricing was so popular that the room became a fire hazard and we had to start turning people away.  We also didn’t have a working projector, but the attendees all rallied their technology so that each table could view the slides on a shared iPad.  The marketing session was also a full house and we ended up running out of handouts halfway through, but my helper for that one, Stephanie, was freaking amazing.  I understand that you can never quite predict session attendance, and besides, shit happens, but I want to make sure that anyone who couldn’t attend or take home handouts has a chance to access the materials.  Y’all paid good money to attend the conference after all, so here are the links to the materials from my three solo sessions (the panel didn’t have materials):

Full house at the Marketing on a Budget Session at Craftcation

One thing I’m having trouble with is measuring the ROI of this conference to my own business.  The benefits are so intangible for the most part that it’s tough to tell whether offering three days of (essentially) free teaching will pay for itself in the long term.  I really like teaching, so there’s that intangible benefit right off the bat, but does it make up for the three days I couldn’t work on any of my own projects?  Right now I’m leaning towards “yes”, but I couldn’t give you any hard evidence for why I’m leaning that way.  Right now it’s just a gut feeling surrounding the concept of “networking”.

How do you figure out when to take on projects that are peripheral to your creative business, like speaking, writing and teaching?  I could honestly really use some help with this one.

Ask Biz Miss: Pricing Your Work

Do you have any advice for how to calculate prices for creative products or services?

There are two main approaches to pricing your work: a bottom-up approach and a top-down approach.

The Bottom-Up Approach

The bottom up approach creates a pricing formula based on the time, skill, and materials you put into a piece.  It is usually the best approach for freelancers or other creative service providers.  It looks like this:

Price  = Freelance rate x Hours + Materials

Step 1: Calculate your freelance rate

Visit Freelance Switch to calculate what you need to charge in order to live comfortably based on your business and living expenses.  This is your break-even rate.  Use this rate to charge for the hours you spend on non-skilled work like hole-punching or putting prints into plastic sleeves.

Next, add some profit to that rate to cover your “intangible assets”—that is, your creative ideas and skilled artisanship.  One good estimate is to add $3,000 of annual profit for each year of experience or education you have in your field.  This new rate is your ideal rate.  Use this to charge for the hours you spend on skilled work like sketching designs, brainstorming with clients or intricate beadwork.

Step 2: Calculate your materials cost

Add up the cost of all the materials you need for your project.  This includes transportation/shipping or the time it took you to get those materials (at your break-even hourly rate).  Many Biz Ladies find it easier just to add a mark-up of around 10% to cover these costs.  If a material is particularly difficult or expensive to obtain, you may want to mark it up higher.

You don’t need to include the cost of overhead (i.e. utilities, rent, office supplies) since this has already been figured in to your hourly rate.

The Top-Down Approach

The top-down approach creates a pricing formula based on the current market value of products or services similar to the ones you offer.  You start with a competitive retail price and then work backwards to try to bring your material and labor costs in line.  The bottom-up approach is usually the best approach for people selling products.  It looks like this:

(Price – Expenses) / Hours = Hourly Wage

Step 1: Do some market research

In order to figure out a competitive retail price, you need to know what other people are charging for their goods.  Do your research by visiting stores, fairs and web sites that sell products similar to yours. Make sure you extend your search beyond huge online marketplaces like Etsy and eBay, where items are often bargain-priced.

Pay special attention to products that share materials, style, process, or target customers with yours.  For example, earrings made from a single plastic bead will not cost the same as earrings made from 24K gold cast in the shape of a spiderweb.

If you’re having trouble finding pricing information on your own, do a bit of crowdsourcing.  You can ask participants in certain forums on Etsy or Craftster what they would pay for your products.   Limit your crowdsourcing to forums that specifically encourage this type of feedback.  Good etiquette recommends that you avoid asking for advice from competing sellers or from posting links to your products in blog comments.  Don’t forget to continue the karma cycle by offering your feedback to others in turn.

Step 2: Do the math

Now that you have a good idea of what your retail price should be you need to decide whether or not you can afford to wholesale.  Usually, a product’s wholesale price is about half of its retail price, so if intricately cast gold earrings are selling for $300 these days, their wholesale price would be $150.

Now, let’s say it costs $25 in gold (including shipping) to make your spiderweb earrings, and each pair takes you three hours to make.  Using the formula above, you can make $41.67 an hour for each pair of earrings you sell wholesale.

($150 - $25) /3 = $41.67

Pretty good, right?  But wait a minute, earrings don’t just sell themselves (no matter how talented you are).  You spend your time on all kinds of things in order to run your business, so let’s take a monthly view instead.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you only make 24K gold spiderweb earrings.  You work full-time on your business (about 180 hours a month) and you are able to spend half of that time actually making your products.  The rest of the time you are doing things like bookkeeping, shipping orders, and answering correspondence.  Let’s also say that the overhead for your business costs around $1,000 a month.

In 90 hours, you can make 30 pairs of earrings.  Assuming you sell all of them wholesale, you make $4,500 a month.  Let’s take that number and figure out your actual pay:

($4,500 – $25 x 30 - $1,000) / 180 = $15.28/hour

If you can live comfortably on that wage, you’re all set.  Otherwise, you’ll need to make some adjustments.  For example, you can buy larger quantities of materials to get better deals, or you can try to make your jewelry-making process more efficient.

If none of these adjustments gets you to a comfortable hourly wage, you might want to sell that particular product only at retail.  Many designers who make high-priced items but still want to reach a wider audience will create a second product line that is specifically designed for wholesaling — for example, a line of less expensive earrings where the spiderweb design is stamped into a square of gold-plated metal.

Pricing is part of the marketing plan in my business plan template.  This doesn’t make any sense to me.  Why is it in this section?

Marketing encompasses more than just advertising.  It’s comprised of everything that influences the way people see your business, and that includes your prices.  For example, while it may seem counter-intuitive, raising your prices can sometimes boost sales by making your work seem more desirable.

At a Biz Lady meet-up in San Francisco years ago, I participated in a group session led by Meg Mateo Ilasco, author of the excellent business book for crafters, Craft, Inc. She described how she had decided to ramp down her wedding invitation business by doubling her prices. Instead of causing fewer people to hire her, however, it more than doubled her number of clients.  The higher prices made her look like a more sought-after designer, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, raising your prices doesn’t always cause a stampede.  The trick to maximizing your sales is to bring your prices in line with the rest of your marketing, including the taste and craftsmanship of the work itself.  Whether you make stylish home furnishings or adorable character art, your prices should not surprise your target audience, and should look right at home on your packaging, on your web site, and in the stores and galleries that sell your work.

I cut my prices pretty drastically for a craft fair this past weekend to try to get rid of some inventory.  I have a day job, so I just need to cover my costs.   Another vendor selling similar stuff got angry at me and accused me of “threatening her livelihood.”  I think she was totally out of line, but my friend disagreed.  I don’t get it.  Every business is free to set their own prices, right?

True, there’s no minimum wage law when you work for yourself, but there is a polite way to price.  Here are a couple of common pricing faux pas to avoid:

  1. Changing your prices too often: yes, you should absolutely market-test your prices, but don’t just throw numbers out randomly to see what sticks.  Focus on testing one or two products at a time, and try to do it at a live event like a craft show, where you can gauge customers’ reactions directly.  Changing your published prices too often (like the ones on your web site) will make repeat retail customers think they are overpaying, and will make your wholesale customers struggle to keep their prices current.
  2. Pricing just to maintain your hobby: I think it’s lovely that you make so many beautiful things that you’ve run out of people to give them to.  I also think it’s great that you sell your extras in order to support your hobby.  It’s selfish, however, to sell a fair-isle sweater you knitted for just the price of the yarn.  Your customers might be thrilled, but underpricing devalues creative work and makes it harder for creative professionals to make a living.

Sadly, there is no magic formula for pricing, but with some research, careful thought, and a little finesse, you can find the sweet spot that makes your business the most successful it can be.  If you have any other pricing tips or questions, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Freelancers: Calculate Your Hourly Rate

As I transition (hopefully) from managing toy lines to doing more freelance design, I thought it would be good to calculate what my base hourly rate should be.  Once I’ve finished prepping all of my financials for tax time I should have a much more accurate idea of this, but in the meantime I was able to get a decent estimate from the FreelanceSwitch hourly rate calculator.

It only takes three minutes or so fill out, but it’s good to have a calculator handy, because most of the numbers they ask for are annual.  I’ve discovered that to cover my business and living expenses, I will break even at around $35 an hour (hey, San Francisco is expensive, y’all).  You can also enter in ideal annual profits to see how that affects things.  When you’re finished, check out some of their articles on freelancing to get some good tips and advice.

Tip for crafters: when deciding how to price an item, be sure to include the cost of your labor at the aforementioned hourly rate.  Even if I only spend five minutes making a product, at my break-even hourly rate that translates into almost $3 that needs to be built into the wholesale price.