Quick Thoughts on Pricing Work

I was thinking about the last episode of The Dusty Life, a podcast which I co-host with Brian McCauley and Kyle Toth, where we had a couple questions about how we price our work for clients.  Do we charge an hourly rate plus material cost x3? Material cost x4 plus a bit more for incidentals and profit?  Do we charge for certain types of joinery and price out each cut we make to get an accurate rate per project?  As a hobbyist, I am not concerned about “making my rent” for the space I am using but I am concerned about getting paid for the time I spend working on a client’s project.  Personally, I charge based upon a comparison of what a similar piece is currently selling for.  Example, a client shows a photo of a piece and asks if I can make that for them.  I typically say “yes I can” and then I tell them I will give them my price for the work they are requesting shortly.  I then look for the item online through a search and when I find a similar piece I carefully break down how it is made by visually inspecting it.  That gives me a rough idea of how it is constructed and how long it will take me to make the piece.  I haven’t even gone into material cost at this time.  Reason: some clients don’t want the exact material from the photo they send.  Sometimes they want something else.  It could be cheaper or more expensive.  That is when I ask what they are looking for in terms of wood species or metal.  Once a material is decided upon and the details have been worked out I then give my price.  If the client agrees with no hesitation I know I priced the piece well under their budget and I should charge more next time.  If they are hesitant I know I got the price right around what they saw the original piece priced at.  Often times clients come to us as woodworkers with the idea that we can make a piece cheaper than what a retail store charges.  That simply isn’t so.  Custom made is not made cheaper.

Now you may be asking, how do I charge for incidentals and consumables, i.e. glue, screws, dowels, biscuits, dominoes, etc.?  Simple answer: I don’t.  The reason is because I don’t want to place more value on my materials than the value of the end product.  I price the client’s work high enough so I can replace any consumables in the shop and still feel good about the profit I make.  If the work requires a new tool, saw blade, or specialty hardware, I factor that cost into the price so it isn’t taken from my profits.  If the client and I are happy with the price they are paying for custom work then I have successfully and sufficiently charged for my work.

This is a topic that can be discussed at length. I only mean to clarify and expand on my answer from Episode 004 of The Dusty Life.

Keep it dusty!


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