That Evil Thing Called ‘An Estimate’ – Grrrrrr…

One of the things that we artists of all types seem to struggle over is paying ourselves what we’re worth.  And now that I’m training to be a life-coach, it’s coming up for me in that arena as well.  Am I really worth being paid $50 an hour right now to coach someone, and $125 once I’m certified?  Is my jewelry really good enough to be priced over $100…over $200?

And then there’s the ever-present problem of The Estimate.

I have a beautiful friend name Julianna, of Julianna’s Wardrobe,, who makes custom belly dance costumes that are priced in the thousands.  A year or so ago, so told me something really important about giving estimates.  Never, she said, give your estimate verbally when you’re working face-to-face or over the phone with a client.  You might have thought of a figure in your head, but you’ll hear some lower amount pop out of your mouth if you say it.  Instead, always give your estimate in writing.  Take a moment to jot down your numbers – materials, time, etc. – and do the math.  I’ve discovered this really helps remind me of the true worth of what I’m going to make for the client.

I’ve worked really hard to make sure my overhead and supplies, things like solder, flux, polishing compounds, and other stuff that I buy in bulk, not per project, are all accounted for, plus all the time I spend emailing clients, taking photos of the finished piece, packaging and running to the post office.

But I still don’t get my estimates right every time.  And if you want to see a massive slug-fest, come watch me beat myself up when my prices come out wrong.  I’m usually pretty accurate on my signature pieces, because I’ve already designed them, I’ve usually created several versions, I’ve previously tracked my time, and so I’m just costing out the stone the client requested.  But on work I’m designing from scratch, or work where I’m modifying one of my existing designs, it still sometimes feels like a crap shoot. Yes, I know how long one bezel takes me.  I know about how long it takes to saw-pierce a certain amount of cut-outs.  But what about the design work?  Will I come up with a fantastic idea on the first attempt, or will I agonize over the design for a week? If I’m modifying an existing design, will I foresee all the details that I’ll have to work out along the way?


I just completed this phoenix pendant yesterday, and my estimate for my time was way off.  What looked like a simple modification of a design I’d made before turned into a huge cluster of changes to make it work the new way.  I’d costed it out based on how many hours the first one took me.  But when the seemingly simple modifications turned out to be surprisingly difficult, I ended up spending more than twice as long as I predicted.

And that’s when my lizard, Lolie, the one who speaks all my freaking-out-bad-mind thoughts, crawled up and perched on my shoulder.  She’s actually a little dragon, about a foot tall, capable of turning whatever bright shade of the rainbow she wants.  So she climbed up on my shoulder, turned a lovely shade of lemon yellow, fanned her wings, and said sweetly, “You deserve to be punished and not get paid the full amount because you made a mistake in your estimate.”  (In case you’re wondering, personifying your lizard brain is a Martha Beck tool to help get your bad voices out from your subconscious and into the forefront, where you can deal with them.)

“Aaaaaaaaack!” I cried.  “I’m a failure!  I didn’t realize how much extra work it would take to do those modifications.  I don’t deserve to be paid for that extra work because I went over my estimate!  In fact, I should probably give my client the piece for free, just to punish myself.  In double fact, I probably shouldn’t ever make a custom piece or give an estimate again.”

Aren’t we all just full of the most amazing caca, when we actually get to where we can see it?

Thankfully, because of my life-coach training that I’m in the midst of, I sat myself down and did some of the thought work we’ve been learning on those icky beliefs.  I won’t explain the whole process here, but the end result was a much happier thought that eventually felt more true:  I don’t deserve to be punished, because I didn’t make a mistake in my estimate.  An estimate is an estimate, based on facts I knew at a certain point.  I did a certain amount of work; therefore I deserve to be paid the full amount.  If my client chooses not to pay the full amount, that’s okay.  I will sell the piece to someone else.

Whew, it takes a freakin’ lot of courage to be an artist.




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