How much do you charge?
Updated: Oct 20
How much do you charge?
This is the most frequently asked question in my daily endeavours. Generally, most guitar enthusiasts asked the question with respect. Inevitably some would simply assumed.
String instruments makers or repair tech are craftsmen. In exchange of using our expertise and time, we put food on our tables. As fuzzy as it may be, craftsmen have to put a rate on their craftwork.
I shall share my perspectives in this area.
In craftsmanship, your worth (how much to charge) is how good your work is. So how do I know I am good? (or not… some people spend a lifetime to realise)
To establish what is considered good in any crafts, one needs to identify relevant benchmarks. Now comes the hard part; compare these benchmarks against one another. It could be done in using common genres, common standards, common pricing, etc. This brain draining process should beget a set of benchmark that embodies the essence of good work in relation to what the craftsmen are doing. E.g. best in class in guitar inlay artists; Larry Robinson, Craig Levin, etc.
Once the relevant benchmarks are determined, an objective evaluation process can be carried out in comparing my work against the benchmarks. It may be a rough ride but it is unavoidable if one aspires to be a fine craftsmen.
For greenhorns, they should see only gaps. It would also mean load of works to fill these gaps. It may too daunting for greenhorns to adopt such benchmarking concepts.
Average practitioners may find certain skill aspects in alignment whereas some would be gaps.
Seasoned practitioners are likely to perform at levels to the selected benchmarks.
Once benchmarks are sorted out, my professional service rates to charge for my work can be determined.
As like benchmarking the quality of my craftsmanship, the same concept could be applied to setting professional service rates as well.
The key is calibrate, not by pegging against certain metrics relentlessly.
Calibration here means; an exercise in applying both objective rulers and the use of one’s intuition.
Taking into consideration the local market prices of other professional service rates of the like, I calibrate my rates so that they are reasonable to the market’s willingness in payment for such professional services.
Rates by itself is an abstract concept. There are nuances within it. In trying to avoid stumbles, I kept to the following guiding approaches and principles.
1) Going too far below kills credibility. People may assume the use subpar materials, sloppy work standards and not taking your craft seriously.
2) Setting rates at only the ceiling levels may initially provide an impression that of a masterclass’s standards. If the quality of work doesn't tally with the proclaimed professional service rates, the fall would be a long cold one.
3) Use both rack rates and hourly rates appropriately. Always relate closely to the complexity and difficulty of the work.
4) Don’t overprice, don’t over promise, stay competitive without compromise
5) Establish multiple supply chains, never put your eggs in one basket
6) Best source for materials so that cost prices are kept reasonable while qualities are sustained
Determining the right prices are never easy. There are many competing reasons to go in opposite ways. Assuredly, there were loads of work I have done to get to this point.
The next important thing is to communicate my rates to my customers in ways they can appreciate and understanding.
Realistically there will be push-backs from clients. It usually comes in the form questions of such. “Why is your fee so expensive?” or “Can you reduce your rates?”
To that questions, underlying assumptions are never far away. Here are some common ones.
1) Such clients may have very limited sense of appreciation in craftsmanship.
2) Some are simply set to get a bargain.
3) Low professional rates should be accorded when the guitars in question are of low market value. For some strange reasons, the same yardstick is not applicable to guitars of high market value.
4) The fault is minor, so should the repair fees.
5) It looks simple enough to get it repaired. Therefore the rates should be proportional to it.
I would spend some time explaining to clients who are willing to hear me out. Usually an agreement can be reached.
Clients have every right to question the reasons behind any established rates. Invariably they hold the prerogative to accept the explanation and the rates.
As craftsmen we should be clear in how we priced our services and ever ready to offer a lucid explanation to our clients when questioned.
Here is a parable to share with those individuals who seriously need some minds transformation.
“A giant ship engine failed. The ship's owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure out how to fix the engine.
Then they brought in an old man in his eighties who had been fixing ships since he was a young man. He carried a large bag of tools with him, and when he arrived, he immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully from top to bottom.
Two of the ship's owners were there watching this man and hoping he would know what to do. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed!
A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars.
"What?!" the owners exclaimed. "He hardly did anything!"
So they wrote the old man a note saying, "Please send us an itemized bill."
The man sent a bill that read:
Tapping with a hammer...... ......... $ 2.00
Knowing where to tap.......... ......... $ 9,998.00”