“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”

Last week I wrote about why I don’t sell my quilts. It comes down to this: I value my quilts more than potential buyers would, and I will not sell them for less than they’re worth to me. I will give them freely to those I love. I will give them freely in compassionate service. But I won’t sell. Would that ever change? Perhaps, but right now it’s hard to imagine.

My post was spurred by the ongoing discussion among quilters (and other crafters and artists) about how to price handmade goods at appropriate prices. Many sell their quilts for the cost of materials and not much more, not recognizing the value of their time and all the other factors required to create their work. Others understand value in an academic sense but feel uncomfortable in asking for that much, that it seems immodest or something.

Women sell all kinds of products and services. We ask for business every day. We ask people to trust us, that we’ll be honorable in our end of the transaction. When they do, they are not doing us a favor. They are satisfying a need on their own end. It goes two ways.

Marie Forleo defines the particular problem many artists and crafters face here

But a strange phenomenon often occurs for passion-based business owners — especially when it’s time to get paid.
You have trouble bringing yourself to actually ask for money for something you’re so naturally good at.
Feels weirdly like cheating the system. Or taking advantage. Or somehow getting one over on people.

It feels weird asking for pay.

Women, in particular, have been taught to downplay our strengths to others, don’t show off, don’t brag. If you’re just really good and really patient, things will work out for you. Even today we’re told not to assert ourselves, especially with regard to pay. Last fall Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told a group of women in technology that they shouldn’t ask for raises, but to trust that the system will give them the “right raise”.

Having been a woman in a male-dominated field, I can tell you the system fails.

Fortunately, Nadella’s co-panelist at the meeting was computer scientist Dr. Maria Klawe. She offered better advice. According to this article from Salon, she said,

“First of all, do your homework…know what the appropriate salary is.” … “Then role play, sit down with someone you really trust, and practice asking them for a raise.”

Know what the appropriate price is. Shake off the voice that says you don’t deserve that much. Practice asking for the right amount. Ask.

One thing I learned a long time ago: you don’t get if you don’t ask.

So what about the voice in your head, the one that says you’re not quite good enough, not ready? This post by Tara Mohr addresses the doubt. She says that voice “is a wild liar. It has no bias for truth-telling. It says whatever it thinks might make you leap right back into the cozy territory of the familiar.”

Does it feel weird asking for pay? You can learn to quiet the inner critic that keeps you holding back. One way to do that is to practice. Marie Forleo’s post, linked above and here, includes a video on practicing. It’s kind of light and funny, but has some really good points.

Do you struggle with asking for pay? Do you have tips in asking to be paid, or paid more? Share with us.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs


10 thoughts on ““It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”

  1. KerryCan

    We are in the enviable position of not needing to sell our work, in order to put food on the table. I worry that many women work for what they can get, without taking the chance of making waves, because they so need the job. I know at least one quilter who sells her quilts for far less than they’re probably worth because she needs money so badly and, basically, will take what she can get. The quilts sell, in part, because they are fairly inexpensive. If she held out for the higher price, she might not sell at all–and then she’d suffer. This is a tough nut to crack . . .

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      It is tough and there is no single solution that works for everyone. Feeding yourself and paying bills is the best possible reason to take less than real value. I try to remember that everyone just tries to do their best with the resources they have available. Resources does NOT equal “money.” That is only part of it, of course.

  2. farmquilter

    I have sold some of my quilts, but it was because the person saw the quilt, loved it and wanted to buy it. I gave them a price that included my time as a piecer and as a longarm quilter…if they really wanted the quilt, they paid what I asked. I refuse to work for free or for $1.00 an hour. Since I quilt for others as a business, I am used to charging for my time and have found that I need to keep a very accurate record of the number of hours I spend quilting a quilt for someone because I have had people increase the amount of custom quilting on a quilt after my first estimate of the cost to them and then get upset because I charged more…sorry, I’m not giving away my time and if you want me to use rulers on your custom quilting, it’s going to cost more because it takes lots more time. There are other quilters they can go to if they want it done for less, I won’t devalue my time. I only have so much time left in my life and I have 50+ quilts of my own I need to get quilted!!! I don’t want my kids to inherit a bunch of tops 🙂

  3. Jim in IA

    This article today backs up many of your points. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-women-tech-20150222-story.html#page=1
    “A Harvard Business Review study from 2008 found that as many as 50% of women working in science, engineering and technology will, over time, leave because of hostile work environments.

    The reasons are varied. According to the Harvard study, they include a “hostile” male culture, a sense of isolation and lack of a clear career path. An updated study in 2014 found the reasons hadn’t significantly changed.”

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      The powers that be will not change the system without pressure. And that pressure will only come from those who want that change. We (women, or artists and crafters, or both…) need to be bigger, understand our own power and develop it, understand what the priorities of the buyer (employer) are and meet those at a price fair for both.


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