Updated: Oct 30
I can't remember the first time I set a timer when I worked, but I remember what it felt like to realize that I was charging pennies for my labor. And not only was I valuing my labor at practically nothing, I was feeling guilty about overcharging.
I first started selling my work online in 2008, and I started on Etsy. Etsy was where all of the handmade artists went to sell their work, and it felt really exciting to be part of that community. And for a few years it was really nice. But then the platform started to change in a way that made me uncomfortable. And one of those ways was feeling that I had to constantly cut my prices lower and lower, in an effort to compete with an ever increasing pool of makers who were all grossly undervaluing our time.
After years of struggling on a platform that no longer served my interests, I knew it was time for a change, and I started my own website. Unfortunately, the "rock bottom prices" mentality that I had lived by for years was still very much part of my pricing structure. Not only did I not know how to value my labor, I didn't even realize that that was a thing. So I kept trying to be the cheapest kid on the block. Which is why it should come as no surprise to anyone that I never made very much money by selling what I made.
Enter the timer. I first started using a timer when I was working so I could keep my focus - I was using the Pomodoro Method of working. The Pomodoro Method is basically this: You set a timer for a given amount of time - say, 25 minutes. You focus on the task at hand for those 25 minutes and you are not allowed to stop the task until the timer goes off. When the timer does go off, you set it for a shorter interval of time - say 5-7 minutes. You use those 5-7 minutes to do absolutely anything ese you want to do. And then you start over. Some people work entire days using this method.
I used the Pomodoro Method for a while, and then I switched to the 52/17 method. 52/17 is basically the Pomodoro method, except it uses very specific chunks of time that have been backed by research studies as being the most effective when it comes to productivity. A 52 minute chunk of working time paired with a 17 minute "do whatever you want" chunk of time apparently means you're going to get a lot of stuff done. I will say, this has definitely worked for me. But not only did it work for me in terms of productivity, it also worked in that all of the sudden I knew how long it took me to complete maker-related tasks. I was shocked to realize that I was charging $5 for an hours worth of work in a state that had a $13 minimum wage.
I knew that I would never be able to replace myself as an employee or grow my business or do anything more than struggle if something didn't change. So I started to live by that timer. Every single task I did, I timed it. I figured out what it would cost to hire someone else to do everything that I did, and I set that as the minimum value that I could accept for my own labor. Every minute I worked had a cost attached to it, and that cost then became part of the formula that I used to price all of my work. Did my prices jump drastically over the next couple of years? Absolutely. As they should have. But it was also really difficult for me to get right with, because my brain had been wired for years to undervalue my labor. To sell the cheapest thing on the block. I fought really hard against that mentality and I stuck to my commitment to value my labor in a way that respected not only my time, but the time of anyone else who would come and work for me. And while I have lost some customers because of this, I have also adopted a new mantra: "Not everyone is going to be your customer. And that is ok."
So how can you use a timer to factor labor into your pricing? Let's use the example of you owning a small business and hoping to one day bring on someone who can take over some of the tasks that you do. If you live in a $13 an hour state, that's your minimum per hour value. Except it's not. If you want to replace yourself with someone else, you need to also factor in payroll and insurance costs. So lets say with those additional costs, an employee would cost you $14.50 an hour.
If you make widgets, you'll set a timer while you're making them. For me, I like to break everything down to the minute. So if you can make 8 widgets in an hour, that's 7.5 minutes per widget. If an employee costs you $14.50 per hour, that's 24 cents a minute. So your labor cost for your widgets is 24 cents times 7.5 minutes. At minimum, your labor per widget is $1.80.
I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to know these numbers as soon as possible. Time yourself constantly, write it down, assign a fair value to your labor, and make sure it's one that takes into account the minimum wage of the state where you live. And that doesn't mean you can't pay yourself more than minimum wage, because I absolutely think you should. But the reality is, there are more makers than I can even count who pay themselves less than would even be considered legal where they live, so you at least need to know what your lowest allowable number should be.
I hope this was helpful to you! I cover some of this in my most recent podcast episode, which is available on both Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Thank you so much for reading today, let me know if you have any questions, and I can't wait to meet again!
I love you, keep growing,
Until we meet again...I love you. Keep growing,