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I tried offering pay-what-you-wish for my Art and here's what happened

I spent my first year in business in a weird roller-coaster/mental loop that went:

My goal is to be a six-figure success story! > I don't care about money, I just want to be happy and creative! > My goal is to be a six-figure success story! > I don't care about money, I just want to be happy and creative!...

This made for awkward situations where I royally sucked at being the boss in my own business.

I somehow concluded that being the boss meant being SUPER NICE to your clients and THEIR economical mental loops.

Like bending over-backwards to adapt to client's economical issues (no worries, pay after the work is done, I know you'll rock this!; hey, I know what a bad month is like, let's wait until the next, etc.)... and end up not getting paid. After it happened twice in a row I broke down.

My goal for this year was to build boundaries.

No more one-on-ones. Systems. Filters.

I did some of that. But, mostly, without realizing much, I dove into my meditative Art practice as a way to clear my head and un-loop my mind. And what I saw was that setting up basic, rational boundaries did not mean locking up myself in a high tower à la Rapunzel: I needed to learn to trust people again.


There is a trait I really admire in people: humility.

I don't think we talk about it enough. My hero here is Grace Bonney. Pioneer, loves what she does, is good at it, gets paid for it.

That quiet balance is what I want.

So I decided to do the opposite. Strip the boundaries. Show complete vulnerability. Be very quiet. Have faith in others. Be truly open.

I set up a pay-what-you-want studio clearance.

I know Danille Laporte does things like this every now and then and she seems like a generous, smart business cookie to me.

Admittedly, this was not too risky. I've been known to do "ego purges" where I throw my work out. Or cut it up. Remind myself it's not precious. So, funnily enough, the tricky bit was not that people wouldn't pay much for it, but rather offering it up, stating it could have some value.


Here's what I learnt:

 

Who my ideal audience is

I have mostly experienced one of two types of buyers:

-those that interacted with me on social media, left a loving note, and carefully picked a piece to cherish.

-those who said nothing, left no note, and took several pieces for as little as possible.

I'm not complaining. I set up the rules, I chose to do this.

The second type of buyers were 100% in their right to do that. And I am really thankful to them because I realized who my people were. Pretty clearly.

 

I didn't have to shout

I put up the image you see above ONCE in instagram.

Bounced it off to my personal facebook feed.

Told my newsletter readers once.

Mentioned it in a post.

It sounds like quite a bit but if you have done online marketing stuff, you know this is nothing. No reminders. No "doors are closing". No pre-opt-ins. No constant telling. No content strategy. It was quite hands-off and laid back and I LOVED THAT.

 

Not everyone wants a bargain

I was reflecting on this experience in the Being Boss podcast facebook group (they are lovely in there), and a couple of colleagues mentioned:

"I would have love to buy, but I couldn't spent what I thought was fair".

I had notice the bigger pieces (and some of my favorites from the selection) were not being sold. This explained the situation a bit, and I wouldn't have guessed it on my own.

 

The average was fair

The average price was lower than what I would have set up in the shop.

BUT I was clearing these pieces out, and the average price was more than fair (with some people being super generous). I really felt respect and support.

 

It can be sort of addictive

Like decluttering, doing this kind of essentialist exercise can cause a bit of addiction. Feeling happy and connected after a bad year meant so much.

I started toying with the idea of running a pay-what-you-want business.

Not only it made me happy, it made me money, too.

 

It's not perfect

A collector remarked that without any time pressure the results might not be as compelling.

And there's reports indicating that product-based businesses that do these kind of thing soon find themselves into trouble (.mp3 and .pdf downloads are infinite, and you can play a numbers game; but when you have to pay packaging, fine Art materials, shipping... on finite objects you can run into trouble).


Conclusion?

It felt good.

it felt like a step forward in a right direction.

It felt like that kind of quiet, honest, humble (mini) success I admire.

I wish I could ALWAYS do it, but I am just not sure about it yet.

It took a long time to gain some clarity and find a voice that sounded like me, and i am terrified of undoing the work I've done thus far.

Have you ever done a pay-what-you-wish offer? Have you bought in one? Been tempted? Heard of an interesting case-study? Drop me a note anytime, I'd love to hear from you.