Before answering this question you need to ask yourself, “Why do I want to be a taxidermist?” Your business will be an expression of your skills, knowledge, and passion. You need to consider yourself, your situation, and what you want out of life, and build your business around that. The answer also depends on how you market yourself and your shop. Your marketing will determine the type of customer you will attract and that, in turn, will determine how you are compensated.
Everybody’s journey is different. For me, I wanted to learn taxidermy since high school, but didn’t pursue my dream until my late 30s. Fortunately, I waited for a point in my life when I had extra time to devote to taxidermy, and a full-time job that ‘supported’ my passion. I viewed taxidermy as a
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lifestyle business; one that would earn a particular level of income and provide cash flow to pursue other interests. My goal was to create a profitable business that gave me a sustainable work / life balance well into my retirement.
That was then, this is now. I now realize that a successful taxidermist has to be a good business person first. Taxidermy is a creative business, but all businesses come with financial requirements and obligations. By my fourth year my tax return showed a bleak profit. I managed to cover overhead that year, but failed to pay myself a wage or make enough profit to re-invest in the business. I was working for free and my ‘lifestyle’ business turned into a treadmill. I became a statistic.
What is the number one reason for business failure? Incompetence. That is a hard pill to swallow but one that I accept. More specifically, it is incompetence in pricing (emotional pricing being the number one reason). This is followed by living too high for the business, lack of planning, no knowledge of financing, and no experience in record-keeping. The common theme here is a lack of business skills.
The number one rule in personal finance, as well as business finance, is to pay yourself first. The first bill you pay each month should be to yourself in the form of wages and profit. What would have been a decent wage?
A common method of determining your hourly rate is based on your actual financial needs. Step one, total your monthly expenses. Include everything, rent, insurance, advertising, license fees, etc. This is your overhead, your operating cost. Step two, total the amount of hours you are willing and able to work in a month. Step three, divide your monthly expenses by your monthly work hours. The result is your break-even wage. You must achieve this hourly rate for your planned amount of hours in order to pay your monthly expenses.
Having a standard for how much you need to earn is very important. However, I suggest looking at your hourly wage a little differently. “What is my time worth to me and my family?” This is your true sacrifice in pursuing taxidermy. Every minute you spend on taxidermy is time lost with your friends and family. You need to put a value on this. This will be your base wage, your break-even point in the work / life balance equation.
Have a standard for what your time is worth and your attitude about money will change.
Your clients are not only buying your time and expertise, they are also buying your creativity.
So what should my hourly wage be? Only you can answer that, and it depends on how you market yourself and your studio. Finding published wage data for taxidermists is rather challenging. I did find real-world wages posted on Taxi.Net and other sources ranging from $25 to $30 an hour. Another article states $51,390 per year. In an effort to confirm these findings I went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website (http://www.bls.gov/) and used a bit of my own creativity to uncover the following.
2014 Wage Data – Bureau of Labor Statistics
Fine artists (including painters, sculptors, and illustrators) earned on average $24.58 an hour ($51,126 per year). By definition, fine artists create original artwork using a wide variety of media and techniques.
Various positions in the Leather and Hide Tanning and Finishing industry range from $14.14 to $17.30 an hour.
Office and Administrative support workers had an average wage of $16.56 per hour. How much time do you spend on administrative work supporting your business? You are either paying someone to do this work or you are doing this yourself, plus your taxidermy work.
Production workers garnered $15.08 an hour.
And a stretch, Meat, Poultry, and Fish cutters reveals an average wage of $11.63.
Not everyone can do taxidermy, nor does everyone want to do taxidermy. Taxidermy is a service and a luxury to many. Your clients think they are buying a shoulder mount, a rug, or a fish mount. But what they are really buying is a relationship with you in order to recreate a memory, a dream, or an experience.
If you have been in business for a while, or are continually honing your skills through seminars, competitions, or continuing education through your local associations then your compensation should reflect your commitment to your craft. You should put a premium on your expertise.
So how do you want to be perceived and compensated? Do you want to be a high-end studio, possibly with fewer clients and higher priced services? Or do you want to be known as fast and affordable, earning your clientele through competitive pricing or turn-around time? Neither is right or wrong. Your salary is just one component of running a successful taxidermy studio. Don’t negotiate your salary with your customers or competitors. The decision is yours alone to make. You are the boss.