Commissions are a great way to diversify your offerings as an artist, serve your clients and audience, as well as add a stream of revenue to your business, but they may not be right for everyone. Let's dive in to what it looks like to take on paying clients for commission work and why you might say no to that type of work.
Commissions require you to work with other people and meet certain expectations for the completed artwork. You need to understand your processes well enough to know if you can work under time constraints, if your client has a specific deadline (they don't always), and meet the criteria your client sets. Not everyone works in a way that is conducive to outside thoughts and opinions. Some people find it difficult to produce successful work in a constrained amount of time, while others thrive under pressure. The key is knowing and understanding how you work the best.
Commission work is a very cooperative process and there are ways to counter your clients requests if they don't align with your working style. The best way to deal with conflicting requests is to be honest and open about how you normally work...if they want something that is similar to the work they have already seen, they need to understand how it was created, and may be more willing to let you take the lead back. Listen to and understand what they want so you can provide them with the best experience, but don't be afraid to tell them what you need as well. Commissions are a partnership.
Taking on custom work also requires extra communication, as I mentioned before, and organization to make sure all the steps are completed and deadlines are reached. Creating a beautiful piece of art is not the only thing you need to do to ensure your client is happy at the end of the process. Be clear about when and how you will communicate with them, when they will be asked for input and feedback, and when they can expect to receive the finished piece. Over-deliver on service and presentation to keep them coming back or recommending you to their friends. *Word of mouth is magical when you start to build a following!*
> If so far this sounds unappealing to you, then commissions probably aren't for you and that is completely OKAY!
>If you want to pursue commissions or already do, here a few tips to help make the process smoother and more successful for you...
Set the standards for commissions right away - what are you willing to do and what are you not willing to do (this is as much for you as it will be for your clients). [You can be very explicit with these standards on your website - it will be an easy place to direct people before you start any discussions. Check out how I've helped myself and made it very clear what my standards are for reference images for custom scratchboard pet portraits here.]
Communicate with your client, ask questions, and get as much information as you can about their expectations before starting any work.
Get a DEPOSIT! (Yes, you have to ask for the money!) Be sure to use language that makes it clear that it is a non-refundable first installment. Never start working on a commission until you have the first payment. [The deposit can be any $ amount or % of the total that you want it to be...I typically require a 50% deposit.]
Keep detailed records of important information about their preferences and requests, deadlines, payment dates, and anything else you've agreed upon.
Create a contract for both parties to sign stating the agreed upon terms. [You can decide if this is something you want to do or if an email chain and paid invoices is enough for you...I don't required signed contracts for commissions, unless there are extenuating circumstances and I want to protect myself further. I have not had any issues with commission clients so far.]
Set up an invoicing system to collect payments.
Also remember that it is perfectly okay to say NO to a commission if the project doesn't align with your processes or way of working...or even if you simply aren't excited about it. Believe me, the extra money isn't always worth the time and stress of trying to power through a project you just don't care about. It is also within your power and rights to say no after discussing a project with your potential client for a while. Asking questions and figuring out what they want is the only way to judge if it's truly right for you.
[Quick note on pricing your commissions - there is always more work involved in commission work, so raise your rates for custom work beyond what you normally charge for a piece that size or something that takes you the same amount of time. You deserve to be paid for your effort and working with other people always requires more effort.]
Communication will be your best friend if you decide to start taking commissions. Be clear, communication, over-deliver, and get that deposit! Have fun with it and don't forget to ask your clients for testimonials when the process is complete and they have the artwork in their own hands! Testimonials are great for marketing and bringing in even more commission clients.
Find Your Joy!