The Brass Tacks of Taking Commissions

Most of my experiences with commissions have been positive ones, but the one that went horribly wrong was the one I learned the most from. My customer was very demanding, which wouldn’t have been a problem if I was more prepared for it. She wanted 3 custom pieces done, with the possibility of others upon completion. I gave her the price for what I would normally sell something like that for. I didn’t charge what I was worth, and should have charged her 2-3 times what I did. She asked for several changes, and I hadn’t thought about that before. She wanted me to drive and meet her discuss and approve the changes, and my time and my gas were sacrificed as well. I needed access to special equipment at the studio I take classes at, but I underestimated the time it would take, and paid extra for the open lab hours. I prefer to use email, and she like to check in over the phone. I needed to make a small repair on one of them, and wanted to mail it back. She caught me off guard with a deadline, and I missed it. She decided it would be best not to work together again, and having lost money on the prospect, I agreed.

I had so much fun designing and making these custom crab pens meant for teachers gifts.

So how do you prevent something like this?

It’s helpful to ask yourself some important questions, and here are the ones I ask myself before accepting a commission:

  • Am I doing this only for the money?
  • If I’m not even a little excited by the project, I’m not likely to accept. I want to work with customers who understand me and my style, who give me creative freedom after they set their material or color boundaries.

  • Am I considering all the costs?
  • Sometimes I need to order things, and it takes time and money to get those items sourced and shipped. I add up every cost before I give a quote. If the project requires a lot of pre-planning or the possibility of changes, I calculate a design fee. I also consider how it will be delivered to my customer, and put a value on gas, time, and/or shipping supplies.

  • Are they on board with my commission agreement?
    Communication could have prevented most of the problems that I faced. The agreement lays out all the expectations, and hopefully prevents unwanted surprises.

Commission Agreement Essential Elements: communication, forms of payment and when they are expected, delivery methods, and deadlines.

When taking on a commission, I consider all the above questions and provide a quote. If they want to proceed, I ask for 50% down at start. I used to feel so weird talking about money with clients, but it’s important and it does get easier. It also let’s you know if they’re serious. I also explain that I like to send email updates, and find out if they want to meet or if they want me to mail the piece.

My method is more informal than others I’ve seen. Tracey Jenkins of Green Spot Studio has a more formal approach, and makes it part of the process in the creation of heirloom pieces. Here is her 5 step outline.

I decided to share my experience with commissions after I saw a tweet about Lauren’s article, The High Price of Commissions. Then, I found her followup where she shared some great stories of her customers who were touched by personalized commissions. With a little planning and great customers, studio magic can happen!

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • avatar Linda June 16, 2011, 5:33 am

    Love the crabs are you going to have a pattern. Live on an island and collect patterns for anything sea life.

  • avatar Mandi Ainsworth June 16, 2011, 6:42 am

    I’ll see what I can do :)

  • avatar Melody July 5, 2013, 6:53 am

    I am signed up for your page , but I lost your pen e book . Could you send it to me again ? Also do you sell other patterns ? Where?

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