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Pricing commissions

It’s very difficult to look at your art and try and determine some arbitrary value and end up with a price that is not only fair but also something you can live off of. You could try asking others to arbitrarily value your art, but they’re going to struggle just as much.

And, incredibly important to remember is that when people hire you to create a piece for them, they are not just paying for the piece itself—they're paying you for the extremely valuable commodity of your time. Time, once spent, can never ever be regained. Any moment you spend working for someone else is time that could have been spent working on your own pieces and projects, spending time with your loved ones, relaxing, taking care of your household, and otherwise using your time for yourself. It's incredibly valuable finite resource, and you deserve to be paid fairly for giving that time up. Even if you do not think that your art skills are to a standard that requires a premium price, your time deserves paying for.

You can (and should) charge extra when you get more confident in your skills, but the very base minimum price that you charge should always be a liveable wage.

So let me detail a much more practical method for determining your prices. First, answer these questions:

  1. Will this be your primary source of income?
  2. Are you a bill payer?

Option 1 - You don’t pay bills:

Look up the living wage in your area, multiply it by 2, and that will be your hourly rate.

If your area doesn’t have an established living wage, look up the average living costs of your area and go to option 3.

Why do I say to double it? Because the living wage is calculated based on an 8 hour work day, and studies show that a 4 hour work day is more efficient and practical and that there is nothing to be gained from working beyond that. So, twice the rate, half the hours.

I say living wage over minimum wage because, really, the living wage should be the minimum. You should be earning enough money to live off of.

Taking commissions means you’re setting your own rates and hours. While you specifically may not currently be paying bills, you will be one day & the prices you set have an influence on what prices will be considered normal for everyone. Take that opportunity to improve the industry for us all by setting an example on fair pricing!

Option 2 - You do pay bills, but this is not your primary source of income:

Then any commissioned work you do is you working overtime. Take the living wage x2 or your current wage (whichever is higher), and then multiply that by 1.5x to give yourself an overtime wage, and this will be your hourly rate.

If you’re taking commissions because your job is not enough to cover your bills, take the amount you’re short on each month plus some extra to cover one off things you might need to buy and save up for, then decide how many hours you can spare to work on commissions each month, and divide that total by those hours.

E.g. lets say you could do with an extra £100 each month and can spare an hour a week for commission work, that’d give you an hourly rate of £25. Compare that to the overtime wage we calculated before, and take whichever is higher.

Option 3 - You do pay bills, and this will be your primary source of income:

Calculate your living costs for a month, plus some extra for anything you might need to buy and save up, and divide that by 80 to get your hourly rate. Compare it to the living wage x2, and take whichever is higher.


Do some tests and time yourself while you work

Use the work timer tool that can be found here, and calculate how long it takes you on average to finish pieces.

Then, add at least 2 hours onto that time to account for correspondence, research, and getting familiar with unfamiliar designs (add more if you think this will take you more time, you know yourself. This is all work, and therefore should be included in the price)

Once you have your times, multiply them by your hourly rate, and you have your base prices.

For example, the living wage for me is £9.90. For the sake of simplicity, I will round that up (don’t ever round down) then double it, giving me an hourly rate of £20. If it takes me 2-3 hours with correspondence to finish a character bust, I should then charge £40 - £60 for it.


On discounted rates for multiple characters:

Don’t do this.

For one, it makes it confusing for the client in terms of figuring out at a glance how much something will cost them. And for two, you are doing more work for less. It’s not worth it!

Avoid making your clients having to do percentage calculations when figuring out how much it’s going to cost them, in general.

While it might seem like it would make multi-character commissions more appealing, making it easier to calculate prices is what will actually make that more appealing!

Charge extra for complicated designs & requests

Make a note in your terms & info that these are a base estimate price, and that more complicated designs and pieces may cost more. Also note that multiple revisions may incur additional charges.

Sometimes you might get a client who asks you to redraw things repeatedly, even after giving the go ahead with the sketch… If this happens, charge them for it. You deserve to be paid for the extra hours they are making you work.


Taking Commissions

I recommend taking your commissions through a form. I use a built in form on my website (thanks to Netlify's built in form capabilities), and then I use zapier to send the form submissions to a google spreadsheet & email the potential client a confirmation email.

However, prior to moving my site to netlify, I used google forms for a very similar setup!

The reason I suggest using a form is it allows you to ask all the questions you need answers to in order to determine if this is a commission you’re willing and able to take on, without having to go through some awkward small talk as you try and get this information out of your potential client.

Forms also make the process easier for your client, as they can simply fill out your form to tell you about the commission you want without having to cold message you about it and try and figure out what details are important to tell you and what aren’t.

Here's a screenshot of my form to give you an idea what to ask:

A screenshot of a form. It includes a variety of questions: "Commission Type", "Number of Characters", "Please provide any references you have" "Album / Moodboard", "Further Details", "Name", "Contact Email Address", "Tumblr / Toyhouse / Twitter ID"


The way I have my form set up is the first section reiterates my terms and conditions and requires that the potential client accepts these terms in order to submit the form.

Speaking of, a very important part of taking commissions is your terms! Here are some base terms I would recommend:


Automating some of that information to help you keep track

Emails

Depending on your form provider, you can set up automatic emails upon response using Zapier or similar. Here's one for Google Forms & GMail, and one for Netlify & GMail (there are other email options available if you're not using gmail!)

I send the confirmation email to my clients through my email address so that I can then reply to that email when I reach them on my list. I also send an email to myself to let me know I've received a new submission!

Since I use gmail, I also have it set up to automatically label the confirmation email with an “incomplete” label so I can view all pending commissions in one place from my inbox.

Task lists

Zapier is great for this, I use it to create a google task when I get a new submission and I have the google task widget on my phone's home screen, so I have a list of pending commissions there for easy access on my phone :)

You can find a list of some compatible to-do list apps in this article by Zapier.

Spreadsheet

As mentioned earlier, I have my form linked to a google spreadsheet—you can do this in google forms using the built in linking, or again with zapier or similar for other form hosts. You can then mirror the contents of the response sheet onto another sheet using an array formula, allowing you to style it! I don't recommend styling the input sheet itself, as you don't want to overwrite anything accidentally.

By using conditional formatting and checkboxes, you can do stuff like this:

A screenshot of a colour coded spreadsheet. There are 5 checkboxes: Contacted, Half Paid, Completed, Fully Paid, and No response/rejected. After this are answers to various questions like type of commission and number of characters. As the boxes are ticked, the row changes colour to indicate its current status.

I'm a very visual person, so having a colour coded list is extremely useful!

Aside from information from the form, I also like to track how many clients I have yet to email (marked Queue at the top left), and a rough price range of my usual estimated prices just to give myself a refresher.


Accepting payments

I recommend using PayPal invoices to manage your payments. You can set up an invoice template and then and create an itemised list of all your charges, require a minimum of 50% payment upfront, and allow for tips.

You’ll then have a record of your commission payments for tax purposes, and you’ll be protected from fraudulent clients and chargebacks. Just make sure you disable shipping if you’re not sending them a physical piece!

A screenshot of a paypal invoice annotated to say "enter your customers email, and then if this is a digital piece, make sure to disable shipping." "Create an itemised list of all the charges that make up the total price." "Allow partial payments, set it to 50% of the total, and allow tips." "Reiterate your terms and conditions."

On your commission info or in your terms, make it clear that you require 50% of the payment upfront before you will begin working on the commission.

This protects you from scams where a “client” will make you complete a commission and then never pay for it, but also gives your clients the security that you won’t take all the money and run, either.

Here is an example of what to write irt your payment and process from my own info:

A screenshot from my commission info page. It reads: Pricing, Payment, and Process  I will only be doing portraits & half-body pieces, without or featuring minimal backgrounds, as seen in the samples above.  The price will vary depending on the complexity of the piece and the designs of the character(s). There is no specific limit on how many characters may be in a piece, but additional characters will not be discounted and will be priced accordingly. I will send you a price quote when I contact you from my waitlist.  Payment will be taken through Paypal—I will send you an invoice. At least 50% must be paid upfront in order for me to begin work.  You will fill out the form with the details of your commission request and be placed on my waiting list. I will contact you and give you a week to respond before contacting someone else that I will prioritise should they reply. After three weeks without response I will remove you from my waitlist.  Once payment has been recieved, I will begin work ASAP—expect an update by the following Wednesday. I will check with you regarding any changes, but please be aware that multiple revisions may incur additional fees.

Note the explanation of the payment processor I will be using, expectations on what may influence the price, when to expect to hear from me, and that multiple revisions may incur additional fees.

As a note, should you require to charge additional fees after you’ve already begun and been paid, you should create a new invoice with the additional fees for the revisions and not continue until the fee has been paid.

And that’s all my advice, I think! Best of luck to anyone taking commissions, I hope this is helpful.


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