Be Seen: First, make it easy for people to find you. Create a deviation with a list of the different kinds of commissions you offer, with a sample and a price for each. Put this deviation near the top of your profile so that everyone knows youre open for commissions. Heres mine as an example:
Join commission groups where people looking for commissions can find you. Many commission groups will expect you to have a commission sheet thats been uploaded as a separate deviation like the one above, so make sure you do that first.
Keep It Simple: Dont put huge numbers of options on your commission info sheet I cant stress this enough. Even when you want to buy something, weeding through a giant list of options isnt helpful actually it puts people off.
Imagine for a moment that you go into a grocery store and theres someone with a table giving out samples of jam. Lets assume for a moment that youre a relatively social person and you like jam, so what do you do? If shes offering 3 flavors of jam, you say hi, try a jam or two and likely buy one or maybe you just buy one of each (since there are only 3) and take them home to try. What if there are more kinds of jam? What if there are 10 kinds of jam? What if there are 30? Traditional marketing theory says that the more options there are, the more likely a customer will find something they like and buy it, so more options means more sales. It turns out this is wrong. Scientists studying this subject found that more options mean fewer sales. (There are some exceptions, but an art commission isnt one of them.) What happens when the girl is selling 30 different flavors is that your decision becomes much more complicated and usually youll choose not to buy any because its too much work to decide. You say hi to the girl, she says which flavor would you like to try? You say what have you got? She says oh lots, weve got 30 flavors! At which point you think to yourself uhh right I dont have time for this, and you leave politely. (This is called decision fatigue. articles.latimes.com/2009/mar/… )
The same thing happens if you give people too many options in your commission sheet. People will mostly look at it, decide its too much work to figure out what kind of commission they want, and leave.
So the ideal commission information sheet will have just a handful of items the person can buy (I think 3 - 6 is considered ideal).
So if you do lots of different kinds of art, my recommendation is to divide your commission information up into several different sheets for different kinds of art. For example if you do illustration, 3D modeling and small ceramic works, dont put several options for each kind of art on a single sheet you dont want to make people wade through all that if theyre only interested in one kind of art. Break it up and create a separate commission sheet for each kind of art: one for illustration, one for 3D modeling and another for ceramics.
Also if you just do one kind of art, like illustration, dont give people a big a-la-carte system. And especially dont make your clients do a bunch of math to determine the cost. They should at most have to add shipping cost and maybe one other extra for something like a background.
- Bust - $5 per character
- Full - $8 per character
- Simple Background +$1
- Full Background +$3
- Bust +$5 per character
- Full +$8 per character
- Simple Background +$5
- Full Background +$8
- Bust +$5 per character
- Full +$10 per character
- Simple Background +$8
- Full Background +$12
Color (Copic Markers) $20
All prices per-character
Did you notice how much simpler the second example was? If you were trying to commission someone, which information sheet would you want to see? Which one makes it easier for you? The first example is daunting for most people and makes potential clients feel nickel-and-dimed. The latter example is more inviting; it makes things easier and helps them feel confident about purchasing.
Reduce Uncertainty (setting prices): Whats the one thing we do when were either buying a commission or selling one? We worry. If were buying one, we worry that it might not be what were hoping for in the end. If were selling one we worry that the client wont be satisfied; that well spend too long working on it and we wont make enough money, or sometimes that the client will try and get more than they paid for by continually asking for changes. (This last one was a popular trick with some clients when I was earning my living programming computers.) Since everybody has something to worry about, we should do what we can to reduce those fears and give us confidence on both sides of a commission.
We cant totally resolve everyones concerns, but we can put each other at ease a little if we know how. The best way I know to do this is in setting prices. So how do you set your prices? I know this was a source of anxiety for me and I suspect its a source of anxiety for a lot of us. There are two main schools of thought.
CHARGE PER HOUR:
On the one hand youll know that youre making enough money for your time.
On the other hand this makes things more complicated for your client and increases their anxiety level, because now they get to worry that the work may take too long and they may not be able to afford it.
This alleviates the clients concerns because they know how much theyre paying up-front.
But now you have to worry again about not making enough money for your time. If you dont make enough money for your time, then you might not be able to pay your bills.
Theres a third option that lies somewhere between these two options.
Work up several samples of the kind of commission work youre selling. Use a clock or a kitchen timer to measure how long each piece takes. Then average out your times for that kind of work. So for example, you might do 5 sketches that take between 20 and 40 minutes each to complete. When you add them up and average it out, they take you an average of 30 minutes to complete.
Now that you know the average time for this kind of work, you can place a price for your time on that kind of piece. So if a sketch takes an average of 30 minutes, you can do 2 of them in an hour. So to make at least minimum wage here in the US, each sketch would have to cost at least $4. If you wanted to make more than minimum wage (which I definitely recommend), then you should charge more.
This does mean that some of your works will take longer and youll earn less per hour for those commissions it also means that some of your works can finish faster and youll earn more per hour for those. The good news is that the clients get a fixed rate, which helps them feel better and more confident about hiring you for the commission, and at the same time you know that your rate will average out in the long run and youll be earning enough money to pay your bills. So this helps put both you and the client a bit more at ease.
Theres one other thing that everybody worries about when marketing commissions: setting your prices. I cant say that I have any magic formula to tell you how high or low your prices should be I definitely think they should be above minimum wage, but how much is up to you. Its normal to worry about this. If you set your prices either too low or too high, you might not earn as much as you could.
Heres my last bit of advice on this subject its better for people to think your prices are a little high rather than a little low. When people see prices that are low, it gives them the signal that it must not be very good, and vice versa that people must like her work when theyre higher. So its better to give people the signal that your work is valued and appreciated (not to mention that you value your own time), rather than sell yourself short. Your own estimate of your work is probably low rather than high, and selling yourself short also results in people taking advantage of you much more often. So compare your work to some other artists you like, think how much you think your work is actually worth compared to their prices, and dont be afraid to add on a few bucks. You're worth it.
Blow Your Horn: This has two parts. First, just like when youre dating, you dont want to appear desperate. Is it attractive when you meet someone who's begging for a date? "Please, please, please go out with me! No one will go out with me! You're my only hope!" No, begging isnt attractive. It sends the signal that Im unwanted. So if you beg for dates, at best youll get a few pity dates. Begging for commissions will have much the same effect. So never say anything like nobody will commission me or why arent I getting more commissions or damn I wish someone would commission me. Those kinds of statements will drive away potential clients. To make yourself attractive you want to emphasize to other people that your art is appreciated and that others want your art. Getting your first commission may be tough if you havent had one yet; hang in there!
The second part of this is pointing out to your watchers and others the work youve done and letting people know that youre available for commission. This is distinctly different from begging. When you finish a piece and post it online, add a little note in your comment saying for example Did you like this? Im open for commissions. If youve done requests in the past, you can use those requests as examples of work youve done to encourage people to hire you for your first commission. Whatever you do, give people the impression that youve got plenty of art projects to keep you busy, so even if theyre not commissioning you, youll be working on something cool.
Lastly, if you really do have an emergency situation like your house was hit by a tornado or a flood or a combination earthquake-tsunami-nuclear-disaster, its perfectly okay to tell people that you have an emergency need. This isn't "begging", it's just being honest about a problem. Many people look specifically for artists who are most in need when purchasing their commissions. If its genuine, go ahead and let people know youre in a bind. You dont want to do this all the time. If you do this every month, people will stop believing that its genuine (like the story of the boy who cried wolf), so make sure youre only asking for emergency commissions when youve got a real emergency. If thats the case, check out the group ForArtistsAid, a group designed to help artists out of these kinds of binds.
Be Friendly: Talk to as many people as you can. I dont mean hawk your wares at them, just talk to them. Find out what interests them and talk about that. Share your own thoughts on their interests, especially if you have common interests. The more social you can be, the more people you can talk to, the better. When you write in your journal, remember to be optimistic. You should talk about your goals, things youre looking forward to or want to achieve. Its okay to mention problems or things that upset you, but dont dwell on them and express hope that theyll be solved. If you sound like Debbie Downer, nobody will want to commission you. On the other hand, if youre optimistic that will help draw people to you theyll enjoy your company, want to talk to you and theyll be more likely to commission you.
Be Nice: This is the cherry on top of the sundae. On the surface it seems obvious, but theres more to being nice than saying please and thank you. Obviously you should thank people when they hire you for a commission. If youre sending an original in the mail you can go a step further and jot a quick note to them on a Post-It to put in the envelope. You may also want to stick a couple pieces of candy in there as well. I like to use Starburst for this because theyre small and theyre individually wrapped, so its easy to get a couple of them in the envelope. Its a nice little surprise for your client and theyll have fond memories of receiving their commission from you.
Good luck and have fun!