I’m planning to create a short e-course about the art of commissioning. The course would be $15 and cover the communication process with clients, how to price, make estimates and proposals and what systems to use to setup a work flow for commissioning clients. If you are interested in buying such a course, please sign up below and I’ll let you know when it launches.
I’m not very fond of doing commissions. Actually that’s a very polite way of putting it – in reality : I hate doing commissions.
I take on commissions, because one of the really good things about them is that in most cases there is no middle man, so all the profits goes to me. Because it’s custom made, I can charge for the design and get paid for the actual hours I work or for the value I provide (which ever way I choose to price).
The commissioning scenario
But in all the years I’ve done commissions I’ve noticed a common theme in the way the story plays out. It goes something like this:
I get an email from someone asking me if I can do a specific thing – let’s say it’s a ring for the sake of this example. They tell me they like my style and that they want it set with a diamond.
Then I start sketching a few designs and it goes back a forth a bit, the client can’t decide – I make a model of the one that is closest to what the client want, but it gets remade a lot of times – this is usually the point where I start getting very unexcited about the project – and I haven’t even taken a down payment yet.
Often times we both get tired of the whole thing and I just end up finishing something and we both walk away from the experience dissapointed.
A common misconception
So, what just happened that made it go so horribly wrong?
Well two things:
I assumed the client would tell me exactly what they wanted and failed to ask the right questions and set the right expectations, and the client didn’t want to limit my creative freedom and wasn’t honest with me, because she didn’t want to hurt my creative feelings.
Lets take a look at each of these misconceptions closer.
Client misconception: “I don’t want to stand in the way of your creativity or creative process.”
I hear that a lot from clients, and now it’s a warning bell to me that they don’t feel they can be honest with me.
So why don’t they just tell me exactly what they want? Because they are scared of stepping on my artistic and creative toes. Being creative, designing is one of the things we do best – and they don’t feel like it’s in their power to have a say in that.
But actually they are just making it harder for me to guess what they want by withholding their true ideas. Because they do know exactly what they want, they just don’t feel like they can say it – as it might hurt my feelings.
Artist misconception: “I should be able to read the client’s mind and know what they want and if I don’t I have failed at creativity.”
I often assume that the client will be honest with me, because how else can I create their dream piece? But I also keep up the misconception by not telling them that I actually can’t read their mind, or see what they see before their mind’s eye.
But this is exactly where the whole thing goes wrong and the two misconceptions clash.
If I don’t tell them that,
- they will most likely waste their (and my) time if they don’t tell me exactly what they want, and
- that trying to respect my creative flow by giving me ‘free hands’ is a misunderstood consideration,
the whole project is bound to go down the unhappy road of endless sketchings. Why? Because I don’t want to appear as just a craftsman doing a technical job – I’m an artist, you know – therefore I have creative mind-reading super-powers!
Yes, I am an artist, but commissions are not about me expressing my style and doing personal work, it’s about serving a client and their desires & dreams – with a touch of my personal style off course.
The art of commissioning
So how can we avoid this never ending sketching revisions and modelmaking?
I think I have imbedded in my DNA, that I have to take on every client that approached me and I take for granted that they approach me because they like my work. But that’s not always the case. So, before I do anything I need to find out if we’re a good fit.
I’m not a mindreader!
I tell them that commissioning is not them hiring me to design and make a piece for them, it’s a collaboration between two people. They have the idea of the outcome and I have the skills & tools to make it happen. Hopefully they have chosen me as the manifester of their dream piece because they like my style of work – if not, I refer them to someone else. If they send me pictures of cute little flower rings, I send them to a colleague who does cute little flowery things. Or if I don’t feel like I can meet the technical know how, I’ll send them to someone who can.
If we are a good fit, then I tell them that I’m not a mind reader and that it’s crucial they tell me exactly what they want. I usually use the visual explanation, that they have an image in their heads about what they want and together we need to get that out on paper so I can see that image too and know what to make. A couple of ways to do that – they can do a sketch, they can send you images of something similar, or words do a lot to start with.
Its about setting expectations
By doing this, a number of things happen.
They take ownership over the piece, they feel like they have been a big part of the creating of it and it means a lot more to them than a piece you design that isn’t quite what they had in mind, but they never told you out of fear they might hurt your creative confidence.
It will also save time, at least sketch approval time, because you start the project with a lot more information than otherwise.
You’ll have a lot happier customer in the end – and happy customers are the best marketers for your business because they will tell their friends and you don’t have to pay them.