Interacting with Commissioners
Hello and welcome to Customer Service Basics! An article where I talk all about how to talk to people in a professional and courteous way, while being polite and making sure you are understanding their needs. Remember our golden rule of customer service:
"The Customer is Always Right."
Wrong! In our community the customer isn't always right and there are a million articles out there about how to provide good customer service. So, let's skip common sense and dive right in. In this article, we are going to cover the following topics and how they apply to interacting with commissioners:
- Setting clear Terms of Service
- Targeting your audience
- How and when to say "no"
- Money handling tips
- Commission anxiety
This is a selection of topics I have experience with and while there are many more to speak on, I think these few are a great start. While communication is extremely important, there are many facets of working with commissioners that aren't often explored. This is why I'm breaking these topics down into a series, the first being all about interacting with artists, and expanding on them individually. Up first on our list is the importance of setting a clear TOS, or Terms of Service.
In it's most basic sense, a Terms of Service is defined as a legal agreement between a service provider and an individual who wants to use that service. These are very important for a variety of reasons, but a recent interview with another commissioner summarizes it really well:
"When it comes to reading an artist's Terms of Service, I would say it's extremely important. TOS are an artist's safety net, they clearly explain what an artist will and will not do and typically tell you how to remedy any complications you might have with the artists work. Disregarding an artists TOS is basically telling the artist you don't care about them and, if you do that, the artist probably isn't going to want to work with you."-@Bad_Tanuki
When it comes to writing a TOS, first take a look at the artists you like. They will likely have years of experience with commissioners and their TOS will be refined by that experience. You can ask them if you may use theirs as a template, or google one for yourself, and then modify it to fit your needs. Once you're finished creating it, make sure it is easy to find and publicly hosted so potential commissioners can read it at any time. It is also wise to include your TOS in your first line of communication with a new commissioner! This will help to set expectations for things like your payment schedule, what you will or will not draw, and when updates can be expected. Up next is targeting your audience, something that may have never even crossed your mind!
When it comes to taking money for art, you have many, many decisions to make. One thing many artists might not consider is their target audience, or what kind of commissioner they want to attract. For instance, as an artist, if your skill is moderately refined and you open up full color commissions for $5 each, what kind of commissioners will you get? There is only one answer: All of them. Now, before your mind starts to wander to things like:
"Hey, wait a minute, is Mariah promoting income discrimination?!"
"I can't believe Mariah would suggest I lower my prices!"
This isn't the case on either account. Artists need money to live, just like the rest of us, and it is up to them to decide how they set their prices. The methods described below already exist in practice and are very effective! By understanding them it helps everyone in our community do business better while keeping a common understanding of the fact that commissioning art is just that: business. It's up to us to be respectful to each other, no matter how each artist prices their art.
There are two very common methods that you can use to target your audience when it comes to commissioners: the Price Method and the Needs Method. Where you are in life will often determine which method works best, but both are good tools to be aware of because you can swap between them and adjust your operating mode to keep your cash-flow steady.
The Price Method is well suited for artists who have a following and are usually closed for commissions due to a full, rotating queue. To deploy the price method, ask yourself how much you need to make off each art piece in order to comfortably live. And by "comfortably live" I mean buy food, pay bills, and have enough extra to replace hardware in the event of a failure. By setting your prices accordingly (generally higher), your audience will naturally adjust more towards working adults who have disposable income, rather than younger individuals who are just starting out in life.
Does this price you out of the reach of certain commissioners? Yes. But that also means that you will be dealing with a more mature, experienced audience. The increase in price will be tolerated as long as your audience continues to see that level of value in your work. If you see a decrease in business, then you know your prices may have broken that threshold and it might be time for an adjustment. At that point, you can switch back to the needs method to build business.
The Needs Method is a supplementary technique to the price method and is very useful for artists who are just starting out. If you find yourself constantly advertising commissions but struggling to get any bites, then it's time to pause and possibly adjust your target audience. This is where the needs method can really come into play. Ask yourself: "What do I need to do sell my art?" The first recommendation I have is to start advertising every day and doing sales.
Do a day of 50% off sketch headshots or an evening of discounted sketch busts; only taking a limited number of slots. This isn't something you have to do all the time, but it will help get your name out there and help you begin to build a following. Look at what your needs are and strive to meet those needs without going overboard. Do your best to find a product that sells, like sketches, that you can do quickly with minimal effort. The goal is to still make money while providing a quality product at a higher speed.
Making $300 on a single character pin-up might not be possible right away, but everyone starts somewhere! The needs method will appeal to a much broader audience and is much more likely to sell your art in slow economic times than the price method. No matter what method you choose, however, you should always keep in mind that you have the right to say no.
As an artist, saying no to someone who wants to give you money to draw may seem counterintuitive. Why would you turn down money when you really need it? In fact, there are many reasons why you should say no. Knowing when and how to do so will save you from some very big headaches and very unsatisfied commissioners.
When it comes to saying no, the first thing you should understand is that you're denying someone of something that they want. This has the potential to come with an emotional response and you may have to deal with that from time to time. Do not, however, let this discourage you from drawing or interacting with others! People will be upset but they will calm down, and hopefully they will return later with a different idea. That is much better than you attempting to draw something you are unfamiliar, or worse, uncomfortable with.
When you reply to decline a request, remember to be polite and explain why. This will help your commissioner understand exactly what it is you don't like about their inquiry. Is it not a species you can draw? Do you not draw nsfw? Are you just not comfortable with the idea in general? Whatever it may be, a kind explanation is the best way to go about it. If they persist or are rude to you at any point, you have every right to cease communication and use whatever block functions that are at your disposal. Saying no is never easy, but don't make yourself miserable for anyone else; it's unfair to everyone involved and only leads to things like burnout.
Now then, let's talk about money! To start us off, I asked Wetchop what his thoughts were on money in our community's economy:
The number one thing I can think of is to respect your client and their money. Every artist needs to realize that they're being trusted by somebody to provide a service in exchange for somebody's hard earned money. Trust is very important in that exchange.-@Wetchop
The exchange of money in our community will always be a cornerstone of what keeps our fandom alive. Thousands of different artists, filling orders from all over the world, at all hours of the day and night, and all for the sake of just enjoying Anthro Art! It really is wonderful to be part of something so vast and fun, but you should be mindful when it comes to handling money.
As a good rule of thumb, when taking commissions, it is good practice to hold your client's money until their commission is completed. What I mean by this is that, if you can avoid it, you shouldn't spend the money you make from a commission until said commission is delivered. I know this isn't ideal for those who are just starting out, but it will help incentivize good working habits and queue management. It will also protect you from going into the negative in the event that an unsatisfied customer does a chargeback. With that being said, I do not encourage anyone to adopt a "commission credit" system.
A commission credit system is a way of life where an artist will take on a far greater workload than they can handle at any given point of time because they need money to live. For example, they will open 20 slots initially because they need to pay rent. This appears fine because they believe they have an entire month to get those 20 done. A week goes by, they finish two, and then get the electric, water, phone, and internet bill. So they open up another 20 commissions! It's been a week's time and now the artist has made 40 commissions worth of money, which is gone to bills, and they have only completed two. See where this cycle can get out of hand?
Handling money will be one of the hardest parts of being an artist and it's up to each individual to find the method that works best for them. If you're just starting out, I would suggest getting a part-time job to cover your living expenses and work on anthro art as your second job. The additional income will be nice, you can continue to build your following, and you will never have to worry about a slow week with commissions.
Still with me? Great! This last topic is still really important: Commission Anxiety.
If you ever get to the point where you have way too much going on, your queue has become impossible to tackle and you're thinking about issuing refunds, or you are literally losing sleep because you have taken so much money just to be able to live but you have been unable to deliver hardly anything; I want you to read these words aloud:
Look, most artists will face commission anxiety at some point and it's okay to talk about it. I've seen both the "commission credit" lifestyle and things like "iron artist challenges" absolutely destroy people in the time that I have been a part of the community. If this is you, then I'm here to tell you that everything is going to be okay. Take a breath, rub your face a bit, and keep on reading.
The first thing you should remember is just how important communication is. The modern business world simply would not function without it. Think about all of the calls, emails, texts, and tweets, that are sent every minute to update business partners on the status of various projects all over the world. If you're buried, then it's time to get organized and start communicating. It will be scary at first, but it will only get easier after you take that first leap.
First, gather up all the information you have and build a spreadsheet or trello to keep track of all the art you owe. Then start posting journals and tweets to reach out to your audience in the most broad way possible. Explain what's happened, why you're struggling, be honest with yourself and your followers. Modest transparency about your life is key and offering options is going to help diffuse the situation. If you are working, have a stable income, and want to start offering refunds; then handle them on an individual basis. If that is not possible then you should work towards a different solution with each individual client. It will be a lot of communication, but it will help you in the long run.
As you work to restore your commission queue, remember that there isn't anything you cannot conquer with time, effort, and patience. You will find a system and you will come out of this stronger, smarter, and more agile than you were before. If you power through your commissions you may look back and be amazed at how much your style and speed has improved. If you choose to give out refunds, the day you pay your last one will be the biggest celebration in memory. You can do this, one day at a time.
Communicating with commissioners is so much more than just giving good customer service. It's running your business! There are many paths you can take to be successful in the Anthro community and I hope you find the best one for you. Thanks for all of the amazing art you do and for reading this super long article!
Hey! Mariah here! Wow, what a novel. I'm sorry for being so wordy with this one, but I really wanted to get this information out there. I know the article is titled "Interacting with Commissioners" but there really is so much more to that than just providing good customer service. We all know that being polite in our interactions should be paramount, but there are so many aspects that are never discussed. I hope this article was both informative and helpful to new and veteran artists alike.
Did you read something you don't agree with? Then please send me an email! Though I do freelance work I am not a digital artist. I am writing from my experience with the community over the last 15 years but I'm by no means an expert. I'll be expanding on these interaction articles in the future, but I hope you think this was a good start. Thanks again for reading and your support means the world to me!
All the best!