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Discussion: clients unable to pay

This is a post both on your personal policies but also an issue of etiquette I suppose. At what point do you require payment? How do you handle someone who tries to buy art from you but you later find out they're unable to pay you? And since this is often an issue of the client being irresponsible with their funds, how on earth do you phrase the whole thing?

I've only experienced this once, and thankfully I found out they didn't have the funds before I started the work. I won't name the person, but they wanted something like the strip of 4 pictures that you get from a photobooth, 2 characters in each shot. This would have made it a pretty big commission so they asked to pay in installments. I agreed, and said I would start sketching after receiving the first payment. We agreed on a deadline for her to send it.

The date she was supposed to send the money came and went with no payment, and no explanation either. I waited for two weeks before sending a note flatly stating that I was cancelling the commission as I had other people wanting to get art from me. This perhaps seems hasty (hence why I am asking for your opinions on this type of issue) but the way I see it is if I have such a hard time getting partial payment before beginning the work, the chances of receiving the rest of it would be even less. Had she noted me at the time saying that she would be sending the money a little later than expected that would have been fine, but the lack of communication on her end made me decide that I didn't want to get any deeper into this.

What I sent to her was
"Since it's been 2 weeks since we agreed upon your commission and I've heard nothing further nor received any partial payment I'm canceling your commission slot. Nothing personal I just figure you are no longer interested and I have other people who would like a piece from me so I am moving along."
Her reply
"not that i'm not interested..i just had a lot of bills come up that im struggling to pay currently."

My first thought really was 'if you are struggling to pay bills then why try to commission art you know you can't afford?" along with feeling semi-guilt-tripped so I didn't really know how to respond to that. Handling the whole thing was difficult for me as it was my first time experiencing this situation. It was frustrating and disappointing.

Note that I don't really think that this person had any intention to scam me, more like she simply went a little beyond her means I guess which makes it a little trickier to deal with. It's easy to not feel mean when dealing with people who have shady intentions.

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( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
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Aug. 17th, 2010 12:56 pm (UTC)
My advice on your situation:

I think you handled that fine. I think 2 weeks is a generous buffer, and you weren't rude in your response. Let her know that you'll be happy to take her commission when her financial situation is a bit more stable.

Don't let her guilt trip you, either. Her bills are her responsibility. She can try again to get a pretty picture from you when she can afford it.

My advice overall:

Personally, I take full payment upon completion for my commissions. I'm lucky that I haven't run into any problems with it, so far, and to have the luxury of being able to wait for payment, since I don't rely on commissions for much of my income.

There is a clause in my TOS about cancelled commissions, though, that says I can re-work a cancelled piece to be a different character or subject and use it however I see fit. As such, for a non-paying customer, I would likely work out some kind of deadline, and then hold them to it. If they don't pay, the work is mine.

Don't let the guilt trips get to you. Phrasing for these sorts of things should be professional but firm, with very little emotion. "Sorry to hear that, but please understand that I still need payment by such-and-such date, or I will consider the contract for our commission to be cancelled."
Aug. 17th, 2010 10:55 pm (UTC)
Normally I sketch the commission first, show them a preview and ask for payment but in this case because she wanted to pay in installments something gave me the vibe I should ask for some money upfront. And I'm glad I did, I could've done 1-4 sketches unpaid. D:

As yet I haven't had any problems with anyone taking art and running but I think I might add a clause like yours into my TOS :) Thank you for the advice.
Aug. 17th, 2010 01:00 pm (UTC)
I don't give people commission slots until they've paid. Until that happens they are potential clients, whereas ones that have paid get given a slot.

Don't let them guilt you, they have no right to your work yet.
Aug. 17th, 2010 01:05 pm (UTC)
I had to do this twice recently with people not following through on a commission after discussing it with me and clearly stating they wanted to buy. So, their spot is forfeit if I contact them twice about it with no response or commitment. Since I work with full payment up front on pictures totalling less than a few hundred bucks, it's far more fair to real customers that way.
Aug. 17th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
I don't give anyone anything until they've paid, if it is a large amount they can do half first and half upon completion but they won't get the final piece till they finish paying.

I would say that if someone contacted me intent to buy but never paid, I'd probably give them a nudge to remind them "Hey, are you still interested in this?" but other than that, I'm not too concerned about it.

Now like if someone did a Request with me, and then they strongly hinted/stated outright they might pay to 'upgrade' it on say, livestream (this has happened to me before) and then they never paid after the work was rendered? well simply, I just wont do work with them again unless they pay upfront. This is also why I rarely draw on livestream- not a lot of people are willing to whip out the cash and pay immediately, and that impulse buy won't be driven by impulse later.
Aug. 17th, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
You handled it just as I would. And you're right, if they're struggling to get by, you shouldn't be buying commissions.

I almost always take up payment up front (unless I know the client) and even so, I don't show the goods until it has been 100% paid off. So even if she did duck out before 100% payment was due, you could always modify the picture slightly and offer it to be done to a client's customization for a discounted price
Aug. 17th, 2010 04:00 pm (UTC)
Sounds like you handled it right. 2 weeks is more than long enough to wait for a first payment D:
I guess the only (very minor) thought is if it happened again, avoid speculating why the payment hasn't been made (" I just figure you are no longer interested" is pretty neutral and polite, but still projects things on the commissioner). Just leave that out I think :)
Aug. 17th, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
Good point. I mentioned the not interested thing because no communication + no payment would equal lack of interest to a lot of artists and perhaps she didn't realise that. It's not so much projecting onto someone as trying to indicate to them how they come across. Plus when I had it as solely saying "I'm kicking you off my list for not paying" it sounded too mean. Telling them I didnt think they were interested anymore was me trying to soften the blow =p but I get what you mean.
Aug. 17th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
I am not an artist, so feel free to ignore what I have to say. x3

I have seen many artists trying to battle against lost wages when it comes to commissions. The smartest ideas I've seen involve completely watermarking an image and not sending the commissioner the non-watermarked image until they have paid, and taking payment upfront. The latter is to be done ONLY if the artist believes they can produce the work in a timely manner and can afford every refund if they realize that they cannot work in a timely manner. Personally I like the watermarking idea. I've seen some artists completely cover a commission and mark "UNPAID" on it so that the commissioner can see that the work is done, but they cannot get the art until they have paid. Some people I know take 50% before working and 50% upon completion, but even they have been shortchanged for that last 50%. It's hard. :/
Aug. 17th, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC)
I think you handled it fine. I personally require full payment up front (and then I usually keep it in my paypal until I've at least sketched the work, just in case), but in the case of a bigger commission, I would require payment in commission steps. That is, I'd get payment upfront for the sketch stage, and then complete the sketch stage, get approval, and then require payment upfront for inks, and so on. This would ensure that even if they back off, I have payment for what I've already done.

I think you were correct in judging that if she's that flaky before you guys even get started, it probably would have been worse once you actually got into it. She's free to commission you when she has her stuff together.
Aug. 17th, 2010 10:57 pm (UTC)
Yeah that's exactly what I'd planned to do in this case since it was a big one. Taking payment in stages is fine with me. Usually I don't take payment til they've approved of a sketch but had a funny feeling about this one which was why I asked for partial upfront.
(no subject) - kayla_la - Aug. 17th, 2010 11:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 17th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC)
As others have said I think you handled it well.

I've only had the recurring problem of people reserving slots and then vanishing off the face of the planet, not paying, not answering my notes, nothing. I've had this happen this several times so its gotten to the point where, as it was mentioned above, I don't reserve a slot for someone until they've actually paid for it, and it's worked out fine.

It just seems like sometimes folks want to pounce at an opportunity they feel will not be there later so they jump at it without really thinking of their finances first, and that's what leads to this stalling.
Aug. 17th, 2010 06:03 pm (UTC)
I think you handled it fine! c:

I take full payment up front, and my refunds are on a case by case basis. I've only had to issue one refund so far in my history (and it was my choice, the commissioner insisted that I couldn't draw his feline. He repeatedly told me the face looked like a possum :|)

If someone is interested in a commission, once they send me refs I add them to my queue under my "Awaiting Payment" section. After they have paid, I put them down at the bottom of my paid queue.

If people are unsure about paying for a full commission up front, I offer partial payment options, but I add on a few dollars as an inconvenience tax XD
Aug. 17th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
I've never had a really large commission to do, people usually just want chibis and icons from me which are rather cheap. So I usually ask for full payment up front, because I am afraid of doing work and getting nothing in return. (It's happened so much with art trades, got some I've been waiting YEARS on. Given up hope on them lol)

I think you handled the situation well. :)
Aug. 17th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)

Personally I ask for payment up front, if they don't pay then I cancel the commission.

If a would be client came to me with an explanation of how they're having a tough time I would tell them that I'm sorry to hear they're having troubles that preclude their obtainment of a luxury service (make no bones about it, art IS a luxury), I would wish them luck in resolving their current difficulties and day that I'd be happy to work with them once their troubles are resolved.

I'm sympathetic to their troubles but until they have the money to pay for my services, we can't do business and as sympathetic as I am, I try to avoid doing free art very often because I have my own bills to pay, which are no less important than the bills of anyone else. Some people might think I'm hard hearted but I learned the hard way that being soft hearted gets you hurt and drained of resources.
Aug. 17th, 2010 11:03 pm (UTC)
I really wanted to say something like that to her for wasting my time but would have felt like I'd have been unnecessarily rude doing so. It should be pretty obvious to someone that if they can't keep themselves afloat where bills are concerned then more frivolous pleasures like commissions aren't something they should be pursuing.
(no subject) - lilenth - Aug. 18th, 2010 07:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 17th, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
Fortunately, fursuitmakers have it better off than traditional 2d artists in this respect, as most of us require the materials be paid for up front.

Even if the commissioner decides not to pay for the 'finished' product, most people don't issue refunds on materials- so if they screw us, we can just furbid it and still make SOME profit, even if its just like.. $75. But its better than being in the red, even if it ends up to me like.. $0.10/hour.

I usually offer the client a window to purchase their finished piece(Like 3-4 months- ample time unless something majorly lifechanging has come up), since it can take a long time to make them and lots of life stuff can pop up. Lots and lots of people just pay for the whole thing up front, which is nice, so there's no wondering.

Although truth be told I've only ever had one person decide not to pay after I made it- and he showed up 2 years(maybe 3?) at a furmeet and was like "HEY WHERES MY FURSUIT. I PAID FOR MATERIALS" and I was like "I don't know- some guy in hong kong has it, I think. Nice guy".
Aug. 17th, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)
If an artist has a good work history then they should only take payment up front.
Aug. 17th, 2010 09:34 pm (UTC)
I have it set up in my Terms that if they don't pay me within 30 days, the commission is canceled.
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