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Advice on client priority/stalled payments

This is not a beware warning, I'm just looking for some advice/opinions.

If you have a number of people lined up for a commission and the one at the top of the list keeps stalling on payment, how long is it appropriate to wait until moving on to the next person?

I was recently in contact with a client who first seemed excited about me getting started on their commish as soon as possible. Once I was ready, I sent them an e-mail to inform them that I would begin work on the sketch as soon as I received notification of payment from PayPal. They were usually quick to reply, but this time it took them a bit longer (granted, only a week, nothing worth panicking over). I sent them another e-mail to make sure my previous message had been received and they replied again within a few days, so all is well now.

I'm only asking because it made me wonder what to do should a similar situation arise in the future, one where contact was lost for much longer. It made me consider the possibility that some commissioners might at first seem eager for a pic, but as soon as the issue of payment comes up, they might get cold feet and decide to retreat without a word to the artist.

I like to work off my commissions in order of first-come-first-serve. I also never accept payment until I can guarantee I have the time and energy to dedicate to the piece in question. So I never take money from more than one client at the same time in order to ensure that I don't keep people waiting for months for something they've already paid for. I wouldn't have felt comfortable moving on to the second person on the list only to have the first person pop up again after a month of silence, saying: "Here's the money! Now you can start working on my pic!" In that case I wouldn't know which person should be my #1 priority: the person who kept delaying payment but who technically came first, or the second person who had waited patiently long enough and whose pic I was now working on.

In this scenario, what would sound fair to you? That I finish off the second person's commission because they were quicker about payment and politely explain the situation to the first commissioner, OR apologize to the second commissioner and tell them I'd have to put their pic on hold while I finish off the first person's pic because we had an earlier agreement?

In this case it was only an issue of a couple of days, but I would hate to keep people waiting for months just because of one client who may or may not have gotten cold feet and disappeared without a trace. How long is it fair to wait until moving on to the next client? And should client number one pop up again with payment and demanding their share of the trade, what would the appropriate response be? In general, if a client takes an unreasonable time to come up with payment, how far down the list should I move them? In case months had passed, would placing them at the end of the queue seem unreasonable in favor of all the other people who had been kept waiting?

(I hope this wasn't too long-winded. If the mods want me to cut this, let me know.)

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( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 21st, 2010 10:38 pm (UTC)
I posted something a little similar to this a few days ago. Don't start a pic if they are avoiding the payment issue. That's a warning sign imo.

If it were me I'd send them one more notification that they can either pay up or you're cancelling their slot and moving onto the next person. Not everyone who expresses interest is genuine about it unfortunately.
Aug. 21st, 2010 10:38 pm (UTC)
If they can't pay by a certain amount of days, I'd say move on to the next then come back to them. That way both you and the commissioners do not have to wait.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 12:09 am (UTC)
This seems reasonable to me. However, part of my question was about what constitutes a "certain amount of days". It's something I could just abritrarily decide (i.e. 7 days vs. 30 days), but I wanted to hear if other artists had any opinions about any proper "etiquette" regarding this. I would just like to know what kind of time limit might make me seem too impatient - after all, sometimes e-mails get lost or the person honestly forgets to reply - or in contrast, how much is too patient.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 01:00 am (UTC)
For me personally, I'd assume after 10 days they aren't interested in it anymore. But for most things I require pay as soon as the slot is taken anyways.
Aug. 21st, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
Personally, I work on a first paid, first served basis. If someone takes a long time to pay, they're officially added to the bottom of the list when they do pay up.
Aug. 21st, 2010 10:45 pm (UTC)
This is exactly how I operate. I had a client who would go weeks between communication. You can't afford to be sitting around waiting for someone that long.
Aug. 21st, 2010 10:56 pm (UTC)
I was going to come along and suggest this as well. It seems fair to work on the person's piece who paid first. If the other person showed up maybe just add them to the second in-line again and explain to them that they took too long to reply?

Maybe add that into your TOS or something too.
Aug. 21st, 2010 10:57 pm (UTC)
Same here. I can't even tell you the number of times when I and a potential client went through the entire song and dance of sending reference, agreeing on a price, etc. etc. and then as soon as it was time to pay, they vanished off the face of the earth. If I spent any time at all waiting on them, I'd never get any work done at all.

Remember that you are a business person and you are doing this (I assume) for business. This is your job. I say take them on a "first paid, first served" order, and if you really feel bad about working on the second one first, as soon as the first person pays you, put off the second commission and come back to it later. Don't waste time waiting on people or you'll go crazy.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 12:19 am (UTC)
I do commissions on the side, they're not my primary source of income (most of the time, anyway). That's why I can afford keeping people lined up but without accepting payment from them until I know I can take on the work. It's easier to accept payment from one person at a time. If they need a few days to scrape the money together, I can spend that time on my own projects. On the other hand, it seems unfair to keep the other people waiting forever just because one person can't get their act together within a reasonable amount of time.

I guess what I'm most interested in hearing is whether there's any sort of artists' "etiquette" regarding this sort of situation. If I'm only allowing the person one week to come up with payment and immediately move them to the bottom of the list if they don't reply within that time, does that make me impatient? After all, sometimes e-mails simply get lost or the person honestly forgets to reply. On the other hand, what amounts to being too patient?
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 24th, 2010 10:54 pm (UTC)
I only do digital art myself. If they're simple commissions, I can maybe estimate how long it'll take me to finish the first one. If one is just a simple character profile, I can easily alternate between the two. If I need a break from one (in order to come back later and see what could be improved), I can work on the other. Most of my commissions tend to be more complex though, with detailed backgrounds and multiple characters, and I don't want to take on too much at once.

Several people have suggested going by a first-paid-first-served basis. I think I may have to take heed and change my policy at some point.
Aug. 21st, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
Yes, I do this too. Sometimes commissioners promise to send payment by a certain date, and then entirely forget about it for weeks, due date come and gone. It wouldn't be fair to the rest of my commissioners if I kept everyone else with a slot waiting for months because one person couldn't get it together enough to pay on time. As soon as a person pays, they are added to the end of my queue.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 12:29 am (UTC)
this is what I do too! I even keep people that are unpaid in a seperate list, and once i recieve payment, they bump to the bottom of my current queue
Aug. 22nd, 2010 09:44 am (UTC)
Agreed. If I was commissioning someone and had paid for it already, I'd be pretty annoyed if I found out the artist wasn't working on it simply because someone else hasn't paid yet.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 10:27 am (UTC)
This is why I never accept payment from a client until I'm absolutely sure I can start working on their pic ASAP. If I worked on the basis of who paid first, I would bump people to the bottom of the list if they waited too long in favor of the others. However, I only accept payment from one client at a time, so the others will have to wait for their turn, but they won't have lost anything. I was just curious whether there was any sort of guideline or etiquette about how long constitutes being too patient or impatient.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 04:58 pm (UTC)
It's something for you to decide yourself really and I'd base it both on what you feel is a fair amount of time, along with how often they seem to be online. If the person has always responded to your communications before within a day or two, I think giving them two weeks would be plenty sufficient before moving on to the next.

In this event it's fair to tell them something along the lines of "due to the length of time that has passed I'm moving onto the next in the queue, I hope we can do business when you are ready." And if/when they get back to you with payment and you've already started another person's pic, finish it first before starting on the delayer.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
That makes sense. Thanks for the advice, much appreciated.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 12:45 am (UTC)
I usually take payment upon putting the commission on the list and work on a first pay first serve basis. It works for me, but not every method works for everyone.

I would suggest giving a certain amount of days for payment say...when you get to them they have a few days to provide payment otherwise you will move on and they have to wait until you finish the next commission before you start theirs (providing that they pay you after you move to the next one).

Just a suggestion.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 01:59 am (UTC)
I would say have it in your TOS that you expect to be paid within X amount of hours. If they can't, drop em down a notch on the que. And say you have 3 people. Person 1 isn't ready to pay within 3 days, you bump em down. So you take person 2. You finish person 2 and then decide to go back to person 1. Person 1 doesn't respond or have the money right away. So you go to person 3, do them and then ask person 1 again. If they still don't have the money, I say drop them.

But it's definitely a good idea to add in your TOS that you HAVE to have payment within x amount of days
Aug. 22nd, 2010 04:51 am (UTC)
I keep a pretty strict policy right off the bat on when payment is expected - I`ll notify when they`re nearing the deadline but once gone I don`t look back. This is business, even if its casual, and should still be respected as such.
I have commission forms set up for all of my different types of commissions, in addition to a mandatory agreement to the Terms of Service (which state the above).

The time of which you determine you've waited too long is really up to you, personally. I like to draw same day as I discuss details with the client, but some prefer to do it on the weekend. Whatever fits around your schedule should be what your clientele agree to.

Edited at 2010-08-22 04:51 am (UTC)
Aug. 22nd, 2010 06:32 am (UTC)
I actually had to rewrite my TOS to include stuff like this.

Personally, I let people grab a slot on my commission list without paying, but I won't start until they DO pay. When they pay, I put a note next to their name indicating that they've paid and then start on their commission.

It's not fair to make paying customers wait for someone who hasn't paid yet. Surely both the nonpaying customer and the paying ones will understand that.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 12:26 pm (UTC)
From the perspective of a commissioner, I'd say that payment is what solidifies your place on the list, not the initial contact. Think about it kind of like an airline reservation: back in Ye Olde Days, you used to get up to 48 hours after reserving a ticket to pay for it, otherwise the seats were returned to the general pool. But you aren't going to be getting on that plane anyway on just a reservation: you'll be getting on it with a ticket.

I'd say give 'em 24-48 hours or so, depending on how you are accepting payment, but after that, they get bumped down below all those who have paid.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 05:19 pm (UTC)
I think it's fair to "move on" to the next commissioner.

Give the first person a deadline (the 10-day deadline suggested above sounds fair).

Then, once that deadline is up, tell them ahead of time that you're moving on and will come back to them, don't wait until they pay up to let them know about the change. Then there are no surprises and you don't have to "apologize" to anyone if the payment comes while you're working on the next one.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
As a commissioner, I'm leery of sending payment too soon, especially for an artist with a long list. Some months ago I commissioned an artist for an animated icon; they said it wasn't necessary to send payment immediately, but would contact each person for payment as their turn came up. About half the people elected to pay early. Unfortunately the artist had to stop work because of health problems, and it's unclear when or if they'll be able to resume. So if I'd paid in advance I'd be out of the money, as it's unlikely the artist would be able to make any refunds under the circumstances.

This is where professionalism and track record come into play. If an artist is known to deliver as promised, I'll confidently pay in advance.

One approach would be to contact the next person on the list as you are doing the previous one, saying "I'll be able to start yours next, please send payment by [whenever]." If they don't respond, move on to the one after them. If they respond late, finish the next one you've started, then start theirs.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
This is why I refuse to accept payment in advance unless I'm 100% sure I can take on the work and finish it within a reasonable amount of time. I cannot understand artists who leave commissioners who have already paid hanging for months, sometimes even years. I already feel guilty about taking a week or longer to finish a commission. I would feel terrible taking people's money and just sitting on it for months. I always tell my clients not to send payment until I tell them to; if they opt to pay in advance anyway, then that's their choice. Usually it's because they already know my track record and trust me not to run off with their money.

The approach you suggest is how I usually work. If I'm currently working on a pic and I can pretty well estimate how soon I'll have it finished, I'll send an e-mail to the next client to let them know I'm gearing up to move on to their piece. If they don't respond within a few weeks, I take it as a sign they're either currently absent (holiday, illness, etc.) or no longer interested and will move on to the next person. I just wasn't sure what most artists considered being too patient or impatient. I guess it's something I really should look at from a business perspective instead of spending too much time being polite about it.
Aug. 24th, 2010 06:43 am (UTC)
depends really...Most accounts type of things generally give you say 21 days. I would say with a commission a week, more so for the silly people who go "add me to your commission list" then find out they have a bill or something and use the money for that instead of letting you know.

I'd start working on the others since i'm assuming they have paid. Wait say 5 days, let them know they have 5 days to notify you about payment. If they don't they obviously do not want it and remove them from your list. Or add to a list of possibles??
Aug. 25th, 2010 08:46 pm (UTC)
I make it clear I don't begin work until folks pay at least half down -- no payment, no work. That simple, really...
Aug. 25th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)
I don't either. My question was about giving priority to the next person in line. How long to wait for person A to send payment before moving on to person B, and how long to wait for them to reply before person C, etc.
Aug. 26th, 2010 05:23 am (UTC)
I haven't read the comments at this point, but-

I make jewelry and no one is on the commission queue until they have at least put down their non-refundable deposit- or the full amount if it's a "rush" order (which I may or may not be able to accept at any point depending on the rest of the queue).

No payment? They're not on the list, nor will they be until they pay.

I have sometimes had to cancel a potential commission if it's a "rush" job and the person ordering it keeps causing problems that interfere with the normal work-flow; this happened just a couple of days ago, in fact. If it's a "rush", I do not have time to deal with supposedly ignorant random actions that nonetheless have the effect that it makes it look like I am not going to get PAID for my work and materials; I will decline to continue at the point.

So- I really recommend people not getting on the queue until they've PAID to do so. And so if they delay- well, that just delays things for them. I am very committed to FIFO, but they are not "in" until they've at least placed a deposit. Thus i do not have to delay any paying customers for the sake of people who postpone.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )


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