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Edit: I derped up with wording, so editing to clarify |D

So I have posted here before with advice about specific clients, but this is the fourth time someone has backed out on me after agreeing to (and starting!) a project. I should mention that my commission process is highly unusual; at the moment, I only charge for materials and offer labor for free. I have a couple reasons for this: first, since I am still learning I don't feel that I can offer accurate time quotes. I do give a time range that the project will be complete (usually a few weeks, although it depends on the project), but I don't feel comfortable setting hard deadlines. This is not to say I won't consistently work on the project, but I don't want to make a promise I may not be able to keep. Hence I compensate my clients for this risk by discounting labor.  Second, these commissions are great learning experiences in terms of timing myself and figuring out how to give accurate quotes for both materials and time. I also favor clients who attend conventions more than I do because hey, free advertising! Finally, the money they save on labor is more money we can put towards high quality materials, and I much prefer to work that way. Sometimes I will have the client purchase tools as a small compensation for labor, but it's not always necessary.
They get a commission at a steep discount in exchange for giving me the opportunity to experiment and build my portfolio.

So far I have worked exclusively with friends. I'm hesitant to open these to the great wide internet because frankly, I'm putting out a ton of effort for these projects and I want to work with people I trust. I thought working for friends would be less risky, but apparently not. Most recently, I had someone back out of a full body cosplay because he spontaneously decided to move across the country and no longer has the money to spend. This is fine except I've already put in 13.5 hours into research and pattern drafting.

I'm not sure if what I'm asking for is even possible, but I'm wondering if there is a way to offer these sort of commissions outside my group of friends without getting burned. For starters I'm thinking of requesting all material funds up front instead of letting people do payment plans, and I’m also considering a cancelation fee. I don’t know how to figure out a cancellation fee, but maybe that will make people take it more seriously. To be honest I’m kind of confused that this is happening; every time someone takes one of my bigger projects to a convention I get notes asking about commissions, so I assume my quality of work is at least OK? I just wanna build cool cosplays, and I want to do it so badly that I’ll give away my time.

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Comments

rebeccaannoying
Mar. 17th, 2017 05:53 am (UTC)
Do you mind me asking what I said that is unprofessional? If it's the timely manner comment, I said that because I can only work on these things during evenings and weekends due to a full time job. Sometimes I have to prioritize other things over cosplays. Now that I don't have long breaks from school, I can't devote myself full time and hence the delivery isn't timely. However, I ALWAYS make sure my client is well aware of this and has no immediate deadlines. Generally, I get out 1-2 updates per week and so far it hasn't taken me more than 2 months to finish something. This is with 3-4 work sessions, or up to 15 hours or work per week. A lot of it depends on the project.

Normally I have the client order things for me, but there were some sales this weekend at locals stores so I jumped on them (after asking the client, of course). Unfortunately I think he wants to return everything, and thankfully cut fabric was only $40 which he will pay me. I appreciate the suggestions, however!

Edited at 2017-03-17 06:26 am (UTC)
Fralea Comms
Mar. 17th, 2017 06:30 am (UTC)
I think it was mainly this:

"Fully paid commissions obligate me to work for the client and get things done in a timely manner" but also that you were saying you choose only to work with friends, which usually ends up with people being more relaxed than they would be with other clients. (Not always, of course, but we can't tell that just from what you've written).

Maybe you didn't articulate yourself the way you wanted to, but your phrasing is lending itself to the interpretation that you don't want to charge people full price because you feel it lets you off the hook if you take too long to finish a product. Plus if you cut off that conjunction... saying you don't take "fully paid commissions [because they] obligate me to work for the client" just sounds bad. You should always be obligated to work for the client (within the bounds of the original agreement)!

Working fulltime isn't the same as being a professional, you can be professional at a part time job. So as you say you take a few weeks to make products, at max 2 months. I don't know much about the cosplay world but to me that sounds pretty quick, actually! I don't think there is any reason you should feel like you don't deserve to charge people labor. Of course you should do whatever you are comfortable with, as long as you keep up a good quality of service. Even if you just decide to take a few weeks off in the middle of a project it would be fine if you offered the client an option of refunding or continuing at their discretion when it came up. There's no real reason you should be thinking about it differently just because you are charging less.

Though I agree with basically what dinogrrl was getting at-- in my experience you get on average better clients when you charge more (or rather, a fair wage) as they are more committed to the project. Also working with friends can be murky, its possible your friends aren't taking this like a serious business agreement even if you are.

Edited at 2017-03-17 06:32 am (UTC)
rebeccaannoying
Mar. 18th, 2017 01:18 am (UTC)
Haha, based on the responses I picked the worst wording possible to say what I was trying to say xD

At my job, when I am asked to do something my manager expects a fairly accurate response: ie, this will take me x number of hours and I can have it done by Tuesday next week (or something like that). If I fail to meet those deadlines... there better be a darned good reason. With these cosplay commissions, I can't offer such certainty. I can guesstimate a rough number of weeks (4-6, for example) and even offer a detailed breakdown of steps, but sometimes I don't know how long something will take until I get there. It's my lack of experience showing, unfortunately. The client is taking a risk that I might run into unexpected problems that push the project past my guestimated time quote, so I compensate them by offering a massive discount in the form of free labor. Each project has involved an unexpected challenge of some sort, but thankfully nothing that drastically set me back.

Based on other feedback (and yours :) ), I'm definitely going to change my approach to this. I still feel that I should practice a time or three getting garments to fit someone who I don't have access to, so that makes pre-mades a bit challenging. Is there a way to offer "practice commissions" in such a way that it's fair to the customer?
Fralea Comms
Mar. 18th, 2017 04:56 am (UTC)
Custom made artwork, at least in the communities I've been a part of, generally has a different expectation than say, working for an animation company or other similar jobs where there are hard deadlines. Unless you give a deadline upfront, customers aren't expecting you to be able to magically tell them exactly when something will be done. Soft deadlines/guesstimates are generally par for the course, and customers expect prices somewhat under industry standard... but that doesn't mean it has to be dirt cheap!

I've never done any type of costuming commission, but for-materials-cost or making premades is generally how I hear of people practicing. If you are worried about working strictly from measurements, have you heard of DTDs (duct-tape dummies)? Its something pretty common in the fursuit community for getting precise fittings, though I think less common (though not nonexistent) in cosplay commissions. You can find instructions online for making and using them, and you would get your customer to make it and mail it to you.
Fralea Comms
Mar. 18th, 2017 05:00 am (UTC)
To be a little more clear, some customers will want firm deadlines if they are going to be needing something for an event, obviously. But you certainly wouldn't be out of line to only take deadlines that are a certain distance away that you feel gives you more than enough time for completion, for example, over 2 months, and then rejecting or charging a rush fee for any projects with deadlines shorter than that.
rebeccaannoying
Mar. 18th, 2017 05:20 am (UTC)
So how soft is an acceptably soft deadline, and what would be considered inappropriate overshooting? The worst time it happened for me was when I went from part time to full time, so what was supposed to take 5 weeks stretched out to 8. So far I have declined projects that had a near (like less than 4 months) deadline just in case.

And yes, I have heard of DTDs! I have worked with them before, but since they are less common for cosplay I'd like to learn how to custom fit clothes from measurements. Hence it would be super duper if I could work with someone locally so they could try things on. It also makes things easier to fix since some problems don't show up until a couple hours of wear. I will probably practice with a few more pre-made items that don't need to be closely fitted for the near future. If/when I do open for commissions, should I offer something like an extended warranty for the first couple of customers, or is it generally accepted that newbie products might have some flaws?
Fralea Comms
Mar. 18th, 2017 06:11 am (UTC)
Mmmm like I said I don't do this type of art so I am probably not the best person to ask. I say as long as you keep the customer informed and offer refunds if you aren't going to be able to work for an extended time then you are fine. Most customers I work with are happy to wait as long as they see updates and progress.

HMMMM I really don't know. What I've seen before is that the customer can send the item back for repairs if they don't do anything to it themselves or put it through excessive stress. So if they wear it the first time and a sleeve falls off, it can be fixed for free, but if they were trying to alter it themselves or going dirtbiking in it or something it voids the warranty. There should definitely be some kind of deadline though, you wouldn't want to be repairing things that people have had and worn for years. You probably know better than anyone how long your own work should hold up for before normal wear and tear sets in.
Fralea Comms
Mar. 18th, 2017 05:06 am (UTC)
Oh gosh sorry for the comment spam, but I was reading some of your other replies and I'd strongly recommend individually emailing clients instead of using messengers or a blog. Or at least in addition to a blog. A blog can be a nice way for someone to check up on your overall queue process, but you shouldn't -expect- customers to do it. And messengers are often informal and difficult to keep records of. YMMV, but I just think email is the most preferable method, and I doubt people would be upset about getting two emails a week.

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