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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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Mar. 18th, 2017 01:31 am (UTC)
I did pick some pretty bad wording to explain myself in the original post, so let me try again :D

I don't quite have enough experience to give hard time quotes. I can tell someone a project may take 4-6 weeks or something like that, but I can't promise to have Step X done by a certain date. This is what I meant by timely manner; it's not that I don't care or will work at my own whim, but that I don't feel comfortable promising a hard deadline--yet. When I have commissions of any sort, I spend a minimum of about 10 hrs weekly even if I'm quite busy with other things, so progress does happen; it's just sometimes slower than I'd like. I have turned down projects because people had a near-ish deadline in mind, so I had to say no.

I didn't talk about my business practice too much in this post, but it's usually as follows: Client tells me what they want, I do a little bit of research. I give them some loose quotes of time and budget, and if they aren't daunted by that I give them significantly more detailed quotes. If they still wish to continue, I have them order materials and send them to my address. I used to give updates via Skype or Facebook messenger, but I recently switched to a blog so I don't spam people (the updates come 1-2x weekly). I explain all of this so there isn't any mystery. I wasn't using a TOS because I (falsely) thought that established trust between friends was enough, but I won't make that mistake again :( If I continue this type of commission at all, it will definitely have a deposit involved.
Mar. 22nd, 2017 01:12 am (UTC)
TOS wont replace a proper buyer's agreement and by their powers combined a proper contract. With the way e-sig have come into recognition there's 0 excuse for getting proper, written contracts with exact terms while doing custom work strictly online. Gone are the scan/sign/scan days even so no excuse. Research basic buyer's agreements, and don't be jamming in any old terms of service unless you know they're legally reasonable and therefore enforceable.

Once compensation happens- ie: have them spend money on materials, you've created a type of contract between you and client anyways, no matter how 'casual' you want or imagine things to be.

If you're adding deposits into the mix do some research. Learn what is and is not okay to keep in terms of a deposit and how to word them so that they'e binding. Deposits aren't a way to try and legally double dip.

Custom work is a more complicated thing to set up agreement wise than just selling an item but not impossibly so.

Regarding some other points you've made- don't give a deadline unless you can keep it. Just don't. Fullstop. That's taking on additional risk, charging extra for hard deadlines is good practice.

Since you're worried about a quote in the bargaining phase, well add an extra two month cushion, or whatever you know is the max it'd take. If you're worried you'll go past the cushion to the point where you don't feel right even giving a quote in a range, then I'd say you're not in a position to take any custom work right now.
Your "giving" free labour was part of the contract you made, it's none of the client's concern, it's how you chose to make the deal, not them. It doesn't mean you get to be late. If you hope it will make clients more patient, well that's nice but business is business and is almost never nice. Friendship is nice, and trying to mix business and friendship is a good way to be bad at both. You may get patient clients, and you may get others who see you as not being professional about this and wanting to bail.

I just get this odd vibe from you wanting someone to tell you the max or usual time line as if you aren't even sure yourself of your own average work time.
If you want to be held to the legal entity Reasonable Completion you're going to be compared to a pro, full time costumer whether you feel that fits your more casual operation or not. Once you take money to build a costumer you're a professional costumer. You don't get to play at business when real cost is involved.

So you're better off giving real quotes based on how long you honestly know deep inside it will take you to build the costumer. Including if you get busy at your "real" job. If that means two years, well then you be honest and you say two years, don't try and hint it will probably only be six trying to weasel out of the two. If you can't commit enough for six be honest and say 24. Expect most clients wont want to wait that time and wont hire you.

Once you have them buy those materials and spend money this is as much a real job as your fulltime job.

You have to think about if you break your arm for a month, if your house burns down and your insurance doesn't cover enough for the half built costume you now have to refund or remake. How to handle refunds if the client doesn't want the materials in lieu of cash.(they aren't costume makers, the materials aren't of value to them and they bought them under your direction. Now if they send you materials they bought independently and say 'make me something from this' that's different. This is the kinda stuff you want to hash out contract wise)

If you want to half-play at this, make premades which you may or may not see a return on. Sell with an extra offer to tailor them to the client(within reason of how you know the item can be nicely tailored) if you want tailoring-to-fit experience. Custom work is a niche area of business with a lot of pitfalls and is a lot of risk for buyer and seller, you don't want to half ass it.

Edited at 2017-03-22 01:13 am (UTC)
May. 15th, 2017 02:58 am (UTC)
Late reply is extremely late, but I REALLY appreciate you taking the time to give so much feedback <3

The point of this business model (which is now moot since I won't be using it anymore when my current project is complete) was twofold. I love building cosplays and props, but due to obnoxious college tuition there was no way that I could justify purchasing materials. I had friends, however, who loved to cosplay but didn't want to build things. Hence it made perfect sense to meet in the middle; they would give me the materials, and I would use my access to tools through the school and make epic things. They got something at a great discount, and I got pieces to put in my portfolio. The problems started when I began expanding past my very close inner circle of friends who I could trust to play along with my quasi-business model without issue. As you said, trying to mix business and friendship is a good way to be bad at both and I won't be doing it anymore. I learned my lesson there :P

I have never, ever given deadlines I can't keep, but clearly there's something I don't understand or I'm communicating poorly. I will admit I am confused about what sort of time estimates people give their clients. At my day job, when I'm given a task I am expected to tell my manger something like, "Ok, to do that I will first have to do x, y, and z, it will take about 13 hours, and I can have it completed by next Tuesday afternoon," or something like that. I need to be very specific about what will be done, what steps are involved, and when each step will be completed. I try to do something similar with cosplays, and for smaller projects (like one prop, a pair of boots, a mask, etc) the estimates are usually pretty accurate. For larger stuff, however, I like to give myself a healthy buffer. To give a quote I write out every single step beginning with shopping for materials and finishing with packing the item and driving to the post office. Everything gets a time estimate, and when it's all totaled, I double it to account for the inevitable issues that pop up during large projects. I would then tell the client something like, "Hey, if everything goes swimmingly I will have this done in 3 weeks, but it could take up to 6." My thinking was that a hefty discount was a fair trade for such a loose estimate. It doesn't mean I get an excuse to be late, it means I get an excuse to take longer if I need it; late is redefined. Except for one time my sewing machine broke, I have never missed the later deadline.

I thought that if I made this clear to the client and they agreed, everything would be considered fair. Working around the constraints of my day job may be an unusual request, but unfortunately it's something I can't avoid. Based on feedback from this post, I will be ditching this business model but I do have a few questions moving forward:

1. What on earth is considered a reasonable time quote? I don't mean per project (like props of xyz dimension should take this many weeks), but more like business practice. I think a buffer of some sort will always be necessary, but I don't know how much is considered reasonable.

2. I started a cosplay blog to keep track of my progress. I thought this was great because the client doesn't need to ask how the project is coming along, they can just go see! It wasn't meant to be a substitution for communication, just a time saver for the client. Is that a bad idea? Should I stick to private email updates?

Again, I really appreciate your detailed feedback <3 Thank you so much for taking so much time to help me out!


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