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.