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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
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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