Commission work can be a great way for any creative to build up a portfolio and earn some extra income and it can be especially rewarding if it’s your passion. You can take on commissions for anything from photography, illustration, painting, graphic design, filmmaking or product design, whatever your niche is! However, commission work is completely different to the usual solo work you would be producing; it involves productive communication, negotiation and team-work between you and a potential client. This is a great option to explore as there are many benefits to commission but it’s also something that you should research thoroughly before diving into, as there are pitfalls to watch out for and things to take into account before you begin.
To make a commission agreement work there needs to be clear communication between both parties. Ensuring the clients are good communicators beforehand is important and will save you valuable time, as good communication can speed up the process and make it a better experience overall. When the communication is poor, it can be hard to get information out of your client and it causes problems with sending them work and getting their feedback. If you are left waiting days for an email response or they keep postponing a meeting with you then this could be a red flag that they are not too invested in this work and they could be difficult to work with, if they are really interested then they will make the effort!
Working with ‘Tricky’ Clients
It can be hard to tell if a client is going to be difficult to work with before you agree to produce work for them. I’ve had an experience where I agreed to produce work for a client who didn’t really know what they wanted and this made it very difficult to produce work for them when I had no idea what they were wanting and neither did they. To avoid this situation, make sure the client gives you a good idea of what they are looking for, especially as most people work best with some parameters for the work instead of a very open brief. You can ask as many questions as you want to your client to get a clear idea of their vision and invite them to look at your work and see what they like and don’t like as much to help you understand their taste. It’s also worth researching the client if you can, especially their social media or website, to give you an idea of their style and personality.
Pricing and Payment
It’s important to make sure you are charging a good amount so that you are not underpaying yourself but the client is also getting a good value for money. Search around to find what the average is that people charge for your service or products, particularly if it is something that is paid per hour and use that to work out what you should charge. You need to make sure that this is sorted out beforehand, as you don’t want to create a situation where you may be underpaid and end up powerless to change it and get the money you deserve.
In an interview with photographer Kieran Williams, he spoke about how he ended up in this very situation in his first paid photography job, which you can read all about here and he gives helpful advice on how to navigate the payment side of things.
Also consider asking for an advanced deposit of around 10-20%, especially if you are reliable and established at what you do, as the client will trust you to get the work done. This will also give you some reassurance that the client is invested in the work you are producing and you won’t end up producing it just for them to not pay up. It is also advisable to make these non-refundable to avoid disputes in the future, with clients demanding their money back if they are not satisfied with the work which could end up getting messy.
Committing to Commissions
Once you get the ball rolling and get a few good commissions in a row it could be tempting to give up the day job to focus on your commission work. But the problem is it’s never dependable enough and a drought of clients could put you in a bad financial position.
For people who want to take the plunge and start doing their passion full time, they often sell products on the side as a more reliable and consistent income. For example an illustrator might sell some prints of their work on their website or sites like Etsy whilst also taking on commission work, so that they always have a source of income. Even this comes with its risks though, so make sure to research fully the amount of commissions you would need to take on and whether this is feasible, as well as the worst case scenarios so that you are fully prepared for this commitment. If there’s anything the Coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s that nothing is 100% guaranteed even if it seems like it, so you can never be too prepared.
So, there are definitely some pitfalls to carrying out commission work but if you plan and research well, then you will be in a much better position to avoid any disasters and unpleasant experiences. Hopefully this article has helped you feel better prepared if it’s something you are about to delve into. Remember not to take on too much work at once and overload yourself, as commission work can be a long, time-consuming process but most importantly, if it’s your passion then make sure you are enjoying it!
Chloe is a content creator with a passion for writing, photography, graphic design and making music. She loves experimenting with creative media and has a desire to work in the music and media industries in the future.