Thursday, May 7, 2015

4 Lessons I Learned From My Most Recent Client Commission

You read correctly. This post is in listicle form. Maybe it's a concession to the new ways of writing, maybe my job is getting to me (where I read a VAST amount of listicles) or maybe, just maybe (probably not) this post deserves its numbered (bulleted) format.

Before I begin, I'd like to give a little background. Any associated art that goes here is not actually from the commissioned project itself. I can't actually show the art publicly yet until I get the OK to do so. This is okay and pretty standard for illustrators so no complaining from me allowed.

The fact that I can't merge the art and this article is actually a boon. Many of these lessons stem from unfortunate experiences that have turned into lessons because experience means nothing unless you learn from it. But I don't want the image or feeling to be that this was a terrible client or a terrible commission. It's very much the opposite. I had SO much fun working on this project and the lessons learned came from my own mistakes and shortfallings as well as a lack of discipline where I should really have known better.

Anyway, these lessons are in the order of which I remember them, so expect a jumble.
  • Use a contract
This was actually not a lesson I learned but a lesson I implemented (every small victory...) before I got started. While it has made the process take a couple of days longer due to more emails needing to be exchanged before any real work started, I expect that in the future the process will be streamlined.

A contract is important because it gives you a failsafe. You can set determinants such as pricing, timing of pricing, what is delivered, and most importantly, a kill fee and a revision fee.

A kill fee and revision fee gives you language that protects you from doing work without getting paid. If a project is cancelled, there should be language in the contract that still gets you paid, up to a certain percent, for the work that was already done. Even more importantly, a revision fee allows you to charge more money if your client is consistently asking for changes. Again you can charge for the extra work you're doing when it starts getting beyond what you scoped out.

Scoped out? What are these words, this biz-talk? I'm supposed to be making art here aren't I? Not necessarily and it's important to know how to work with others when people are paying you to make art. How is this all done?
  • Scope out your project
While it takes a bit of work upfront, it's very important to really understand what it is your client wants and then scope it out with them so both you and your client are in agreements in what is expected to be delivered.

I tried to do this but failed and mostly due to one big understanding. My client wanted to commission me for a series of posters featuring a few characters but wanted to start with one just to feel things out. I originally thought I would only be creating a character poster and all my communications were with that in mind, including my estimated time and my fee, among other things. When the contract was signed and I was to start, my client reiterated what was expected and it turned out to be a poster with ALL the characters in one poster.

I looked at my past emails and there was nothing I could specifically point at where I could defend what I thought the project would be so I just took it on the nose.

I recommend being absolutely clear on what the client wants before any contract is signed as then you know what they're expecting and you can deliver on good terms without any surprises
  • If you have stages in your project - have clear delineations
In reference to the revision fee I mentioned before, the way I work and communicate the fee to my clients is that I work in three stages. The rough sketch phase, the refined sketch phase, and the final sketch phase. During the rough and refining stages, I make sure to get feedback from the client to ensure I'm not only going in the right direction, but that all the required elements are there. After the refined sketch phase, I go to final and don't ask for any feedback. If the client does want me to change anything during this phase, the revision fee goes into place.

My problem was that I didn't clearly state when I was in what phase and also I asked for too much feedback. I kept going back and forth with the client, creating a precedence where the client would keep asking for small changes that didn't seem like much but overall, they amounted to a large amount of extra work. I partly went to a final phase and left some aspect of the painting still in the refining rough sketch, which made for an awkward timing in regards to when the revision fee would come in place.

This is part of a larger process in the way I work. If I work for myself, it's not really a problem, but when it comes to working for a client, it's much more important to work in phases. Before going to final, I should have a clear sketch where all the elements are accounted for and maybe have some color blocking in. Either way, it should be clear.
  • Know when to push back
Like I said, I was having a lot of fun with this project despite misquoting and working a little extra, due to my own fault. However, by the time I was around 70-80% done, my client was still asking for a couple of little things. After looking at all the revisions I had made, I decided to just tell the client that it was time to ask for a revision fee. There was a slight pushback but my client understood after I mentioned all the previous revisions I had made before. We settled on making very minimal changes with no fee, rather than larger sweeping changes the client originally wanted.

By the end of the project, I got paid what I asked for, and I spent a few extra hours on the project to the point where I started to feel a little bit of frustration. But like I said, I can't blame the client - if I was more specific in my process and clearly defined things even in a way as simple as saying "I'll be going to the final phase now, any revisions will incur a fee as the contract states" (or perhaps saying the same in a friendlier way) I could've saved me some time. I'm not bitter about anything that happened - I had a blast working on the project (which I'm dying to show everyone) and for the next project, I know what to do. Hopefully this will give you a few things to think about before starting your next commission.

Thanks for reading