I can’t tell you how many times I run across artists who do not get any money upfront before they start a commission. You might be one of them.
This is a bad idea.
What you should do is take a deposit, typically of half the total price. At the very least, your deposit should cover all the materials you have to purchase for the piece. This deposit plays a multi-faceted role.
It’s not just about ensuring you get paid.
Firstly, people have come to expect having to pay a deposit. When they work with someone in another field, they’re going to pay them before the work is done and then pay a remaining balance when the work is completed. All of my own clients pay me a deposit to get their first session on my calendar and then they pay the remaining balance in installments before each month so that I get paid before the month that I apply those funds to. If they don’t pay, they don’t get our next call.
This is normal. This is expected. And it isn’t any different in the art world… at least for artists who are professional. This is where the rub of my point hides – when you take on work and begin the process without getting a deposit (or signing a written agreement, for that matter) you look like a big, fat amateur. A hobbyist. The small potatoes artist that the client can walk all over.
Do you want your patrons walking all over you?
Secondly, in order to work with this client, presumably you would have to turn down lots of other potential clients. You might not have a full roster of commissions, but your clients don’t know that (and, again, they don’t want to because it makes them feel like they’re working with an amateur even if they love your work). This concept is called “opportunity cost” in the business world. A client’s deposit covers the “spot” they’ve taken in your commissions roster in case said client suddenly decides to cancel your work together. If that happens, you’ve already taken up the time with this client that you could have spent with the other potential clients, and those other potential clients have often run off to other artists. Even if you don’t have those potential clients, your actual client doesn’t know that (and, again, they don’t want to).
Do you want most of your clients quitting on you so you never actually get to finish a commission (and thus get paid)?
Thirdly, if you work on this client’s piece for a couple weeks, you’ve put in a lot of time and materials costs. Then maybe the client decides they don’t want to spend the money right now. And you’re sitting there with a piece no one else wants – because who is going to buy a portrait of this client’s daughter? – and no money in your pocket for the efforts. That’s called “not getting paid” and it’s what is wrong with our society’s view of art.
Do you not want to get paid for your work?
All this being said, you look like such a brilliant professional when you take a deposit. It makes your client feel SECURE.
Your client is going to feel more comfortable when they pay you a deposit.
They’ll feel better because it tells them subtly that you know what you’re doing. That you’ve done it before and you’re going to deliver on your promises. That you’ll end up doing the work for them. Because people who don’t do the work or don’t do it well aren’t the type of people who take deposits.
Your reason for not taking a deposit is stupid. Almost certainly it’s that you don’t want to be greedy. Or worse – that you’re afraid to ask your client for money. If that’s the case, you better get over it fast. Would your dentist be scared to send you a bill? If you went to your local farmer’s market, would they be nervous asking you to pay for your carrots? You can’t make money if you never ask people to pay you.