The Logistics of Commission Painting?
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Thread: The Logistics of Commission Painting?

  1. #1

    Question The Logistics of Commission Painting?

    Hey there fellow painters! I've been admiring most of your work on CMON for years, but this is my first post myself. I will try to keep this short, but it may get long-winded, so I suggest some popcorn. :P

    I've been reading a lot of threads recently on commission painting from painters on this forum and others and I have a few questions, as I'm looking to begin doing it myself soon. Most posts relating to the topic seem to ask questions like "How much do I charge?", or an extremely general "How do I get into this whole thing?".

    I'm looking for a bit more detail as to the logistics of setting up a commission service. Now, I understand that some of this may be proprietary "trade secrets", so if you don't wish to share, I wholeheartedly understand. I'm simply looking for some guidance as to the details of getting up and running.

    1.) Ebay Auctions: A lot of what I've read suggests listing items on ebay to generate business. Now, I have a website that will be up and running soon (waiting to get the camera situation sorted), and I understand that I should link my site in auctions I post. My questions concerning this particular area are more along the lines of the following:

    1a.) What do people that are looking to drum up commission work on ebay post for auctions?
    1b.) Do you find that single figures or units generate more buzz?
    1c.) Do people post unfinished models with examples of their work as well, and then auction the unfinished model with the "price" of painting?
    1d.) What sort of keywords, item listings, tags, etc. do you find need to be listed in an auction?
    1e.) Do you find that items with a "Buy it now" reserve vs. a straight auction sell worse?
    1f.) If a standard auction is the best way to go, what do you suggest for a starting bid?

    2.) Small Business Licensing/Taxes etc.: So... I live in the states and I'm slightly familiar with the laws for small businesses. My questions are more along these lines:

    2a.) When you first started, did you register your commission painting as a small business?
    2b.) If not, when do you suggest would be a good point to do so in reference to taxes, reporting, etc?
    2c.) I know that technically, one could get away with "doing it on the side" but I want to be legal about the whole thing. Is there a threshold where if you make below a certain amount, I don't have to worry about it?
    2d.) Have any of you received, or considered applying for a small business loan for supplies, furniture, website fees, etc.?
    2e.) If so, how did you go about doing so? Was it worth it?
    2f.) Those that have their commission service set up as a small business, do you use your supplies and workspace as a tax write-off?

    3.) Generating Business/Income: Now as I said above, I've read a lot of what others have posted but I'm looking to delve a bit deeper into your professional expertise. I'm going to print my own advertisement/calling cards to place into sold auctions, painted commissions, etc. I also plan on creating a full color flyer with examples of my work and rip-off tabs listing my website and email to place in the local gaming stores. I've also created a signature banner image for my various painting forum accounts to point back to my website once I get it up and running.

    3a.) What other sources of advertising have you considered or what do you find works best for you?
    3b.) I understand that I will not make much per hour when I break it down, but what are some ways that you make it profitable for you?
    3c.) Discounts? Do you find it beneficial in generating business if you give discounts on your services? If so, what do you find works for you?

    4.) Customer Service: I work in a customer service capacity in my current job, but dealing with miniature enthusiasts is another animal entirely...

    4a.) What do you find is the best way to handle the money transaction when dealing with someone that isn't local to your area? Do you use a Paypal account and just negotiate through email? Do you use an order form on your website instead/have a merchant services account to take credit card?
    4b.) If you use Paypal, have you had to convert your account to a business account? What does this allow you to do beyond a normal run-of-the-mill account?
    4c.) What do you find are the best ways to handle payments? Half the cost before starting the job with the other half after completion?
    4d.) How often do you stay in contact with the customer? Every couple of days?
    4e.) How much input/control do you find the average customer exerts over your process? IE - do most simply have a scheme they want done, or do most let you run on your own?
    4f.) Some services offer to purchase and pick up the minis to be painted themselves. Do you find this to be necessary? Is it all that common of a request that it is a service I should consider offering?

    5.) Packaging/Shipping: Pretty self explanatory...

    5a.) How do you pack your minis when you are ready to ship them? Can you point me to any tutorials?
    5b.) What sort of shipping do you go with? Flat rate USPS? UPS? FedEx?
    5c.) Do you quote a flat shipping rate to all customers or do you price each order out individually?
    5d.) What sort of addons do you purchase? Insurance? Delivery confirmation?
    5e.) Do you charge the customer for shipping, or take it out of your "profit"?
    5f.) Any advice in this area as to what to avoid?

    Whew! That was a lot longer than I expected. Hopefully I've formatted this post in a way that it can be easily answered. Any help that you can offer is very much appreciated! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post.
    Last edited by Snapshot_Superhero; 09-14-2011 at 03:17 PM.

  2. #2

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    1a.) What do people that are looking to drum up commission work on ebay post for auctions?
    Best bet here is to actually look at the auctions here and on eBay and see what is selling. Mostly it's whatever is new from GW. Grey Knights, Ogre Kingdoms, etc.
    1b.) Do you find that single figures or units generate more buzz?
    You can charge more for a single character than you can for a single squad member, but you might spend the same amount of time painting a squad or a single character. I'd probably stick with singles unless you're looking to become an army painter.
    1c.) Do people post unfinished models with examples of their work as well, and then auction the unfinished model with the "price" of painting?
    I'm not sure what you're asking here, but the only "unfinished" minis I've seen auctioned are greens.
    1d.) What sort of keywords, item listings, tags, etc. do you find need to be listed in an auction?
    I see pro-painted a lot. Which means I'd avoid that particular tag, since it doesn't seem to have much objective meaning. Stick to using an accurate description.
    1e.) Do you find that items with a "Buy it now" reserve vs. a straight auction sell worse?
    I'd definitely have a Buy It Now option. Never underestimate the power of the impulse purchase.
    1f.) If a standard auction is the best way to go, what do you suggest for a starting bid?
    A tricky question. If you put in a reserve or too high starting bid, you may miss a sale by 50 cents. On the other hand, if you don't use one, you may end up selling for less than you hoped. I'd probably use a low starting price, and have a reserve that you hope to get.

    3a.) What other sources of advertising have you considered or what do you find works best for you?
    Forums, Word of Mouth, Word of Mouth. There are LOTS of people out there painting for money, and a good rep is worth it's weight in gold.
    3b.) I understand that I will not make much per hour when I break it down, but what are some ways that you make it profitable for you?
    Find your niche. If you like to spend a lot of time on one mini, don't take on large unit commissions. If you're an army painter, you may be out of your league trying to paint an NMM Sanguinor.
    3c.) Discounts? Do you find it beneficial in generating business if you give discounts on your services? If so, what do you find works for you?
    I would definitely work for a discounted rate, or even pro bono, starting out to get my name out there. Trying to compete with an established painter is going to be an uphill struggle.


    Just some thoughts. I'm not a commission painter, although I am someone who has (and will continue to) commissioned works.

    Maybe some of the pro painters can hop in and help.
    Proud owner of a Cassar!

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  3. #3

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    Loads of questions there and I don't think it's going to be terribly helpful to go into each individually really, because there are lots I can't answer so well. Some suggestions to think about.

    EBAY AUCTIONS - If you are good enough, your auctions will get bid up regardless of starting price. Having the confidence to start and auction at £0.99 will get you a ton of watchers, a ton of views and save you some listing fees. If you're out to make money and get the most exposure, paint the latest GW releases as soon as you can. They will sell like warm baked thingys. Buy it now is OK, but I find it best to just go with the flow and let the market and demand dictate the price rather than spend ages torturing yourself about what the 'right price' is.

    TAXES ETC. - I'm in the UK, so best let others cover that.

    GENERATING BUSINESS/INCOME - I don't think you have to worry too much about this, if you have your own site and promote it reasonably well, update your CMoN gallery and get your name out there folks will come to you. Much more so with getting Ebay auctions up for new releases. When I painted a load of Grey Knights in the first week of release to a good standard I got over ten people wanting me to do commission work. The demand is out there. Don't try too hard, certainly don't think you can't make a good hourly rate (that's just not true if you do it right) and good grief no, don't do discounts!

    CUSTOMER SERVICE - You'll find your own way with this. Every customer is different. Some want to know what's happening constantly, some are very chilled. Just feel them out and give updates when required. Set a schedule and deadlines you can achieve, never take on too much. Make sure you get a deposit up front (33%-50% is good) and never ship until you have the rest paid to you. Always ship recorded delivery and make sure the customer pays that too (and is aware of that cost). Once you have a relationship with regulars you'll probably find you handle it totally differently based on the person.

    PACKAGING - Remember to take the cost of packing into account in shipping costs! Foam, boxes within boxes, it's really about common sense here. Never ever ship un-recorded. I know I've said it already, but it's so damned important you cover yourself on this. If it is an expensive item, give the customer the option to pay for insurance.

    Good luck.

  4. #4

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    Wow - you've got it outlined and everything! lol! Here's what I'm familiar with and what I've been doing.

    First your website - nail down your TOS as soon as possible. Publish it on your website, the more specific you are the better.

    For Ebay, I've seen well known artist auction of commissions slots (in the model horse hobby which isn't all that different from minis). But you have to be well known in order for this to work. Selling painted figures helps to get your name and work out there. Having a good gallery on your website is a must.

    Quote Originally Posted by Snapshot_Superhero View Post

    1a.) What do people that are looking to drum up commission work on ebay post for auctions?
    My experience has been selling figures or model horses on ebay is just general work to keep things moving rather than advertise for commissions (although it's all advertisement technically). It also allows the artist to paint what they want to paint rather than just commission work which depends on the whim of the customer.

    1b.) Do you find that single figures or units generate more buzz?
    1c.) Do people post unfinished models with examples of their work as well, and then auction the unfinished model with the "price" of painting?
    This is quite common in model horses but I haven't seen it on ebay. On MH$P you will see ads offering an unfinished piece for sale, or Commission or you will see "Commission Me" ads.

    1d.) What sort of keywords, item listings, tags, etc. do you find need to be listed in an auction?
    The sky's the limit there.

    1e.) Do you find that items with a "Buy it now" reserve vs. a straight auction sell worse?
    1f.) If a standard auction is the best way to go, what do you suggest for a starting bid?
    I think you will get a variety of answers on this one - there's no right way or wrong way because it depends on the buyer looking at any given moment in time. The lower your starting bid, however, the better.

    2.) Small Business Licensing/Taxes etc.: So... I live in the states and I'm slightly familiar with the laws for small businesses. My questions are more along these lines:

    2a.) When you first started, did you register your commission painting as a small business?
    2b.) If not, when do you suggest would be a good point to do so in reference to taxes, reporting, etc?
    2c.) I know that technically, one could get away with "doing it on the side" but I want to be legal about the whole thing. Is there a threshold where if you make below a certain amount, I don't have to worry about it?
    2d.) Have any of you received, or considered applying for a small business loan for supplies, furniture, website fees, etc.?
    2e.) If so, how did you go about doing so? Was it worth it?
    2f.) Those that have their commission service set up as a small business, do you use your supplies and workspace as a tax write-off?
    SBA and My Own Business - two invaluable sites. Typically the IRS isn't interested in hobbies until you start turning a profit. But in my state, Texas for example, if I sell anything on Ebay to someone in Texas, they want me to charge sales tax. Yeah, not for one item in a year. When I do go business, then I'll get my license and whatnot.

    3.) Generating Business/Income: Now as I said above, I've read a lot of what others have posted but I'm looking to delve a bit deeper into your professional expertise. I'm going to print my own advertisement/calling cards to place into sold auctions, painted commissions, etc. I also plan on creating a full color flyer with examples of my work and rip-off tabs listing my website and email to place in the local gaming stores. I've also created a signature banner image for my various painting forum accounts to point back to my website once I get it up and running.

    3a.) What other sources of advertising have you considered or what do you find works best for you?
    Entering contests and winning said contests. I can advertise all I want but the doors didn't really open to commissions until my horses started winning championships. Name recognition is everything. The market equates quality with winning. Hey, I didn't make the rules, but that's how it's been working out.

    3b.) I understand that I will not make much per hour when I break it down, but what are some ways that you make it profitable for you?
    I determine the costs of doing business, what did it cost me to paint the horse in supplies and so on, I figure that into the price because if I charged by the hour, I'd price myself right out of the market.

    3c.) Discounts? Do you find it beneficial in generating business if you give discounts on your services? If so, what do you find works for you?
    Depends on the customer. With commissions I can haggle a little bit - but also with commissions don't be afraid to reject the nightmare customers. I had one just recently who wanted me to do a small portrait model for $65. All she mentioned was one seam on the neck that was a problem. Okay, for that small of a horse, no problem. But I also let them know up front that prices may change when I get the model in hand and can look at it with my own two eyes. Sure enough, she sent the model and the damn thing wouldn't stand. I was going to have to heat the legs and move them. A LOT more work than $65. When I told her that the work would be closer to $150 because the model wouldn't stand other prepping issues, she balked on the price and wanted me to paint it without fixing the legs. That opens me up to a whole world of problems because it's my name on crappy workmanship, plus, when she gets it back I have no way of knowing if she's going to run crying to everyone saying when she got this horse back, it didn't stand. After trying to negotiate and failing, I packed the horse up and shipped it back.

    4.) Customer Service: I work in a customer service capacity in my current job, but dealing with miniature enthusiasts is another animal entirely...

    4a.) What do you find is the best way to handle the money transaction when dealing with someone that isn't local to your area? Do you use a Paypal account and just negotiate through email?
    Yes.

    Do you use an order form on your website instead/have a merchant services account to take credit card?
    I do have a form but that simply starts the process. The rest happens through email.

    4b.) If you use Paypal, have you had to convert your account to a business account? What does this allow you to do beyond a normal run-of-the-mill account?
    I've got a business account and it's been so long, I can't remember. Check with paypal on this.

    4c.) What do you find are the best ways to handle payments? Half the cost before starting the job with the other half after completion?
    Depends on the price of the job. For small ones where they send me the model, the price of the horse or the model itself covers starting costs. It's collateral so to speak. But for larger jobs, I usually ask for half. In some cases, I take time payments, recently I had a model horse worth unpainted over $400. I allowed the owner to make time payments since I had the horse in hand. She paid me $100 a month until paid off.

    Other ways are half upfront, when work is finished, send pics for approval. Once approved, customer pays the last half and I ship the horse.

    4d.) How often do you stay in contact with the customer? Every couple of days?
    Big jobs is more like once a month but it depends on how many are going at a time. I've seen really popular artists keep a log on their website so customers can see where there horse is in the queue. No matter what happens, when a customer emails wanting to know the status, respond within 24 hours! Communication is vital!!! Also ask if they have deadlines before you start the job. With my model horses it's, do you have a show coming up? Anything I need to be aware of as a deadline or a certain time frame it needs to be completed by? That way I don't have any nasty surprises.

    4e.) How much input/control do you find the average customer exerts over your process? IE - do most simply have a scheme they want done, or do most let you run on your own?
    Every customer is different.

    4f.) Some services offer to purchase and pick up the minis to be painted themselves. Do you find this to be necessary? Is it all that common of a request that it is a service I should consider offering?
    If you're willing to shell out the cash. With our horses, 9 times out of 10 they aren't common so the owner needs to ship the horse to me. If you're going to purchase the mini, I would require at least that cost up front.

    5.) Packaging/Shipping: Pretty self explanatory...

    5a.) How do you pack your minis when you are ready to ship them? Can you point me to any tutorials?
    Plenty of bubble wrap and peanuts!!!! Seriously, shipping companies have how tos on their websites.

    5b.) What sort of shipping do you go with? Flat rate USPS? UPS? FedEx?
    5c.) Do you quote a flat shipping rate to all customers or do you price each order out individually?
    Depends on the customer. USPS flat rate is the easiest but typically FedEx is cheaper and starts with $100 free insurance.

    5d.) What sort of addons do you purchase? Insurance? Delivery confirmation?
    INSURANCE PROTECTS YOU! This is important for you to understand. The law says the item must get to the customer or YOU have to shell out the money. This "not responsible for items lost in the mail" doesn't cut it any more. The savvy online buyer knows that. So purchase insurance for yourself if nothing else. Oh and delivery confirmation isn't worth crap - you need signature confirmation to cover your butt with paypal. I've had so many friends have to refund folks when they know they received the item but no signature, no proof. I've seen paypal side with the buyer too many times.

    5e.) Do you charge the customer for shipping, or take it out of your "profit"?
    Again it depends on the size of the job. A really expensive one? I might throw in the shipping for free because I've actually figured it into the price already. Smaller jobs, the customer pays for it.

    I'm sure I'll think of more stuff later but that's it for now. lol! Again, this has only been my experience and a lot of it relates to model horses but it is very, very similar to minis.

  5. #5

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    Wow, I think you got the lifeguard with that splash. Welcome.

    The only thing I'll add is that there is a line in the IRS tax return form where you self report how much hobby income you had. Until it's a large chunk of your income (and thus could consider yourself self-employed), I think that would be the line to look at.
    "Reality, she's a mathematical bitch from hell.", MaxedOutMama
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  6. #6
    Brushlicker gohkm's Avatar
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    It seems that there's some demand for managemennt of painting services, akin to what Chest of Colours does. Do you think it'd be worth setting something like that up? As a company maintaining a stable of painters, you'd have the options to define processes, and if you're properly registered as a business, the risk of non-payments or project repudiation by customers might be minized through legal contracts. You could even set-up a payroll structure akin to sales - maybe pay your stable painters a base rate, plus a bonus/commission percentage. But you'd be responsible for sourcing work, though - and sales work is tough.

    I don't know what it's like in the US, but certainly, here in Australia, as a contractor, being seen as a legal business entity seems to be more attractive to my clients than being seen as a one-man-operation.

  7. #7

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    Heh, I guess I was a little overboard for my first post! Thank you for all of your responses so far. Reading over your replies has led me to another question:

    6.) When things go wrong...

    6a.) How do you handle a job where the customer isn't happy with the finished product?
    6b.) What usually happens if someone doesn't pay for the finished product?
    6c.) Do you have some sort of contract set up to protect yourself and your work arrangement?
    6d.) How long do you give someone to pay before trying to get rid of the minis to recoup costs?

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by gohkm View Post
    It seems that there's some demand for managemennt of painting services, akin to what Chest of Colours does. Do you think it'd be worth setting something like that up? As a company maintaining a stable of painters, you'd have the options to define processes, and if you're properly registered as a business, the risk of non-payments or project repudiation by customers might be minized through legal contracts. You could even set-up a payroll structure akin to sales - maybe pay your stable painters a base rate, plus a bonus/commission percentage. But you'd be responsible for sourcing work, though - and sales work is tough.

    I don't know what it's like in the US, but certainly, here in Australia, as a contractor, being seen as a legal business entity seems to be more attractive to my clients than being seen as a one-man-operation.
    This is an interesting point. I'm sure it's also why everyone is "such and such studios" or some fancy name, even if it IS a one man operation.
    Proud owner of a Cassar!

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    You are ranked 1351 out of 9441 artists.



  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Snapshot_Superhero View Post
    Heh, I guess I was a little overboard for my first post! Thank you for all of your responses so far. Reading over your replies has led me to another question:

    6.) When things go wrong...

    6a.) How do you handle a job where the customer isn't happy with the finished product?
    Two ways to counter that, Always send stage by stage photo's to the customer. Get the customer's feedback constantly and listen and react to it.
    6b.) What usually happens if someone doesn't pay for the finishedproduct?
    6c.) Do you have some sort of contract set up to protect yourself and your work arrangement?
    6d.) How long do you give someone to pay before trying to get rid of the minis to recoup costs?
    B,C,D Get a deposit first, usually 50%, ensure that the customer understands that what he or she is getting into is a business contract. (Which bascially means they have to be 18 years or older.)
    Before sending off the completed item always ensure that customer has received completed photos and accepts that the work is completed and that they are now obliged to complete their financial obligations of the contract.
    Most businesses work on a 30 day invoicing system (unless offering discounts for quick settlement) so that'd be a timescale I'd be looking at for payment or else taking alternative action.
    Something to consider is that contracts go two ways and that you as the supplier need to always "keep your hands clean" If you always try to act and behave reasonably then the reputation will build. Being heavy handed with customers is a road to failure, just as being too soft will be.
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  10. #10

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    DR has it right, if you have good lines of communication with your customer, the odds are better than they will get something they like. Sending photos for approval of the completed piece is an absolute must. Don't ship until you have two things - 1. Final approval from the customer, and 2. Completed payment. If you started with 50% down, you get the rest on completion and then you ship.

    As for how long to wait before selling the mini because of a non-paying customer - look into the laws of your state about a "mechanics lien" while we're not mechanics, the principle is the same. And your contract is your TOS (terms of service) on your website. That's why it's so important to get it nailed down.

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    definately charge 50% up front and 50% upon customer approval before shipping. This is the most sensible way to do business. I frequent a forum where a lot of large figure /bust comic book industry guys hang out and they always say 50% up front and 50% before shipping when people ask them these questions. Make sure that 50% up front is all a non-refundable deposit as well once the work is underway, this will stop customers flaking out on you and keeps the non-serious well at bay.


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  12. #12
    Superfreak!!! Dragonsreach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kathrynloch View Post
    As for how long to wait before selling the mini because of a non-paying customer - look into the laws of your state about a "mechanics lien" while we're not mechanics, the principle is the same. And your contract is your TOS (terms of service) on your website. That's why it's so important to get it nailed down.
    One thing you NEED to check is how the "Mechanics Lien" applies to overseas customers, it may be that some countries could regard that as a 'Non-legal' action.
    I believe in Karma, what you give, is what you get returned. Affirmation; Savage Garden
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