If you start getting good at making customs, and you make popular characters, its going to happen eventually: You will be asked if you do commissions. How do you respond? What process do you follow? How much do you charge? I wanted to share a few things I have learned from doing commission work for eight years.
1. Set Your Rules
The first rule I set for myself was to make sure my customer is completely happy with the custom they ordered. I originally decided that I was not going to accept payment up front, because I wanted the buyer to be happy with the end result before I accepted anything from them. This worked out very well for both me and my customers, until I got burned a few times. I was commissioned to do a few obscure characters, and after sending pictures to the buyers, they disappeared off the face of the earth. I tried selling the customs on ebay, but they did not receive a single bid due to their obscure nature.
So I made a new rule for myself called the ebay rule. If the character is popular enough that it would sell on ebay (in case the buyer backed out), I would not ask for money until pictures had been e-mailed and the buyer was happy. I estimate that 95% of my customs have fallen into this category. However, if it was an obscure character I would ask for 50% of the money upfront, and offer my guarantee that I would make sure the custom met the buyer’s expectations before collecting the rest of the funds.
2. How Much To Charge
This is always a tough question. You don’t want to be too expensive, but you know your work is valuable. I charged much less when I first started doing commissions because I wanted to get some experience under my belt. It is important that your prices reflect your skill level. Also, in thinking in terms of a business, you need to consider how much your customers are willing to spend. Most minimate collectors are not rolling in the dough. You might want to e-mail or PM other minimate customizers and ask what they charge for commissions. This will give you a good idea of where to set your prices.
3. Ask for Clarification
If you are asked to do a “Mid-80’s Hercules” custom, make sure you are doing the right costume. Either ask the buyer for a reference picture, or find one yourself and ask the buyer if it is the correct one. I had a few of these miscommunications before I learned my lesson!
4. Keep the buyer informed
Customs can take a long time to do, especially when things get busy in your life. I always give an upfront estimate of how long I think it will take to complete the order. When I am coming up with this estimate in my head, I usually take the number of weeks I think it will take, and then I double it. For some reason this ends up being very accurate. If the deadline I gave originally is coming up, and I know I am not going to be finished, I will shoot the buyer an e-mail and let them know. I will also give them a new estimate on when I will be finished, and I will keep them updated on my progress each week. I prefer not to send WIP shots, but some people really like them. That is up to you.
5. Take Good Pictures
Customs always look better in person than in photographs, so you need to take the best photos you possibly can in order to replicate the experience of having the custom in your hands. I will make a full post soon about how to take good pictures, but here is my basic set-up: I lean a sheet of white paper against a wall and set the custom on it. I use a bright desk lamp to illuminate the figure. I set my camera to macro with no flash, and I place it level with the custom. I take at least a dozen pictures, moving the lamp to a different angle each time, but keeping the camera in place. The goal is to eliminate glare from important parts of your custom, such as the face, but still keep enough light to show off the details.
It is also important to adjust the photo after you upload it to your computer. There are plenty of free programs to do this, such as Picasa by Google. These programs will brighten and crop your photo, and adjust the color balance. The last step is to shrink your photo to a reasonable size. When you are working on something as small as a minimate, it will always look bad when it fills up the entire monitor screen. I make my images between 350 and 450 pixels wide.
6. Keep Making Customs for Yourself
This may sound like a strange suggestion, but it might be the most important one on this list. There have been many times in the past where I have been sick of making minimates. I realized this was because I wasn’t excited about it anymore. And I wasn’t excited about it because I was spending all my time making customs for money. I know some people who choose not to do commissions for this very reason, and I can completely identify with that. I have almost went down that road as well. Now I always make sure to make customs for myself right along with the commission ones. It might make the whole process slower, but I am happier in the end.
One last tip on this same line of thought: It is faster to make two of the same custom at the same time, as opposed to making an awesome commission piece now, mailing it off, and then thinking “I need to make one for myself now!” If someone orders a custom of a character you might want, do yourself a favor and make two of them side-by-side. 😉