The final descent into the Christmas period, and the challenging workload it would incur, was upon me recently. I decided to use a couple of hours writing up a template “work schedule” for commisisons. After a few rounds of adjustments, I started using it with customers.

Six reasons to make a work schedule:

  1. It prompts the customer to give thought to the commitment of commissioned work. Much discussion may be necessary. After this, they can settle upon a style, composition and level of detail with which they’re happy. This is especially important when you can only make a limited number of changes.
  2. For both parties, it summarises and clarifies all the agreed details about the undertaken work. This includes payment details and a clear timeline of events. There’s no ambiguity – everyone knows what will happen, and when. After all, investing in an artist you don’t necessarily know well takes a leap of faith. A trusting relationship, established early, is essential, and the work schedule is a touchstone for this.
  3. You can refer to it as a written record. This beats having to trawl through emails where you and your customer exchanged ideas at length. It saves time, especially if you have a few works to juggle at once.
  4. It leaves a strong impression. You’re serious about your work, you care about your customer’s needs, and your commitment to delivering them shows. You’re providing assurance, so the client knows you’re protecting their interests.
  5. As well, you protect your own interests in several ways. This includes the rights to use images, and the level of liability in the case of damage in transit, etc.
  6. You’ve developed a standardised, consistent way of dealing with your customers. Hopefully your effect is generally positive. Systemising part of this effect will ensure it’s positively received on a reliable and repeated basis.

But let’s wind it back a few steps….

The conversation

Of course, initial discussions about the commission should be conversational in nature. My enquiry form requests all of the basic details, but it’s not an “order form”. I developed it purely to get the marbles rolling, and save me a little time I can redirect elsewhere. I’m contactable in several ways, but the form helps kick-start what always ends up being a very detailed chat.

I’ve grown to appreciate a much longer-term approach to this, as championed by my web designer, David Ellicott (72dpi).

Our conversations about my site rebuild began many weeks before the project itself. Over time, several ideas came to both of us. We may not have developed these ideas at all without some intermittent reflection and maturation. In the bread-making world, they’d call this “bench rest”.

Don’t rush things

A forced or rushed task will eventually show its stretch marks, its cursory nature or its signs of carelessness.

So, if you have a longer waiting list, allowing your talks longer in the oven is especially to your advantage. Don’t rush anything. The art world is a soft-sell environment, and much of what you’re “selling” is your commitment to your customers.

If you think you’re finished for the day, but you hear the phone ring and still make time for a 14th chat about the upcoming commission, you’re on the right road. Make sure there’s no query left unanswered, and you’ve discussed all options and details that may be relevant. You should both be sure of everything the client desires before proceeding.

The work schedule itself

Now you can write it all up. Here’s the attached template work schedule, from which I’ve removed my personal information. This is free for you to peruse, download and adjust for your own use. You’ll get a good idea of my “modus operandi” from this schedule. If you have trouble accessing the link, let me know via the Contact form.

One thing I couldn’t figure out was a way for customers to sign documents electronically on any device. Google Docs allows editing, and a “scribble” function, but only on a desktop PC, unless/until things change.

As such, I’ll name it a “work schedule” for the foreseeable, as opposed to a contract. I don’t believe unsigned documents are air-tight in a legal sense. I’m very happy to say all my customers have been delightful; I’ve never needed to invoke any contractual minutae in the case of a dispute. Still, it never hurts to protect yourself fully. Any help on this front from fellow artists with specific experience would be greatly appreciated.

Yes, perhaps it’s all a little clinical. But the benefits listed above far outweigh this in my mind. I also eagerly welcome suggestions you might see as helpful to me. I wrote this work schedule on my own, and I’m occcasionally victim of my own tunnel vision. Either way, I hope you can make use of it yourselves 🙂

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