As I prepared for the final descent into the last Christmas period and the white-knuckle workload it would incur, I decided to use a couple of hours writing up a template “commissions work schedule”, and after a few rounds of adjustments, started using it with customers.

Six reasons for doing this:

  1. It prompts the customer to give thought to the commitment of commissioned work, and after as much discussion as necessary, settle upon a style, composition and level of detail with which they’re happy. This is especially important when only a limited number of changes can be made.
  2. For both parties, it summarises and clarifies all the agreed details about the work to be undertaken, including payment details and a clear timeline of events. There’s no ambiguity – everyone knows what will happen, and when. After all, a leap of faith is needed for a potentially hefty investment in someone the client doesn’t necessarily know very well. 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, instead of having to trawl through emails where ideas may have been exchanged at length, which 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 their interests are protected.
  5. As well, you protect your own interests in several ways, including 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. If the response to something you do is generally positive, making it part of your system will ensure it’s positively received on a repeated basis.

But let’s wind it back a few steps. 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”. It’s designed 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 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, which may not have been developed at all without some intermittent reflection and maturation. In the bread-making world, you might call it “bench rest”.

Any task that’s forced or rushed – including (with luck) helpful blog posts – will eventually show its stretch marks, its cursory nature or its signs of carelessness.

So, especially to your advantage if you have a longer waiting list is to allow your talks a long time in the oven, and not to rush into anything at all. The art world is a soft-sell environment, and a big part of what you’re selling is the commitment you have for 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 manner of mock-ups, options and details that may be relevant. You should both be sure of everything the client desires before proceeding.

Then, you can write it all up. Here’s the attached template work schedule, from which my personal information has been removed. 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.

I also eagerly welcome suggestions you might see as helpful to me, as I wrote this on my own, and I’m occcasionally victim of my own tunnel vision.

One thing 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, as 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, and I’ve never needed to invoke any contractual minutae in the case of a dispute, but 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 a little clinical. But the benefits listed above far outweigh this in my mind. I’d love to know your thoughts, and hope you can make use of it yourselves 🙂

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