Article

6 things to say & do when getting art commissions (for artists)

June 22, 2022

When you get commissioned or hired to create a custom art piece for a client, it is important to realize that the end-product is only 50% of providing an exceptional experience and getting yourself a happy customer.

Why do you want a happy customer? Aside from the obvious reason, happy customers are the #1 method that will produce future sales for you. In other words, think of your customers not as a single customer, but as a referral mouth piece that generates multiple future clients.

Ultimately, you want to create a stellar experience for each client that hires you because, in the long term, that will allow you to focus more on creating artwork - and less work on acquiring new clients (your past clients will essentially do the sales work for you!).

The other 50% of providing a good experience comes from you - the master behind the masterpiece. It is the relationship you build starting from the time the client first contacts you; and developed afterwards by what you say & do. You should aim to create an experience that goes beyond creating & delivering a product.

Whether you are commissioned for a custom portrait painting as an artist, a custom dining table as a furniture maker, or a custom sculpture as a sculptor, here is an easy guide on the 6 things you should do when you get art commissions to ensure clients have a terrific experience with you (and, importantly, refer you to their friends & family!)

#1 - Tell them how excited you are

From a client's perspective, hiring someone to create something is nerve-wracking. The thing that they are "buying" doesn't even exist yet - and they are placing trust in you (with their hard-earned money) to create it for them.

It might be just another commission for you, but it is something very special to them. It is critical you convey that you are honored they have selected you to create their soon-to-be masterpiece.

One of your biggest goals should be conveying to the client that they made the right choice in selecting you because you truly care. (When people care about any task or project, they will do a better job than someone who doesn't care).

"Nothing great happens, except on the wings of enthusiasm!"

Communicate your energy, appreciation, and responsibility.

Additionally, pair your excitement with easing their worries. Saying something like, "I specialize in these kinds of requests and they turn out phenomenally well, so I’m excited to create this for you" lets them know that they are in good hands with you.

In some instances, the topic of the commission may be sorrowful, such as a portrait request of someone who recently passed away, so be sure to express your sympathy. For example, you might ask the client to share what the deceased person was like, what hobbies they had, etc. etc. Above all, be a human that cares.

#2 - "Measure twice, saw once"

90% of how well a lawyer does is determined before he or she walks into the courtroom.

90% of how well a speaker does is determined before he or she gets on stage.

The same applies for just about any profession - the preparation is paramount!

For artists and artisans, the quality of the end-product will largely be determined by getting the objectives correct in the early & beginning stages.

Before you start, be sure to understand the client's objectives. This will make the rest of the commission much more smooth sailing. 

Questions you might like to ask:

  • Have you commissioned something before?
  • Why are you commissioning this?
  • Whose idea was it? What was the genesis or impetus for this project?
  • Where will it be placed?
  • What does the room look like in the place that you will be hanging it in?
  • Do you plan to frame it? If so, what kind of frame?
  • To whom is it being given?
  • What are your objectives for this commission?
  • What made you choose me? Did you like a particular piece?
  • How do you envision the final piece appearing?

Spend as much time as you need to truly understand the objectives in the beginning, and do not hesitate to express any concerns or potential issues you might see arising in the future. (It might save you both headaches down the line).‍

#3 - Avoid the cardinal sin

The cardinal sin in the art-commissioning world is when the client is left wondering "I wonder what's going on with my order?"

If you get an email along the lines of "Hey, I'm just checking in because I haven't heard back from you in a long time...." - you have just committed the cardinal sin.

As an artist, artisans, or creative, it is your job to ensure that the client knows the status of their order. This means continuous updates & progress check-ins from start to finish.

This does not mean you should spend hours drafting & writing reports, but simply providing friendly check-ins; such as the following examples:

  • Hello! Letting you know that I finished the preliminary sketch, which I've attached. Let me know if you like the direction so far.
  • I've sent along everything to the bronze foundry for fabrication. It should take approximately 30 days until it's ready, but I'll let you know when they inform me that it's ready for pick-up.
  • I'm currently on mini vacation to clear my head, but I will presume the commission in 3 days.

In short, you should be checking in with the client first (and not the other way around)!

#4 - Get final approval & be open to feedback

‍If you followed the rule above by avoiding the cardinal sin, then you should not run into any surprises when you present the client photos of the finished piece because they will have seen incremental progress of your artwork throughout the beginning, middle, and late stages.

Nonetheless, once the artwork is finished, inform the client that it is finished - but offer a chance for them to provide any modifications or changes.

Do not ship anything until the client is 100% happy with what you have created. 

Sometimes, clients are afraid of providing minor feedback or suggestions because they feel it might offend the artist. Ease their worries by stating upfront that you will be happy to receive any kind of feedback, including if something doesn’t look quite right. 

For example, you can say something like, “Please review and do not hesitate to let me know if something doesn’t look the way you envisioned it. I am here to make sure you are 100% satisfied & happy with it!”

In the event there is a revision request, remember to thank the client so they do not feel guilty about providing their feedback. After you have made revisions or changes, check in again for approval & be open to any feedback. Only package & ship once you feel the client is 100% happy.

P.S. We follow the same feedback rule here at MadeMay! If someone tells us something is terrible, we actually thank them for at least taking the time to provide feedback!

#5 - Be intentional about packaging

‍Did you know there are dedicated agencies & firms that specialize in packaging design? There is a good reason for this - the “delivery” and package matters a lot! It’s not complicated to figure out: imagine if you purchased a $5,000 engagement ring and it arrived in a $2 box - yikes!

Similarly, you do not want to ship a beautiful painting masterpiece in a used TV cardboard box.

Of course, we do not recommend spending an excessive amount of money on packaging. While it matters during the unveiling, the box will likely be thrown away. It is up to you to determine where that fine balance is.

For more information on shipping commissioned work, see How to ship commissioned artwork.

If you are shipping in digital terms, think about how you might like to present your artwork in an email, such as using Canva to design a cover letter or digital certification of authenticity.

Many times, artists include a little note or card inside the package. We highly recommend this as it adds a subtle & personalized touch. This is particularly important when you know what the meaning & purpose of the commission was (see step #3). 

However, contrary to what you may have read from other art advisors, we advise against using this as an opportunity to up-sell (see the next step for that opportunity). Leave aside your next art exhibition brochure and allow the client to fully enjoy your masterpiece.

P.S. Always get a tracking number whenever you ship something. We recommend UPS for shipping because it is typically cheaper than FedEx.

#6 - Check in 1 month later

Many times, people forget about their clients after they get their money - this is a big mistake.

The reason sales legend Joe Girard is considered the #1 sales person of all time because he took care of his clients after he got the sale.

As an artist, you can provide this kind of service by checking in and seeing how other people are liking the artwork you created. (Many times, your clients will showcase what you created to their friends & family).

Did it have an impact? Did it help fill a hole in someone’s broken heart? Did it make the gift recipient happy?

People rarely provide this kind of post-order service, and your clients will remember how much you care and how attentive you are. In return, this will amplify the likelihood of referrals you will receive.

Finally, now that the client has had a chance to enjoy your artwork, here is an appropriate time to up-sell a little bit. Do not be afraid to ask for a referral at this point. For example, “I love creating personalized pieces for thoughtful people, so if you know someone who might be interested in getting something from me, I would really love to have your referral.”

Conclusion

While this may sound like extra work, these steps are likely already “within” you. It is simply a matter of practicing & building them into your habit cycle for all customers. Incorporate some of these recommendations into a checklist and it will start feeling like 2nd nature.

As the #1 authority on art commissions, trust us when we say these tips will be a worthwhile investment that will produce huge dividends for you!

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