How to Sell Jewelry: Commissions
Commissions were a topic I briefly touched on during our previous installment on business practices. Commissions are a complicated topic, though, and for new artisans, they can pose a number of questions.
If you are not clear about your commissions and your rules, you can find yourself with some difficulties as far as collecting payments and mailing finished items. That is why it is important to have a set of policies for commissioned works, and to carefully work within the rules you set up.
More from the How to Sell Jewelry series:
- Where to sell your jewelry
- How to create an airtight shipping and returns policy
- How to price your jewelry
- Best general business practices
- How to handle commissions
- How to start promoting your jewelry online and offline
Jewelry commissions are custom items created for scratch to match a customer’s vision. Customers shopping for handmade jewelry will often be more interested in paying you to simply create something spectacular just for them than they will be in shopping through your catalog for something else that they like.
Commissions make customers feel special, because they know that you put intent and thoughtfulness into making the item just the way they wanted it. Commissions are also very popular for gift-giving. Many customers wish they had the skills to create artistic gifts, and the next best thing is to hire someone else to do it for them.
Sometimes customers are incredibly detailed and specific with what they are looking to buy. Some may even come to you with measurements and sketches. Others are very broad with their instructions, and may only ask you to fulfill color or material requirements.
Still others may ask you to match another item, such as an article of clothing, or a concept.
What Are Common Problems with Commissions’
There are a number of complications that can arise along the way when you are making a bespoke item for a customer:
- You make the item, following the instructions carefully, but the customer is not satisfied with the item. Unfortunately, because of the subjective nature of art, it is difficult to say who is in the wrong in these situations. Obviously you want the customer to be happy, but you also cannot make the item over and over again at the same price point.
- You complete the item but you did not take payment in advance. The commissioner disappears, and you get no payment and no mailing address to send the completed jewelry. This happens more frequently than you might think. This wastes your time and materials.
It is up to you to come up with a set of policies that helps you to navigate around these problems. Are there people who will try to cheat you out of your time or money just the same? Yes, and there is no way to avoid all of them all of the time. But you can still give it your best effort.
Best Practices for Commissions
The goal with commissions is to be as clear as possible upfront with any potential customer. You could have a set of rules and policies like this:
- State up front what you need from the customer to complete the commission. Do you need detailed specifications? Measurements? Materials requests’
- State up front what the customer can expect. Are you able to replicate your customer’s vision closely, or will the results of the commission be unpredictable because of the way you work? Make sure that the customer knows you will be a good match (or not) for his or her vision.
- Tell the customer how many times you are willing to revise/remake the item before you return his or her money. Do not allow yourself to be pulled into an infinite loop.
- Ask for money up-front. You can ask for a down-payment of 50% (which you should specifically state is nonrefundable) or the full payment up-front. It is a really bad idea to ever allow a commission customer to pay you after the item is completed. A lot of people have no respect for an artist’s time and will ask you to make something and then think it is okay not to pay you for your time if they disappear and never claim the finished item. By asking for up-front payment, you eliminate most of these people.
You can add a paragraph detailing your commissions policies on your ‘About? page or your other policy pages. You also will want to make sure this information is included on the page for your commission sales if you have a purchase link online.
Now that you know some of the policy topics which are pertinent to commissions, you will need to come up with a way to offer your commissions. This is not as straightforward as posting a finished item for sale. Some artists do not have sales pages for their commissions at all, and simply take payment for them manually (with PayPal for example).
You will find that having some kind of commission sales page can increase your commission sales, however, since it makes it easier and faster for customers’plus the page acts as an advertisement, giving customers an idea for what you can create for them. If you have an Etsy page, one of the easiest ways you can do this is simply post a custom item for sale.
Etsy actually allows you to select ‘made to order? when you are choosing the item type. Choosing this option implies that the item is not yet crafted. For photos, you can upload sample photos of similar items that you have created in the past. You can then set ‘number available? to a really high number (like 100). That way the page can be used as an order form over and over again for the commission item without having to pay to re-list it every time.
So for example, let’s say you make pendants using precious gemstones and soldering. You could post an item on Etsy and title it something like this: ‘I will make a custom, one-of-a-kind sterling silver pendant for you!? You could then select ‘made to order? while you are choosing the options, and upload pictures of other pendants you have made in the past.
Choose pendants which were made for commissions in the past if you have already done some custom work. That way customers who are looking at the page can get a grasp for what you are capable of making. Set the ‘number available? to something like 100. That way when someone commissions you, they can pay for the item, and the count will tick down to 99. And then someone else can pay for their item on the same commission page, and the count will tick down again. But you do not have to continuously re-list and pay the fees for items where you list ‘only 1 available.’
In the body of the text, you will want to include all of the information on your commissions policies. Let customers know what you need from them and what they will be getting in return. Make sure you are crystal clear on the topic of refunds and how many times you are willing to re-work a piece. That way you can avoid coming out on the losing end of any disputes which come about.
When you set up your commission system like this, customers will have to pay you in advance. Offering customers the chance to commission you for a special, made-to-order item allows you to take advantage of many more sales opportunities than would be available to you if you only posted items which were already completed.
Make sure that you regularly let people know that you are available for commissions. Oftentimes, you will hear someone say, ‘I love this item, and I’d buy it, but it already sold.? Then you can answer, ‘I take commissions, so I would be happy to make you a similar item if you want.? Oftentimes people will take you up on this offer. As you continue to market and promote your work, you will get a feel for when it is an appropriate time to make someone an offer like this.
Provide value, make sure you never miss out on an opportunity, and you will do well selling your custom jewelry!