How to Price Commissions

How to Price Commissions

Pokémon Essentials Version
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Pricing Commissions

** This is a guideline, not a rulebook.
** This guide is applicable to all creators, not just visual artists.
Composers, programmers, and all creative individuals can benefit from this. I am personally versed in visual art commissions, so this guide may use terms that are specific to visual art, but the general concept is the same. The word "artist" refers to all creative individuals.

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Pricing commissions is a controversial topic, and it really shouldn't be. Every time this topic comes up, you have various different types of people who all have their own perception of what "a commission" even means, let alone what a "fair price" should be.

Here's why I want to make this guide:
I'm writing this guide for artists who want to start taking commissions. I am a visual artist who has done commission work as freelance and in the context of contract work, and I've also been in the freelance artist community for about 15 years now. I was there to watch the internet's artist community grow, and I was there to watch young artists begin severely underselling themselves and accidentally create a culture of underselling that they didn't realize they were creating. I want to be a part of rectifying that, and I hope to do that by calling out to young/new artists and explaining to them how to price their work properly and why they should price their work properly.

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YOU ARE WORKING. If you are taking commissions, that is work.

So, you should not be pricing your work for less than your area’s minimum wage. Even if you think your work is low quality or “not worth” that price, it is not worth less than minimum wage. That is why it is called minimum wage—it is the ABSOLUTE minimum you should be pricing your work.

America’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. If it takes you 2 hours to create a full-body sketch, your full-body sketch commissions should not be less than $14.50.

(You should price your work at the minimum wage that you believe your area should use. If you feel that your minimum wage workers should be paid $15 an hour, then you should hold yourself to that same respect!)

** That said, you should of course be mindful of how high your prices can become with this idea in mind. You need to be able to ask yourself, "is this sketch worth $72 because it took me 10 hours?" Some artists have prices this large because their commissions are in high demand (more on that below!), but be mindful and careful when multiplying your hours.

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YOU ARE IN A COMMUNITY. Whether you know it or not!

Whether you realize it or not, your commission prices have an effect on the commission prices of other creators. The entire reason that there is an underselling problem in the freelance visual artist community is because other artists have inadvertently created a market where customers are expecting prices that are much lower than they should be. So, artists who price themselves properly are less likely to receive commission work, because the culture has been accidentally set-up around underselling.

Many creators receive messages such as “your commission prices are too high, no one will want to buy these.” These messages happen because customers are used to artists having very low prices, and therefore have a skewed idea of what art is worth.

Your art is worth more than these people may tell you! If your prices are too high for someone, then you are not the artist for them. Please do not price yourself lower than minimum wage in an attempt to please customers who see you as outside their budget. It is their responsibility to handle their budget, not yours.

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COMMISSIONS ARE A SERVICE. It is not a product!

You are not being paid solely for the end result. You are not selling a product; you are selling your service. The entire point behind commissions is that a customer is able to request whatever they want and then get that end-result, if you are able to deliver it. They are paying you for the work you will be doing for them, and they are expected to pay the price that you and they have previously agreed on. Just like the point before this one, if your prices are too high for someone, then you are not the artist for them.

To put it into perspective, why do you think sit-down restaurants cost more than fast-food? The quality of food may be better, but that's not always necessarily true! When you visit a restaurant instead of cooking at home or buying fast-food, you are paying for being serviced, for the food being fresh and made specifically for you, for the experience of the restaurant itself.

Your customers are commissioning someone because they want the service of buying custom-made artwork; therefore, don’t price your work as if it was a product! Your personal opinion of the quality of your work does not change the amount of time it took you to create it.

This is, in its most simple form, how freelance works. Some freelancers seek out contract work, and some freelancers are approached by customers; the latter is what describes artists opening commissions.

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SUPPLY AND DEMAND.

I'll keep this one simple:
Are you receiving many commissions at once and you can’t possibly finish them in a reasonable time?
Your prices are too low. Your prices should be flexible and subject to change.
If you are receiving too many commissions to comfortably handle, consider raising your prices.
If you aren’t receiving enough commissions, consider lowering your prices, but do not drop below minimum wage.

Your prices do not always have to be perfectly exact; you should raise and lower them to match the demand that they have. You are not a machine.

Similarly, please understand the economic climate while your commissions are open. As of writing this, we are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and freelancers all around are struggling due to their customers having much smaller incomes and budgets than usual. Please, please do not lower your prices below minimum wage just because you are not getting commissions; they will come.

Your time and work is not worth less than anyone else working in your area.

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To reiterate, this is a guide meant for artists, especially ones who have never done commissions or don't know how to price their work. Here is a quick and dirty TLDR.
  • DO NOT price less than what you believe should be minimum hourly wage in your country.
  • Customers who cannot afford prices at minimum wage are not the customers for you.
  • Be willing to raise & lower your prices as long as you don't go below minimum wage.
  • DO NOT listen to people who tell you to drop your prices to below minimum wage.
  • It is called MINIMUM wage for a reason.
  • Please, please do not go below minimum wage. You are not worth less than any other worker in your country.
  • Be conscious of the general economic climate when your commissions are open.
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This is simply a tutorial, so there's nothing for you to need to credit me for!
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VanillaSunshine
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Latest updates

  1. v1.2

    Expanded on what I mean by "service" and why I feel the way I feel about that specific point.
  2. v1.1

    Added a quick addendum at the end of the first point, to keep the overall tutorial grounded in...
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