Are you considering providing commissioned work but are unsure how to get started? Check out Kristen Baird’s advice on how to approach bespoke work such that it provides a positive experience not just for you but also for the people who hire you as a service provider.
You have entered the wonderful realm of bespoke work.
Oh, the wondrous world of commissioned work, also known as “custom work,” as I prefer to refer to it. What a fantastic opportunity to build up your income flow, test the limits of your creative potential, and collaborate one-on-one with a diverse range of individuals! If you’re an artist, having the opportunity to design and create one-of-a-kind pieces would be a dream come true.
However, as this designer demonstrates, that dream can quickly turn into a nightmare if the appropriate boundaries aren’t established and the appropriate protocols and processes aren’t put into place.
Let’s go right into some of the “best practises” that I’ve created over the years, replete with a number of the difficult and costly lessons that I’ve picked up along the way.
However, first things first: what exactly is bespoke work, and why do I refer to it as a “commission”?
A commission is the act of requesting the creation of a piece of artwork within the context of the art world. In other words, it is a commission for a one-of-a-kind jewellery piece to be crafted in the manner of the artist in question.
Before 2016, I referred to this kind of job as “custom work,” and I accepted any and all projects that came my way, in part because I was forced to do so due to financial considerations.
There is no guilt in playing such game! To ensure that we live to see another day as business owners, we will do whatever it takes, particularly in the early stages of a new endeavour.
Everything was going smoothly until I submitted an application for the Halstead Grant, was selected as one of the top five applicants, and was given a feedback report by the panel of judges. They made this one particular comment that struck me as really noteworthy.
After giving it a lot of thought and coming to the conclusion that they were entirely correct, I made the decision to do something about the situation. THAT was a defining event in the trajectory of my professional life. (Here’s your cue to go fill out an application for the Halstead Grant if you’re qualified; plug alert!) In a nutshell, the following is what they had to say:
It appears that you are at a crossroads in your journey. Your company might go in any of these two directions, and while there are benefits to be gained from either option, it is now unclear which way you will choose to go.
The first option is to keep focusing on creating one-of-a-kind, custom bridal jewellery as your primary source of revenue as a regional jewellery store…providing a diverse selection of work (as well as styles) in order to cater to the wide variety of customer demographics that are possible visitors to your physical storefront location.
The second option is to place the Kristen Baird brand in the forefront of everything you do and concentrate on creating a consistent and recognisable trademark appearance for your business. (Bridal and Commission Work) can still be a part of this company, but it is imperative that you display your unique style and sense of aesthetic.
Either of these two models holds a lot of potential, but we would advise picking one of them deliberately and strategically, and then basing your subsequent choices on the objectives you set for yourself. It is conceivable for you to pursue both courses of action, but doing so will be challenging.
A genuine test of my decisiveness and my resolve to commit to doing ONE thing, as well as an interesting and thought-provoking challenge. I am aware that this is challenging for creative types but essential for company owners.
I chose to “go all in” on Path Two and focus on building the Kristen Baird® unique look by releasing a silver line, gold line, and platinum line, as well as establishing a high-end commissions procedure.
Systematization and organisation: get your thoughts in order!
When I initially started doing work on commission, I rapidly came to the conclusion that I was extremely disorganised and “all over the place.”
As much as I like it when customers get in touch with me – whether it’s through phone calls, emails, texts, Facebook messages (on both my personal and professional sites), or messages and comments on Instagram – I have to admit that it can be exhausting.
And of course, the notes and information I would bring home after attending a face-to-face meeting would make things incredibly complex and overwhelming in a very short amount of time.
Not to mention the fact that communication might arrive at any time of the day, which increases the likelihood that essential specifics will be misunderstood. I was aware that my workflow in general required a more effective organisational approach. In all honesty, it all begins with consumption!
The intake form is the most important instrument for determining appropriate goals.
My commission enquiry form is the first thing that I have prospective customers fill out. This not only assists me in determining the general limits of a project before I go headfirst into it, but it also assists me in ensuring that the individuals who are tossing ideas my way are the kind of customers I want to work with.
Having the Commission Inquiry Form also enables me to provide a friendly disclaimer whenever necessary, regardless of whether I am communicating in-person, via messenger, via email, or online.
My standard opening sentence goes like this: “Hey, I’m really excited about your project, and in order to provide you with the greatest and most professional experience working with KBJ that is even remotely possible, it is absolutely essential for you to begin by filling out this form. I can’t stress this point enough.
I’ll send you a text, email, or message with the link so that you can get started right away! I can’t wait to hear more about the project you’re working on.This provides the customer with an automated direction, and it reassures me that all of the information of the submitted project will be consolidated in one location.
The fact that the form can be accessed online and that it features an intuitive user interface makes it an attractive additional perk.
This accomplishes two goals at once: first, prospective customers who are serious about doing business will proceed directly to the form and fill it out instantly. The customers that want instruction will go to the form, wait for a moment as they begin considering the questions on the form, and then generally come back to the form at a later time when they are ready.
The customers that have unreasonable expectations will fill out the form, and the answers they provide will make it simpler for me to weed through those customers more rapidly.
This form is a vital instrument that helps me categorise clients and projects extremely quickly, so saving me a lot of valuable time and not offending anyone’s feelings in the process!
Real talk: despite the fact that I get giddy about every client message that comes my way, I frequently come across people who simply get so overly excited about running their “fun/unique/zany” ideas by me (aka dumping things on my plate) without having really thought about key elements such as timeline, budget, realistic expectations, etc.
This form provides the necessary prompts and helps steer potential customers in the proper way by providing the necessary information.
So, somebody fills out the form, and it turns out that they are not a suitable candidate. Say hi to “no”. Indeed, you have it correct. The word that means “NO.”
I’ve realised that not all projects are a good fit for me, and despite the fact that I want to help everyone and take on all the work that comes across my desk, I’ve had to learn the hard way that it’s important to learn how to say “no” to projects that don’t meet certain requirements in order to fully understand its significance. I had to learn this lesson several times.
- Listed below are a few of Kristen’s top objections to participating in a project:
- Not in line with the look and feel of the signature brand.
- Aside from the procedures, methods, and/or skill levels associated with the brand
- It’s just not a good match for your personality.
There are certain clients with whom you just won’t get along, and you should trust your gut in this situation. Ok. Listen carefully, and put your faith in God.
Having doubts about my abilities as a designer and not having faith in my judgement on the process, cost, and other materials
Be wary of clients who want to “play” designer and attempt to overrule the genuine designer; these clients may try to shift the burden back on the designer if “their” design doesn’t work out. Some clients want to “play” designer and try to override the actual designer.
Keep in mind that YOU are the one who designed and made this, and that makes you the subject matter expert. Stay true to your method and your area of expertise.
Being asked to duplicate someone else’s work
In my opinion, copying is a terrible habit that should be avoided at all costs. The majority of the time, the same people that want a designer to replicate their work are also the ones who want it reproduced for a lower price.
This does in fact take place. No, it doesn’t feel nice. You should feel free to gently decline an offer and then on with your day.