How to get started with commissions
How to get started with commissions
Cosplay has become much bigger in the recent years, to the point it’s now a real industry. It’s a hobby with a lot of money and skills involved! After you develop your skills enough, you may want to turn them into a source of money, and start taking commissions. This article will give some advice to people who would like to get started into this cosplay commissions business, based on my experience.
Costuming involves a lot of different skills. Sewing being one of them of course, but also wig styling, jewelry, props making (with wood, foam, thermoplastics, resin, 3d printing, you name it), special effect make-up, painting… the list goes on and on! After you’ve made a few costumes and tried many techniques, you’ll realize what you’re really talented at doing. Well, if you’re good and efficient, why not propose this as a commission?
I would suggest to start with some exchange of skills: you’re amazing at wig styling while your friend is a make-up star? Why not barter a little, and propose your services in exchange of theirs? This is a good way to make your special skill known to other people, and start building your reputation, and a network.
Learn to estimate time and costs
By making a few exchanged commissions for others, you will also learn how much time you need to complete different types of projects. This is very important, because after awhile, you will want to get paid for your commissions – this is when stuff gets real!
Always charge the full cost of the materials. Keep the bills, or if you can, do the shopping with your customer. As a seamstress, I like to shop the materials with my local customers, so they can choose the color hue they prefer, or the quality they can afford, with my advice – and since I have them with me, I can take their measurements.
Afterwards, be mindful of how much time you work on the project. It’s easy to lose track when you make something you love, but it’s important for a commission! How much you ask for is at your own discretion, but I’d strongly suggest to at least ask for the minimum wage in your area. When you get really efficient and specialized, and do this as a side job, I would even suggest to ask as much as your day job. Never sell yourself too cheap. Specialized work is worth a decent pay.
Most customers, when asking you for a commission, will ask you an estimate of the costs; that’s very fair, so you need to provide something. Think about the time you think the project will take, the total cost of the materials and add a little more. You never know what could happen, so better be safe, and if it comes to less in the end, they will be happy about it.
If you underestimated the costs of a project – that is, if you notice that a detail will take triple the time you estimated when you gave the costs, or if your customer asks for an extra, tell them ASAP about the extra cost! That being said, if you make a mistake on the project that will take more time, your customer should not assume the costs.You have to unsew half of a dress and start again because of a stitching problem? Well too bad, that’s on you, don’t put this on the bill. However if they ask you for pockets on their pants after you’re almost done? That’s on them.
When starting commissions, it’s better to do it with people you are familiar with. After all, your friends will probably be the first to notice your talent, and ask you if you could do this or that part for them. To avoid complications, especially for products that have to be tailored to the customer, it’s always better to start with people you know personally, or are referred. Or at least: people in your city/area, that you can meet in person.
For bigger projects (over 100$), you should always ask for a deposit. Thank the cosplay gods it never happened to me, but many of my commissioner friends can tell horror stories of people never paying them. To make it easier for your customer to pay, you can split payment (the easiest way to go at it is one payment for the materials, one for the job itself).
It goes without saying, but when you accept a project, you have to make it; within reasonable time. If the customer tells you they need it for a certain convention or event, make sure to do it on time. Even if they say you can take your time, don’t abuse their patience, and do it as soon as possible.
Communication is the key to trust! If a personal event happens and you will be late on a project because of it, do tell your customer. If they ask for update, reply honestly, and don’t wait for days to answer. Most of the time, they will understand if you explain clearly!
Most of all- just deliver the product you promised. You may have many IRL excuses, but in the end you have to do the work. If you really can’t make it, try to refer your customer to another commissioner instead of just leaving them emptied handed. Refund the deposit, or if materials have been bought, give it back. Don’t become a scam without being aware of it. You did it, you get paid. You can’t do it, don’t be an ass, tell the customer, and refund.
Well, we live in the era of social media, and they’re awesome tools to promote your work. Post WIP pictures, make a gallery of your commissioned work, promote yourself on specialized pages, subscribe to commissioners circles – check out for Novartem’s! 😉 Also it’s good to put your name on every page, but people won’t always look: search for people asking for commissioners, and reply to them! You can find work on the most unusual places (I got a regular customer by writing on a figure collectors post!)
The cosplay community is large, and is usually close. Make friends with other commissioners. They can be specialized in other fields, or the same as yours, it doesn’t matter: refer them, and they’ll refer you back. Someone asks you for a complete costume including a dress, a wig and a prop, but you’re only confident in sewing the dress? Introduce them to a wig and a props specialist! You’re overbooked for the next convention? Recommend your friend who still has some free spots! They will do the same for you, and references from a friend usually make reliable customers.
Make sure your customers tag you on their cosplay pictures! Ask them to do it if they forget! It’s the best and easiest way to get a direct reference. After all, it’s your work, so it should be credited as such, unless you made other arrangements.
It’s also good to broaden your horizons a bit. You may prefer to make anime cosplays, but some cool opportunities may be waiting for you with larp costumes, making kids costumes for Halloween, the sci-fi and comic book crews. Don’t miss them!
If you make smaller products, like jewels, patches, bows, hats, graphic design work and such products that are easily reproductible, why not take a table at convention? It’s also a good way to promote your work, and score a few sales too!
Making a real job out of it
Yes, it’s possible! You may not be a pro at first, but after a few years of doing commissions, or maybe after you took professional courses to hone your craft, you could consider taking the plunge. If you have a good, solid reputation, enough skills, good tools to work with, and a more or less steady life, go for it!
Be aware that costuming work is seasonal; the biggest conventions run from spring to the end of summer, same goes for larping. Roughly, costume season is from beginning of spring to Halloween. You may need a side job, or a different product/service to sell during winter. Maybe you could work very hard during summer and save for winter. Just plan ahead considering that this is contractual work, and not highly stable, you should build your schedule accordingly. If things are going a bit too well, and you’re overwhelmed by the work during the high season, don’t hesitate to hire! Don’t get a burn out!
Well… it’s work. Being self-employed doesn’t mean you don’t pay taxes… Charge bills for your work, and keep them. Also keep all the bills of the stuff you buy related to the job. ALL OF THEM. Depending on your income, you may need to register as a company. Consult with an accountant if needed. Find out how your bank can help you with finance aspect and services they offer.
Remember, it’s a job. You may be doing something that you like, but it’s not your own project. Contract comes before the hobby, and working on your costumes after you’ve worked on other people’s order all day long may be tiring. But keep at it. Some commissions will make it so worthy. Your creation will make you proud.