Recently I was approached for some advice about pricing from a friend just dipping their toe into the world of commission work, and I really thought about how best to respond. Pricing can be a tricky subject, and well... money can be embarrassing to talk about can't it?
But it needs to be handled right, with confidence and research.
So, this is the response I sent, and if anyone else finds it helpful, then that's great
To answer best, I'm going to break down my response into a series of questions that you might find useful to ask yourself when a commission comes along.
What is the basic minimum wage of your country per hour?
This is worth considering, just as a starting point. If you're charging way under this then it's worth looking closely at that. If people are approaching you about commissions then they are valuing your work, and you should too.
Material costs to consider?
Think about any costs you might have to cover too (postage etc.) and materials (if you're actually giving the finished work over, etc).
You need to cover your material costs as -well- as earning something for the hours you've put into the piece. So be sure to state clearly somewhere right at the beginning that material charges are part of the final fee (I don't really do this as my work is digital, but if I were to do traditional art, then I definitely would talk about it).
What are your fellow artists/peers charging?
A key question, it's worth looking at those that offer a similar product and check out their rates. This is okay and everyone does it to some degree for comparison sake. If you're completely unsure what to charge then let that set the parameters for you. Somewhere in the middle of the rates you find would be a safe place to start.
How much are you valuing your time?
Be sure to feel like the project is worth your while. Can't stress this enough. It might not be money you're earning out of it (especially at the start), maybe you're getting experience or portfolio growth rather than financial gain. It's a trade off between these factors. Experience and portfolio are really valuable too
If you can find a rate that feels reasonable to you, that you're happy to take on, that feels worth your while, that isn't wildly out of whack with what others are charging, then that is the right rate. You might not always get the commission if you're setting it higher than some of your peers, but the commissions you do get, you'll enjoy and you'll feel valued during and produce better work for!
Nitty gritty pricing stuff...
I find a staged approach works well. Three tiers in my case. A starter level for simple projects, a middle level for something more complex and the top tier for the really complex time consuming work. Each with a definite price range so everyone is clear from the start what to expect and what the charges would be.
You can lay it out like a menu, you say what you're happy with, and they pick what they're comfortable with. win-win!...
I also only begin production once full payment has been made. It's the only way a place in my queue can be locked down by someone asking for a piece. (I've never encountered any issues about this system but I do appreciate the amount of trust being placed in me by being paid in advance and therefore I'm always happy to chat over the progression of the queue and pieces themselves. then usually between 20 - 40 regular updates per piece, once I've started, behind the scenes before it's complete and published).
My prices have gone up since I started picking up commissions, and I really didn't charge a lot at the start. But then looking back on my stuff, I think I've grown too. I can offer better art now than back then
As you progress along the learning curve, then your prices might creep up a little too, and that is totally fine
and reflects the fact your work and style have grown and become better. Have confidence in it, and yourself.
Hope this helps!