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Solutions to Online Art Sales

January 26, 2011

In case you missed it, I recently had an unpleasant experience involving internet sales. The gist of it is this: I did not recieve payment for a commission until several weeks after it had been received. As a result of this experience, I have decided to re-configure my process for online sales and commissions.

I’m fairly new to selling online, and I admit to making some mistakes. Namely, shipping art that was not paid for in full. The reason I did this was to help establish trust with potential clients. They showed their trust in me by making the initial deposit without ever seeing any product. In turn, I would not require full payment until they had been able to approve the portrait in person. I also waited too long to follow up with my client, not wanting to be too pushy.

Despite the mistakes, it has been a learning experience. Here are some of the steps I have taken or will take to protect myself.

Payment in Full

My original policy was that I would begin a commission when I received a 50% deposit. When the portrait had been delivered, the rest of the payment was due.

No more! I have decided that this is showing a little too much faith on my part. Work on a commission will not start until the deposit has been made, and the piece will not be shipped until the balance is also paid. The client will be involved during the completion of the commission so that they can see how it is coming along. They will then have the opportunity to approve a high quality digital image of the final drawing before paying their balance. Throughout this process, they can request changes or alterations.

I originally thought it was unfair to ask someone to pay for something they had never seen. After looking at Etsy, though, I realized that there are a lot of people out there doing custom work and asking for full payment up front. It’s really no different. If you are able to establish trust with your clients, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Put it in Writing

Up until now, I haven’t used a contract for any of my commissions. I couldn’t really tell you why, other than I never really felt like I needed one.  However, I do think a contract would help provide some security for both myself and my clients.

I’ve always read that having a contract helps put a client’s mind at ease and I never really understood it until now. I am in the process of planning my wedding and only some of the vendors I’ve booked have had contracts. It is definitely reassuring to have a physical piece of paper that outlines exactly what they are doing and when. I would like my clients to have the same reassurance.

A contract would also help clients to realize that they are making a serious commitment to purchasing the artwork. It would be one more reminder and a bit of leverage when it came to getting final payment.

A contract would also allow me to outline policies on portrait revisions. During this holiday season, I had a client ask for changes to be made to a portrait that had already been delivered and approved (in person). I was compensated for this extra work, but it would be helpful to have my rates in writing somewhere.

If you’re interested, read more about commission contracts or  check out this sample contract for art commissions.

Establishing Trust

As I’ve already mentioned, successful online art sales depend on mutual trust between you and your client. So what are somethings you can do to establish trust?

  • Take time to create and maintain an online presence: blog regularly, update your facebook and twitter.
  • Sell through an established site like Etsy.
  • Use first-person testimonials on your site.

What are some strategies you’ve used to establish trust online?

  1. It sounds like you’ve got a good plan there. You make a good point—places like etsy expect full payment up front. Good news about you getting paid for this most recent commission, BTW!

    I haven’t dealt with offering custom portraits online yet, but I plan on starting to sell on either eBay and etsy eventually, where of course I’ll get full payment up front.

  2. A.Its simple 50% up-front [non-refundable] including shipping costs.
    B. remaining 50% on completion.
    AND when funds are cleared in your checking account, then & only then, do you ship the artwork….Business first art second. Its that simple.

  3. Glad you got it resolved . Did you never hear back from that guy? What a lousy deal.

    I’ve done several commissions like that and they’ve turned out okay. But after hearing your story, I just might start asking for everything up front. Maybe the whole Internet/commission idea is a bad combination. Hmm.

    • Martyn, I never did hear anything from him. No thanks, no apology, no nothing. Weird!

  4. Fantastic to hear that you have worked something out for this, commissions are a wonderful thing and I love commissions.
    I always ask for 50% upfront a non refundable deposit once the client has had a look at the contract. Once the painting is complete I then expect the remaining payment to be made. I would never ever consider sending a completed artwork that had not been paid for in full.

    I think contracts are very important, I also ask for other fees that may be involved ie if a client wants the commission in a shorter time frame – i will also ask for a rush fee.

    Being concise and professional will ensure trust, having a happy-go lucky attitude where you are a little lacking in follow ups and being lenient on payments etc is not going to establish trust and may hurt you in the long run. you may be an artist but when you begin to sell online you are a business and need to conduct yourself as such.
    Fantastic post – goodluck with future commissions.

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