View Full Version : Pricing: an example and discussion

07-08-2011, 03:56 PM
So, after the very excellent discussion from both commissioners and customers in another thread, I thought I'd whip up an example of the way I put together a price quote to show what truly goes into a commission. I hope this is alright admins, but I hope to perhaps add some transparency to the process and get some good discussion going on how other commissioners handle price quotes and how potential customers feel about the ways we do things. I used to pluck a rough idea out of my head and slap it down, and never fails, I ended up losing money because I failed to account for some supply, or I didn't plan out the time required well enough, so I put together an excel sheet to plan -and- keep track of costs.

In this imaginary commission, let's say a potential client contacted me about making Rydia's staff from this artwork:

After scrutinizing the reference, I pieced together first, the materials needed, careful not to miss the incidentals like sand paper, brushes, glue, ect. These each go into the materials column and are added up in the total cost (in this case materials added up to $63.75)


Underneath, I started running through the steps of creating the staff, keeping a log of what to do and how long it should take for the labor (not counting curing/drying times, just actual work time). After going through the procedure and making sure all steps have been covered, the hours are added up and input into the cell for labor hours estimate. The sheet calculates the hours x hourly wage rate, which in this case, I set to $8.00/hr as an example, which is a very low wage for skilled labor, and all commissioners are going to have a different rate for their services according to their skill and quality of work which is entirely their prerogative.

The sheet then adds together the total materials cost and the labor hours cost, giving an estimate of $139.75 in this example case.

Now, if the client accepted this, I would go through and keep track of actual costs of materials and actual time taken for each task. In my case, if I overshot the cost by more than $5, I refund the excess, it's just fair to me, but if I go OVER that budget, I just have to eat it as my mistake in planning and try to be more accurate in the future.

So..long winded..but I hope this is helpful, interesting, or just a good talking point. Any other commissioners have insights or other tricks? Anyone think this is just insane and expensive and unfair? I can take it!

07-08-2011, 05:15 PM
I do the same. I commission for people in my city, people I know and whatnot, local theatres, and this honesty is worth a lot these days. If I overshoot and they paid too much, I give them the item along with the money that they overpaid, if I mess up and undershoot on pricing, it's my fault. Often, if the prop costs me money, its because I wasted materials or had a major messup where I had to redo something or get more materials.

07-08-2011, 06:51 PM
I would pay quite well for the factor of skill/experience.

If someone is quite good at what they do, especially if their work/time is in high demand, I think it's completely reasonable to charge a good deal more for their time. $8 an hour seems kind of insulting to someone who's really good at what they do :/

07-08-2011, 07:40 PM
I do believe that is a fair way to go about it. I do one thing different in my commissions, which I am TOTALLY okay with other people not doing it this way. Its just how I do it, personally.

I look at the total price from the commission, and I personally alter it to go with what people would pay. For example, my artwork. It takes me about an hour and a half for each drawing. Materials cost me almost nothing (I own it all already). If I went on minimum wage, I'd probably sell my sketches for $10. But who wants to pay $10 at a convention for this? (http://a2.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/180396_1820540442875_1521106186_31901496_221871_n. jpg) I know personally, while my chibi sketches are cute (but not AMAZING), people wouldn't want to pay $10 for that. Especially if they can buy a full doujinshi at the yaoi booth for $20. So I purposely downgrade it to $3 for a sketch, so people would feel more obligated to buy it.

Same with the costumes I do. I charge materials fee, figure out how much time would go into it, then adjust the price accordingly. Especially if I'm competing with chinese factories.

Yeah, I make less money for my effort in the end. But I get more sales, and thus, more money.

I 100% understand if other people don't want to do this, though, and I don't blame you.

07-08-2011, 07:50 PM
That's called undercutting prices, and it makes the people that charge more have a harder time finding business. :/

07-08-2011, 08:16 PM
That's more or less the method I use for costume commissions, with one exception. The quote is a quote only - an estimate. It is not the guaranteed final price and I never ask anyone to pay that price up front. I ask only for a deposit to cover the cost of the materials, so that in the unlikely case that they take the costume and run (it's happened maybe twice in ten years) I at least make back my materials cost.

When the project is finished, I know exactly how much I spent on materials and how many hours of labor went into it, so the customer is getting the exact final price - no more guesswork needed. Thus, no refunds. But I've been lucky to get fantastic customers who don't stiff me on the labor, all but one have paid in full whether right away or over time via installments. I find it to be a pretty darn good system.

07-08-2011, 08:38 PM
I am definitely not saying that all commissions should go for 8$/hr labor, just a -minimum- commission example, I know I charged more per hour, especially when I was doing art commissions( which is my main forte) .

Generally, with costuming commissions, I charge one half up front and the full price at delivery, to protect myself and the client. It's just unfair in my opinion to ask for a full up front payment, but again, that's my own business practice.

07-08-2011, 08:55 PM
That's the way I do it, too. Though, I don't usually include the full price of things that I already have. That price is based on how much of it I actually use. Then for the final quote, I might toss in a few extra bucks just in case I undershoot, if not I'll refund it 100%.

Seconding the only asking for materials up front as well. Then if the commissionee backs out, it's their loss.

07-08-2011, 09:07 PM
I don't mind paying for materials in advance.
I expect to do it.
But I expect that money to be used to purchase materials within the first month of payment to protect my investment as well (assuming it's been furnished by paypal, that money can not be reclaimed after the 1 month mark and quite a few comissioners I have worked with have not used my deposits to buy materials, instead using my deposits to fund their own projects and lifestyle while my deadline goes unheeded and the costume undelivered without quite a lot of harrassment on my part).

Everyone wants to have the upper hand in a deal and knows if they, themselves are honest... but good intentions or not, there's no way to protect both parties' investments unless both parties are given sufficient proof every step of the way that the deal is going down as promised.

As time passes, the balance of power shifts heavily toward the person with cash-in-hand... the person who has forked it over (or who has worked to earn money that never is) can't do much but rage.

07-08-2011, 09:34 PM
I heard about you and Axelai's situation >< So I understand you. Putting myself into the shoes of someone asking for a commission, I would want them to actually show me the receipts of my materials within a week of paying. That is plenty of time to either go to the store or pay for something online. I'd also want to make some sort of agreement beforehand that if they don't meet that deadline, that I'd want my money back. I know it's a bit harsh, but really?

So in essence, of my tl;dr, I'd want a written contract of all the conditions spelled out beforehand in case any troubles occur. That way, if Paypal can't do anything, I'll be sure to bring it up with my lawyer.

/is not a fan of dishonest people

07-09-2011, 01:52 PM
It's a bit MUCH to show a client all your receipts within a week of payment. That's excessive to an nth degree. I ALWAYS immediately order supplies as soon as I receive payment because I never know how long something is going to take to get to me. But I DO NOT forward my receipts to my clients. That's just silly. What if I had to order for multiple orders at once? Unreasonable clients will flip their shit thinking you're buying for yourself instead of for other clients with other client's money.

07-09-2011, 02:18 PM
I don't send receipts either, since some of my stuff is bulked and I quote according to amount used (like silicone and resin), and if I go someplace like hobby lobby, the item names aren't even listed on their receipts, just the department and price, so it would do little to "prove" I'm buying for them. Sometimes I do send photos of the materials I bought though, especially if I'm verifying that the client likes the color/shape of something like a bead. Example: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v648/joymason/Terra-01.jpg And I certainly would not be offended if a client asked me to photograph all the materials together, so long as it was possible (not that bottles of paint, silicone, resin or blocks of sculpey are very exciting!)

I think the purchasing of mats pretty much just comes down to having good communication and clear understanding of the agreement between client and commissioner. There's always going to be bad eggs in the create-for-hire realm, they're everywhere. And some folks are going to put off work as long as they can and go wild with their funds. I personally, for example, do not remove funds for a commission from my work paypal until either a: I have used them to pay for a material -for that commission- b: the commission is complete and I pulled out money to ship it or c: the pieces is in the client's hands and they have sent me notice that it survived the shipping and is satisfactory. And generally I leave a nest egg there anyways to buy bulk items like resin and silicone that may spread across several commissions (not gonna make someone buy a whole $35.00 2lb resin kit for me to cast them a pair of earrings).

Generally, it comes down to having a contract or at least a set of guidelines to agree to, so both parties know they're on the same page. I need to iron mine out a bit myself honestly.

07-09-2011, 02:27 PM
Yea understandable for confirming color selection and such. For wigs I make sure we have the colors picked out before the client even pays. Wigs aren't exactly a returnable item.

07-09-2011, 02:29 PM
That's called undercutting prices, and it makes the people that charge more have a harder time finding business. :/

And thus, I get more business. Not to sound mean or anything, but that's just how business works. If I sold everything for full price at my Artist Alley table at AX, I would have made about half as much money. And honestly, the money is the important thing right now to me as I'm moving out, etc.

With costume commissions, I don't undercut as much as I do with my art. For example, someone asked me to make them a uniform. Materials cost about $50. I charged her $100, despite me spending more than 5 hours on it. If I charged her much more, she could have gotten it from a Chinese site (as the same costume sells for $130 on eBay). If I had charged her fully for all my time, she probably would have said "Nevermind, I'll buy it off eBay" and I'd have been out of business. I don't particularly mind pretty much being paid $5 an hour. I enjoy sewing, so its more fun than work for me anyways.

Though I do need to point out; I don't do costume commissions for random people online. I do them for friends, or friends of friends.

07-09-2011, 02:31 PM
Yea I don't do art commissions so it doesn't effect me. Just don't sell yourself short on your costume commissions. If you maintain cheap prices for too long people will never be willing to pay you what you're worth.

07-09-2011, 02:34 PM
Yea I don't do art commissions so it doesn't effect me. Just don't sell yourself short on your costume commissions. If you maintain cheap prices for too long people will never be willing to pay you what you're worth.

But I honestly don't mind being paid less. I want to make my friends happy on their costumes, so I do them cheap. Hell, I sometimes do them for free for some of my closer friends. I just don't see why I'd charge so much more on a costume when I am perfectly happy charging less.

07-09-2011, 02:39 PM
I do things cheaper for friends as well, especially if I know it won't cost much and they're not in a good financial position.

07-09-2011, 02:49 PM
This post is from a business management point of view.

Making an estimate of cost and hours and then also recording the cost and actual time taken is a very good idea! It will allow you to see where things went wrong if you go under or over budget, and over time, you will start to see a trend, i.e. what parts do you underestimate, what parts do you overestimate - with time your estimates will get better. So totally keep doing that!

That being said, onto the pricing scheme:

You are selling yourself significantly short, and if you use this scheme, you will end up losing money (There's not even an option in the poll for that o_O).

Specifically, you have not accounted for several important factors in your pricing:

* Prop Design time
* Time spent communicating with the customer
* Time to purchase materials
* Time and materials lost due to mistakes / problems
* Cost of packaging / transporting
* Write-off on tools
* Other business expenses (rent, insurance, etc)
* Taxes (Don't forget to pay these or the IRS will take your house - that's not a joke)
* Profit margin (You'll need this to compensate for when things go wrong or business is bad, if nothing else)

If you make one prop, and you do it for fun, what I listed is probably excessive (but worth looking at). But if you want to make props as a significant source of revenue... better start charging significantly more.

If you don't you'll end up spending many, many more hours than planned on each project, reducing the hourly income to closer to $2 or $3 an hour, which you must then use to pay for any mistakes. You will be unhappy, and your customers will be unhappy in turn.

I think many commissioners don't take these cost into account - as a result, they end up losing money, become bitter and abandon their projects, or they put them off to the last minute and do shoddy work, just to be done with the damned thing which has cost them so much money and time and which still isn't good.

Instead, charge extra and do it right. People _will_ pay extra for quality props, designed as they wanted them, on time and with a smile from the happy commissioner, who is not just proud of their work, but who got paid a fair amount for it too. Everyone wins there.

07-09-2011, 03:05 PM
Y'no, a lot of what you say is pretty true, I do spend an exorbitant amount of time finding materials and doing design work. I didn't put it in this example, but I do factor in tool wear and tear on bits where it's applicable, wire snips, exacto blades, paintbrushes (god do I run through brushes painting with enamels).

I also do shipping separately, at the end of the commission, that way I know how much the piece weighs, how much packaging and padding I'm going to have to get and make (I used to ship fine art, so this is something I'm used to).

And it certainly loses it's fun when I'm pretty much paying to do something for someone.

07-09-2011, 04:33 PM
Imo, drawn art is a completely different bird. If you want to sell your sketches for a flat rate a pop for an hour or so of work, that's all your choice; the thing about drawn art is that it can be reproduced and resold, while costumes cannot. You can sell reproductions of certain items if they were cast but prints are super easy to produce and sell cheap. I charge hourly on my art commissions, but honestly I've make more selling prints of my own personal work (then again, I don't draw any anime stuff, nor have I had such a venue as an artists' alley at a con). You could always charge $3 for prints of your past work, but say that you're accepting personal commissions of original sketches for $5-10. You're right in that you are adapting your prices to the market, undercutting or no.

Also, some artists sketch faster than others; your $3 of work may take someone else 1/5 of the time. As you get more experience, you'll work faster and it will pay off much better; you can start charging more as you get better as well. This also applies to costuming.

As for thread topic, I love spreadsheeting. I would definitely include an extra hour or so for material research + however long designing took + communication time/design change. Pre-planning generally produces a better end product and there are a lot of complicated items out there to build. I sketch EVERYTHING out before building it, so I don't hit a spot and wonder wtf to do, realizing something won't fit into something else or look/fit awkward.

I would honestly rather have happy customers who get exactly what they want at a quality they want, and I think many (serious) customers would be happy to spend a little extra knowing they were getting something great; you can still be perfectly reasonable with your prices. Lucilia's post was perfect. Don't ever sell yourself short if you know you are doing a damn good job. The little extra care/time will set you apart from others and be better for business as you go.

Also, cheap is a terrible word and I would never use it to describe anything I was selling. It could too easily be misconstrued from a price description to a quality description.

07-09-2011, 05:27 PM
I'd have to disagree that the sliding price method doesn't apply to costume making as well. You can call it undercutting or selling yourself short but if two people do the same quality work and person A wants $12 an hour and person B is willing to do it for $10, who is going to untimely get the commission? In a business like this you have to take competition into account and balance with your labor costs. It's just the nature of the beast.

Yea person B is making less then person A would if they made it, but A isn't making any money because they refuse to negotiate on price.

Obviously there are limits on how low you can set your price, and there are other factors, but to ignore the notion will lead to a loss in money and clients.

On a slightly lighter note, attitude does make a difference as well. I've had more then one client tell me they decided to use my services over slightly cheaper ones because I was friendly and nice to them. I'm honestly surprised at the attitude of some of the costume/prop makers, not just on this site, but many others. I always try and remember that I'm asking to be the one to make a client's piece, not the other way around. ^.^

07-09-2011, 06:10 PM
I agree that you need to keep an eye on the competition. However, I'm not arguing if the hourly rate is too high or too low, when I say the example is selling the OP short.

What I'm saying is that the OP missed several key time and money consumers that will drain their resources - those must be considered to get to a proper price, or the hourly rate will be a bad representation of the real earnings.

In the end, a commission on which you lose money is worse than not getting a commission because someone else is willing to do it for less.

07-11-2011, 06:42 PM
Something else to consider is your level of professional skill. If you are producing a garment that is worthy to be sold at a shop, consider the fact that professional seamstresses and tailors work for somewhere around $25-$35/hour, give or take on the area, seamstress etc. So people who charge minimum wage for their work if it is at a professional quality, really are losing out.

Whenever I do something that isn't for family or a favor, I always write an invoice that contains some bit of legalese at the bottom--what the invoice covers, what it does not cover, level of quality etc etc etc.