Hello fellow furs, and welcome to what I hope to be the first of many articles focusing on professional and business etiquette to help you as an artist and content creator.
Before I begin, I want to give you a brief introduction: My name is ChronoWolf, and I have been in the professional digital content creation industry for over 15 years. I have worked for a handful of companies, ranging from 20,000+ employee international conglomerates to small studios consisting of barely a dozen employees. I have two bachelor’s degrees: One in Media Arts and Production, and one in Business Administration and Marketing. Right now, I’m a project manager in the tech and video game industry. But most importantly, I am a dedicated and passionate furry!
It’s no surprise that some of the largest business transactions within the furry community are related to art and commissions. These transactions can range from a $5 badge, all the way thru to a $6,000 full fursuit, and beyond. Every day, hopeful furs are parting with hard-earned money in the hopes of receiving art or crafts that help them represent their characters. As a provider of this content, you have a responsibility to meet these obligations promptly and professionally. But life isn’t always as simple as that, right?
Not all commissions are created equal
Over the past few years, I’ve commissioned around two dozen artists. As per standard practice: each of these commissions was paid up-front and in full. Out of these, I can break my experience up into 3 distinct categories:
- Great communication and prompt delivery (60%)
- Poor communication and slow delivery (30%)
- Poor, or no communication, and still waiting for my content (10%)
Now, I know what you’re thinking: 10% is a pretty low number for undelivered art, right? Out of two dozen, that’s around 2 pieces of art I’ve never received. If I saw a product on Amazon where only 10% of the reviews were from dissatisfied customers, I may still give them a shot.
But this is where we must look at that false logic…
Let’s run a hypothetical here, and say for those two dozen commissions I spent $2,000 all up front. What if one of the undelivered commissions was worth $1,000? Would I still consider that only a 10% failure rate? Hell no! That’s a whopping 50% of my hard-earned money potentially down the drain!
Also consider this: What if a company like Apple or Sony had a reputation where 10% of their customers never received a product they paid for? Could you imagine the public response to this? Granted, these are big companies… but the core methodology still applies: A customer parted with their money on the promise of receiving goods or services, which they have not received. This is a problem.
But fluff happens: Artists are real people with real lives…
This is very true. Most (if not, all) furry artists are individual, self-employed content creators… not big providers like Apple or Sony. They are individuals who run their own businesses, in many cases alongside other careers or jobs. They must also balance their personal lives which consist of family, friends, and relationships.
So, now that we’ve established our artists are self-made individuals and not big companies, does this change the terms of the business relationship you have with your customers or clients? Definitely not!
For your customers and clients, you are one part of a business relationship. Or, in the words of the Godfather: It’s nothing personal, just business. In the majority of cases (unless you are being commissioned by a family member or an already close friend) you are simply a provider, and they are a customer. You’re not a friend. Your relationship is based on a promise that if they pay you money, you will provide a product. End of story.
But what if there’s a personal situation you’re dealing with, like a death in the family, a breakup, or any drama that is hindering your ability to focus on your work? Your customers and clients have to understand this, right?
…your client or customer may offer you their sympathy… but the reality is: It’s not part of the deal that they should share the consequences of this burden with you.
Remember, they don’t know you. They don’t know uncle Bill, who might’ve had a stroke. They’re unaware that your relationship with Amanda has been on the rocks for a few months and you just decided to call it quits. They’re not privy to the fact that John said something nasty, and now you’re dealing with the fallout from the ensuing drama in the telegram group chat. They only know one thing: They parted with their $50 for that full body art commission which you promised you’d deliver.
Don’t get me wrong: your client or customer may offer you their sympathy… but the reality is: It’s not part of the deal that they should share the consequences of this burden with you.
In reality, they’re already supporting you, by paying you money.
But I literally cannot work, I’m just too overwhelmed by this situation!
It really sucks to be in this position. Believe me: I’ve been there. But even with a death in the family or an emotionally stressful personal situation, there is no institution I know that would let you simply stop showing up to work until you decided you were ready to come back. Or even worse: drop off the radar completely.
Some institutions may offer you a day or two so that you may compose yourself, and some even offer counseling services because they want you back on track ASAP. But just like when you took your customers’ money, you signed a contract with your employer that states you will be responsible for getting the job done. If you cannot get the job done within reasonable terms, they are obligated to end your relationship. In extreme cases, they may also make you pay for losses or damages.
But I never actually signed a contract…
“They gave me money, and I said I would do the work… but none of this was on paper.”
Is this statement true? In most cases: yes. Does exercising this right make you a good content provider: No. So, could this hurt your reputation: It sure could, and most likely will!
Furries are pretty darn savvy with social media. And if there is one thing they are passionate about, it’s art and spreading the word. If you get on the bad side of the wrong furry, you may find the details of your transaction retweeted a thousand times, and with that, your reputation is ruined.
Just because somebody understands a situation, doesn’t change the outcome of the situation, which is simple: You do not have the capacity to deliver upon your obligations.
But again, I was dealing with something terrible! Is there no sympathy?
Of course, there will be sympathy. Even if the details of your transaction are retweeted, if you responded with a rebuttal along the lines of: “I’m terribly sorry, but I was dealing with a death in the family”, it’s likely everybody will understand and sympathize with you. Does that mean they will still commission you: No. Just because somebody understands a situation, doesn’t change the outcome of the situation, which is simple: You do not have the capacity to deliver upon your obligations.
So how do I overcome personal challenges that may get in the way of my work?
This part is up to you. How you deal with stress, loss or drama is your choice. In the end, the only thing that matters is your ability to overcome these challenges and get back to work. It may not seem fair… but neither is taking somebody’s money and failing to deliver their product.
Some people use their work as a means to overcome personal dilemmas, as they provide a wonderful distraction. Others might go as far as seeking professional help in overcoming their hurdles. Either way, it’s up to you to resolve this.
But what if I really cannot overcome my burden for the foreseeable future?
Then be prepared to offer a refund to your clients and customers. I’m going to give you one golden rule ALL artists should be following:
DO NOT SPEND YOUR CLIENT’S MONEY UNTIL YOU HAVE DELIVERED THE PRODUCT!
I’ve heard so many stories of folks commissioning artists and then requesting a refund after either: a) waiting too long for their product, or b) being told it’s not likely the artist can complete it. And so many times I’ve seen the same response: “But I don’t have the money to refund you with.”
Say that again!? You took somebody’s money, then you spent it or something else, and now you’re telling your client you cannot afford to give them back *their* money? Yikes. This is universally a bad practice, and if you’re an artist who does this, you should fix this immediately! And yes: it’s technically still “their” money until the point where you deliver the product they paid for.
There are some variants in this situation, however…
Let’s say you are paid 50% up front for a fursuit commission, and you used that money to buy supplies, fur, and other materials. But then you cannot finish it, and your client wants a refund. Technically: you didn’t spend that money on yourself, you spent it on your client’s commission, right? So why do I need to give that portion back? Well, one perspective here is: Unless your client received the product they paid for (in this case, an actual fursuit and not a handful of materials), NONE of that money you spent benefits the client whatsoever if you cannot complete the suit. So technically they could still be entitled to a full refund, even if you’ve spent a portion of their money on supplies intended for their commission.
A good analogy to explain this would be: pre-ordering a video game or new phone. You part with your money in advance and it’s likely that these funds will be used in the manufacturing or development of the product you paid for, which you should receive eventually. But then something goes wrong and the manufacturer or developer cannot deliver the product. Would you, as a customer, accept the loss, or a portion of the loss? Well, that depends on the terms of the arrangement.
This is where it can get tricky – I discussed this particular point with a fellow fur who disagreed that the maker should offer a full refund, even if they spent money on the materials. Their point was: If part of the money was spent on materials for the fursuit, then that portion of the obligation was met, as agreed. A transaction was made (between the supplier and the maker) which was done so with the consent of the client/customer. The subsequent decision to cancel the order may then have come from the customer and not the maker. Even if the maker expresses that they are failing to fulfill the obligation, in many cases the final decision to cancel a commision may come from the customer.
Then you have a maker not only having to potentially refund some or all of the customer’s money, but they also possess a handful of materials that they have no use for (unless they are really savvy and can use it for other commissions). Essentially, my friend provided me with a very valid counterpoint to this argument which I found no real reason to disagree with. Now you can start to see how things get messy.
Have your clients sign a contract when they commission you. Not only will it protect you, but it will also protect your client or customer.
So how do we avoid a tricky situation like this? Simple: a contract!
Contracts and obligations surrounding contracts are a whole other discussion, and we’re likely going to have an article deals with this in the near future. But for the time being, let’s keep it simple:
Have your clients sign a contract when they commission you. Not only will it protect you, but it will also protect your client or customer. Most of the above issues could be avoided if there was a simple stipulation in the contract which said:
“If I (the maker) fail to deliver on my obligation to provide the customer with a fursuit, the customer is entitled to a refund of their deposit, except for any funds that were spent acquiring materials that the client signed off on.”
Boom! That way, if the client says: “I would like my full deposit refunded” you can point them out to this section of the contract you both signed. This may now seem unfair on the customer… after all: having a section of the contract like this makes it sound as if the maker can just cancel and keep the materials if they wish. But as a customer, it is also your responsibility to read the contract and discuss anything contained within that you happen to disagree with, in advance!
There are also other elements of a contract that will help clarify some of the “unknowns”, such as fair determination of when it can be agreed between the client/customer and the maker when an obligation is not being met, etc. But as I said above: this is all for another discussion.
But what if I just give them the supplies I bought with their money, and refund the remainder?
You can always ask… but unless the customer can offer these materials to the next maker, there’s really nothing a customer can do with these materials. They didn’t pay for two rolls of fur, 12 spools of thread, and a set of silicone teeth. They paid for: A full fursuit. Besides, many makers prefer to use their own suppliers. So, no: this is an unacceptable response.
We can go around in circles all day about this… but the fact remains: You should not be spending your clients’ commission money until you have completed the commission. And if you spent it on supplies, but do not deliver their finished product, be prepared to still pay them back 100% of what they gave you, IN CASH unless you communicated otherwise with a contract.
In most cases, your clients and customers will not mind the occasional delay, provided that you communicate this with them on a regular basis.
Ok, I get it… but what if I know I can eventually get through my situation and back to work?
Excellent! This is a good start. Do you know what would be even better? COMMUNICATION!
In most cases, your clients and customers will not mind the occasional delay, provided that you communicate this with them on a regular basis. Simply dropping off the radar is a big NO!
I’ve seen artists simply drop off the face of the earth for as long as A YEAR, and eventually only come online once briefly to say: “Sorry I’ve been AWOL… dealing with some stuff, thanks for understanding”. Umm… no, we don’t understand. We don’t understand why you are incapable of taking the 2 mins to write an update, tweet or an FA Journal on relatively regular bases to simply say: “Dear clients, I’m currently on hold for X reasons, but will endeavor to keep everybody updated on when I can recommence work.”
But I’m not just talking one update every couple of months. Be prepared to write something like that once every couple of weeks at the very least. That way, at least your clients know you’re alive!
“This all sounds terribly unfair… I’m a real person and my feelings are going to always take priority. So, if that means I need to regularly take breaks from my commissions, then that’s what I’m going to do and people should understand that!”
Well then perhaps you shouldn’t be taking commissions. Ask yourself this: If the transaction order was reversed and you had to provide the art first, based on the promise that after delivery you would be paid – would you accept a response of: “I can’t pay you for this… I’m dealing with something at the moment, thanks for understanding.” If you answer to this question is “No”, then you can understand why this is unacceptable behavior.
Most of what I’ve discussed in this article not only applies to art and commissions, or even the furry community. It applies to career and life in general. The most important asset to you in order to succeed: having a reputation as a solid and reliable provider. Talent is great… but for all the talent you may have, being flaky and skipping out on your obligations will hold you back. Following the key points outlined above should help you stay on top of your obligations, so that you may flourish into a reliable content creator that customers and clients will keep coming back to, and help spread the word for!
Good luck, and happy creating!