Sunday, December 29, 2013

Steps to Improve your Commission Painting Service

Starting out in the miniature painting business is no easy feat . . . 

Dear Reader:

What follows is a conversion between myself and the owner of a new prospective painting service called Terran Commissions.  The painter contacted me a few weeks ago for help with developing their painting service, establishing rates, and how to reach out to the community.  I was surprised by some of his questions and I felt that if this painter had questions, perhaps other would be painters out there do too.  So, in the spirit of community, I thought I might post our discussion, chock full of advice for new painters, so that if they have questions but feel silly about asking them, perhaps they can learn from Alex' example. 

I was flattered that Alex would think to contact me, and while I wouldn't consider myself an expert by any means, I have done quite a bit of research about other painting services, including outsourcing a few projects just to get the feel of being a client.

This conversation is being presented in it's entirety.  When the painter contacted me, I was both surprised and inspired to help them.  I felt it was my duty in the community to help a fellow painter get their bearings. 

To whoever it may concern 
As of a few weeks ago i set up a commissions "business" and have done everything i can to spread the name Terran Commissions using facebook, flyers, friends, youtube and so far i'm having no luck in finding people who are interested. I'm not one for self flattery but my painting skills is pretty high and my prices are fare (unless its a character model you'll never pay more for the commission then you did the model) but because times an issue due to school i can only take on small jobs. I guess the purpose of this email is to ask for advice in both getting started and spreading my name any help at all would be greatly appreciated.
thank you for your time.  A.H.

FROM WMG TO AH:  Hey Alex:
This is Caleb with White Metal Games.  Thanks for touching base regarding your new service Terran Commissions.
Congratulations on the first step to running a new commission service.  Just by looking over your Facebook page there are a few things I can tell you right away. 

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, I don't see many pictures of your painted models on your facebook page.  There appear to be 3 pictures of some Dark Mechanicum figures you did about halfway down the page, and they are all out of focus!   There are far more pictures from Games Day and those are in perfect focus!  This is confusing because if you are the one taking the pictures, why wouldn't the pictures of your display models be the ones in focus?  
If I come to your website and want to look at your models, it would be ideal if I could see the product. 

Secondly, I have no idea how much you charge for your services, or what services you offer.  In addition, the only samples of your models I see are these three Dark Mechanicum models previously mentioned.  What if I want some Ork Boyz, or Tyranids, or Ultramarines?  Do have samples of those, or something remotely similiar?  In order to get more clients you'll have to show more examples of your works, including price estimates for have similar models done.  Do you charge for assembly and painting, how much is shipping, etc.

Try to put yourself in the buyers shoes . . . if I came to your FB page, could I easily tell?
  • What you charge?
  • Examples of your work?  
  • How to reach you?
You have a link to some youtube videos but every video has text over the pictures of the models, so I can't see the models at all.  This is like going to a movie with someone talking on the phone the entire time.  I can't pay attention to the pictures.

Finally, I don't have any idea who you are as an artist.  Too many commission artists are camera shy.  If I'm going to send you $$$ for painting, I need to see a real person from time to time.  So get in front of the camera, introduce yourself to the world, and talk about what you are offering, your services, prices, how long you've been painting . . basically why I should pay you to paint my models?

Also consider branching out away from the 40k Safety net.  There are tons of other games out there and your clients won't always play the same games you do.  I realize that being in school you have limited time and resources.  So maybe for the next few years, just work on improving your technique, creating samples of your work and posting them to your FB page, painting a few models for your friends and local gamer buddies, go to a few GT's to showcase your work and build your service SLOWLY.  The last thing you want are more orders than you can handle and then to burn out on commissions.  It happens and it separates the hobbyists from the pro-painters out there.  

With your permission, I would be happy to publish a version of this letter on the WWW, through BOLS, which would bring attention to your service, however, I would be using it as an example of how to improve a painting service when you are first getting started.
I wouldn't consider doing this without your permission, so consider whether you'd like 15 minutes of fame, but with a bit of public trolling on the side.  I think this would be a good example of what new services should learn from these sorts of experiences.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  After waiting almost a month, this article was overlooked and passed over by BOLS.  Therefore I am pubilshing it via Spikey Bits.  

First of all Caleb thank you for getting back to me so quickly.  
After reading through the advice you've given i'm happy to say a lot of it can be sorted sooner rather then later with lighting issues and blur sorted after getting my camera looked at, a video camera being ordered so that I can get some proper videos up of my product and maybe one or two videos of myself painting and of course specifying prices but there are one or two questions I have. 
Most important is how do I set up a fair pricing system so that i'm not over charging but also so that i'm not losing money due to shipping or buying paints and equipment needed for specific jobs and should i ask for money up front or wait until the orders sent back.
Another issue is losing the 40k safety net as other then a few warhammer fantasy models i've never actually painted anything else from other ranges so i'm kind of in the dark on what else is out there, what to expect and will the GW paint range work for everything.
A small thing but an issue all the same is what exactly does GT stand for, sorry im bad with short hand.
As for your side note I have no problem with this letter being published on BOLS, I would however like to request once its posted that you'd send me a link once its posted,

Hey Alex:
GREAT!  I think your example will be a wonderful learning experience for the community as a whole.  Thanks for allowing me to post our discussion on BOLS.
As per your questions above. there are sadly no perfect answers to any of them.  Most services charge, on Avg. around $10 per Infantry figure painted.  This cost normally allows for a small stipend to be put towards equipment and supplies like paints, brushes, lighting, etc..  This is assuming an infantry figure is based on a 20-28mm base with some details but not character level detail.  A good example of this might be a space marine or ork.

Character models run upwards of $20-$40 usually or more, and vehicles range widely.  There is no rhyme or reason.  Some services offer speed painting and dipping services, others only paint to the highest level or standard.  There is no primary metric for how a painting service should be priced. 

However, in our research we generally found that painters charge more depending on lots of factors, including:  Overhead cost, experience/years behind a brush, personal opinion of their own work, etc.  Some services offer to match any price.  Most of these are college kids that paint to earn a few extra bucks in school.  These services generally disappear after a year or two and just sort of disrupt the entire pond of painting services.  None of us want to race to the bottom.  If one service lowers their prices too much, it generally hurts us all because expectations for pricing become unrealistic.

 When you are first starting out, you can quote lower, because you are frankly not very experienced.  So you charge less than the average service to get some commissions under your belt.  You build up a gallery.  Then you start getting inundated with work and sometimes more work than you can handle.  This false sense of promise is usually the time many services buckle because you are pricing yourself out of work, offering your services for too little.  So when this starts to happen, raise your rates a little.  Not too much, just enough to weed out your lowest tier clients.  They will sadly either have to step up to match your painting prices or find the new Johny come lately painter.  There are dozens or them out there.

GT means GRAND TOURNAMENT.  For me, I am an average player at best most days.  So when I go to GT's I bring a list that isn't overly competitive but gives me a chance to showcase my painting and conversion skills.  Got a new model to show off?  Bring it!  Stick it in your list even if it doesn't help you win.  It will help you get new business and that's a win! This is just my opinion, because lots of painters run successful painting services and also kick a little ass!  

As far as the 40k Safety Net . . . it's not as safe as you think. You probably paint 40k stuff because it's a game YOU play or played.  That's how you got started right?  Me too.  Here's the problem.  Your aren't just a player anymore.  Now you're a businessman.  If I went to a movie theatre and they were only showing one flick, you think I'd watch it more than once?  Heck no!  On a hillside of yellow boxes, you've got to diversify!

Once you start to develop a style if you haven't already you'll learn which models in which ranges you can paint best and you'll gravitate towards those models.  This isn't a bad thing, since we want to show where we shine.  But dont' be afraid to paint a model from time to time that won't showcase your talents, just to get some experience and learn some new techniques.  "They" say it takes about 10k hours to master a talent.  For me, I'm not anywhere close and I've been at this for years.

 IMHO, the more expensive 40k and Warhammer get, the fewer clients I get for those games.  If a potential client has $100 bucks a month to blow on models and they buy a $75 Heldrake, you think they're going to spend that last $25 to hire me to paint it for another $75 bucks and go another $50 bucks into the red?  No way!  They're going to buy some new brushes, paints, and glue and paint it themselves or hire Joe Blow Gamer in the shop to do it for the $25. Unfortunately Joe Blow will wise up fast and raise his rates.

In an age of kickstarters, there are new gaming systems being released all the time.  These new models are going to need painters to paint them.  So consider buying a few models in popular games like Infinity and Warmahordes, Flames of War or whatever the flavor of the week is at your  FLGS .  If the owners have a display case, ask if it would be okay to display some of your models in the case with a business card.  Which reminds me, get a box of business cards!  For $20 bucks it's about the best investment as a painter you'll ever make.

Consider spending some time at that same FLGS with a stack of said business cards on the table beside you while you paint or convert a new model.  Answer questions, be friendly, and smile!  Remember, these folks walking around the shop are your new client pool, so treat them well!

And there you have it, all my painting wisdom summed up from years of experiences in a few short paragraphs.

Here's hoping it helps the next generation of painters


AUTHOR'S NOTE:  I checked back on Alex' site after a month, and I'm happy to report he now has TONS of new pictures posted, including some from the Warmachine line of models.  He also posted some rates on the 'about' section of the page, and it seems like he even got a commission or two booked! Keep an eye out for Alex, guys, and maybe if you like his Dark Mechanicum, book a project with him!  Let's help the guy out!  

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  1. This specific chat will be offered within it's entire. When the particular electrician contacted us, I had been each amazed and also inspired to help them. I thought it absolutely was my own work locally to assist a fellow artist obtain bearings.
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  2. Thank you for this advice. I just moved into a new house and it could use a paint job. My experience with painting is limited, so these tips were very helpful for me.