Updated: Jul 9
Part One of The Commission Process
Making the decision to start taking custom orders can be a simple, natural next step in the process of jewelry making, or it can be a stressful, complex burden. Some artists work only on commissions, while others take none at all. The decision to do so (or not to do so) is a personal choice that many of us struggle to make.
Arguably the first and most important step in the decision about taking custom orders would have to be knowing how to price your work. You want to make back the money you invested in materials, and you want to be paid for the time you spent working on your piece. But how do you get that answer? If you ask 10 different sellers you will get 10 different answers that all have their merits and flaws.
This is my process for pricing my work. Hopefully this will help you decide on your process and allow you to understand the value of your work.
Breakdown Supply Costs
When I buy materials, before I put them away I figure out the cost of every individual bead, or every inch of wire. If I paid shipping costs or taxes, I add that to the price. You can get really detailed and add in any associated cost such as gas or car wear and tear (if you drove somewhere to get them). I don’t, but you can.
If a strand of beads costs me $58.90 with tax and shipping, and there are 100 beads on the strand:
I like to round up to have a nice even number, so I would price 1 bead at .60
Once you have your price per piece, either write that on the package, or on a slip of paper, or a spreadsheet.. Somewhere you won’t lose it and can easily reference it again in the future. This makes it easy to assess a finished piece and determine the material cost.
Set Your Hourly Rate
Pay yourself a decent wage for your time. Don’t ever pay yourself less than minimum wage. It doesn’t just hurt you, it hurts your fellow crafters. A quick Google search will tell you the minimum wage for where you live. The more experienced you get, the more in demand you become, you raise that wage. If people are willing to pay it, then you charge it!
List Your Supplies
Keep track of the items you use. If you are working off a long spool of something and don’t know how much to use, try measuring out the amount you think you will need, and then put a clip on the wire, or string, or whatever it is, marking that distance. Write that length down so you don’t forget. If you don’t use it all, measure the amount left, and subtract it from the amount you started with to find the total you used. If you need more, repeat the process and keep track of the new total length.
Keep track of the time you work. If your phone doesn’t already have a stopwatch built into your alarm app, then grab one off your favorite app store. When you sit down to work, you start that stopwatch. Think of it as clocking in for work. If you don’t clock in, you don’t get paid. Likewise, pause the stopwatch if you take a break. If your app won’t keep the time saved, make sure you take a screen shot or write down the time from that session. Do this every time you work on the piece, try and work quickly and efficiently so you aren’t charging your customer for lazy, slow work. That isn’t fair to them, and it isn’t the way to keep a customer. Be honest to them, and to yourself.
Once you have finished a piece, you get to put all of those numbers to use. And, because I am so slow at math, I made an inventory spreadsheet that will calculate the following information for me. You can find this spreadsheet here, available for download. This spreadsheet was updated on 7/6/2020 to include instructions on use, and to correct a formula error.
Base Cost – The combined dollar value of my supplies (before markup) and labor.
(total material cost) + (labor cost) = Base Cost
If you sell for less than this amount, you are losing money.
Wholesale Cost – The absolute bare minimum I am willing to sell an item for.
(total material cost x 125%) + (labor cost) = Wholesale Total
125% x (Total) = Wholesale Cost
Even if you don't sell wholesale, this is a good number to know and use as a price minimum. If you find yourself in a situation where you may want to discount an item, you can easily use this number in a pinch, and still make a profit. I mark up the material cost to cover fluctuations in market price, so I can ensure I have enough money to buy the item again in the future should the price increase.
Suggested Retail – The amount my item would ideally be sold for.
150% x((total material cost x 125%) + (labor cost)) = Suggested Retail Price
This amount can be raised or lowered as the market sees fit, but it is important to know this number if you decide to sell wholesale. You would generally suggest your wholesale buyer sell the item at this price. This allows you to generate a profit margin above your labor wage. Additionally, by selling your items at retail price, you ensure that you will not be undercutting your wholesale buyer. Your suggested retail price can also be a great starting point for those who enjoy bartering.
Once you have all of the nasty math done and out of the way, you can focus on the fun stuff: creating and selling! The next blog topic will go into detail on the commission process that I go through with my clients for custom items.
If you have any questions about this article, or have any suggestions you would like to share, please leave a comment! And if you appreciate the content of this blog, or my YouTube tutorial channel, please consider donating towards the cost of upkeep and creation of new content!